Emily Dickinson wrote “Hope is the thing with feathers – That perches in the soul”. I think, perhaps, she pictured hope as a tiny, fluttering creature – a sparrow or a bluebird. I feel she was right about the feathers: hope connects us to the ungraspable future. It must be able to fly.
However, if hope is the thing with feathers, then it is also the thing with talons. I have come to know that hope, like Helen Macdonald’s goshawk, is a bird of prey. It soars, and dives, and its powerful legs grip with ferocious strength. Hope can hurt, because it carries with it all the love and the life I want for my future.
Next week, I’m having another scan. The previous scan was a good one: tumors shrinking, no new bone metastases. But one good scan doesn’t lead inevitably to another. My doctor made it clear that the chemo can, at any time, stop working.
If the tumors are still shrinking, then they will try and get me through an extra six weeks of chemotherapy. It is not an easy path. Those six extra weeks will take me beyond the usual dosage. They don’t typically give chemo for that long, because that is when the toxic effects really start to spike. My body, which has already dealt with four months of regular poisoning, will be under enormous stress. My organs, my immune system, my red blood cells, are more likely to falter. The doctors will be relying on all their medical tricks to get me through it.
Yet that is not the hardest path. Because if the tumors have not shrunk further, we will abandon chemotherapy and start looking for another treatment plan. It is not a disaster to be looking at a Plan B. But there are not endless options. Each plan that fails brings us closer to a day on which we have no plans left.
I had managed to be sanguine before earlier tests. All the build-up of bad news had made the possibility of good news seem distant. The only workable approach was a Zen-like one. If it was bad, then we’d deal with it. We’d work with our doctor to find the next course. And if that course didn’t work, we would deal with that too.
That one good scan gave us our first taste of hope. And, seized by that hope, I am no longer sanguine. This time, I crave good news. I do not feel prepared for bad news. I want the tumors to be gone. I want, at least temporarily, to be free from cancer. I have felt the rush of hope that good news brings, and I want to keep feeling it.
Hope brings me close to all the things I want for my future. It brings me close to growing old with my husband, close to having a family, close to having years ahead to listen to thunderstorms, holiday, walk alongside sparkling water. Hope perches in my heart with a powerful grip, because it attaches me to all the things I love most in the world.
Hope is the thing with talons –
It soars in the azure –
Before it seizes – round the heart –
Yearning for its future