Here’s a secret. I’m a bit of a wreck. It hit the other night as my partner lay sleeping. I explored my lower right abdomen wondering if I could trace my dull discomfort deep within to cancer I could actually feel. I stayed up a lot that night. The next day, with light, I continued the exploration. If there is cancer growing within, my fingers are not the ones to detect it. A small relief.

I am in the countdown to testing. It’s been awhile since I have faced freak-out tests.  While scans and blood results always come with anxiety, this round, scheduled for next week, returns me to the sensations of 2012 when my body and mind crumbled as each testing cycle that year revealed more bad news.

I know I should ‘make a plan then work it’ but what would that plan be. It probably wouldn’t be me walking the streets of Philly for two days of treatment combined with testing then getting the test results – alone. But then I try to imagine the elegant plan, being attended to by my many loved ones buffering the blows, and I don’t see the corroding pit deep in my stomach unclenching. I am alone – this adapting to my revised expiration date is an inherently solo and lonely process. At least for me. This solitary journey towards the update is not the problem. The problem is the news I fear getting. There is no safety net large enough to cushion the blow of my cancer doing an end run around this immunology trial.

Better to plan around the concrete stomach churning and shallowness of breath as anxiety locks down my systems. Better to dig out the tools taught me for calm, so I complete the simple meditation exercises that assist my body and mind in melding to the moment – never quite as bad a moment when approached with such attentiveness. Better to hunker down with the coping and resurface when I know my new reality.

But I leave you with this memory.

Amid getting my diagnosis on the side of a highway, as my ER doctor shared the test results that showed I had advanced cancer of still unknown origin, there was magic. My daily life is not filled with magic so I have learned to enjoy it when it does show up.

I had pulled the car over when my cell phone rang that rainy April late afternoon in 2010. It was a point on the road right below a dear friend’s home. It’s a quiet stretch of road so the call coming just then was fortuitous. As I sat in the car hearing the messages that chilled my blood for their tone, I prepped for making the call back. Just then the phone in my hand rang anew. Another dear friend had spotted my car on the side of the highway and called asking, “What’s up?” I explained, “I am having an emotional breakdown.” She said, “Want company?” I said yes. Within 30 seconds she was pulling open the passenger door and slipping in. I told her I was pretty sure I was about to get devastating news. I made the call, heard the doctor’s words, repeated them back so that Cara would know the verdict and said goodbye to the doctor.

I have wondered since then what others do when given the news that their life as they constructed it is done.

Cara and I held hands. I think I wept, silently. I said, “Let’s see if Kelley is home and call in the team.” Of course Cara knew exactly what to do as did the at-home Kelley. In fact, both my husband and yet another dear friend were already frantically en route, the doctor having given them the news prior to me. Within minutes we were gathering in Kelley’s living room, which she was setting up like a cozy bistro with foods flowing and plentiful seating. I went upstairs to call my family and collapse in loud pain. When I came back down the living room was filled with a circle of love, people prepared to walk wherever I needed that night and the longer term as we all committed to my new path. My strongest memory is maintaining deep eye contact with each individual as I relentlessly asked them to pledge to stay by my side, to help me delay death. And they have. It doesn’t mean that some sections of this road I still travel alone.

Thank you for keeping me in your thoughts this next week.

Much love, marcy

p.s. I feel much better just having written down my reality as my dog sleeps at my feet. Life is 1


About marcy westerling

I am a long time community organizer with a passion for justice and founded the Rural Organizing Project in 1992. Derailed by a Stage IV Ovarian Cancer diagnosis in spring 2010, I have stayed in treatment since then. I am learning how to embrace livingly dying and hope that by starting a Phase One immunology clinical trial at UPenn in spring of 2013 I will have more time to find the sweet spots of thriving while terminally ill.

22 responses »

  1. Dear Marcy, you are indeed deep in my thoughts, my heart, my gut, my tears, my laughter, my prayers. thanks for sharing the story of your beautiful circle of friends. and for your sweet and peaceful dog. Sending you love and light. carol

  2. Marcy, I’m sitting in my living room looking out the window at the new snow, the birds, the gardens in winter with tears threatening to engulf my computer. How I wish I could be there with you. A pair of collared doves has just flow in–bringing hope of peace? Glad your dog is there with you as well as those who love you and live near.

    Love, Bill

  3. You will definitely be in my thoughts next week, as you always are. Glad you have a new little companion to share the load. Lots of love!

  4. Dear Marcy, keep your eye on the magic and your ear on the rhythms of the mundane. I’m just telling you what you’ve told us. I’ll be thinking of you as I walk the long corridor to Radiology myself next week.

  5. Dear Marcy, when I read your post last night I found myself unable to think of anything to say. This morning again, I am speechless. I love reading what you write about your life and I bear witness to your journey. Yes, we are all alone, but at least we are alone together! Annie

  6. Your missive sends shivers down my spine — the part about your friends gathered around you, pledging to stand by you wherever this difficult path might lead. Count me in. love you, j

  7. Marcy…it’s Monday 12/16 and I’m thinking of you. I know that you love gardening and I’m wondering if you are familiar with Longwood Gardens just outside of Philly. They aren’t the gardens of the Pacific Northwest…..much more formal…..but they are beautiful in their own way. During the holiday season they are quite spectacular. Perhaps you can get a ZipCar and take a jaunt out to them? I’m sure that you will enjoy walking through them.


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