You, dear readers - in your generosity in commending my attitude toward this cancer and my “honesty” in writing about it - have given me a lot to think about.
The thing is, however, I don't know what else I could do differently. Not that I want to make it the central experience of my life, but cancer will not be ignored so one might as well pay attention.
Plus, it is mostly a disease of age so it makes sense, at a blog about “what it's really like to get old”, to include a first-person account.
Every cancer is individual to the patient but I'm trying to - well, what? Lift the veil? Talk about the reality of my experience and let it inform people as they see fit? Or not? Maybe something like that.
Cancer is a devastating event that upends not just the life of the patient, but his or her family and friends too. It is a word so fraught that in yours and my young adult years, you might recall, it was rarely mentioned by name – or only whispered.
What I have discovered, however, is that even though having cancer can be time consuming, you do go on living your regular life – or mostly so.
After surgery recovery, when not engaged with the disease via testing, seeing doctors, organizing the prescription drugs, reading and marking up the book-size binders they give you to study for chemo, you clean house, do the laundry, shop and cook, play with the cat, see friends and neighbors, read books, watch TV, write a blog post.
That was before and then there is now and sometimes, for me, there is not a lot of difference.
As my primary care physician keeps telling me, "You're very healthy, Ronni, except for the cancer" and except for some occasional minor pain, I feel that way most of the time so that I wonder if I'm not taking this seriously enough.
Except, I haven't been able to imagine what that means or what I would do if I WERE taking it more seriously.
Reader Ian Bertram left a message on Facebook a few days ago:
”Your attitude to this is the best – everything is new so treat it as a learning experience.”
In a comment on a post here last week, Joseph Pearce left this note:
“What an amazing journey this life is!!”
[EDITORIAL NOTE: Dozens of you last week, complimented my new hair style in a photograph I posted. Joseph Pearce, who owns the salon Hair Architects in Portland, Oregon, is the stylist reSponsible for it.]
I was intrigued by Joseph's comment and we discussed it further last week at lunch one day. Joseph – who was diagnosed with leukemia six or so years ago – sees our predicaments similarly to Ian, as an adventure and maybe I'm flattering myself but I am pretty sure I was heading in that direction in my own thinking when Joseph (and Ian) clarified my thinking.
In the three months since my diagnosis, it has never been about “fighting cancer” or “beating cancer” for me. Not that I don't want to survive this but I don't know how to do those things.
With many years of schooling and more of clinical experience, it is the doctors – not I – who are qualified to do the fighting. They are the experts and I defer to their judgment in all but the smallest matters.
The treatments – surgery and chemotherapy – will or won't succeed but like Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century essayist I mentioned last week, I believe that chance and caprice rule our lives so I cede control to, in relation to the cancer, the doctors, and otherwise to the universe.
Meanwhile I am fascinated with the cancer itself, the treatment and how cancer is changing me.
How can one not change when the circumstances of life do. We expect marriage, divorce, parenthood, death of a loved one, losing a job, retirement, etc., to change us so certainly a life-threatening disease also does.
With great kindness, many of you have indicated how that these cancer posts are valuable to you. But believe me, I do not feel brave or inspiring or gutsy or amazing.
What I do feel is deeply curious about this unexpected turn my life journey has taken. It's still new to me but I am trying mightily not to make it my whole life while paying close attention too.
Montaigne again from Sarah Bakewell's book about him, How to Live, which, Bakewell says, is the closest Montaigne came to a final or best answer on the question about how to live:
”Life should be an aim unto itself, a purpose unto itself.”
(Sorry about all the Montaigne lately; it's just that I'm currently caught up in the Essays themselves again along with Bakewell's excellent book about them.)