The Life of a Bear (and an Old Woman)
INTERESTING STUFF – 2 December 2017

The Amateur Cancer Patient

Aside from a flu now and then, and a mystery illness 40 years ago that was never diagnosed but involved 11 days in hospital, I have never had a serious disease or condition until now.

Throughout my adult years, when I felt sickly or was overly tired there was a reason: too little sleep, too much to drink (when I was young and stupid), too many social evenings back to back. In regard to the last one, I've always had a rule to not be out and about two nights in a row, but that wasn't always possible to keep.

Things are different nowadays. The evening schedule is easy to keep without as many social obligations as when I was working and I have hardly had a bad day in these 12 or 13 years since I retired.

That is, if you don't count a couple of colds. In my old age, a cold feels as bad as a flu did in my younger years and have required bed rest. But I haven't had one if five or six or more years.

Generally, I'm amazed at how good I feel – in fact, enough so to fantasize now and then that someone has made a terrible mistake and I don't have cancer. Of course, that's not true but my sense of it reinforces the point that until now I had no idea one can have a frightening disease and feel normally healthy.

But now I cannot count on that every day.

On Tuesday, I had a 9AM appointment for an interview with a local reporter. I'm at my best both physically and mentally early in the day. I'd had a restful night's sleep and should have felt as good as I do on my best days. But my ass was dragging and all I really wanted to do was go back to bed.

Why should be this be? Chemotherapy might be a reason: in addition to the infusions I undergo each week, I take oral chemo pills twice a day and this week was at the end of the 21 day cycle before a week off.

That's a guess although the nurses told me early on that fatigue would probably become a problem during the six months of chemo treatment and would increase as time passed. But aside from the short period of low red blood cell count a couple of weeks ago, I hadn't noticed.

Maybe the cancer itself causes me to be tired although I like to think that the chemo treatments are killing off those bad cells.

Or perhaps it's how busy having such a big-deal disease keeps me (which I wrote about here). And the daily cancer chores seem to increase as time passes – one of them being more nap time because the chores wear me down.

The fact is, I'm not just an amateur at cancer treatment, I'm also an amateur at anything less than good health, and not feeling entirely well is a new experience I have not integrated into my life yet.

I've always been able to count on feeling good enough to do whatever I have planned or comes up on a given day. No more. Learning has been my most trusted life-long companion – always a joy. What I hadn't counted was the need to learn some not-so-joyful lessons.


Yes, we can undergo so many things, but when our own bodies fail our mindful intentions, it's time to undergo a change of mental understanding of ourselves, isn't it? I noticed that my increasing need of medical attention was taking away the time I used to spend doing other things. Now I've realized that letting go of some of those other things actually frees me up for time spent in new and different (less physical of course) pursuits. So it's a switch sideways (wasn't there that kind of non-promotion in business once, where you just stayed at the same level of pay, but changed to another activity?)...anyway I'm endeavoring to find what this new value can be...and simplifying life seems to be part of it. And now I'm trying to change my focus within my original value system to see what this new me will share. For me I'm spending a lot of new effort on a blog about my ancestors, something I want to leave behind after my small life is over.

I can so relate to this, Ronnie. Thinking about how a cold I've had the last two weeks has gotten me down when it didn't pass more quickly. So, I am learning from you the humility of being with what is, and caring for it as best we can, with compassion and patience. Blessings to you, each day.

I can well understand why something that has been scheduled [an interview, in this case] would make you tired - even ahead of time. Just thinking about that exertion would be enough to make you want to head back to bed.

On the other hand, did the interview [which I assume took place?] interest you at all, at least via its distraction? I am always grateful when I dread having to go out for something, maybe it is a cold night and I just want to curl up at home --- but with any luck I end up being distracted by the something - and actually feeling enlivened somehow.

Anyway, thank you for all of these thoughtful and honest posts. I am learning so much. Of course, most of all I want this all to be successfully completed, with you [and all of us] greatly relieved.

You're right, the interview gave me both a physical and emotional boost and I enjoyed every bit of it. Almost always, if I force myself to go when I'd rather not, I'm glad I did and I got a lot out of it this time.

However, what I'm having to learn these days is the difference between just being lazy and really needing to rest. It's still tricky.

