Everybody says you are supposed to fight cancer. Newspapers carry stories of brave battles against the disease. And Western medicine pulls out its biggest guns for the war – chemotherapy, radical surgery, radiation…
I am having all those treatments and more — but the battle metaphor just doesn’t work for me.
When I was diagnosed, I had reached a point of my life where I was learning to love what is. To accept that whatever was happening in a particular moment was just as it ought to be — however much I might wish it otherwise. To understand that what I called problems were often blessings in disguise.
This hardwon learning had me happier than I had ever been in my life.
So when I was told I had cancer, I couldn’t go backwards and start ranting and railing against it, turning it into an enemy.
Even though it seemed to have arrived at the worst possible time. I was initiating a major expansion of Font Literary Agency and Writing Centre into London and the US and had taken on a new colleague, the bright and brilliant Pamela Moran, who was helping to make it happen. Philip and I had just sold our family home with a view to dividing our lives between Dublin and California. I was at work on a third novel. Every day was full of plans and projects, exciting work that kept me busy and engaged.
But now: this.
Refusing questions like: Why me? (not a question at all but a cry of pain), I asked instead, Why is this here? What is it saying to me that I need to know?
The answers are still unfolding but the first one came loud and clear and took me by surprise. Stop, it said. You’re too busy.
But, I protested, I love what I do. I love it all.
Stop, I heard again.
So I’ve stopped. The expansion is postponed and Pamela has found a new job. Font is now in the hands of my partner, Ita O’Driscoll. Our family remains in Dubiln, in a rented home, until my treatment is complete. And I am spending my days doing very little. Less than I’ve ever done in 25 years of working life. Mostly just reading and writing, hanging with family and friends, resting and getting better.
And what do you know? These new, slowgoing days are full of riches that I only thought about before. I knew they were there, knew the truth of what Kafka said when he wrote, “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
I knew it but now I’m living it. That’s me, down on the floor, rolling around with it.
Thanks to cancer.