Not Cancer

Robin Botie in Ithaca, New York, holds newborn Marika Warden like she is holding the moon.I am guarding life. I’ve seen it decay and be devoured by cancer. Twice I watched it disappear. So I guard it like it could melt away in a moment.

Once upon a time, to guard life was to sing to my growing belly for months and then hold the warm wriggling creature I birthed like I was holding the moon. Guarding life, I rose each morning earlier than I wanted to feed and carry and keep my beautiful helpless one from ruin. I caught the sun for her, made every day the best day, and collapsed into bed at night to sleep with one ear always awake.

Later, when cancer hit home, to guard life was to wait at her bedside and rub my daughter’s feet. It was to find favorite foods or a puppy, anything to bring sunshine back. In the end, I looked into her unconscious eyes as the nurses peered in with flashlights. They asked the family to leave but I stayed. I watched her take her last breath and felt my heart seize when her pulse stopped. Still I stood guard. I sat there until it sank in that the life was gone out of her.

Then lifeguarding became gathering up the prom dresses, the photos and journals, the bottles of bath gels and body lotions, the twenty pairs of boots, sneakers and sandals. It became learning about the parts of my daughter’s life I hadn’t known about. I looked for ways to keep her close and wondered what would get me to rise all the next mornings of my life.

After Marika died, I had to become my own lifeguard. I kicked myself up and out of bed. First I lived for her. Then I tried to live more like she did: like life was to be loved. Like my own life was worth something.

I guess I didn’t do a great job. My next three years were riddled with accidents, illness, sleepless nights, falls, and broken bones. And now there were worrisome symptoms.

The test results came back one by one. Each phone call from the doctor resulted in new pills, things to avoid, more to take care of, and mostly, gratitude. Iron deficiency. A dangerously low vitamin-D count. Giardea. Lymes disease. Each diagnosis was a blow.

But it wasn’t cancer.

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12 thoughts on “Not Cancer

  1. Elaine Mansfield

    And Giardia and Lyme are no small things, even just one of them. No wonder you feel lousy and I know it’s hard to tell grieving from more physical problems because the symptoms all spill together. I hope you get both of them out of your system quickly.

    1. robinbot Post author

      Cat-scan Tuesday. Good days and bad days. It’s barely 8AM and I need a nap today already. Thanks for reminding me of symptoms spilling together. I like that image of symptoms spilling.Cheers!

  2. Elaine Mansfield

    I love the central idea in this piece, Robin. Guarding life. I’m grateful you’re all right. We’ve learned from first hand experience that life isn’t always safe and I doubt we’ll forget. I look forward to being at your next reading.

    1. robinbot Post author

      I keep wondering if you are doing a lot of readings and events now that you are publishing, Elaine. Will have to check your website to see where you are these days. Wherever you are, I know you are guarding life too. Keep safe and happy.

  3. Annah Elizabeth


    Sending love. Giardea is a nasty things…had it once and will likely never forget the havoc it wreaked…

    Happy cancer is negative.

    Hurting with you…guarding (and gardening) with you… 🙂


    1. robinbot Post author

      Hi Annah. So good to hear from you again. It’s great to have company guarding life. I’m thinking of making it a hashtag on Twitter. Do you do twitter? Maybe if enough of us are guarding life we can make it a chorus on Fabebook and Twitter and wherever. Cheers!

      1. Annah Elizabeth

        Yes! I am in twitter. Not as active as I’d like to be, but will gladly join a tweet like that!

        I recently created #IBaredIt as a hashtag to promote mammography and early detection. See my two posts at and

        Appreciate any help in promoting these and the #IBaredIt hashtag with your many friends and followers. 🙂

        Good luck with tomorrow’s scan!

        1. Robin Botie Post author

          Hi Annah. It will be so nice to have someone I’ve actually met to tweet with on Twitter. Not sure yet what to do with hashtags. I’ve started using my own invention #guardinglife or maybe it should be #GuardingLife but don’t know what it really does or if I’m supposed to register it or something. Will start including yours in some way if it helps. See you in Tweets. Cheers!

  4. Lynne Taetzsch

    Robin, I felt very fragile after Adrian died, thinking I was going to die of something soon, too. Glad your diagnoses were minor. Mine have been, too.

    1. robinbot Post author

      Fragile. Yes, that’s how I feel as I teeter through all sorts of symptoms. Cat-scan tomorrow. Glad your diagnoses have been benign. Thanks, Lynne.


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