A TGB READER STORY: Unusual Learning Experience
Dropping Things in Old Age (Again)

On Living With Health and Ill Health

Thank You: You guys are amazing. This year's donation drive ended on Monday and your generosity is stunning. There will be no problem in securing the services necessary to keep TimeGoesBy open online and available for at least five years after I've died.

You are a terrific group of readers that any blogger would envy. Thank you so much.

* * *

As most of you know, my most recent cancer test reported remarkably good news. The radiologist's review of the CT scan stated in part that

”Since 11/28/2018, markedly improved appearance of the lungs with decrease/absence of multiple new and enlarging nodules from the most recent study. Appearance is similar to 10/5/2018 staging CT. No definite new nodules.

Wow. We all rejoiced. It doesn't mean the cancer is being cured. This chemo can't do that. But it is doing what it is meant to do – slow the growth of the cancer so that I will have a longer healthy period of time than I would have without the chemo.

One of the strangest things (to me) associated with this cancer is that if not for chemo side effects, I would not know I have a deadly disease.

Do away with chemo brain, loss of appetite and general fatigue that plague me for three, sometimes four days following the chemo infusion every two weeks and I would feel like I did before I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer – healthy.

Which is how I feel for 10 or 11 days at a time after those side effects subside, until the next infusion starts the process again.

It's as though I live a double life now - about 25 percent of my time as a sick person; the rest of it as a healthy person.

The intensity of the fatigue (the worst of my side effects) is hard to predict – sometimes I am tired but mostly functional, other times barely capable of crawling out of bed.

The contrast between healthy days and not healthy days has given me a new perspective on how I (and, I suspect, many other people) differentiate between those of us who are healthy and those who are not.

Until I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in May 2017, I had lived 76 years in good health, nothing much more serious than a bad flu now and then. I smoked cigarettes for many years but beyond that I paid a reasonable amount of attention to healthy behavior – eating well, exercising regularly.

I hardly ever thought about my overall health and always assumed most people were as healthy as I had been. Now that I have reached old age – a period of time when, as we here all know, a large number of health issues, minor and deadly serious, can upend our lives – I have gained a new perspective.

These days, I look at healthy people of all ages with wonder. They wear their health so easily, as if it will always be there, and until recently I was a member of their tribe, unaware that my health status would ever change.

Now, on the days when I feel as normal as before the cancer and I can almost pretend that I can ignore the cancer, there's an itch in the back of my (saner) mind repeating something like, “Don't get too cocky, honey. You know how quickly this can change.”

And, eventually, will change.

I don't have any conclusion to this rumination. I'm just surprised how, for so many years, I took my good health for granted.


Comments

My physician tells smoking patients that, as far as health is concerned, you can be obese, never exercise, and eat whatever you want, and it's still infinitely safer than cigarettes.

Of course he strongly recommends good diet and exercise and staying at the advised weight BUT if you have to choose, be fat and don't smoke.
God those things are evil.

So true, it can all change in a heartbeat, literally...my 70-year-old husband has lived a very healthy life. No surgeries, no medicines, no health issues at all. He could climb stairs, walk long distances, do a variety of activities without even thinking about the effort, and without ever going to a gym. There was, though, a matter with his heart valve. It didn't close properly, and over the years it had created a heart murmur.

Our internist sent him to a cardiologist. The cardiologist sent him to a surgeon. The surgeon booked him into the hospital to do open-heart surgery because he was so healthy!

Cutting someone open is one thing, but cutting into the heart is another. Now, my husband has a lot of doctors. He has many prescription medicines. He goes to cardio rehab three times a week. Now, four months post surgery, he is again able to slowly climb the stairs and he just returned to the church choir. It's been a slow recovery and certainly not back to the pre-surgery life he knew.

Our life changed in a heartbeat, and that scares me.

At this point in my life I watch the younger people abusing their backs. Why? I know what the future may bring them as I was once the same as them. Of course I have to consider the drunk driver in my scenario and wonder if I would still be as before. I do know I am blessed as I am upright and can walk.

Ronni, it’s wonderful to hear that you’ve secured funding for the blog to continue. What a great and resourceful legacy. Bravo!

Taking that good health for granted? Oh, yeah! Didn't we all think we'd die some sort of "glamorous" death before the indignities of old age set in? Yep. Did that happen? Nope.
I feel like nobody told me ... but there were examples all around, and like most young, sturdy people, I paid absolutely no attention. Getting the message now ...

Up until a month ago I was vain about how well my body moved. Suddenly I have problems with my knee and back and have more compassion with those using walkers. I sure hope I won't join that group.

The other day, my youngest son told me how healthy I am. I am 79 years old, so I was very appreciative of his comment. After thinking about his comment for a few days, though, I said to him "I am healthy until I am not healthy!" I sort of think that is just the way it is when one reaches an older age!

It's good to hear you have good days, feeling no pain, but enjoying life, and can remember the days pre-cancer.
I have had the last 2 days of surprising reprise from my lung condition, and have no clue why it happened. Glorying in it. So grateful whenever it happens.
But my brain is still not keeping up as good as it was...so it's reminding me that I can still do wrongly some of the simple tasks, if I'm not thinking about it. Stay awake. Pay attention.

