As you know, living in a rural mountain paradise affords great views. Some of the best views are taken for granted, the almost nonstop visual splendor bordering our roads, the roads we travel every day, getting to places we go every day. Every time I visit the San Francisco Bay Area the thought occurs to me, usually while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, “How do people ever get to where they’re going? Why aren’t all the cars pulled over to the side of the road with their occupants just sitting and gawking at these views?” But as we all know, the business (busy-ness) of life takes the wheel and it all becomes a blur and we forget to look.
There is one section of road here,on Highway 70 between Portola and Graeagle,that almost never fails to get my attention, and it’s not the natural wonder, it’s the road signs. As you round one of the many curves, steep upslope on one side, equally steep downslope on the other, there is an array of warning signs within 50-feet or so of each other that any reasonable person would find cause to consider.
The signs appear this way:
It’s that last sign. So you’ve taken heed. You’ve gripped the wheel. You’re hyper-vigilant. You’re almost there….and then what? I don’t know of any defensive driving maneuver or any special driving skill that would swerve, accelerate or generally get you out of the way of a boulder hurtling toward your head at 32 feet per second. I think to myself, “I’d rather not know.”
Until one day…
I find myself on a different road. I’m on Highway 17 between Santa Cruz and Palo Alto, my destination The Stanford Cancer Center. It’s week #7, just one more week to go, just one more week…
Now I’m a commuter. Traffic is bumper to bumper crawling, inching, idling, lurching toward a thousand separate destinations all linked by this single artery, all calibrated to this one continuous variable, commute time, the rush hour. Rush hours and business hours refer to the same thing, gridlock. Even Cancer is subject to business hours. There is no Fast Pass Commute lane for Cancer and even if there was I’d hesitate to merge into it, might be worse, might miss my exit. So I resign myself to yet another long wait. Cancer comes with a lot of waiting. Cancer is the Waiting Room.
I’d like to say that my new acquaintance with Cancer has made me a different person, a better person, a person who savors every moment always cognizant that at any moment everything, everyone I hold dear could disappear from my life. Sometimes that is the case, just not when I’m stuck in traffic. Back at our temporary home, just steps from the ocean, miles from needles and tubes and exhaust fumes, peace reasserts itself as peace always will, at days end, bathed in a glorious sunset, promise of a new day.
I’ve learned more about Cancer than I ever thought I wanted to know. Something about not knowing takes the form of a charm or amulet that you hope will ward off the bad spirits. Just in case, we eat healthy diets full of antioxidants, absent of ingredients we can’t spell. We learn in detail about the good effects of Omega-3 and the bad effects of free radicals. We live healthy lifestyles, plenty of fresh air and exercise. We slather on sunscreen. We avoid coming in contact with pesticides and hold our organic beliefs to be self evident. We play the odds, and as any gambler or insurance adjuster will tell us, the odds are stacked against us.
Strangely enough, you get used to Cancer just like you get used to anything else and that’s somewhat of a relief. There are routines, there are courses of treatment that are every bit as horrifying as everyone says, but what they don’t say is that being this miserable is doable. Being this miserable is still being alive. Suffering comes in waves. Pretty soon the waves get further apart, then the treatment ends. It’s the medicine, not the disease. The medicine doesn’t discriminate. Your body learns to accept the collateral damage. Life goes on.
Cancer is a signpost that directs you in no uncertain terms to Now. Now is where all moments gather, past present and future, in one single place and that place is Home.
We’re home now. It’s Springtime in the mountains. It’s where we live. I love where we live.