The following is the report I received on my CA 125 blood test:
Component 10/27/2014 2/9/2015 4/27/2015 5/20/2015
CA 125 1538 (H) 40 (H) 13 11
It had been cut from whatever part of my medical record the oncologist is able to see but I’m not, and pasted into the response to my e-mail asking what the level was from the recent lab work. Although the numbers are out of alignment with the dates (she clearly hadn’t proofread the e-mail), I managed to make sense of it to my satisfaction (most recent: 11). I hadn’t been aware the test had been done before my last chemo session; had I known I probably would have been celebrating much earlier. Or maybe not. It’s only been the last week and a half that I’ve had any physical interest in celebrating, and now that I have good reason, I haven’t yet come up with an appropriate way to celebrate the apparent extension of my life. I tried weeding, but even without the backache it didn’t seem festive enough.
“Sneaking around transition” is a phrase borrowed from the editor I retained to work on my memoir. When she said it, I thought I knew exactly what it might mean for me. Focus on life, not on the transition. Write about the process, not the product. Don’t talk about the elephant.
So I decided to write about the landscaping project I’ve been planning and starting and re-doing for the past ten years or so. It began as a single-switchback path going up the steep slope between the house level and the horse level on our property. I’ve used it and maintained it sporadically, put in a few plants with some cactus trimmings thrown in, laid sandstone steps, but never fulfilled the intended objective—a tiny version of Napa Native Plant Society’s self-guided botanical garden at Skyline Park, doubling as a short-cut to the horse corral. Not being able to weed the slope this year, I gave myself permission to hire a landscaper/gardener. I showed him the foxtail infested trail and the crumbling incline of clay and shale covered with a stubble of various invasive weeds, and described my vision. He got it, and went even further. He and his assistant transformed the area into a clean-shaven space covered with jute netting for erosion control. The trail was widened and smoothed and groomed, and the sandstone flats I placed for steps have been snuggled closer together, with more added to form well-constructed stairways, one flaring out at the top for smooth entry onto the trail in two directions. I’m learning the benefits of paying a professional to do the work I think I can do.
Of course the planting part of the landscaping still has to be done. Right now it’s looking a bit like a self-guided desert garden. But planting will have to wait until late fall, because nothing will make it through our hot summers on a south-facing slope during this drought. Something to look forward to, the planting part.
Now if only we still had horses at the top of the trail. I have to keep reminding myself, though, how hard this past year would have been if they were still alive, waiting to be fed, needing to be brushed, hoping to have their bellies scratched. Thinning and shearing Dante’s matted winter coat as the days warm up, fitting them both with blankets when it gets too cold, getting Rose up when she tries to roll on an incline or too near a fence and gets stuck. Fixing fences, cleaning the stable, picking hooves, riding when able. Those horses checked out just in time for my needs, I guess, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss them.
The truth is, when they were alive and wandering freely, no amount of landscaping on that hillside was able to withstand their determination to trespass and graze. I imagine, then, that anticipation of a groomed path and vegetated slope is part of my extended transition between having horses and not having horses. It’s a small piece of evidence that even the most pedestrian changes can be part of adaptation, in the sense of adjusting to transition. Change as a way of dealing with change. Sneaky, or what?
The process at this point leaves me with two things to mull over: How I’ll adapt to sensing mortality’s elasticity, and how my vegetated slope will adapt to a changing climate. I suppose the answers to both questions will depend on what I plant and how it’s nurtured.
I can begin by planting the notion of gratitude – especially for the emotional support I’ve had from family, friends, and many various others which has transported me through a very unsettling turbulence. And then, move on to nurturing that notion….