I recently read a post about what not to say to folks with cancer written by someone in their 40s undergoing treatment for the disease. Much of the discussion did not ring true to me. Here are some of the reasons why:
- I am 65 years old. I would have been dead long ago had I not gotten sober when I was 32. From this perspective I have existed on borrowed time for quite a while. I have lived a good life, especially the last 20 years with my bride.
- For someone with Stage 4 cancer, I am fortunate that my treatments to date are minimal and I remain pretty much pain-free. My biggest physical manifestations are fatigue and some gastric distress and I am often uncertain whether these conditions relate to cancer or age.
- My wife and I are both technically retired, though we maintain active lives in our chosen professions/vocations. However, we could pull back on those activities if need be. Though we are not wealthy by any stretch, we have the luxury to make do on our retirement incomes if we are frugal.
Therefore, I am not the 30-something with ovarian cancer and three kids to raise, undergoing chemotherapy, trying to figure out those life challenges with a possibly terminal diagnosis less than half-way through their life expectancy.
So, I consider myself truly blessed. As I write these words, I am listening to the Huayno song Adios Pueblo de Ayachuco and reflect on my time working in Andean Highlands of Peru where I made many friends, have three Godchildren, and had some of the most satisfying professional work of my career. Today my wife Emma and I were going through boxes of “stuff” filled with paperwork, mementos, letters, and photos of our adventures over the past 20 years. I have truly lived a good life. Yes, I would like to live another 10 years, but if it is only going to be two, that is okay too.
So, what don’t I want people to tell me about cancer? I do have a couple of things:
- Although I appreciate hearing suggestions on the latest experimental and holistic treatments, please do not keep asking me if I have tried the one you suggested or be offended if I have not. I am not that desperate to spend all of my waking hours to find a miracle cure. I am very pleased with my care from the fabulous oncology folks at Touro Infirmary here in New Orleans. And I remain open to alternatives. For example, my friend Janet Davis’ recommendation of Guided Imagery to Fight Cancer is a critical tool to enhance my quality of life.
- I don’t want the focus of my interactions with people to be about cancer. But I find that often folks either stay away or avoid any discussion when seeing me. I suppose that says more about their discomfort in talking about the issue than mine. I mean, if I were not open to conversation, I would not blog all of this. In fact, I see this blog as a way to keep those with an interest informed on my status. Folks are able to say “read your blog” and know the details, like if I had a broken leg. We can then move on to other things. In fact, as I posted recently, many of the seemingly smaller things in life are of great significance to me – like my door of cards received from friends throughout the country over the past few months.
As I say often, my three decades of addiction recovery in a 12-Step program proved the perfect training ground for living one-day-at-a-time with cancer. Life is good and I am blessed.