Love When Cancer Calls

Louisa Leontiades Illness, Vile Depths

On our second date he told me he had cancer. Three weeks later, it turned out to be a false alarm. But after that we lived on borrowed time.

Last week they called him back and this time it wasn’t a false alarm. Once the tumour takes hold, it will be incurable and rapidly lethal. He needs a new liver immediately. When you’re in love with someone who is waiting for a transplant, the prospect of death is present at all times.

Once you get past the fear of death – which you must in order to live – what you feel most is life. You feel life intensely.

Beautiful, beautiful life. Never so precious as when you realise how easily it can slip away.

So togetherness is focused on togetherness. What we want is touch, sex and talking. Work gets in the way because no one is ever going to their death bed and regretting not working enough.

We look at each other and trace the lines of each other’s faces with the eyes of our mind, knowing that this is all we might have soon. Connection is needed, all the time. We cannot talk without touching. I try to remember with my hands how his body feels, remembering with my senses how he smells, and delighting in his laugh when for minutes at a time he feels alive enough to forget about death. And then comes the sex.

Oh the ferocious, tender sex. When we have sex, it is as primal as sex has ever been.

And as dark and fierce as the last time might be.

Survival is a game of probabilities and just dealing with the percentages is an exercise in Zen. Is 10% chance of survival high enough to plan your future? Is 10% chance of dying high enough to take a break from your career to put your house in order? Does 10% even mean anything at all to you personally? The only way forward is to maintain a double outlook on life that Schrödinger would have been proud of.

Because life doesn’t really change when you live with death, apart from that it becomes far more full of life. It’s a new perspective and if it weren’t so damn intense, you’d probably want to live like that all the time.

Then there are other people to consider. Once he chose not to talk about it too much to anyone so as not to  – in his words – ‘poison their lives with morbid probabilities.’ But now that a transplant looks like a certainty, they must be given their chance to process those probabilities. They also want a piece of him because spending time with him has suddenly become the priority. With that comes fear; there’s a lot of it, even if we all prefer to deny it.

And perhaps his health has helped those close to him accept his relationship with me, a polyamorous woman who already has a beloved partner and two children. Because now it’s a case of

‘Live in the moment. Seize the day. Be Happy.’

You never know if this is all the time that is left. Death casts its shadow on the rest of my life, highlighting all my other relationships in jagged relief. My partner. My children. My friends. Have I told them that I love them enough?

On the other hand, we are also pragmatic about day to day life. We cannot abandon life, even if sooner or later, it will abandon us. Life should not be about death. Especially now. And my life is not just about him, even though he’s an epic event in it. Loving two men means you cannot get trapped in the future with just one of them. Because the possibility of death is just that. Only one of many possibilities. Prognosis is good, in fact who’s to say that tomorrow I’m not the one who will be dead (and might therefore become his liver donor?!).

My boyfriend and I once lived in the now, hedging our bets and knowing that ours was a very unlikely relationship. He’s 34. But he’s known for some years that the chances of living past 40 were slim. That a tumour would silently and meticulously creep into his cells and metastasize before anyone ever detected it. So his life was one peppered with desperation. What life goals could he achieve before the inevitable?

But now they have detected it…early. Early enough for a transplant. Suddenly, the doctors are galvanized into action and we’re preparing ourselves for a serious operation, but one which will potentially give him another 35 years. A second life.

He can start to think about children and reaching old age. Will we have the chance to plan?

As he spoke to his doctor on the phone and got the news that he had been recommended for a transplant, he gave me the thumbs up. Because at least now, life and death come hand in hand as two paths. And we all wait, loving life and holding each other close, to see which one he will take.