Clean from Drugs. They say pray for a miracle. Houghton House is the miracle in active addiction. But with cancer in the family, who did I pray to? Anyone who would listen. And it seems someone did.
My cat is tearing up a newspaper. I’m not sure why, but I suspect he doesn’t like bad news. Crunch crunch, in the next room. It’s torn to shreds. That’ll show it for inundating you with misery, Mason!
Near the end of last year, I had the worst news: my younger sister had a tumour growing in her pancreas.
Pancreatic cancer ended the life of Steve Jobs, the man who created Apple.
It withered away Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze.
And it took the legendary actor who played Harry Potter’s Snape, Alan Rickman.
It has claimed countless lives.
When my father sent me the WhatsApp on a November Saturday afternoon, I went cold as an iceberg. I certainly felt hit by one.
After visiting my family later in the day, I did something I hadn’t in a very long time.
I prayed. I didn’t believe in God, and still don’t, but when you’re powerless as a new-born baby, there’s an absolute desperation making you willing to try anything.
I became convinced that if there was a God, He didn’t just perform miracles nilly-willy. It didn’t make sense to me that something brought into Creation could just be taken out.
I believed if there was a God who created the Universe, He would expect Balance, and that’s where most people got it wrong.
I thought about how my sister has four children, all under the age of five. A loving husband who looked wrecked that afternoon, shattered as he was. Two parents I felt would be more destroyed if she left this world than I. In large part because she’s a mother and a wife, and isn’t deeply flawed with the darkest of demons like I am.
So I prayed, and I prayed: “God, damn it, please, I beg of you, take me! Take me for her! Take me for her! Give me the cancer! Take me for her! Please!”
With all my heart I poured into that plea, my vocal chords straining like the world’s loneliest violin.
I spent a good half hour repeating that prayer, and then I was spent.
It wasn’t unlike active addiction, when I was desperate for drugs and alcohol, and an obstacle stood in my way. Addiction was a cancer of sorts on my life, too. One I’m sure most addicts would attest to. They blighted everything. Work. Family. Friends. I became essentially an introvert, detached from all and sundry, like a hermit in the mountains who’s forsaken mankind.
Cancers are treatable. Mine got treated in Houghton House, where their form of chemo is psychotherapy by some of the best counsellors in the country, together with Group sessions where fellow in-patients – in the exact same life situation as you – help deal with your issues. And of course, there’s the discovery of what Addiction really means, according to the Disease Model, through in-depth lectures and videos.
Sadly, not everyone succeeds in their treatment. Like all diseases, it comes down to the individual.
So to with my sister. Except she has the best fighting spirit I’ve ever seen.
However, knowing what I knew about pancreatic cancer, I didn’t believe she had a chance.
I watched her grow thinner and thinner by the day. I watched my mother try to hide overwhelming emotions. I watched my dad being stoic as a Spartan soldier.
But my sister is on a new drug. It apparently has had great results. I looked it up on the net. But nothing to do with pancreatic cancer. Which has a kill rate of about a hundred percent. A hundred people, in a room, slowly all slumping onto their desks… gone.
I’m not much of an optimist. I didn’t pray again.
I did wobble a bit too. On the addiction front. There was a day when it all seemed too much. I sat on the floor, wrestling with myself. I reminded myself, no matter how strong the sudden urge to use drugs or alcohol is, we don’t only keep clean for ourselves. We do it for our family, and mine was going through enough as it was. That gave me strength to get through it.
Cravings happen a lot in early recovery. They dwindle as time goes by, though as this experience shows, they still come back during times of stress or sorrow.
Keeping clean means preparing for these cravings and knowing they can be beaten.
Keeping clean brings rewards to an addict’s life.
Sometimes, the rewards are meeting people who’d never have looked at you, bothered with you, in active addiction.
Like my Fox. The delightful young lady I met two blogs ago. We’ve been smitten with each other ever since. And she’s come into my life after a long, metaphorical drought.
Now, the sparks are igniting into a blaze.
So I was very excited to tell her the good news I had recently regarding my sister. Very good news.
“I was in the pet store, trying to balance a bag of cat food, with the new pet-bed for Mason and Maxine, when my mom phoned.”
“So you remember I told you my sister’s first course of treatment, the chemo, is done? Mom said the doctors did a CAT scan to see if the tumour had been affected.”
“And what did they find?” she asked.
“It’s been shrunk by 60%!” At the time, I couldn’t believe it. 60% is huge considering it’s one of the deadliest cancers known to humankind. I nearly broke down in the pet store, there was such huge relief. I nearly wept an ocean.
“That’s brilliant!” the Fox said.
“I know! And she still has two more courses of treatment to go! I think she’s going to beat this thing!”
And I really do. I finally have hope, after all this time, that my sister will win.
The Fox didn’t respond for a moment. “You know,” she said, “this is because you prayed that one time, right? That Saturday you got the news?”
My prayer to switch places with my sister, I could still taste the desperation.
“Sure, whatever,” I replied. “I’ll take what miracle I can get.”
“And because your prayer was so selfless, asking God to give you her cancer, he gave you me.”
“What do you mean?”
“My birthday is 3 July. You know what star sign that makes me?”
“Let me guess…”
I could tell she was smiling on the other side of the phone.
“I’m a Cancerian.”
Funny old world.
Looks like I got Cancer after all.