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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Brains and Cancer and Joe Biden

There are so many ways a body can fail its owner. The failures can be small, like a leg suddenly refusing to cooperate or a cut refusing to heal, or they can be big. You can be at war with your own body and survive. But sometimes, your body gives you a big fuck you, and goes off on its own.

We like to think the flesh we call our own is truly ours. It isn't. It belongs, as Edwin Stanton said of Lincoln, to the ages. We inhabit these failing pieces of meat, bone, sinews, veins and arteries, and then we get evicted.

Whatever. We all know that, and we all have different ways of dealing with it.  Some of us believe in an after-life. Some don't. Most of us agree we're all worm-food. A few of us think we can survive even the demise of our own body.

Whatever you believe about death, you must admit that when it happens, it is a betrayal.

Greg and I have spent a month nursing a dog back to health. Why? Why have we devoted so much time keeping a small dog alive even though we know his best days are behind him? Waffles, our dog, was betrayed by his body. A month ago, his back legs decided they were done, and stopped functioning, while the front half of Waffles continued on. The back half wanted no part in walks or runs or belly-rubs. The back half refused to communicate for a while with the front half of Waffles.

Which reminded me of my paternal grandmother, Margaret, who got betrayed by her body and is now food for worms. She didn't like the betrayal, but there was nothing she could do about it. Her body failed her, and now it belongs to the ages, and the worms.

Here's the thing about brain cancer: it sucks. It sucks so much that it makes it difficult to take a breath. And one can say that about any cancer or any death: It is so awful that even the survivors lose their ability to breathe.

When my grandmother finally knew she was dying, she made her body touch my own. She used some of her energy to move her muscles in her hand to reach out to my own hand, and clasp it, and then she used her breath to form words. And those words, which came out of a mouth aware that it wouldn't say much else, were: "I know."

It's true. She was able to sit, then. And we were sitting in my grandparents kitchen, and there was some sun blazing in off the lake outside, and the sun made the yellow kitchen more yellow, and her yellow hand more yellow. And she said, "I know," after she'd said, "You need to be."

"You need to be. I know." Her last words to me.

With Waffles, he doesn't get last words. And his back legs are finally catching up to his front. His body will betray him, as all bodies do.

But the thing about brain cancer, or any disease of the brain, is that it isn't the body betraying you.

Bill and Margaret and me, being.
You need to be you. I know. And then you don't know. You just are your body.

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