Day before yesterday I turned the last page on the 2017 wall calendar to see the me of two years ago looking back, holding Sadie and giving the camera a big goofy grin. It’s a self-produced calendar chronicling some of my cat’s adventures over the years during our travels. She appears every month while I only show up at the very end: as in real life, the cat’s the star.
A friend shot this particular picture on a day trip to the Delta. In it I look happy because I was: I was with people I care for in a beautiful green place near a river, I had my cat along, and I had just beaten cancer. The same friend who took it later that year held me while I sobbed under the Temple at Burning Man, surrounded by reminders of thousands who weren’t so lucky to have prevailed in their own struggles. Some of those reminders I placed there myself – members of my CSC support group, a longtime friend’s husband with pancreatic cancer. People who fought hard and still died. Slender as the thread might look to outsiders, from me knowing them to that moment at the Temple and then to the snapshot from that Delta day, I felt it strong enough to make including that picture in the calendar not only appropriate but almost necessary. Sadie might be the star, but as with any story the star is still only a small part of the whole.
Admittedly when I designed the calendar last December it crossed my mind that despite the picture’s significance to me, including this one still felt somewhat cavalier. I had no idea what 2017 would hold, after all, and if something did happen to me then come end of the year the numerous folks who got a copy would flip up the page to see me there and… well, it might hurt. I certainly expect it would for me in their place. What that something might be I had no clue, since I didn’t and don’t expect my FNHL to be fatal; when it was diagnosed my oncologist called it “highly treatable,” which I’ve since come to interpret as “disrupts the hell out of your life but chances are won’t kill you.”
Nonetheless one thing cancer teaches very quickly is to not take shit for granted. Thus I had a lively little internal debate about using that picture before saying Oh what the hell and doing it anyway. Deciding, I may be faking it but I’m still going to make it.
A year later I’m still here and in that light my reservations about the picture make me grin ruefully, thinking how absurd doubts often appear once you know things turned out OK. The calendar was such a hit that I’ve made a sequel for 2018, and December features – surprise! – a shot of me holding Sadie. One I took myself, which feels its own kind of appropriate for the year ahead: though I know I need my friends, my family, my community, and know it in a way that I never did and perhaps never could have before cancer, there are still some things I want to be able to do on my own because all those people need me too and if I can’t depend on myself I can’t expect them to either.
Last December I made a bet with myself that I’d come through the year more or less intact. I won. Now I’m doing it again. It’s a chance I figure worth taking.
(Republished from my personal Facebook account)