An anniversary of sorts…

Today is the 20th anniversary of my diagnosis of leukemia. As on that day, this morning dawned sunny with clouds. And as on that day, I woke from sleep today with a woolen head and dragging feet, reluctant to face the day. The reason for this morning’s lack of enthusiasm is not because I feel ill, but on account of a late going to bed last night after a stimulating evening of tea and discussion with friends late into the night. As I dragged my half-awake self to the first cup of coffee, prepared this morning by Rumpole, it occurred to me that this date had some importance in my life. It was while pouring that first black cup that this significance popped into my brain.

I took a sip, observed Rumpole, looking disheveled and poring earnestly over a section of the weekend paper and interrupted his concentration.

“Dear. Do you remember what we were doing at this time exactly twenty years ago?”

He looked up with a question in his faded forget-me-not blue eyes. “No. But I do know we were up north at the time. Why is the date significant?”

“On that day, I woke up from a sweaty sleep on the couch in the living room to the sound of the telephone ringing, you answering and asking many questions at your end, then finally saying ‘yes, I understand, I will bring her in right away.’ ”

“Quit being mysterious.” he grumbled. “How can you remember what that particular phone call was about? Please get to the point.”

I took a long swig of my coffee and added some milk to it. “That was the day you took me to the hospital for that awful diagnosis and only allowed me a few minutes to get my stuff together. I had my client reports to still finish, so I took those. There was the unfinished crocheted ugly pillow-cover I was making for Jacquie. That went into the overnight bag with the beautiful turqoise housecoat you had given me the previous Christmas.”

“I wonder why I can’t remember you getting ready to go.” Rumpole scratched his ear, and folded his newspaper closed.

“You were occupied by consulting the thick medical diagnostic tome in the kitchen. You had it hidden behind the toaster so I wouldn’t know what you were up to. Renaissance Man was hopping about bringing me toothbrush, hairbrush, journals, files and pens.” I beaded him with a direct look. “Neither of you are good at hiding your anxiety. When you led me to the truck as if I was made of spun glass, ready to break apart at any moment, I knew something not so good was up.”

I remember Rumpole guiding me into the bucket seat of the LandCruiser, strapping me in most gently and covering me with a lap robe. We drove down the snowy country roads, admiring the light and texture of the landscape. I insisted that he stop at the edge of town at the shopping centre and buy me a nightgown appropriate for a hospital stay. He was so impatient while I pored through the racks of nightgowns like a somnambulist and mumbled dutiful disinterested husband comments about my selections.

As we drove down the big hill into town I moaned to him. ” What a perfectly beautiful day to be having to go to the hospital. I’d rather stay home and go for a walk with you guys.”

“The woman from the hospital said you had to come in for further blood-work and for a procedure for a bone marrow biopsy,” he told me, then went on to reassure me. “You know we will be with you throughout the day. I’ll bring Renaissance Man in this afternoon to see you. And I’ll call Marlene, Jane and Linda and Al to come and keep you amused.”

“Please call, Maureen and let her know she has to reschedule my next week’s clients. Tell her I will send this week’s reports in with you on Monday.”

How do you remember what happened on that day?” he asked.

“Heck, how can one forget such a day, or what happened on such a day? It’s not every day one is told one has a life-threatening disease. It kind of ranks up there with some other life milestones – like when you first proposed to me, or when you brought you pajamas and alarm clock to our first sleep-over ever”, I said through smirking lips. “Hell, I even remember how nervous George was as he was giving me the diagnosis in the nurses’ lounge. He bummed a cigarette from me and we smoked together as he apologized and said it was far too beautiful a day for him to give me such unfortunate news. Imagine, George apologizing, when it was all too clear to me he had to give up a day with his daughter tending their trap-line.”

“I was too much a basket case that day. Can’t say I remember a third of the stuff that happened. But I remember crying in my office as I phoned all our friends to come to you in the hospital. I remember crying with Renaissance Man as we drove to the hospital to see you.”

We fell into silence, drank our coffee, and read the papers. I mused about how strange memory is, what details are remembered. I remember Rumpole’s devastated expression, and Renaissance Man’s bereft face as they sat by my bed side while I struggled with the crocheting, to finish the pillow-cover for Jacquie, one of my clients. She had patiently instructed me in my inept first attempt at crocheting and I wanted to do her proud.

12 Responses to “An anniversary of sorts…”

  1. Nita Says:

    I didn’t know you were a cancer survivor, but maybe I missed it in some of your posts…I didn’t even know that leukemia had a cure. What I do know however is that you need to be a fighter to pull through any type of life-threatening disease so hats off to you!

  2. mariacristina Says:

    G, a most poignant post. I’m always amazed at how vivid your memories are, and how lively you make them appear for your readers. A real gift. To me it’s a sign that you are fully engaged with life. Only a person who is connected to each moment can recall with this kind of clarity.

    I’m wondering how the leukemia has changed you, both regarding your health, and your outlook.

  3. ybonesy Says:

    I once took a class about how we function in different realms — the physical, the mental, the emotional (three main ones) — and how usually at least two of those predominate. As I recall, people who reside in physical realm have strong memories, partly because they are not stuck in their heads so much as to not notice the details. People like me, who reside in the mental realm, only remember certain events. Ever since I took that class, I’ve been fascinated by these differences — why is my memory so poor yet my husband’s so acute?

    But, memory differences aside, I’m not surprised that you remembered so vividly the detail. It makes total sense to me that this day was seared into your brain. Hmmm…smoking in the hospital waiting area? Glad that’s not allowed any longer ; – ).

