Colon cancer diaries II: Backlit


When they told me I had to have surgery for the third time, they explained that it would be a simple procedure, such as operating hemorrhoids, although those who have undergone this intervention know that it may be simple for surgeons but perhaps not so much for patients. I wanted to go to the operating room willingly but I was terrified of what might come afterward. My bowel movements were already painful and complicated (which made eating an arduous chore). "They didn't think I was going to be in more pain than I already was," but what would it be like exactly, with that new cut in my anus? It was fear; it wasn't real, I knew, but very powerful.

This terror pushed me to a tipping point, adding to other circumstances that I had kept at bay more or less: absolute fatigue with almost a year of struggle with pain and more pain, the possibility of other tumors, more surgery and chemotherapy, and not knowing who I was or where I was going during all this time with limited autonomy, separated from my everyday world. However, I eventually found in accepting this very reality an extraordinary strength that helped me see what I could do. Having hit rock bottom, I could insist, with extreme stubbornness, on "having a good time", i.e., on suffering as little as possible, on raising up with elegance and grace despite everything, even if sometimes I was in pain and everything fell apart. How far could I raise from the bottom? Much more than I had ever imagined.

In this spirit, I travelled with two of my sisters to Menorca, one of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. It was a dubious bet: I did not know how the flight would go, how I could manage in an unfamiliar place, or how much I would be able to enjoy the island. Oddly enough, I found on one of our walks there, from Cala Baldana to Cala Maraquella, an example of "stubbornness" in nature that resonated with me: a tall, thin and twisted pine, with a soft and warm trunk that we touched, which grew directly from a large rock above the road. A drop of resin with a sweet and subtle smell informed us of his will and his vitality in this unusual location.

Menorca is a paradisiacal place and I think it is not exaggerated when people refer to it as the "Caribbean in the Mediterranean". The sea has an impossible indigo blue color alternating with other blue-to-green turquoise less-deep waters. Not only it has a multitude of marine species but also ducks, coots and other birds, some wetlands filled with the smell of pine trees, sea coca and barilla, as far as the vegetation reaches. Ocher rocky areas that are sometimes reminiscent of a volcanic landscape are also dazzling. I do not say it very loud, because one of its unquestionable advantages was that, although there were people, it did not seem to be too crowded. Tourism there is of a more ecological type; parking lots are not often at the beachfront (fantastic idea) and you must walk from cove to cove, and even from lighthouse to lighthouse. And I walked, yes sir, not as much as I would have liked, but I walked.

Even my bowel movements in this paradise were easier. I remember a place near one of those lighthouses, Far de Favàritz, where we found a rocky cove. I did my business between anemones, transparent green fish, crabs and shrimps. I stepped into the water, grabbed hold of two ledges, and put my feet against a rock wall while keeping my body under water. The fish did not care and feasted on my stools: at last without pain, with hardly any effort, with the gentle water as a balm in my long-suffering anus and intestines. Did I also mention that we were absolutely alone? What else could the universe do to accommodate my needs?

The terror of days ago was submerged, diluted in the vastness of this ocean. Not eliminated or set aside, but included, because I also understood that this terror created a sharp contrast with everything around me that helped me appreciate even more the crystalline brilliance of this landscape. The blinding light of the Mediterranean inevitably casts very pronounced shadows. I considered myself in those moments, with all my baggage and pain and, defecating in the water, the luckiest man in the world. I experienced a perfect moment despite, and with, imperfections, and also great was the realization that I could find that feeling again in other spaces and moments. That place, that instant, required that I recognized it to live it to its fullest, and I could do it again in other less obvious contexts. Thus, the always "almighty" hope, which is a form of love that understands everything and loves everything, which conquers terror, in this case the terror of my next surgery, crept into my soul with the sea, the sun, and this feast for my senses.

I also know now that these experiences were helping me build a better mental "scenery", a kinder context in which I could communicate the news of this new surgery to family and friends and also write about this ordeal (liberating me from the "blockage"). Around the time of this trip I started to give the "bad news" to family and friends, trying to maintain this healthier state of mind, which I gained sometimes and sometimes I lost but recovered. As I said in the previous article, I knew from previous experiences that my mood influenced that one of others greatly, and theirs mine. Once again I was able to see how they turned my inner peace into their own and how their peace was the balm that I needed so as not to lose hope, the greater and most helpful perspective for this landscape. Having a more open view of things, which did not deny all its nuances, was the only thing that could give me the true and authentic power to face what I was going to have to face.

Photo: Cala Maraquella, Menorca, courtesy of my sister Elva