A Place Holder Today
INTERESTING STUFF – 13 October 2018

Into the Great Unknown

”...progressive disease,” says the CT scan report, “with new and enlarging multiple metastatic lung nodules and new peritoneal nodules.”

It was Monday morning this week when I heard that statement paraphrased in a meeting with my oncology physician, my nurse and a social worker at the Oregon Health & Sciences University (OHSU), following up on a CT scan from the previous Friday.

Although I was hoping to be wrong, it's not like I wasn't expecting this outcome. Ten days or so earlier, I had seen the chart of a blood test for “tumor markers”. It looks like this:

Cancer Tumor Marker

I don't know what is being measured and we don't need to know. What matters is that the high number on the far left was reported just before my Whipple surgery for pancreatic cancer in June 2017. The next one – at zero – was following the surgery and you can see what has transpired since then, triggering the conclusive CT scan at the end of last week.

The only treatment is chemotherapy which, they tell me, cannot kill the cancer but can slow the growth enough that I might have six or eight months of healthy living before symptoms begin.

The awful irony is that right now I feel terrific, in as excellent health as I was before I was diagnosed with cancer in mid-2017. Even so, the first decision I made about the rest of my life is to stop my daily workout routine. Immediately.

Because I know that regular and fairly heavy exercise goes a long way toward staying healthy in old age, I've been doing that (with the exception of the months of recovery after the surgery) five mornings out of seven for six or seven years - and I despised every moment of it. Now there is no reason and I am relieved.

Another upside is that I don't have to worry about dementia anymore. No more of those little online tests about what are normal memory problems and what are not. Whew. I'm glad to be done with that too.

I'm sure that in the coming days and weeks I'll find some other things I can happily leave behind.

So what should I do with the time left to me? Yeah, yeah, I know – everyone is dying every day but believe me, I now know that it is quite a different thing from that abstract platitude to a closely defined period of time.

I never had a plan for my life. Beyond being a professional ballet dancer for which I turned out to be physically unsuited, I didn't know what I wanted to do when I grew up. I followed my nose as things came into view and had a wonderful career in media production – radio, television, internet - for nearly 50 years.

Only recently did I discover a quotation from entertainer Elton John that well describes how I have lived: “If you let things happen, that is a magical life.”

And so it has been. I've mostly “let things happen” and have rarely been disappointed.

So no bucket list for me – in fact, I actively dislike the entire idea. I already have plenty of memories to recall and anyway, I really like this life I have now.

A young person would certainly find it boring. Each morning, I commute from the bedroom to my computer. As we all can do now, I follow the news and its commentary and other kinds of writing, too, from wonderful writers all over the world online.

There are friends to have lunch and spend time with. Lots of good books to read along with many good movies and TV shows if I want. Not to mention, my current affairs discussion group which has become more important to me than I would have guessed when it began two years ago.

My main daily occupation is this blog and its subject – what it is like to grow old. I've been doing this for about 15 years and still am not tired of it. It feels a lot like the years I was employed – going to work every day doing something that I enjoy.

Five days into my new circumstance now, I have decided to keep doing these things as if I had all the time in the world. That may change in the weeks and months to come and if so, I'll figure out then what is next.

For now, from time to time I will write here about this final journey hoping that what could be taken as overly self-indulgent might, for some readers, be of possible value as another person's way of approaching the end of life.

Another quotation that has helped drive my life is from the British writer, E.M. Forster. I discovered it when I was in my twenties realizing then that it describes perfectly how my mind worked and still works:

”How do I know what I think until I see what I say.”

For me, it takes writing it down (on paper or, these days, on a screen) to know with any clarity what I think and believe. So writing for you is also for me and will help me work out this frightening last mile or two.

I have sometimes said to myself and to others, how hard could dying be? Everyone who has ever lived has done it – even the really dumb ones. But of course, it's not anywhere near that simple, is it?

For the near future, nothing will change here at Time Goes By except that I will more frequently write about heading into the great unknown. If you want to join me, I will be so happy to have you here.



