On December 26, 2018, the Marvelous María Beatriz was informed that she had an adenocarcinoma in her endometrial wall, “well differentiated” (which we found out was a good thing, since it meant that the cells hadn’t begun to transform themselves into full-drive cancer). On January 14, she underwent surgery to remove the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries along with a portion of the lymph nodes, all of which will be assayed by a pathologist. We’re still waiting for that report, but the surgeon and the pathologist who accompanied him in the operating room were pleased by what they saw (and, it has to be said, didn’t see, that is, a cancer in process), so we’re hoping that the surgery will be the end of it.
We started a site on CaringBridge as a way to keep MMB’s world-wide network of friends and family informed about what was going on (we noted that she was getting support from every continent except Australia and Antarctica). What follows is one of a series of essays that we both wrote for the site (in Spanish and English) about our thoughts and feelings concerning this challenge to our lives. Whatever the prognosis, this time that we have spent dealing with the frailties of the body and the frights facing the spirit has done nothing but bind us together more closely and confirm the vows we took twenty years ago to always be there for each other and never be anywhere else.
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It is one thing to say, in a philosophical way, that your mortality is always threatened. It is quite another to know that your mortality is threatened right now. Well, not mine but that of the Marvelous María Beatriz, who on Monday, January 14, will undergo a hysterectomy to remove an adenocarcinoma in her endometrial tissue.
Yes, the odds of surviving surgery have improved immensely since that first infusion of ether in the 19th century, but it is not riskless. But we have no other option: we have to take the risk. So, under she will go, and I will wait, believing fully that she will wake up and all will be fine.
What is it that I am feeling? Not fear, not threat, not doom. Apprehension, anxiety – yes to those: “I want this to be over now,” what a child feels in anticipating something bad happening. And not to be denied: what if? Complications can arise, hands slip, bodies break—and then what would my life become?
Of course, our cats know nothing about any of this (even though we did tell them—they listened attentively, then went into the kitchen to eat). They romp, they stretch, they chase their toys, they sit in their crow’s nest at the back door and scan the world outside (birds coming to eat the dry food for the strays provide exceptional excitement).
It is a cliché to envy them for their supposed unawareness of their own deaths (we can only suppose because we can’t know for sure, but I would bet that they aren’t aware), but envy them I will. Yes, we can extract meaning from our travails that will enrich our lives and deepen our empathies, but who would willingly choose to live like that if a choice was available not to?
María Beatriz is built in a way that helps her find extraordinary richness in these moments of frailty and vulnerability—she has a faith-base in spirit and human divinity that gives her confidence in the goodness of things—“the universe does things for a reason”—even as she also undergoes her own doubts and fears. For her, there is a community of spirit and spirits, a camaraderie flesh-based but not limited to or by flesh, an uplift of energy even in the midst of the deepest of pains and the most searing of losses (which she has seen in her work with parents who have lost children to illness). Without ever forgetting who she is, she also knows—knows—that there is something greater than she is, which she can trust and draw comfort from, rooted in the spirits of everyone she loves and who loves her.
That is really what it is for her: love, the power of, the forgivingness of, the life-force of, the indestructibility of.
I do not have that, and so I usually take my anxiety straight, no chaser. I don’t say this with any pride (you know, that I’m doing the manly thing, facing reality without a cushion), and while I’m open to the idea that times like this can teach us much about our untapped reserves of resilience, they can also teach us about just how contingent and momentary we are, how easy it is to have any day be the last day.
So, whatever strength you take from these journal entries, I take a double dose (the supply is inexhaustible, so I could take even more) because, as has her love always done for me, the dosage nourishes me with hope and friendship, humor and light-heartedness—will allow me to sit in the waiting room fully prepared to meet her on the other side, the earthly side, and walk out with every intention of living out the rest of our days (and may they be many more) linked and loving and full of light.