On the Gift of Life And Angels

Louisa Leontiades Illness, Vile Depths

I’d made this journey three weeks before by the side of my lover, through the tunnel of glass from the main wards up to the operating theatre. Deja-vu. But this time it was me in the bed, waiting for my throat to be cut open, putting my absolute trust into unknown professionals to pump me full of drugs and slice a part of my body out that was suspected cancer. It was like we’d rehearsed it. And even though there was only an infinitesimal chance of me dying from the operation, we’d gone out for dinner the night before.

Why don’t we just get take-out? I said.

No, he replied smiling. This might be the last chance I have to buy you dinner. To hell with the expense.

So I ordered the steak, because if I was on death row it would definitely be my last meal. Steak, pomme frites and salad with lashings of Bearnaise sauce. It was morbidly good. We smiled at each other wickedly, because we knew a secret that the serving girl didn’t. It might have been my last day on earth.

I confess, there’s a part of me that feels like a fraud. Rationally, logically… there’s a only small risk that it turns out to be cancer. 15%. And an even smaller risk that this will be the thing that kills me. There’s a part of me that thinks, at least this bloody tumour should be malign, just so I can feel vindicated. Because if I’ve deliberated this much, worried this much ~ for nothing ~ I will be mocked, like the boy who cried wolf.

It’s a vile thought, a purely selfish thought, to wish your health away because you feel ashamed of being worried. Just because you’re afraid that others will think you’re being a drama queen. It’s an insult to those who are truly ill. And yet if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past year, it’s to embrace your vileness and to accept your dark thoughts. They too are worthy of being accepted as part of you. Thankfully it’s also not my only thought.

Every person, all the events of your life are there because you have drawn them there. What you choose to do with them is up to you. ~ Richard Bach

I met my newest boyfriend last year. That he and I should both have suspected cancer, that we should both be operated on within the same month, in the same hospital, is a fantastical probability. That he should be around to help me navigate the same emotional waters of illness, grief and acceptance, I believe is too much of a coincidence. And in the words of Sherlock (latest hero to be added to my ‘laminated list’), ‘the universe is rarely so lazy’. I am grateful to have met him.

I’m also lucky enough to have another boyfriend, the father of my children, my best friend and the rock in my world. He doesn’t deliberate on death like I do. He’s a pragmatist.

There’s enough time to worry about cancer, if it turns about to be cancer, he says.

He grounds me. Without him perhaps I would tumble neck deep into my stories and into my fears. Into my crazy fantasies and far-fetched narratives. Whilst I was in hospital, he has looked after the children and ensured that their world was stable. That they knew enough not to be scared. Because if their world is stable, my world is also stable. He is the reason I know, that they would be alright without me. He is the reason I can explore my limitless imagination without being destroyed by it.

I hope I won’t need to write again on this subject. I hope that I am done with deliberating on death. I hope, despite my vile and selfish thoughts, that the tumour they sliced out is benign. For all our sakes.

Along with the dark sides of our human nature, I have faith in the silver lining of our spirit, that energy that lifts us above the clouds. I believe that we all have wings powerful enough to let us soar above our wretchedness. I believe that when someone’s spirit glows enough to brighten the edges of their dark humanity, we see their halos and we call them angels.

That light is glory in the face of tragedy. Joy in the face of adversity. Compassion when there is unbearable pain. And so whatever the tumour turns out to be, I know that it is above all things a gift. It has brought me a lightness of spirit that warms my heart and brightens my life.

We all have this gift, but we often forget. It is the gift of knowing, truly understanding, that we are mortal. After all, an infinite life, a life without mortality, would mean very little.

5 hours or so later, I woke up, tumourless, in pain. Not able to swallow, not able to speak. But it was good pain. Amazing pain. It made me happy (well, that along with the morphine). Because it was the pain and the joy that came with it, that reminded me I was still alive. And even though I hope this is my last word on it, it is a gift I will never forget.