A Love of Convenience! 18: Sailing

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Sitting in Naomi’s office the following day, it almost feels like I’m having an out of body experience as the words ‘lumpectomy’, ‘mastectomy’, ‘chemotherapy’ and ‘radiation’ keep flying about. I look at her as she talks, my eyes as dead as I feel, not even knowing what to make of what is going on.

Are we really seated in her office having a discussion about cancer treatment? For me?

“Is that fine for you, Ezi?” Naomi asks.

“Huh?!” I respond, jolted out of my reverie. From the sad look on her face, whatever question she has asked me is a serious one.

“Because of the size of the internal masses in both breasts, Dr. Cooper thinks it would be best to have a double mastectomy.” Naomi repeats kindly. “And I agree with him. It’s best to get all the affected tissue out a.s.a.p!”

I nod as what she says sinks in. A double mastectomy. Meaning I will lose my breasts. Both of them.

“Of course, you can always have reconstructive surgery.” Naomi continues, obviously trying to make me feel better. “Get you a nice C or DD cup, ehn!” she adds with a sly smile and a wiggle of her eyebrows.

I don’t even crack a smile.

“Of course that will have to be after your treatment.” she goes on. “We need to get you an appointment with an Oncologist immediately. The sooner we begin, the better.”

I nod like a zombie. Oncologist. God knows my attachment to that word is anything but pleasant. I heard it more than enough times when Uchechi was ill. Now, I’m the one who has to see one?

This can’t be happening.

“But if you’re thinking of having kids later on, you might want to consider freezing your eggs…” Naomi says pensively. “We have to start with that first. Meaning we really have to make decisions right away.”

“Can I…can I call you tomorrow, Naomi?” I ask. “I need a minute to think about all of this. I need time to really process it all and decide what I have to do.”

Naomi nods sympathetically and holds my hand. “Have you told your family? You need a good support system now more than ever.”

I smile stiffly. Tell my family? How?! Ebere pretty much unravelled when our Mom and sister went through this. Or is it Enyinna, who spent the next few years after Uchechi died battling a chronic alcohol addiction he only just kicked a few years ago? I could never put my siblings through all that again. Not after all we went through watching our parents and sister die within a few years of each other. I would never be so wicked as to rope them into this journey with me…when we all know how it’s going to end.

Getting home, Seth is already there and as I listen to him go on and on about his work day and how much he is looking forward to when we get to leave for Connecticut, I realise that I do not want to go down this journey with him either. Not only will it not be fair to him…I don’t want to spend my last days with a man I do not love.

That is when I finally own up to the bitter truth. I do not love Seth. Being with Dili showed me that whatever Seth and I have is not love. It probably never was. It doesn’t even scratch the surface. It is a beautiful friendship at best, with fairly decent benefits…but not even mind-blowing. It would have been fine for a quiet and unexciting life…the kind we have now, and what we would have if we do get married. But now that I can literally count the end of my days, it would be a disservice to us both to continue.

The truth is I would rather retreat somewhere to die alone. And there is only one place that comes to my mind. My very favourite place on this earth.

And so I listen to Seth talk, and add the perfunctory nod and smile to show some interest. When he reaches for me in bed that night, I lie that I am on my period. As soon as he is fast asleep, I reach for my laptop to see if the quaint cottage in Friday Harbor is available. It is, so I proceed to lease it for a full year. And as I have no intention not to at least give this disease my best fight, I search for hospitals nearby and pencil down a few to consider. By the time the sun rises, not only am I still awake, but I have mapped out my entire plan. I will leave for Friday Harbor as soon as I can, sign up for every and any treatment, and when my body finally fails, die lying on a hammock in my backyard facing the ocean.

I might not have chosen this disease, but I sure as heck am going to choose how I’m going to succumb to it.

Naomi is surprised when I show her the list of clinics I am considering. “Washington State? You have family there?”

Not wanting to have to go through all the trouble of convincing her why I think it’s the perfect place for me to quietly fight this illness, I simply nod and smile. “Yeah.”

“These two are good centres.” she reluctantly concedes, pointing at the first two names on my list. “I could make some inquiries as to which of them have the better Oncologists.” With a deep sigh, she looks at me, her exasperation evident. “But are you sure, Ezi? We have some of the best doctors in the country here. Are you sure you want to go all the way across the country?”

As she asks the question, I realise I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that it’s what I want to do…what I need to do. My decision to move has been the only thing that has given me any form of comfort since hearing the awful news of my cancer. I am more certain than ever that it’s the only hope I have of, if not to beating it, living decently for the remainder of my life.

That night, I decide to tell Seth…not about my cancer, but my decision to leave. I take him to the same restaurant we were meant to have dinner last week, and it is only when he arrives looking all excited and more dressed up than is normal for him that I realise coming there was a mistake and has probably sent all the wrong signals to him.

But it is what it is.

“I’m leaving, Seth.” I say, right after our appetisers and before our entrée.

He looks at me, momentarily confused. “What do you mean by ‘leaving’?”

“I’m leaving Durham…” and then I finally bring myself to look him in the eye. “And I’m leaving you. It’s over.”

