At a Wednesday follow-up appointment, my surgeon lifted most of my diet restrictions, “as long as you don't go hog wild,” he said.
If I took that as a sign that this pancreatic cancer won't always be at the forefront of my mind – and I did - a phone conversation later the same day not only confirmed that idea but gave me the determination to make it so.
My friend, Joyce Wadler, had called to check on how I'm doing (fine, thank you). She is a long-term survivor of two separate breast cancers and of ovarian cancer and her advice before my surgery was crucial to making my recovery easier and smoother than it otherwise would have been.
Joyce is the person who told me to make a list of everything I do every day, note which ones would become difficult or impossible after surgery and figure out what I would do about them.
I would never have thought to do that on my own and I silently thanked her every day when I got home. The only important thing I missed was the cat food and water bowls which, as I showed you here, a clever neighbor figured out for me.
Joyce's first bout with cancer took place in about 1990, the others following some years later. On Wednesday when we spoke, I was curious to know, especially after three times, how much cancer still plays a part in her life.
I asked because, as you can undoubtedly tell from the number of blog posts I've written about it over the past two months, my cancer is the central circumstance of my life nowadays. But even with a long road of chemotherapy and god knows what else ahead of me, I'm already tiring of this concentrated, all-day focus every day.
I'm tired of reminding myself to take certain medications before, during or after meals. I'm tired of the work involved in keeping prescriptions up to date. I'm tired of forcing food when I'm not hungry because it is important to gain back the lost weight.
I'm also tired of arranging my schedule for at least one appointment – and sometimes more - with a doctor each week. And all that in addition to physical therapy exercises twice a day, a tai chi routine once a day and at least one half-hour walk per day.
Whew. They do keep you busy, these medical folks. But I am starting to become resentful that it takes so much time that used to be my own to do with as I pleased - and chemotherapy has yet to be plugged into the schedule.
So it was heartening that Joyce's answer to my question about how much her cancers play a part in her life today is “not much.” That's what I want too and I want it sooner rather than later.
Joyce's “not much” has spurred me on to work out how I can cut cancer down to size so it's not my entire life.
In my case, for as long as I live there will be cancer doctors - for chemo, for regularly-scheduled scans to check on the cancer's development up or down, for other checkups. But in between I would like to just live in every other way that doesn't involve personal cancer awareness.
Maybe I can think of the medical appointments as visits with old friends. I like the physicians and their nurses and other assistants a lot and I already look forward to seeing them – just the not the topic of conversation.
Or maybe I can fit those visits in like I schedule a hair cut – a chance for some interesting conversation with a friendly professional I trust that doesn't impinge on my life in between.
And, too, further recovery should improve my appetite and I'll gain more expertise in tracking those pesky medications, so all that should help loosen cancer's hold on my mind.
I clearly recall, with Joyce's first cancer diagnosis so many years ago, that she either started or increased her sessions at the gym. She had to be strong, she said then, to get through the coming treatment. She worked hard at it and my memory of her determination then along with her advice on prepping my home for post-surgery and now her “not much” are my inspiration to keep cancer from defining me.
Joyce has written two books about her cancer, My Breast and Cured, My Ovarian Cancer Story (Plucky Cancer Girl Strikes Back) which are available at the usual book sources around the web.
You can also read Joyce's newspaper column, “I Was Misinformed”, which appears regularly in The New York Times. Hint: Like me, she often writes about the joys - and not - of growing old but she is much funnier than I am.