Being diagnosed with cancer; then having cancer/living with cancer, is like having a second job. A job that unlike many, requires and/or imposes a ’round the clock-type 24/7 adherence to protocol, policy, procedure, presumptions and principle. To live not like you’re dying takes more than scoffing at a country music song that twangs an alternative vision. Believing in what routines you’re following and any lifestyle changes you’ve made allows (I didn’t say enables) a cancer survivor to thrive under the most difficult and demanding of circumstances.
Unfortunately for those reading this column looking for answers/guarantees, there aren’t any other than: if you abuse the privilege of post-cancer-diagnosis survival, the ends will likely justify the means; meaning, you are responsible for your own actions and “inactions.” The prognosis one is given at diagnosis is a reasonably thought out prediction. However, as grim as those words sound and seem at that moment, that prediction is not cast in stone. I’m living proof of that. The words you hear are based on the past. Your ensuing treatment is more about the present and future and what you decide to do living forward. Being open and unassuming, and by ‘unassuming’ I mean: not taking anything for granted, presuming facts not in evidence, considering that which has happened to somebody else – either good or bad, could happen to you and of course, asking as many questions in as many ways as necessary to get the answers you need, will help you co-exist with this terrible burden. Being diagnosed with a heretofore “terminal” disease presents one with innumerable challenges but not the slim pickens (choices not the actor) or yesteryear.
Integrating/assimilating all of the facts, fiction and philosophy into one’s daily cancer conundrum is a task often complicated by one’s day job/intention to remain on that job. The thinking being; at least in my mind/experience: living as normal a life as possible and staying as true to one’s usual and customary self as well as to one’s wishes, desires, hopes, prayers, etc., will enable (not ‘allow’ this time) you potentially to live longer and prosper more and trek “where no man has gone before.” For us cancer survivors/patients, where we hope to ‘trek’ is beyond the prognosis given to us by our oncologist.
I can boast of such an accomplishment, but I’d rather write it quietly and consistently as encouragement to others similarly diagnosed and “prognosed” than brag about it loudly. However, the changes/choices I’ve made might not suit another’s personality. I regularly receive suggestions about additional anti-cancer pursuits. Some I embrace, some I don’t. Some are conventional (Western), some are alternative (Non-Western). Many sound reasonable and “integratable” – into my lifestyle. Many others don’t. But given that my life is at stake, how can a suggestions incompatibility with my personality matter? We’re talking life verses premature death here; not sit-down Italian verses take-out Chinese. And though food certainly matters, it is of course to no comparison to living verses dying. Still, I don’t always say “yes.”
This is the yin and yang of my life and probably the lives of many other survivors of serious/terminal-type diseases. I want to feel like I’m winning. But I’m deathly afraid of losing. Moreover, I want to live my life as normally as possible, but not if it has adverse consequence. And how would I know anyway? Symptoms can be misleading and scans are quarterly. And though I remain positive about my very negative circumstances, occasionally the reality of those circumstances interfere with that normalcy. When that happens, I usually put pen to paper and try to write myself out of it.