“Written on the Body” — May 1, 2019 (Mayday)

I am using the title of Jeannette Winterson’s wonderful novel to start a new series of blog posts, with updates on my medical situation. (how easily I try to avoid using the word cancer, the “c-word” as people said in my childhood — not referring to a woman’s sexuality.) May 1, Mayday — from M’Aidez, help me — is a good day to begin. I want to express my gratitude for the help you are all giving me, by being there and wishing me well.

I appreciate all my family and friends’ good wishes for my treatment, recovery, and health. And while I am glad to continue e-mailing and talking with you individually, I think the time has come to create a place where I can give general updates, information, and thoughts, open to all of you. This is 3 months after my diagnosis in early February, after an apparently successful radiation therapy treatment in March, and just before chemotherapy starts on May 6. I am sure that during the time of chemo, I will have less energy and (paradoxically) feel more ill than I have felt these past 3 months, less able to respond quickly to messages — and so a place you can “check in” for news when you are interested in a good idea, I think. I will try to write an update every weekend – even a few lines. I am NOT putting any of this on facebook, as I still want to maintain some privacy and create a “circle of intimacy” rather than spread the word to everyone I know on fb and their friends and friends of friends and second-friends-once-removed. I’d appreciate your respect for this.

So — esophageal cancer (with metases to the liver!) The last thing I expected, especially soon after moving to Toronto to live with my partner. It is also surprising — in a wonderfully different way — to find a deep and loving intimacy at the age of over 70 (though we have known each other since age 55). Living together has made the relationship grow in many new dimensions: caring, companionship, conversation, and yes, sexuality and love-making. “Written on the Body” applies here, too. I feel as if my body is experiencing a huge amount of new feelings, sensations, and activities, and they are in a strange conjunction with each other: the loving and the cancer — both growing — though we hope the treatment will diminish the cancer cells, while the love flourishes. Love and a sense of humour are not among the side-effect “casualities” that the chemo manual lists.

At the moment, I am surprising and pleasing the doctors (and myself) by being able to eat anything; all systems are working. I am also walking around (waiting for warmer spring weather), writing, going to a few activities like readings — though I have cut down quite a bit, as I get tired after a short time. We did have a great trip to Halifax in early April, to see family there, and have been enjoying family visits in Toronto as well. I am trying to live fully in the moment (which may account for forgetting things in the past and future!)

The first round of chemo will involve one injection every three weeks, as well as pills I take at home for 2 weeks, then a week off. lIn the second or third round, they may add another drug which involves more frequent hospital visits for injections. n on May 17.

Finally, it is very strange to know there are things going on inside my body that I can’t feel or know about through my senses. I have been writing about the “unceertainty princiople” (Heisenberg) and the idea that the universe is made up of everything we know — and everything else. (Schrodinger). This is certainly proof of these theories.

That’s all for now. Thanks again for your warm support, Ellen

About Ellen

I am a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, and CANSCAIP. I have received grants from the Ontario Arts Council for both writing and teaching. I currently work with Learning Through the Arts and Living through the Arts, programmes run by the Royal Conservatory of Music that enable artists to work in schools and community organizations. I have also taught in many other school and community programs, and have been a judge for various writing contests for both young people and adults.
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