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December 13, 2004

The Space Between*

*With apologies to Dave Matthews Band.

Today is a seriously odd place to be.

I did a CAT scan today, which, having to choke down the barium contrast aside, went pretty well. Now the waiting begins. The time between. What James Taylor called "time spent out of time."

It comes to this: if the cancer kept to itself and remained localized then the odds of survival are a whopping 90 percent. That's good.

If, however, the cancer has metastasized (spread), then survival rates drop to less than 10 percent. That's not much.

And so what do I do while I wait for results? Post pretty paintings and Hollywood news? Live as though nothing else was going on? Do a few chores around the house? Wait, fretting and pulling hair, by the telephone? Sleep?

And so I don't know what to do with this space between the wondering and the knowing. I have good reason to suspect both results. Funny odd thing, life.

I guess we all have moments spent outside of time: the space between when you ask her to marry you and she answers, the space between when you start tearing into that present and when you know what's inside, the sensation of trying a new food and the space between when you put it in your mouth and when your brain finally registers a taste, the space between when the professor places your test face down on your desk and when you get it turned over and see your grade, the space between when you know you're going to hit the car in front of you and the time the collision actually happens.

Most of the between times are short, over quickly despite seeming to move in slow motion. My space between might be hours, even a day or two.

Isn't that crazy and scary? A 90 percent chance or a 10 percent chance. Life or death, balanced on a paper-thin, unpredictable report that could come through any time.

I don't know what I should be feeling.

I know that in the last week or so, just like the last times I was diagnosed, food tastes better. Hugs feel warmer. It's a hell of a lot easier to tell people I love them.

It feels like I honestly believe that every day is a gift and that you should always treat people like you'll never see them again, but that I usually believe it in a general day-by-day, on-paper-only sense. It feels real now. Shame on all of us for the things we say we believe but don't really live.

So the surgery and the tests and the pain and the worry all come down to one little report. Curious thing, that.

I CAN tell one thing clearly in this space between, though: even if I was sleepwalking my way through life before, I'm awake now. No matter the results, I feel alive. That healthy dose of sarcasm I carry with me is way in a back corner right now. Cynicism is a luxury for those who aren't really living, I think.

I've known people who said they were never really alive until they were given a terminal diagnosis. I'm starting to be reminded of how they felt.

Frustration, boredom, cynicism, sarcasm, laziness, never being satisfied: all come in those times when we're on the periphery, not really living at all.

Now that I'm in that strange, un-temporal space between, the time spent out of time, I sure do love being alive.

I'll post test results when I hear them.

Posted by Dan at December 13, 2004 09:54 AM

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That's profound to say the least. You're in my thoughts and prayers.

Posted by: Ralph at December 13, 2004 02:06 PM

It's that moment between pulling the ripcord and feeling the parachute opening above you. It's scary but, God, what a ride.

Posted by: Ara Rubyan at December 14, 2004 12:28 AM

This is beautiful, Dan. My thoughts are with you.

Posted by: Stacie at December 14, 2004 09:22 AM


Ara knows what I'm talking about. And Stacie and Ralph know what a profound, beautiful writer I am.

All I had to do was get cancer!

Posted by: Big Dan at December 14, 2004 09:58 AM

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