Marcy Westerling: A kickass community organizer dedicated to the notion that small town Americana is filled with justice seeking souls that deserve support as well as have the power to bridge the false cultural divides of our times. Proud founder of Rural Organizing Project in 1992. Derailed by Stage IV Cancer in Spring of 2010. I trust others to continue moving rural inclusive progressive organizing forwards.
It seems a good time for Marcy to Update you about Marcy ; ) – June 10th, 2010
April 20th, 2010 at 6 pm, parked on the side of an Oregon highway, I learned that I had “advanced cancer”. 36 hours later that diagnosis was refined to Stage IV Ovarian Cancer. In the diagnostic roller coaster of prior weeks I had bartered endlessly, failing to amuse a single doctor but managing to assure myself of how accepting I could be of any diagnosis but cancer. Congestive heart failure, sure. Rheumatoid arthritis, easy. A fungal infection with a 25% risk of death, absolutely. But April 22nd 2010, Earth Day, Day 3 of the Gulf gusher and the 43rd anniversary of my beloved dead little brother’s birth, I was given my death sentence. Any show of control collapsed. I had drawn the shortest straw in my diagnostic bundle. My life as I had constructed it came to a close.
Over the last 45 days I have worked to come to terms with my short straw. I have worked to have enough acceptance to construct a new life however brief. I have acted wise, gracious, funny and sad but I am never as genuinely sad as I feel when I walk out of my Ovarian Cancer Support Group sessions. It is only then that I feel in the pit of my stomach the very imminent potential of my death. God damn.
Feeling my death is so real. Thinking about my death is a mere exercise of intellect – it is removed, an obvious truth and easy to do well. Feeling it is so incredibly sloppy. Slow tears eke out as I move towards a very different type of acceptance and grief. There is nothing for me to give permission to here. It is coming for me. It could be coming fast. When I allow myself to feel it, my stomach lurches endlessly, radiating out in cold sharp spasms. It is an endless replay of the dream-fall when you sleep – your stomach lurches as you know you will hit the bottom.
I am re-born in this free fall. This is what a Stage IV Ovarian Cancer diagnosis feels like when you suspend thought and grasp truth.
I am re-born to the council of my medical team – “You must start living as if the next three months are your last. And when you are still alive at the close, make a new three month plan.” This is living with Stage IV Ovarian Cancer. It is a sneaky diagnosis that will allow me to look and feel great as the cancer makes its own decisions on longevity. It will decide which three months are my last. We will all find out together as the final three months dawns.
I think that I can do this. I can learn to live in three-month intervals. I can hope and dream and build in smaller allocations of time. But the question remains “Do I do it in my head or in my heart?” In my head it is a mere storyline that I can make amusing, wise and abstract. In my heart it is that constant tremor radiating from my stomach as I fall to my death several times a day or an hour. They offer me drugs to derail the anxiety as I fall but what do I lose if and as I take the edge off?
I am bald now. Catching a glance in a mirror is jarring, demoralizing – why this overt humiliation now?
I stay barred from entering my home because the house’s recent mold diagnosis could kill me, an irony I try not to dwell on at this phase of my life.
I am reduced to a single room generously loaned by dear friends as they shower me with love, laughter and attention. But the largesse of my middle class American life whittled down to what can fit in a few bins taunts me with the lesson of detachment. Must everything now be preparing me to leave this world?
I feel disappeared as the courtesies and fears of hundreds of colleagues and friends still facing the overwhelming routine of deadlines results in their deciding to ‘not derail me from healing’ with updates about everything that formally was my life. Must I even be disappeared from the headlines of the day? Does no one else see the irony of not distracting me from getting well? So many ironies at Stage IV.
Thanks for letting me share my truth. But there is so much more truth – the bundles of love you send my way through cards, notes in the virtual guestbook, food and books. While I struggle, you struggle. And always you love and respect me and I do so feel that. As I free fall, your kindnesses envelop me making such a scary moment also filled with light and possibilities. As we each struggle to find our best place in this very real drama please don’t fear making mistakes. Cancer is a mistake. You reaching out to me will never be a mistake.
I am lonely and scared. I am a little Who on a thistle screaming out “I am here, I am here, I am here,” as in Horton Hears a Who. Thanks for hearing me and loving me and helping me live this last phase as completely as possible. Don’t rush my disappearance.