Old friends used to make jokes about me being incurable. At the time, I was young, I had just been diagnosed, and although I had dropped out of school to have lots of surgery and try to recover, I still had the optimism required to see the humor in it. I had been told I wouldn’t live much past thirty if I made it that long, so I took up smoking and reading full-time, since I loved both and didn’t expect lung cancer to be an issue.
Going back to school seemed ludicrous, since it was unlikely I’d ever be well enough to work outside of the house and even graduating didn’t seem like that realistic of a goal – my last semester I watched my grades fall as I stopped to puke in the bushes nearer my apartment each time I tried to walk to school. There was no amount of accommodations that made my GPA seem salvageable, and the situation seemed so absurd that I didn’t even protest when my first husband enlisted in the army and asked for Germany as a first duty station. If I was going to devote the rest of my life to trying to raise my daughter, puking in bushes, and chain-smoking, I couldn’t think of a better place to do it than Europe. Primary sclerosing cholangitis was relatively unheard of, so when we were asked during in-processing if it would require me to be in the exceptional family member program, I crossed my fingers and said no. There was no treatment anyway, so I could be incurable and untreatable at least as happily while seeing the world as I could in Houston.
A decade and a half has passed since then, and while I have developed many strategies for avoiding random acts of yard sabotage, there is still no cure for primary sclerosing cholangitis. There is still no treatment, although there are some in trials that look promising, and to borrow a line from Monty Python, I’m not dead yet,
so I have gone back to school (and given up smoking).
Hopefully, at some point I can trade in being a professional student for some sort of writing or editing work that can also be toted around in a backpack and worked on from any bed I happen to be making a desk, whether it is mine or in a hospital, or on the other side of the world. Alternately, I’d settle for a cure, a liver transplant, or a miracle.
Friends look nervous these days when I refer to myself as incurable, although I usually mean my sense of humor, or optimism, or some other impractical habit. But the optimism seems to be as accurate as any prognosis I have ever been given, so I’m going to ignore the ending of his story to close this introduction with one of my favorite heroes of impossible situations: