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By Lavonda R. Staples

 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013.

 

I have heard the word so many times and never searched for its meaning.  I never sought out the face, the movement, or presence.  Yet, it found me and made me a member of the army which fights the presence of this aberrant conundrum.

 

What does it feel like?  It feels like a rapier, a thin sword with all edges useful for cutting, is being threaded through all of the organs in my torso.  The pain never lessens.  You cannot get used to it.  The intensity can only fade when enough percoset, vicodin, or trammadol has been absorbed by my body.  It's enough to drop you to your knees.  To make you scream.  To make you cry automatically.  I cannot, even though I have tried, mentally force the tears to cease.  It's nothing short of a taste of hell.  Yes.  Cancer is a preview of a punitive posthumous experience.

 

I woke up.  The enemy was the first face I saw and the first presence felt.  I took my medicine.  I am not used to pain pills so I have to take them one at a time.  Five milligrams plus five, plus five, over a course of two hours.  I have to wait for relief for 120 minutes.  If I take them all at once they're going to come right back up (have learned that the hard way).  This morning it was so intense that I took all fifteen at once.  This only causes my stomach to burn.  So I sat.  Meditated.  I wrote.  Here it is.  The fruit of this morning's resolve to fight and win.  

 

I wake to pain.  Pain which makes me shake and beg for release.  Not permanent release.  You see, I am very much attracted to this world.  The living world still holds fascination for me.  Through my own eyes and through the eyes of my children and the possibility of grandchildren to come.  Yes.  I want to stay here with all of you.  There is no other choice but to wage war with all of my might.

 

There are those who soldier beside me but this peculiar war decrees that I am the only one who will feel the pain of wounds.  Not face to face confrontation, but the covert wounding which occurs inside my body while I eat, sleep, and breathe my way through life.  Cancer does not know how to fight fair.

 

It has attacked everything I have ever believed.  I am a study in reciprocity.  I genuinely believe that niceness calls niceness.  It may not be to the person to whom niceness was applied.  Rather, it can find you when you least expect it or deserve the compassion of fellow humans.  I believe that good deeds are rewarded in this life and although I expect that they are also rewarded in the afterlife, there is strong indication that mankind is not a totally evil force treading upon the earth.  I have met many bad folks.  I have also had the great fortune to meet people for whom there is no equivocation; they are angels in our midst.

 

People have reached out to me from across thousands of miles.  Tenderness which leap frogs mountains and hopscotches across the oceans help me to hold on for one moment longer thereby creating in me the makings of a heroine.  I can hold on and calm myself with courage of my own soul, faith in my god, and the urging of a celestial chorus which utilizes telephone calls, email, and in the case of those who are very close to me, physical presence.  I don't know what I would do without you.  I, most likely, would have given in to the pain and taken treatment from a place which did not suit my needs and my goal of becoming cancer free.

 

I do not wait alone for my treatment at the cancer center here in St. Louis.  A few of the old folks have said, "just get some relief child, let the folks take out the gall bladder."  But then, there would still be my liver which one cannot live without.  It deserves the best that technology can offer, does it not?  It's a case of doing something right the first time.  I cannot afford an oopsie.  No one can.  We have time because of the miracle of this body which God has given me and I have taken for granted and abused in so many ways.  Still, in spite of my best efforts to become unhealthy, He took compassion on me and did not punish me for nearly fifty years of excess.  In spite of the tumors on my organs they still work.  Bile ducts doing what they're supposed to do.  Thyroid still on its job (and I'm still unclear just exactly what it does and does not do).  No.  The useless gall bladder has to stay inside of me until an oncologist, and not a general surgeon, takes my case.

 

But this means I have seven, nine or maybe even ten more mornings to wake to pain.  Ten more days of daily battle in order to wait out the arrival of my cancer cavalry.  I have the strength, inside of me, of those who waited out slavery, Jim Crow, prison terms, and also that of the new generation who have won their own personal wars to become medical doctors, professionals, and other things which they said Black people could not do.  I am Auntie Vonda to them.  Sister.  Mother.  Friend.  Lover.  To these folks, my cousins, children, graduate school peers who have stayed long after the cap and gown have been tucked away, and one little man who has shown more kindness than I ever knew he possessed, I have been entrusted with the going concern of my own life.  I see no intentions of failure in my heart.  I only see the moments when we are talking, years later, and joking about this time.  There will be laughter one day, just not today.

 

And did I also tell you that my granma hovers near?  She holds my hand when I wake up.  I can smell her!  I can hear her!  I can see her when she moves away from me, no longer showing me the face of a general who musters her troops into a weapon which brings the most cruel designs to ruin.  When she moves away from me I feel hot tears coursing down her brown face.  Scalding her when she is so very far away from all care.  She mourns for me from her grave.  I hear my grandfather praying for me.  With all of the intensity he could channel from his mouth to God's ears.  He crashes into the mercy seat and does not pull himself from his knees until he is sweating in his efforts for God to work His miracle on me.

 

I know that this disease is much more than a word.  It is a verb.  It is an adjective.  It is not abstract (at least not for me, not anymore).  It is real.  And it has brought me to the precipice of my own reality.  I am real.  I am a force of nature.  I have no intention of giving it any quarters in my mind especially not in the guise of victor.  It can silence me in only two ways:  if I let it or if God wills.  These two mechanisms are not unfamiliar as they are the ideologies under which we all are yoked for every decision of life.  The donut, the drug, the arm of the slot machine can only do what we let them do.  Ne c'est pas?  Yes.  It is so.

 

I fight against it.  I wait for time to pass until I can have expert help.  I soldier on behalf of my own life and all who love my life because it's all I can do.  I have no other choice except to live.

 


La Vonda Staples is an adjunct professor of African American history. She has taught children and adults alike. She blogs at www.lavondastaples.com

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