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