Throughout my life, I'd always coasted through any health problem with a pill or simple surgery. I was taking good health pretty much for granted and feeling pretty bulletproof when I entered my 70s, still upright and doing whatever I wanted. Then came cancer at 72. Bulletproof doesn't help when a nuke is dropped.

Good to know you're doing well. Yep, those cigarettes will get a lot of us in the end. I smoked until my late 40s, but there's nothing we can do about it now except try to be as healthy as we can and carry on. And, I'm glad you're carrying on . . .

I just read Oliver Sacks's little book, "Gratitude." It took about half an hour, and only that long because I stopped a couple of times to re-read and ponder some of his words more carefully. For those who are unfamiliar with it, it's a very small book, only 45 pages, comprising four short essays written in his last two years of life.

My favorite essay is "My Periodic Table. " Sacks has collected elements from the periodic table for some time, specifically acquiring elements with atomic numbers matching his age each year. His last year of life, 82 corresponded to lead, which somehow seems to very appropriately represent a final year of life, although he reports having felt very well during much of that year.

Oliver Sacks had collected other elements with atomic numbers beyond his age, and said he was hopeful about reaching bismuth, but, alas, that was not to be.

I didn't smoke, thank goodness. Still, as time went on my body didn't get the message to keep functioning as usual. I've tried to take reasonably good care of it (from about 37 onward anyway). Although I've SO FAR escaped the "killer diseases" of old age, living with pain on a daily basis can seriously detract from the joy of life. (Yes, I'm aware of positive thinking, "mindfulness", yoga, deep breathing, etc..)

Death may not be the worst thing that can happen to an old person as an individual. Loss of physical health, independence, basic functional abilities, dignity, visibility and "agency" could be right up there on the Top 10 list--in addition to running out of money. Just my opinion. . .

BTW, the above isn't intended to be a complaint but rather a statement of personal fact. It is what it is. I fully realize that many elders are worse off than I am. I just never envisioned living to 80+ and perhaps wasn't as prepared as I should have been.

I'd had this nasty racking cough that had been making my life miserable for months. The respirologist scheduled some tests, then asked to see both me and my husband. He opened with, "It's not cancer."

When you're healthy, your attitude about going to the doctor is, "Right, so let's fix this so I can get back to my normal life." I'd been thinking a stronger antibiotic, or maybe one of those antivirals! I suppose I should have been biting my nails, but I hadn't been.

As he made clear, Not Cancer wasn't good news. Interstitial lung disease means that my lungs are going to have progressively less and less and less capacity, until it's not enough and I die. There are all sorts of causes for this, some of them treatable with anti-inflammatory or immuno-suppressant drugs. Others, not. The only way to tell is to try something for a while, and see if it doesn't work.

I still find it all too easy to take for granted the capacities I have left.

I’m one of the previously cocky ones. Not any more: “You know how quickly this can change.” In my case in an instant, a second was all it took.

I agree that good health is something we all took for granted for many decades before we hit the 60's. We were invincible and would live forever, right?

My husband suffered a fall in which he sustained a brain bleed that went undetected for 4 months and resulted in brain surgery, from which he has never fully recovered. Since then he uses a wheelchair a good amount of the time, a walker, and a cane (not all at the same time!). We used to travel a lot which was our passion. Now, not so much as it has become so difficult with a wheelchair, etc. and airports are a nightmare.

A single female friend just suffered a stroke yesterday and I have no idea yet when/if she will recover, and how she will cope being alone.

I keep wondering what will happen to us if I too have a major diagnosis.

Our lives change on a dime and nothing has prepared us for this. That must be why we're told to live in the moment.

As a (relatively) young person, with nothing but broken bones and an unstable shoulder to my name, I am aware on some level that I take my good health for granted - but I really don't think this "awareness" qualifies as real or true.

I think our health may be one of those things that, as audacious and presumptuous and fallible creatures, we can't truly appreciate until it's gone (which doesn't mean we shouldn't at least attempt mindfulness).

Can't have joy without sorrow, as it were.

I think I never thought about health til mine wasn't good. Oh well, not really .. I did think about it when my parents (z"l) were sick and when they died but it wasn't about me!

And for all of us with any illness and/or age older than .. well, what? .. there are things missed. Me? Energy and ability to walk. I used to walk everywhere which allowed me to be thin and healthy. Now? I can't get far bc of nerve damage from radiation. So .. I too look at people and wonder about their health. So many of us have invisible disabilities that I'm never certain who may be healthy and who not.

You, if we didn't know, seem so vibrant. Your words echo with good will and energy. You help us all, Ronni.

Taking our good health and all of our simple body functions for granted is so true, I think, too. The ability to eat and drink safely....ability to speak, hear and see — we just assume we can do. All our functions are complicated so a glitch in even one area can be a problem. It’s amazing everything works okay.

It's heartening to know that at least one cancer treatment works like it's supposed to. The millions of dollars spent over the years to find a cure with few apparent results often makes one wonder where all the money went.

I've been wishing that the Chemo they gave my friend Poolie worked. It didn't. She said that she didn't want to die. Me...I'm like Sylvia.

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