Twenty-two years after diagnosis, 15 years after the transplant, right now. "When you were really sick, you had to test your limits," a friend had said on the eve of the second trip, after confessing she was worried I'd be found by the side of some road. "And now maybe you have to keep doing that." I was peeved at the time, thinking she was implying I was down a few marbles, but now I think there was some truth to what she said. That experience was only partly about learning Hindi; it was as much about learning not to accept limits—of cancer, of anything.

What I know now: Even if I had had a map from the start, it wouldn't have done me any good. Like old lives, maps in this world, or any world, are something of an illusion. They change all the time. Now, when fear threatens to shut me down, I think back to how, after I'd told my oncologist I wanted to go live in India, he was silent for a bit. I don't think he'd had a patient with advanced cancer ask to do anything like this. "All right," he said finally, "but you have to be closely monitored." I agreed, then got over there to find there wasn't an oncologist within hundreds of miles of the town where I'd landed. We rallied, he and I. The doctor did his best to answer all crazed late-night e-mails—"I feel a pain in my hip. Do you think that's from cancer or riding in rickshaws?"—and I set up a relay system, where vials of my blood repeatedly changed hands before ending up at a lab in Mumbai to be tested.

In other words, we made it up as we went along, my doctor and I, something you learn to do if you stick around long enough. And here's something else you find: You may not have known it, but, really, that's all you've been doing the whole time. Along with everyone else.

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