I first read the statistics when my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Heck. I first heard of pancreatic cancer when Dad was diagnosed. In 2011 I read that the average person has a 3 percent chance of developing this form of cancer, and it is almost never caught early enough to successfully treat. Patients have a 5 percent survival rate for 5 years. My dad did not beat those odds and died 4 months after his diagnosis.
Since then, I’ve known five other people to die of this specific disease: a close friend from my church, two high school friends’ parents, a former boyfriend’s mother and an illustrator I met through the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I suspect I am noticing the cancer more because my father had the disease, but I can’t help thinking that’s an awful lot of people to make up 3 percent of the population. It makes me wonder if I’m overdoing the odds somehow or if this is what 3 percent looks like as it relates to my one life and the people I know. I’d need to talk to a statistician to figure if I’m ‘above average.’ I think I won’t. I think I’ll just plug away and hope not to see that diagnosis again anytime soon. It’s getting old like that song by Milli Vanilli my one time roommate played over and over in our UW dorm room.
I know what my dad would say about this post. He’d say it’s ‘pretty good’ but what does it mean? What I am trying to say we should do about pancreatic cancer?
I don’t know. Maybe it means I should join the Purple Stride Puget Sound, or maybe I should be working harder to spread the news about a fantastic new test developed by a vibrant young man who also lost someone he loved to pancreatic cancer:
This test, by the way, supposedly also identifies ovarian and lung cancer, two other forms that are knocking out my friends and loved ones.
Maybe this is what I am saying I should do. Or maybe I am saying I don’t know what to do about pancreatic or any other kind of cancer. Maybe (I would say to Dad if he could read this), I am saying that it makes me sad, this mortality business. Maybe.
This morning I spent more time not writing at this computer than I did writing. Way more. I must have surfed and procrastinated for 45 minutes before I got myself going. And now I have to get in the shower to start my day. Often writing looks like for me. A lot of procrastination. A promise to myself that if I just write out a few words, then I can quit for the day. I’ll write the few words and then feel like I can make that word count for the day. It’s then that I get into a groove or ‘writerhead’ as Kristin Bair O’Keefe calls it. And it’s often then that it’s too late. The rest of the day I’ll think about the writing I did and the writing I wished I’d done. Sometimes I wonder what I’m doing and why I’m putting myself through this every morning. I try to imagine what else I’d do besides sit here and muster the courage to write. That’s the place when I remember the truth. I can’t see myself not writing anymore. I worked so hard to become a writer and now somehow I am. It’s in the fabric I’m cut from and ripping out the threads of writing from my life might unravel everything.
I recently read a post by up and coming YA novelist Jodi Casella that is ringing in my mind’s ears. She describes a book with people living through a plague locked up behind walls so they don’t spread the disease to others. They just wait their turn, wondering when it will be time for them to die. Lately, many of those I love have been passing away. Just this week, a dear friend and adopted grandfather for my children died after a brief time with the plague of our time: cancer.
It’s clear like looking into a mountain lake where my friend Rich loved to hike – writing is something I’m doing while I wait my turn. And it’s something that somehow makes my mortality bearable. So whether I am cracking out my 500 words or just that one sentence I promised myself, writing makes a difference to me.
That’s why I keep doing it and that’s why I can let my words for the day be ‘enough’ even though the writing will never be finished. It frightened me before that I have so many words to write and may not live to see them all down on paper. I’m beginning to accept that I won’t get them down. And I don’t even want to. If I got them all down, what would I do while I wait for my turn?