One of the side effects for my friend Captain Poolie has been her inability to read. Her lymphoma included a brain tumor. She used to be a great reader, and this loss has severely plagued her. Our mutual friend Hattie admired you no end. In one of her last blog posts, and she dearly loved to write in her blog, she linked to your blog.

On facebook I follow the granddaughter of a friend who survived her lymphoma thanks to a bone marrow transplant. She graduated from HS and college. When she couldn't find a job, she began graduate school. We are awfully proud of her.

I too appreciate all your blog posts.

Unlike you, Ronni, I have had so many illness my entire life that I am prepared for sickness when it befalls me now. Or so it seems. I am constantly amazed that I have lived this long and so grateful for every day I feel good.

Those good days are becoming rarer, but I still have days that I wake up thinking I am not 92 years old because I don't feel any different than I did when I was 42. As the day progresses that feeling slips away, but it's so nice while it lasts.

I do hope your feeling tired does not get worse and I believe anyone who has to adhere to the rigid cancer routine that you are undergoing would be tired with all you have to do each day. It makes me tired just thinking about it. I can't even imagine how difficult it must be and am so sorry that this has been dumped on you.

Of all the ways that your writings help and inspire me it is your joy in learning new things that I value so much. Right up there with your courage and honesty. Learning that you are not always going to feel well enough to do things you had planned for a certain day--I hope this is a temporary unpleasant lesson due to the chemo treatments.

Thank you for your wonderful writings. Reading your latest post makes my day.

One of my Facebook friends is a 7-year-old golden retriever named JJ. She is a hospice therapy dog, and her mistress/scribe is a hospice nurse. Last December, JJ was diagnosed with Canine Lymphoma, a disease which often claims dogs in a few months, She’s been on chemo, with just a few bad effects.

I share this so that you’ll understand JJ’s motto: Barke Diem is the canine equivalent of Seize the Day, or Carpe Diem, and it offers a reminder for us all. I am trying to learn to go with the flow, just as JJ and her family have. Just as you have. Just as we all will as we get older, whether there is sickness in our path today or not.

Her searchable name is JJ, Hospice Therapy Dog. The posts are loving and humorous.

Don't forget that cancer treatment also takes an emotional toll. Whether consciously or unconsciously, the stress is there. It's no wonder you're tired. Your mind and body are taking a real beating. Chemo is no picnic. Be good to yourself and rest whenever you feel the need. That's your number one priority right now. Anything else, including this blog, can wait.

I think anyone who receives a diagnosis of cancer is an amateur regarding themselves. I certainly was 25 years ago. Chemo and radiation cumulatively, brought great fatigue. I listened to my body and became quite selfish with my time; family and friends understood. My clients also were very understanding when I switched appointment times around. In a way, it did become all about me, I was in a battle to save my life. Happily, blessedly I'm still here soaking up life -;) It's your journey Ronni, do it your way...huggzz

I am all too empathetic as I, also, felt generally healthy until MS/autoimmune myelitis symptoms hit at 70. On one hand, I am thankful for all the good years that I had until then; on the other hand, I really miss my old body!!! I am quite aware, however, that what I have, while unpleasant and limiting, is not likely fatal in the short run and can imagine how stressful it is for you, with your diagnosis. The unknowns are the hardest...what will be tomorrow...and in 6 months or a year or 5 years, if we live that long. Many thanks for your open and honest reports on what is going on with you and how you are feeling, physically and emotionally. You have a big crowd of supporters out here...all of us wishing that you were not going through this and wishing you a rapid return to full health!

A good friend once told me very emphatically, "Resting is a verb." Ah, yes. That has helped, and yet I so empathize with your having to learn this energy dance. I find myself feeling annoyed and slightly shamed if I have to call off an agreed upon meeting with a friend or professional. For the past year, sleeping has been often, too often, very difficult, and the next day can be a blur. I'm learning to surrender, do what I can, and be kind, very kind to myself. It is difficult to not feel that I "should" be doing this or that, after decades of being a workhorse and loving it.

Many TGB readers are WAY ahead of me! I don't have a major illness (at least not yet), but I do have back problems that I didn't anticipate and are now limiting what I can do. Things that used to be easy aren't anymore. I had 3 back surgeries when I was in my 20s, but other than that, I've been basically healthy almost all of my 80 years until now. I'm still functioning, but considerable chunks of joie de vivre are gone. Pollyanna I'm not!