Comments

This is very sad news. I am so sorry to hear of your health prognosis. What's even sadder is that you won't be here to see Trump re-elected.
My sympathies and condolences.

I knew you would be deluged with comments reflecting my feelings of loss and sadness. I noticed one mentioned curiosity. In a book you recommended, I recently read that facing death with curiosity is a fine way to look at it. My mother, at 94, refused minor medical treatment because she was tired of coping, but she faced death with curiosity and continued to be an amazing role model for her family and friends.

I hope you don't feel you have to grin and bear it for our sakes. Continue to tell it like it is and we will continue to love and send all good wishes (or pray) for you.

Robin from Ohio

Ronni. My friend.
I was at the coast since Thursday (beautiful for a change) and didn’t spend time online.
This morning on mondays Time Goes By I read the news about your cancer diagnosis.
I like your Forget the Bucket List idea.
And not exercising. Though I’ve not been exercising since last winters serious illness. I can go back to the gym this week thought.

Ronni I’m close if you need help. I know you have lots of friends but again make the offer just in case.

As a BTW, I dumped FaceBook except for grandkids posts a couple of years ago and I don’t tweet. I follow my talented tattoo artist grand daughter on Instagram.

That’s about it. And I don’t miss it. Social media takes up too much energy.

Be well as you are able to and know you are admired.

Elle.

This is the first time I have posted to your blog which I have lurked on for the last year and a half. When I found TGB It was an enormous relief and comfort to realize many things I was experiencing were so universal. As a cancer survivor I could relate to your health challenges and learned how you handled them them grace and perseverance . Thank you Ronni for showing me the way. Enjoy your bacon!

One thing hasn’t been mentioned yet. What charity would you like all of us to donate money to in fond fond memory of you when the time comes?

Ronni, I see and share this outpouring of love and gratitude from your readers. I liked Deb's "((((Ronni))))" ! I deeply respect you for your dedication to a single topic, that of growing old, one that used to be taboo and is still avoided by the vast majority of people. And I admire the bold, wide, curious nature of your brilliant blog, which has been such a blessing to so many. Now, inevitably but far too soon, the topic extends to death. Your way of writing brings us insights, inspiration, and the release of strong emotions. What a paradox: you're a national health resource, Ronni! But as we clamour to be heard by you, please be kindest of all to yourself.

I've been traveling the past few days and just ready your Friday entry. I am so sorry about your diagnosis. Thanks for continuing to write. You have given me a new look at ageing and I love it!

You are an amazing human! I am here along with so many others to virtually hold you close as you make this journey. You hold a special place in my heart even though we've never met. Your writing voice is that of a strong independent and witty woman. You've made a difference to so many. Thank you!

Oh damn. I'm so sorry to hear this news. I'm here too.

Like many of your loyal readers above, I too read your blog daily but rarely comment. I so appreciate your wit and wisdom and "realness." I will treasure your blog posts even more these days, knowing that they are indeed finite. As Ram Dass says, "We are all just walking each other home." Thank you for letting us walk with you.

Well... shit!

Thank you Ronni for all your wisdom and dedictation to this blog and remember that we are all with you.
Always,
Emily

This post really touched me. And I am so heartened to hear that there are others for whom exercise is a revolting pursuit and I'm so glad you have put a stop to it. I wish you well.

Somehow I missed this post - just saw the most recent and in disbelief had to go back to "that Friday." I am bereft.

Also inspired and awed.

I haven't been following you as long as many others, but for the time I have, I have been entranced and sometimes even enchanted. I'm here to stay - and please save me a place on your boat.

I just saw this post yesterday, and my first thought was "Oh no! What will I do now?" And my next thought was, "I have to keep all of Ronni's posts as she goes through this so I know what to do when it's my turn."

But those are just my thoughts about myself. Now more of them are going to you, dearest Ronni. You are so loved and have given us so much wise solace over the years. If that were me, I would be much comforted by that.

I am in pain for you now. And for myself, as I pretty much know what's going to take me out, as I experience the beginnings of it. I will be hanging on to your every word, and you.

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