Three months ago, I finished my little reflection "Tumor fear"I was in a very low key situation, half out of fear of having overreacted and half because every sick person goes through successive good and bad stages, and at that moment I must have been in one of the first ones. The fact is that I turned out to be an accurate augur, because the operation went smoothly, I went through a postoperative period with more discomfort than pain or discomfort and, at the end of the process, the doctors declared me cured, with no other obligation than a minimum follow-up every few months.
Some drips (in the most literal sense of the term) have remained as a memory but, anyway, I would be ungrateful if I were not grateful to the entire health care team that got me out of trouble, to the family and friends who supported me tirelessly and, last but not least, to Divine Providence that in this case at least squeezed a little, but not drowned, giving me an extension to continue down here for a while.
Which reminds me of the story told about Walter Matthau, one of my favorite actors. Apparently he suffered from a heart condition and in the middle of a filming he had a heart attack. When he was discharged, the film crew greeted him expectantly. He came in with a broken face and said: "The doctor has given me three months to live...". After checking that he had achieved the desired effect, he added: "...but when he found out that I had no money to pay him, he gave me six more months".
Anyway, it's not a subject to get into a row about, although I have always found black humor preferable to tragedy... as long as it does not imply a denialist attitude towards the catastrophe which, whether we like it or not, is the inevitable outcome of every human existence. To definitively escape death there is no other alternative than religion, as all those who insist on attacking it (religion, it is understood, because there is no one who can fight death) know quite well.
And rightly so, because atheists, agnostics and indifferent people in general are not unaware that we believers are here to fight also for their immortality, and even for their good death, which is the only thing they confess to be concerned about. I am well aware that there are some torquemadas out there bent on increasing the list of those condemned to hell, but, according to my experience as an ordinary believer, if it were up to us, we would all go straight to heaven without anguish or death throes!
Let us return for a moment, however, to my past experience and its presumably happy outcome. Happy also because of the frank joy that many friends and even simple acquaintances expressed when I told them the good news. I had been a bit mouthy and made perhaps too many people aware of my "affair", causing more concern than necessary. So I had to be equally explicit when everything was resolved favorably, a penance that I have fulfilled with great pleasure.
However, more than once I have detected a slight note of mistrust in my interlocutors, a bit as if they were saying to themselves, "Is everything really in order? Could it really be a false negative?" I say "false negative" because in matters related to health, the desirable thing is that everything turns out to be negative, with the permission of van Gaal, that Dutch coach of Barcelona who always repeated: "You have to be positivvve, never negativvvve".
As I say, I detected a certain apprehension in the most worried of those close to me: with this cancer thing, you know. "You say you are doing very well, and I hope so. But we'll see how you go on in six months, or a year, or two..." Man, the truth: it all depends on how long the waiting period will be extended, because I suppose that if I survive thirty years, I will have reached more than a hundred and, unless there have been a few medical revolutions in between, I will be frankly knackered.
The only swords of Damocles that count are the ones that threaten to fall on you at any moment. And that's where we are. I confessed in my previous writing that I am as much of a hypochondriac as the next guy. I have surprised myself some nights when sleep takes a little longer than usual by saying to myself: "Well, if it were true that they have removed the root of my prostate cancer, who can assure me that I am not incubating another colon, lung or throat cancer? After all, one basket is a hundred baskets.
Maybe I should ask for a thorough check-up..." But, no, No, NO. If there are MRIs, CT scans, colonoscopies or whatever, let the primary care physician ask for them. Not me. As the Italians say (I will omit the ugly word): "Mangiare bene, ... forte e non avere paura della morte". We Spaniards are less expressionistic and put it this way: "A vivir, que son dos días!
Anyway and well thought out, something positive can be taken out of the false negatives. One of my favorite records (from when we had records) is a recital of Bach and Handel arias by the great artist Katheleen Ferrierdied of cancer at the age of 41. It was her last recording and I was impressed by the testimony of her record producer on the back of the cover:
During the afternoon session on the 8th, a telephone message was received from the hospital where Katheleen had recently undergone a medical examination. I never saw her looking more radiant than when, a few minutes later, she returned to the stage. "They say I'm perfectly all right, dear," she said in the Lancashire accent to which she reverted in moments of great joy or humor. She then sang "He Was Despised" with such beauty and simplicity that I believe it has never been and never will be surpassed.
On October 8, 1953, exactly one year after his last session, he died at University College Hospital.
And now comes the question: Did the doctor make a mistake in making the diagnosis, or did he piously mislead the patient, or did she simply not want to know what she was being told? Now, on second thought, does it really matter what the correct answer is? She could also have been hit by a bus leaving the recording studio, or any number of other possibilities. What really counts is that -whether she knew it or not- she said goodbye to life with a masterful and memorable interpretation of that beautiful aria from The Messiah, perhaps the greatest oratorio ever composed.
I believe that neither I nor almost anyone else will be able to climb a peak of similar height no matter how many years we live and no matter how hard we try. For the one thing that is certain is that, corroded as she was by illness, Katheleen never felt so alive or so close to fullness as she did for those few minutes, knowing how she knew she was perfectly well and could carry out in all simplicity and perfection what she had come into this world to do. So he did. I ask for no greater grace for myself or anyone else reading these lines. Time is the least of it.