I'm not at acceptance of my own physical failings yet. My husband is doing much better at it than I am. I detest not being able to do ordinary things I've always done (I never was a skydiver or extreme athlete of any kind so there's not that element to miss). Old age is what it is. Best wishes to all of us struggling--in one way or another--to come to terms with it and kudos to those who have!

I'm thinking, reading your post and the comments--there's a reason we retire!! I went on an Elder Hostel (now called Road Scholar, bleah!) trip to Norway just a few weeks ago. It was a fine trip, great people, well organized, etc., and the trip, the flight home, no glitches, but 17 hours & two plane changes, has left me exhausted. After almost three weeks, I am still recovering. Like many of you, I so often just want to stay home evenings, but I'm always glad I went to whatever I didn't want to go to because it enlivened me. But, oh boy, I am assuredly in the slow lane. And I still, like Ronni, with far less of a reason, have trouble distinguishing between laziness & really needing to rest. As always, I am so grateful for your posts! For this blog, and all of you commenters.

Elizabeth Rogers- "Old age is what it is"---How true!! However, it is so difficult to come to
terms with it, especially since one feels, deep inside, that one is still young and raring to go!!!

Ronnie, I don't doubt for a moment that you will survive this crisis that has turned your life upside down. To me, you are a strong and willful woman who will not tolerate defeat. As difficult as it is, you WILL overcome!

I do wish you the very best. For an early New Year wish, begin a new chapter by burying the unpleasant memories of the past and making way for better ones to come in the future.

Estelle R.

I've had health challenges one after the other it seems in the past few years and I find the adaptation process, "living in the now of reality" a challenge.

I try and accept this new reality of exhaustion and only planning one event in a day a relentless reminder of my new world of limitations.

I'm still working on embracing it.

Thanks for these posts. And for you.


It seems that I'm always tired and wish I could go to bed. I watch the clock all evening, wanting it to hurry up so I can go to bed. I think I'm going through a phase of needing to rewind -- although I'm not the one with cancer, my husband is. Didn't know that his (hopefully) recovery would make me tired...

I guess part of it is the effort to stay positive all the time for his sake. It's wearing on both of us.

It sounds as though many of us here may share some characteristics as far as our comfort level with activity, or maybe lack of it. Maybe it's a matter of having been very fortunate to have been mostly healthy and able to stay busy almost every day, or maybe it's my mother's workhorse DNA having been passed on to me, but after decades of working many more than 40 hours in an average week, and being hyper- responsible outside of work as well, it can be hard to not feel slothful when there are moments during my day when nothing really productive is going on. Even reading and commenting on this blog and other on-line activity feels like a guilty pleasure. I'm not sure that will ever change, regardless of changes in my health, and pep talks. Still, despite feeling tinges of guilt, I do take more time to smell the roses these days and know, in my heart, that really isn't a bad thing.

Cathy, it sounds like we're somewhat similar. I was a 50-60 hours/week worker when employed F/T (which was most of my 57 years in the workforce). When I wasn't working at the office, I was often working at home and volunteering. I still think that I might have hung on to my overall health and functionality better had I not been unceremoniously "retired" at the end of 2014, 6 days before turning 78. I had been employed at my nonprofit agency for almost 40 years. It was a huge jolt!

However, like you, I'm doing the best I can not to feel guilty about unstructured time; actually, I've come to rather enjoy it on occasion, and to deal with unanticipated and unwanted physical limitations. I know I "should" live in the now, but I agree that it's a challenge. It is what it is. . .

Tenacity (or stubbornness). It's what gets us through the days.

Your willingness to explore out loud what faces many of us each day is what makes this place important.

Thank you.

I hope you will tell us what your interview with 'the reporter' was all about. Sounds interesting. And besides, I'm nosy.


I too was one of those people who "Never got sick", until one day 8 years ago. Prior to that day I had never spent more than an overnight in a hospital so I was totally unprepared to be a critically ill patient whose prognoses was looking dimmer every day.
The funny thing was that I found myself actually being mad at my body (specifically my immune system) for letting me down. That great built-in germ fighter which kept me flu, cold, and virus free for over 60 years all of a sudden appeared to have met it match.
After a couple of months in and out of hospitals and 2 years in a nursing home, I lost my "amateur" status a became a professional patient.

. . . . and that's what it's really like to grow old for many of us. So sorry that you had to find out the super hard way.

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