In the days following those two cancer-related anniversaries in June that you helped me celebrate, I've been wondering what, if anything, I've learned from these two years since I was diagnosed.
Until then, ageing was the major game-changer but nothing dramatic: thinning hair, reduced energy, weight gain, insomnia, etc. In the greater scheme of things, more annoying than serious.
It had been that way all my life. Aside from some of the childhood diseases of my era and the occasional flu in adulthood, I had no health problems.
That changed dramatically in June 2017, when the doctors told me I have pancreatic cancer. Those earliest few months following Whipple surgery were, as I have often said, the worst thing that ever happened to me. It was months until I was right again.
Since then, I've been through two or three rounds of chemotherapy with the usual irritating side effects, a couple of “small” surgeries to fix a bleed in my chest, the ever-present collection of pills to take at different times of day and the regularly occurring aches and pains that have no explanation.
Have I learned anything from all this? I had to think long and hard about that.
Looking back now, I see that the difficulty in my recall is that new ways of understanding or of doing things or behaving differently (particularly in late life when you think you've already figured out a lot of the big stuff) don't arrive full-blown, ready-to-use.
Like new ideas in general, they come in increments, bits and pieces that slowly meld together into something useful to know. Here are three of mine. These are not new ideas, but now they present in a new context that I have no practice at until now. See what you think.
DON'T FOCUS ALL YOUR ATTENTION ON WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOUR BODY. Do what is necessary to take good care of yourself, use your body as much or as little as you are capable of and then get on with everything else.
USE THE TOOLS NECESSARY TO HELP YOU FUNCTION with the kind of attitude people bring to eye glasses – they are just an aid to your well being. I knew a woman who refused to use her walker when she was away from home because, she said, she didn't want to appear old to other people.
Here's the news about that: she looked old to the world with or without her walker and the only thing she accomplished leaving it at home was missing out on things she might have enjoyed doing. Not to mention the possibility of suffering a fall.
These days, I can't carry all the groceries into the house in one go as I did not long ago so I am currently haunting Amazon to find just the right wheeled cart to help me do that. In times to come, I will add whatever aids are necessary to live as full a life as possible.
So use a cane, a walker, wear hearing aids or oxygen, etc. as you need them. What other people think about you is none of your business.
THIS IS THE GOLDEN ONE, the one that makes all the difference in navigating old age in general or with whatever conditions, ailments or diseases you find yourself stuck with.
Although I now use a medication that improves the effects of COPD, I'll never be able to walk up more than a few stairs again. I'll never be able to do the daily exercise routine I had done five mornings a week for many years. And I can't carry anything that weighs more than about five pounds without losing my breath.
But what about all the other things I can still do? I have a friend who always said he was saving learning pastry cooking (he was a professional chef) and trying to understand Wagner's music for his late years.
I didn't make plans for what to do in my old age as my friend did but major theme of my life has been books. I have loved them beyond measure – from before I have memories or so it feels. Maybe I was born with one in my hand (as opposed to newborns today who enter the world clutching tiny, baby-sized smartphones).
I have stacks of books around here - new ones along with plenty of old ones that I would like to re-read before I die.
There are wonderful movies and great TV shows to re-watch too. A couple of months ago, I spent four or five weeks, binge-watching The West Wing, seeing it for the first time since its original broadcast 20 years ago.
I had such a good time reveling in the superb writing along with the stunningly good interpretation of those words by the actors and directors. It is brilliant and although there are other good TV shows, I can think of nothing that surpasses this one.
Now that I think about it, maybe I'll watch the whole series yet again. Excellence in anything is one of the world's great pleasures.
Then there are movies I like to watch again and again starting with The Third Man that I must have watched 20 times; I can do the dialogue by heart. And, well – never mind; we each have our lists.
My point is this: we all have interests that we have neglected during the busy mid-years of life that give us pleasure and certainly some of them can be adapted to our old-age infirmities if necessary.
Heraclitus was right, you know: “The only constant is change.” Here in the realm of old age where most of us at this blog live, one of the biggest changes is how our bodies betray us – and they do it in an astounding variety and number of ways.
We can be miserable lamenting our lost capabilities, or we can acknowledge them, wave them goodbye and find ways to get on with new ways of living. I know I sound like Pollyanna but she too, like Heraclitus, was right. Sometimes.
It is another great pleasure in life to live it in the best way possible given the circumstances bestowed upon us. For as long as we are conscious there is a life to be lived. It is enormously gratifying to do that despite (or, maybe, because of) the impairments that require us to adapt.
Let us know in the comments how you deal with the not-so-wonderful changes that come with old age.