He stares back at me, stunned. “Is this some kind of a joke, Ezi? We’re about to start a whole new chapter of our lives! We have only a few weeks before we move to Connecticut…”

I shake my head. “I won’t be going to Connecticut, Seth. I’m so sorry.”

He shakes his head and laughs sadly. “This can’t be happening. I thought you brought me here because you’re finally ready to accept this.” He brings out the black velvet box with the engagement ring he has been carrying out for months. “Ezi, is it anything I did or said? I promise I’ll change…whatever it is, I’ll change.”

“It’s not you, Seth. It’s me.” I say, hating myself for using the cliché phrase. “I just have a lot I’m dealing with and I need to be alone now.”

“Are you going back to Manhattan? To Goldman?” he asks sombrely.

“No.” I answer. “I need somewhere to clear my head and Manhattan isn’t where I’ll be able to do that. I’m going to my favourite place in the world. Somewhere quiet and peaceful.”

“I know this is my punishment for leaving you and coming here.” Seth says after a while. “I don’t think you ever did forgive me for it. No matter what you say to the contrary, I know that’s the real reason.”

I realise I don’t even have the energy to argue with him. If that’s what he chooses to believe, I’ve decided to let him.

“What about your program? Aren’t you going to at least finish it? You only have a few weeks left.” he asks.

“I’ll have to finish it some other time.” I answer, knowing I can’t even afford to hang around for the extra few weeks it will take for me to complete it. From the look of things, with the timer on my life already ticking, it’s very unlikely I’ll even be alive to ever finish it…let alone need it.

We eat the rest of our meal in silence and drive home in silence. That night, rather than sleep in our bedroom, he opts to sleep on the couch. The next morning, as soon as he has left for school, I make the decision to leave immediately. I pack my things, call a cab, pass through the hospital to see Naomi and confirm that she’ll send my medical records as soon as I decide on a doctor, and head straight to the airport. I am on the 9pm flight out of Durham, and land in Seattle a little after 5am the following morning. It is another 5 hour drive to Friday Harbor, and I do not alight from the taxi until about 11am later that morning.

But standing there before the quaint building, the sound of the ocean as a backdrop, I know I have made the right decision. The Caretaker is there to hand me the keys to the house and, walking in, I am relieved to see that it looks even better than I remember it; welcoming…serene…tranquil. This is truly the best place for me.

I spend the next few days trying to settle in and getting re-acquainted with the town. But the truth is I am doing every and anything to avoid making a trip to any of the clinics I identified. It isn’t until Naomi sends me a frantic message, inquiring about my progress, that I accept that I can not hide from it much longer. I can not hide from the fact that I am not in the lovely town on vacation…but to get treatment for my illness.

The following Tuesday, almost a full week after I my arrival, I finally get to see a doctor, Dr. Pickens. He reviews my test results from Durham, and the first thing I notice as he scribbles are the underlined words on the notes on his desk – “Grade 3”. I immediately freak out, wondering what this means especially as I was told my cancer is Stage Two. He calmly tells me not to panic, and explains that yes, I am Stage Two…but Grade 3, which means aggressive.

He goes on to confirm that I will need a double mastectomy, plus the possible removal of some lymph nodes, which will be followed by chemo and radiotherapy. But unlike what I was told in Durham, the mastectomy will be after I have undergone chemo and radiotherapy…not before.

“Doesn’t it make more sense to take out the breasts before treatment?” I counter.

“That’s what happens in some cases.” he answers patiently. “But your tumours are of a significant size…and there’s also the high likelihood that your lymph nodes are already involved. Shrinking them before the surgery will give us a better result.”

As I let that sink in, he drops another bombshell by telling me the breast reconstruction will not happen at the same time as the mastectomy, but later. Meaning I have at least 2 major surgeries in my near future, not to mention any procedure I’ll need to remove my lymph nodes.

We proceed to talk about my desire to freeze my eggs, and he refers to me a fertility specialist, Dr. Mendes. I am booked in to see her the following Thursday and we discuss all my options. Because of my age and the urgency of treatment, she decides to place me on the short protocol, which will see me taking daily injections to stimulate egg production from day 3 of my next cycle. With my current cycle ending, I am back at her office a little over a week later, thus starting a daily routine of self injections..

On any given day, this act alone would have probably tipped me into full-on depression. As if my looming cancer treatments are not enough for me, I also have to contend with this invasive act of retrieving eggs from my body. But every night as I sit on my front porch, with the soothing sight, smell and sound of the ocean, the injections don’t seem quite so bad after all. A few times, I do wonder why I am bothering. I do wonder why I am saving my eggs when the odds are high I will not be alive to use them. But regardless of the doubt that comes from time to time, I still soldier on, determined to see it to a logical end. Even if I don’t get to use them before I die, I could always donate them to another couple, meaning there is the slimmest of chances that I could actually leave behind offspring before I go.

After about four weeks of injections and monitoring, my eggs are collected. In the few days I am allowed to recover before returning to my doctor, I am faced with the cruel reminder that the hardest part of this journey still lies ahead.

