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Arthur Wesley Dow: Crater Lake (1919)

"We have only inadequacy to accompany us through."

As wearying as sports metaphors can get, I might best represent cancer treatment as a sequential series of Marathons, any one of which might well prove challenging and the sum total of which certainly overwhelms. No shortcuts exist. No respites, either. From the initial discovery through the diagnosis process took The Muse three full months. Once treatment started, which began with little respite from the exhausting diagnosing effort, the insults prove unrelenting. Radiation subtlety sears. Immunotherapy infusions invade. No places to hide emerge. It's one hundred percent exposed, day and night, through the treatment period, which is scheduled from the outset: five weeks of radiation at six treatments per week and six immunotherapy infusions, one every other week for eleven weeks. Next, an indeterminate period of recovery where The Muse's body will work to rediscover all the facilities wounded in healing. It's all grueling.

If food tasted decent.
If it didn't hurt to swallow. If she didn't feel so damned tired all the time. As her Emotional Support Animal, I feel fairly powerless, which feels fundamentally unfair. I was supposed to be able to help! Instead, I perform a series of nearly perfectly choreographed face plants, failures to pass muster, failures to make any better. My clever ideas for meals mostly remain on her plate after a single taste leaves her unable to finish. Everything tastes like garbage! She manages to feed herself, oatmeal gruel by far the most attractive choice. My melt-in-the-mouth French onion soup and Brussels Sprouts with chestnuts move quickly into their Tupperware® afterlife. She manages simple pasta dressed with butter and cheese, with perhaps a dollop of cream, and a baked yam on the side. Salad no longer swallows. We share meals without sharing entrees.

Humidifiers hum on two floors, attempting to make the atmosphere moist enough for The Muse to breathe. They largely fail to deliver on their promise. I ferry huge bottles of distilled water from the store. I build fires, figuring a warm flickering companion might encourage healing. The days melt together without obvious progress. With the end of radiation comes the promise, as yet undelivered, of improvement. The oncologist predicted that she'd seen the worst she'd experience through the whole treatment. It won't necessarily get much better very quickly. For her part, The Muse reports that she's delighted to have gotten off so easy so far. Her vitals haven't changed a bit through her treatment, a previously unobserved precedent for her oncologist. Not an ounce of weight lost! Only a brittling of her hair accompanied radiation treatment, necessitating a trim, and some unnoticeable loss around her neckline rather than the more common baldness. She continues eating, if a tightly restricted diet. Nutrition's mortgaged for comfort.

These Marathons have exhausted us both. She continues to respond in the affirmative when asked if she wants to continue with the clinical study. When going through Hell, Churchill insisted, one must keep going, and going we are. She's the prow, taking the brunt of the punishment. I get collateral damage. We will survive these gauntlets and the looming recovery. Her scheduled doctor visits will dwindle down to every three months from each week, and we might well lose the easy familiarity we never wanted to have with the local hospital's cancer treatment center. The appealing healing will come with the absence of grueling, when each morning no longer promises continuing angst. How was it that we'd both managed to live so long without even once suspecting that this life could be so grueling, so unrelenting, so out of our control? We have only inadequacy to accompany us through. That, I guess, will just have to do.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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