I find the words I have the most difficulty speaking – that cause me to choke – are when I talk to the oncology folks about what I have been doing medical-wise – supplements I have been taking, things I have read, trying to get answers for my back pain and other medical issues, related to my cancer diagnosis. I think this difficulty comes in part from my academic training where I was taught to read another book or run another test to come up with a better answer. And though there is some truth in that approach, there are limits. I learned in Step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous that I was “powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable.” The same holds true for my cancer. In the same way there is no magic bullet to allow me to consume alcohol as a “normal” person, I have some cancer cells with a mind and power of their own. So modern science has done wonders with cancer treatment, but limits remain. I am learning to accept those limits.
I have wanted to believe that my back and neck pain all result from my bike wreck this past May. I wanted to believe when my fractured clavicle was treated the pain would go away. So I am now having physical therapy and after a couple of sessions my therapist casually noted that a good bit of the pain is likely attributable to the cancer in my bones. Again, that lump in the throat as all of my rationalizations and denials are shot down. After all, even before the cancer diagnosis, I was diagnosed with osteopenia a step away from osteoporosis. My back and neck issues are not all the fault of the frat-boy who lost control of his skateboard causing me the worst bike wreck in my 65 years of living.
I know that in the same way an “attitude of gratitude” is instrumental to my continual recovery process from addiction, the same attitude will help me prevail with cancer. In these early stages, I find it is less about the amount of time I will live but what I will do with that time, beginning today. Cancer notwithstanding, none of us are getting out of this game alive. I was bike riding and thought about how much I really enjoy that activity. I cut back more of the jungle in our back yard for fall crops and planted beets in one of our raised beds. In terms of physical activity, gardening is second only to biking as my favorite.
My oncologist has not “operationalized the variable” of what it means that I have “at least 2-3 years of a quality life” remaining. And with the inability to find out where the cancer is even coming from, and my denial, I prefer not to ask. But I have to assume that even with continued physical therapy, the cancer in my bones will cause more pain. I know too, even without a cancer diagnosis, someday before I die I likely will not be able to ride my bike or plant beets in the garden. The one-day-at-a-time approach to life that I have learned in sobriety over the years certainly suits me very well today.