Returning to Dr. Picken’s office a few days later, we have a more detailed discussion of my treatment plan. I am scheduled for a CT scan the next day, followed by a bone scan. The next day, I am at the hospital, bright and early, feeling a lot less cheerful than I have forced myself appear.  I am made to drink a large glass of white liquid, lie on a bed for a baseline scan, and then have a line fitted for them to pass in their dye. Even though I’d been warned, the rush of warmth through my body as the dye courses through is so intense and overwhelming. For the first time since I started my treatment, I feel hot tears roll down my face, especially as it dawns on me that, intense though this may be, it is nothing compared to what lies ahead of me.

I am back in the hospital two days later for my bone scan, which thankfully is not as traumatic as the previous one. My results later that week show that the cancer has not spread to my lymph nodes or bones. It is a relief to me as, considering what happened with my mom and sister, I’d almost been expecting it to have spread. But I know better than to get carried away. After all, Uchechi’s cancer didn’t metastasise to her organs until after all that chemotherapy and radiation she endured. So there’s a high likelihood that it will still happen to me later on.

Dr. Pickens explains to me that I will have 6 cycles of chemotherapy, followed by the mastectomy and then radiotherapy. He books me in to see a proper Oncologist, Dr. Chambers, and we schedule a date for my chemotherapy to start.

Goodness me. Chemotherapy. It still feels so surreal to me.

Shortly before my start date, I have a minor procedure to insert a porta-cath, which will apparently make the administration of the chemo drugs easier. Though not a painful procedure, it isn’t the most pleasant either.

“Don’t you have someone to take you home?” Dr. Chambers asks, as he sees me struggling to the door on my own.

I smile and shake my head. “I came here alone.”

A frown creases his forehead. “But you have someone to take care of you when you start your treatment, don’t you?”

Not wanting to attract any undue sympathy, I nod and answer. “Yes, I do.” But as I walk out of the building, I have a large lump in my throat and my heart aches over the fact that I am truly doing this all alone. I’d thought I was strong enough, but now that it is staring me stark in the face, the loneliness and despondence I feel is literally breaking my heart.

That night, I sit on my porch, staring at boats sailing in the horizon. For the first time in weeks, I log into my website and start writing.

Sailing (Christopher Cross) – May 30, 2017

Well, it’s not far down to paradise, at least it’s not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away and find tranquility
Oh, the canvas can do miracles, just you wait and see.
Believe me.

It’s not far to never-never land, no reason to pretend
And if the wind is right you can find the joy of innocence again
Oh, the canvas can do miracles, just you wait and see.
Believe me.

Sailing takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be
Just a dream and the wind to carry me
And soon I will be free

Fantasy, it gets the best of me
When I’m sailing
All caught up in the reverie, every word is a symphony
Won’t you believe me?

Sailing takes me away to where I’ve always heard it could be
Just a dream and the wind to carry me
And soon I will be free

Life is full of paradoxes…constant contradictions. Saving money by spending it. Knowing one thing…but knowing nothing. A jumbo shrimp. A wise fool. Being cruel to be kind.

As I sit here, staring out at the most beautiful ocean, imagining myself on one of the gorgeous and colourful boats sailing by, I am in, without a doubt, the most beautiful place in the world. But I’m also facing the ugliest experience of my life…

 

I stop writing as my tears threaten to choke me. No. I can’t breakdown. I’ve come too far to breakdown now. I’ll go through the chemo. I’ll go through it alone. And I’ll either come out stronger…or dead.

Both outcomes I am prepared for.

I hope.

 

 

 

Catch up on Ezioma’s story here:

  1. A Love of Convenience! 1: Handbags & Gladrags
  2. A Love of Convenience! 2: There she goes
  3. A Love of Convenience! 3: The day will surely come
  4. A Love of Convenience! 4: Russian Farmer’s Song
  5. A Love of Convenience! 5: Moonlighting Strangers
  6. A Love of Convenience! 6: Knocks me off my feet
  7. A Love of Convenience! 7: A simple kind of life
  8. A Love of Convenience! 8: I can’t help it
  9. A Love of Convenience! 9: Edge of desire
  10. A Love of Convenience! 10: The Fear
  11. A Love of Convenience! 11: Ordinary People
  12. A Love of Convenience! 12: Me and Mrs. Jones
  13. A Love of Convenience! 13: You could be happy
  14. A Love of Convenience! 14: Linger
  15. A Love of Convenience! 15: Sunday Morning
  16. A Love of Convenience! 16: Drive
  17. A Love of Convenience! 17: Bohemian Rhapsody

 

 

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Ezi my darling! Be strong! U will pull through.

    Share with someone please! Mia, your sister, your brother, maybe even Dili (wishful thinking) but please don’t go through the journey on your own. …

  2. Ezi dearie,

    My heart bleeds for u. Please font go through this on your own. Be strong!

    U r a courageous and brave lady who will overcome.

  3. Don’t do this alone. Let your siblings know so they know they did all they could to be with you at this time cos it would be doubly painful for them when they eventually know and know you kept it from them. You’d double their grief and make them feel guilty they weren’t there when you needed them the most. Call them

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