Nine months ago, I wrote a reflection called Am I Just a Tourist? after thinking about my relationship with illness as it relates to a very famous quote:
Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.Susan Sontag, from Illness as a Metaphor
At the time, I was rounding the bend on my twelve cycles of FOLFOX.
I felt guilty that, in spite of my cancer, I would end up on the other side of things and only a little worse for wear.
Yeah. My bowels were resected, leaving me scarred and unable to enjoy the spicy foods that I love. So be it. A small price, in the grand scheme.
And, sure: I went through six months of grueling chemotherapy, leaving my hands and feet permanently kissed by neuropathy-induced static. If you’ve ever had your foot asleep while also having your socks balled up at the toes, you know roughly how that feels.
But there was a chance, however small, that those would simply be mementos from my time in the Kingdom of the Sick. That I would return to live in the Kingdom of the Well, hopefully never to return to that godawful place.
Yet, it’s often the places we don’t want to be that call us back most relentlessly.
For me, that looks like a recurrence—or, more accurately—a re-staging of cancer that has probably been metastatic from day one.
I’ve come to terms with having advanced cancer, I can’t help but think that I’ll forever reside in the Kingdom of the Sick.
It’s just that I don’t know many well people who find themselves being poked, prodded, and scanned every three to six months.
I don’t know many well people with implanted medical devices.
I don’t know many well people taking anti-anxiety medication.
And I don’t know many well people tallying up how much time they think they have left.
Is this where I live now? The Kingdom of the Sick? Surrounded by friends who’ll never make it back to their roots in the Kingdom of the Well?
I don’t think I’ll ever make it back home.