On a night as bright as day, I set off from the yurts to return to my bed back in the Village. The path was well packed and easy to follow, but stories told that evening of cougars, bears, and our uneasy relationship with the wild tensed my shoulders.
My shadow diagrammed sharply against the snow, as though I were a figure emerging from a still life lit from a single great source.
I needed to sleep in my own bed, because I am a creature of habit.
Often, I open my window when the perpetual twilight drifts into night, and darkness obscures this minor transgression, at least in my mind. I do so furtively, imagining the disapproving glare of the utilities staff who produce the power that heats the buildings.
Night sweats are an early sign of some cancers, including the three cell types that have crept through my body for the past two years. In the months before chemo, I would wake, the bed soaking, my body cold against the air, blankets thrown to the floor by limbs that somehow knew more about my body than my brain or the doctors.
Now, closing in on a year since the end of chemo, I am terrified of sweating in the night, which has slowly metastasized to something close to a fear of sleeping itself.
Next week, I will be sitting in the waiting room at the Mayo Clinic. In the four or so hours I have to wait for the scans to be read, I will spend my time as best I can. I will get irrationally annoyed by the walls of overly polished cherry wood, then someone will get good or bad news, and will talk about it too loudly on their cell phone. Later, someone will bring Chinese take out to eat while they wait, and it will emerge from white cubes with red writing, smelling strongly of soy sauce, and cheap chili powder.
These things will annoy me because annoyance is so much better than thinking about the coming meeting with my oncologist.
His name is Dr. Wilson, and he wears suits, usually grey, that are much too big for his lanky frame. His wire-framed glasses are often visibly smudged, a detail I only noticed when casting around for something to focus on that wasn't the manila folder he carries in his large hands.
The folder will open and black and white sheets shiny with ink will fill the desk, and he will say, "Looks like the nodes didn't change, I'll see you in three months."
Or he might say, "I'm sorry to say one of the nodes has grown from seven millimeters to fourteen."
I’ve wanted to describe what I feel when those words or their kin are spoken, but each of the three times have been different. Shock, rage, numbness, even relief that now, at least, I know. These emotions come and go like waves blown in from some great distance I will never be able to bridge, especially if I try.
I have lain awake late into the night for the last week, waiting, dreading, and hoping for this circular process to start over.
A fellow Villager came to talk to me last week. She asked a series of questions about how my perspective has changed over the course of illness and healing.
It is an uncomfortable topic, because in a lot of ways I like who I am now a lot more than I liked myself pre-cancer. I am a very different person than I was two years ago. Of course I would have rather not had cancer, but I do have to find a way to appreciate the positive changes and developments in my perspective and talents.
This last week in the Village has been one of the happiest of my life, even with the anvil of tests hanging over my head.
As most of you know, Monday I say goodbye to Holden, at least for a while. Last spring I got on the bus to leave not sure if I wanted or needed to return. This time I know this place and her people are imprinted deeply on my mending heart.
What a great blessing we were given this week, to see the moon outshine the dark. For the first time in my young life, I knew to stop each time I saw it, at least for a moment, because there was something worth seeing.