World Cancer Day
When I began writing this blog, I named it what I did because there were things I wanted to say and conversations I wanted to have and can’t be sure how few “precious days” will be mine to do so.
I know. I know. No one knows for certain how many days they have. But when you are almost 70 and your body has tried to kill you several times, you can be relatively certain that the number of days will be fewer rather than greater.
My first diagnosis of cancer was in 2012. In the early months…even years…there were people who really stuck with me. There still are. A few. I have said repeatedly that I may not have cancer right now, but cancer will always have me. I understand that that gets boring for people. Hell. It gets boring for me. It’s not like I spend every word I speak, talking about cancer. But my life does. The activities I don’t have energy for…the germy crowds I avoid…the skills I have lost and haven’t been able to recover. They all speak volumes about cancer having me.
And people drift away. Get on with their lives and other normal things. Contact becomes less and less.
People who experience a serious illness when young often have an easier time, a faster and longer-lasting recovery. More energy to enjoy and appreciate every day. A word I use – often in a pejorative sense – is “perkier”. Strengthened by the adversity they overcame. Yes. Young people die, too. I’m writing about the survivors and the thrivers.
I was 63 when diagnosed, and will be 70 in a couple of months. Realistically, my best-case scenario is still decades shorter than someone diagnosed at 25. So those soul-baring conversations take on more urgency for me.
My initial – wrong – diagnosis was an untreatable lung cancer. My husband, who had seen the radiographs, raced the doctor down the hall so that I could hear those words from him, not a stranger. I expected something like that diagnosis, so there was no shock. But there was also no sleep for me that night. Planning for a short future. One of the things I really wanted to take care of was setting up a time for a “final confession” with one of my priest buddies. Hours of guided spiritual self reflection, followed by sincere repentance, and finally absolution. He somehow never found the time.
I also wanted one-on-ones with my family. Some of that happened. Most didn’t, except with Bob. Ditto with friends.
The only way this can be read is as if I am casting blame. And in one sense, I guess I am. What I need you to know is that others also cast it on me. I am blamed for my attitude. I am blamed for occasionally – and publicly – talking about dying, and being Debbie Downer in the process. I am blamed for the distance that some feel when they are around me. I am blamed for not continually spouting encouraging, positive affirmations to any and all. I am blamed for just not getting over it.
I spent most of the day ignoring that it is World Cancer Day. People seem to want me to pretend…so I was pretending. But if I can do one thing for my fellow senior cancer peeps it would be this: When you encounter us, just acknowledge who we are, and let us honestly be us.
You have no idea who much relief that can be.