A letter to readers

On my current condition: Definitely treatable, definitely uncertain

Published November 19, 2009 4:19PM (EST)

Dear Reader,

Something has come up that I must share with you. I have been diagnosed with a rare cancer. The recommended treatment involves surgery and radiation. The surgery is complex but we are in excellent hands. It is slow-growing and treatable. My prognosis is good. In the days ahead, I will tell you more about it.

The last two weeks have been spent acquiring the diagnosis, choosing a surgeon and undergoing various tests and procedures. As a result, I have been a little rattled. Though physically feeling OK, I took a few days off from the column. I am sorry I did not let you know ahead of time, but it overtook me; I found myself unable to write in my accustomed way.

Yesterday I determined to write a column with a short introduction telling you of this situation. But after drafting it, at the last minute, I found I was still not ready to tell you what is going on. I retreated. This sudden and powerful reluctance informed me of something. I must shed yet another layer between me and you.

What was this sudden reluctance, this witholding? Was it a symptom of my outsize desire to control? Was it simple modesty? Was it wise management of scarce emotional resources, a symptom of exhaustion?

The difficulty I have disclosing this fact may come as a surprise to you. Compared with other writers, I do disclose a great deal. But writing is still a shield as much as a window. One of the shields I have to lay down now is the shield of bravado. I cannot summon much bravado. I retain a sense of humor but it is freighted with tears. Last week on a sunny morning I wrote a song about the tumor. I sang it through tears. I would like to share it with you soon. It's just a little song. But I will try to share it. It captures how I feel.

Walking up to the cafe this morning, looking for a way to reclaim the serenity that has attended so many of my days, I thought of the term "groundlessness," as the Buddhist Pema Chodron uses it. I feel groundless and I also feel weighted. This groundlessness is the "platform" on which my serenity rests. I am aware of the irony.

With this weightedness and groundlessness comes also a gentleness as I sit in the cafe, a feeling that everything in the world, everything I touch is impossibly fragile. The fake leather of the couch I am sitting next to in this cafe feels cool and fragile; everything I see has an air of translucence and impermanence; I am reminded that if not for certain atomic attractive properties, all this would easily fly apart, as though the electricity had been turned off on a magnet.

I am not afraid, exactly, so much as weighed down, profoundly slowed, ballasted as if with grief or pure gravity itself. I must take this on its own terms, not mine. I have surrendered to this situation.

This morning I woke up eager to begin treatment. I am eager to get to the other side. I am ready. But I am not cavalier. I suppose you could say that yes, I am appropriately afraid.

Oh, damn. My mind just drifted again. That is how things are going. I enter into a feeling, and then just as quickly I began scheming how I am going to get this done and get that done.

Before me, indeed, are many practical matters. The writing workshops and retreats we started two years ago have become a source of joy, community and creativity, which must continue. So the Tuesday evening groups will go on as scheduled, starting Tuesday Nov. 24. The January getaway at Marconi Conference Center will happen as planned. On the other hand, for the time being, the weekly Saturday group will be suspended, so that we can have one day off to recuperate and handle the workload of recovery. We may begin a monthly all-day Saturday workshop, but have not firmed up plans yet.

I will let you know of any further changes, both in this column and also via my e-mail list of participants.

Let me be clear: This is a fully treatable cancer. If all goes well, the tumor can be completely removed and all traces of the cancer can be eliminated. In two or three months, I may be back to my old cheerful and energetic self. But we know, too, that cancer cells are strong, determined, clever and patient. So there are no guarantees.

There is much more to be said. As I go through this experience, on some days I will respond to a letter in the usual way. On other days, such as today, I think it likely that this column will consist of reports and meditations on the situation at hand. I do plan to write every day, whenever possible, to keep our connection and conversation going. Sometimes what I have to write may not be very carefully crafted; there may be times when the experience is overwhelming and what I have to say is commonplace. I do not have much defense against that.

So I invite you to help me.

Join me. Take my hand. Help me through this.

Write Your Truth.

What? You want more advice?

By Cary Tennis

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