    Congratulations on your survival and thriving. Here’s to (at least) 20 more years!!

  4. suburbanlife Says:

    Nita – even after so long a time a doctor doesn’t say I am cured, but for all intents and purposes I consider myself cured with only fatigue as a long-lasting after-effect. Apparently my form of AML was considered a more treatable form with longer survival rates using the treatment protocols of that time. I feel like I have won a lottery! G

    Christine – thanks for your kind comment. I think the main change in my outlook and regarding my health is to live as much as possible in the present, and in my attitude to possessions, status, what it means to be a human being. I now suspect it is not how long I will live but how well I function as an entity among numerous other entities that matters. G

    ybonesy – interesting, thar business of different levels we function in. Do you think each individual demonstrates differences in the various amounts of activity they perform to in each realm? There must be a huge variation of combinations possible with number of people who exist. I think we remember those situations which have momentous importance in our lives. Do you have clear recall of physical details of some circumstances while having difficulty even getting a general picture of many others? i find that is the case for me, but as I meditate and let thing out into the light more detail (probably filled in from recent experiences) presents itself. Probably there are many mixed memories in my writings, and that is what fascinates me in the process of writing my bits – how much is so randomly jumbled together.
    Thanks for your good wishes – hope to add to the memory store.G

  5. canadada Says:

    Nicely done. Evocative and visceral.
    Memory sure is a strange beastie. I was talking to my ‘first boyfriend’ recently (ie. some 30 odd years ago at this point), and asked him if he remembered what for me was a most significant train ride… Blank. Nope, not even a glimmer. It impressed me greatly that what was and remained so vivid to me, meant absolutely nothing to him and was, in fact, relegated to the dustbin of his Story…. Conclusion: We are a random collection of thoughts and memories that define us, give us our unique characters, and shape our personalities, for better and/or worse. All very curious to be sure. Memory is potent. Best, Canadada
    p.s. (If interested, please do consider my relevant post, ‘The Storyteller’s Apprentice’ chez moi….)

  6. ybonesy Says:

    I’m like you, G. I have pretty vivid memories of big events, or at least, events that affected me in a big way. But my husband — his memories are more general, and they go back much farther than mine. I remember being in the hospital at age 12 to get a benign tumor removed. But, if I think about age 12, I would have to get together with my sisters, read my diary, etc., to recreate as much as I could from that year. I have more the “crystallized moments” type of recall than the general recall.

    BTW, one of the key messages I got out of my writing practice (and sitting practice/walking practice) workshops with Natalie was, if I am present to the moment and NOT stuck in my head conversing with Monkey Mind, then I improve my ability to capture detail. So, although she doesn’t position it quite like that, any kind of meditation is a tool for memory. Again, my words, not hers.

  7. suburbanlife Says:

    Canadada – interesting you mentioned your memory of that momentous train ride (for you) and a ‘what are you talking about’ moment (for your friend). I still have a limpet shell, much valued, an aide memoire, that my first lover gave to me 40-odd years ago at our parting. He might, these days see it as a curiosity, an example of a type of shell, but for me it is freighted with significance. Life is sure strange, memory, stranger. Thanks for your thought-provoking comment.

    Ybonesy – Like you and your husband, Rumpole and I differ in the way our memory and thought processes work. He doesn’t seem to have a “crystallized moments” as you call it, type of recall, because when I ask him for specific detail of an incident, he glosses and generalizes the descriptions. And yet, he can remember back much earlier times in his experience than I can of mine.

    Fortunate you to have worked with Natalie Goldberg. The chattering, intrusive “Monkey Mind” as you call it, really is a huge distraction from being in the present. It prevents recovering the continuous commmon thread that runs through us individually and connects us to all others -maybe I am awkward in expressing my idea, but that core of profound sameness our species share, and which all creative works celebrate. G

  8. QuoinMonkey Says:

    G, this is a beautiful story. You are a survivor. And I think the world is such a better place for that. 8) I love how you remember every detail of that day. I tend to frame my memories like that, too, including all the details and senses. When I read your piece, it was like I was right there with you.

    Anniversaries like this are so important to honor. I think it’s a celebration of life to go back and remember. And writers that pull the past forward, really draw me in. I was also struck by the way you were so concerned about your clients and weaved that all through the piece, right to the last line.

    Thank you for sharing. And here’s to many, many, many more years.

  9. suburbanlife Says:

    QuoinMonkey – thank you for the “attagirl” 😉
    The value of life is in the living, and in living a longer life, in savouring all that continues to go on and also has gone before. That includes the good, bad and the indifferent – it is all life fodder. G

  10. canadada Says:

    Please consider my latest … ‘Granny Never Forgets’…. wadja think? Has nothing to do with my own grandmother, but is based on a true woman’s northern adventures, Winnifred Marsh. (Her husband was Anglican Arch Bishop of the Northwest Territories in the early 1900’s. I helped her collate his photos way back when … and got to know her pretty well … she was a delightful and kindly sprite.)

  11. canadada Says:

    Thanks for your comment. You ok? Are you ‘restricting’ your posts to once a month now? HOPE NOT!!! Snow here in the East is plentiful. Lots complain, but truthfully, it’s all rather wonderful and beautful. Spring IS coming and there is warmth in that bright sun today… Let us hear from you again before April.

  12. guybrush57 Says:

    When I read this, I just cried and cried. I picture your drive to the hospital as if it were my own. You write so gently, so calmly … I’m SO glad you’ve made it to your 20th anniversary. Bless.

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