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Column: Circumstances Be Damned

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Kenneth B. Lourie

— If only it were as easy to actually live it as it is to write it. As much as I believe what I write, it’s still difficult to ignore certain facts (“the underlying diagnosis,” as I often refer to my diagnosis) and the feelings associated with it. Although I’m very good at pretending and ignoring and making light/poking fun at my “circumstances,” there is a certain reality to consider. Aside from my never having pitched at Fenway Park for my hometown Boston Red Sox, I’m probably not getting any younger and apparently, not likely to get as old as either of my parents were when they died, ages 86 and 87.

The challenge then, looking forward, is making the best of a bad situation – which is my nature. So on paper, the plan should work, and mostly it does. But occasionally – and more so now (40 months post-diagnosis) than ever, there is some seepage; emotions take hold and all the rational, self-help-type pep talks I give myself fall on deaf ears; I’m listening, but it’s hard to hear. As much as I’d like to mind my own business – literally, and steer clear of all this cancer stuff, sometimes I can’t. And though I never feel sorry for myself, I do feel a little unmotivated, a bit lethargic and somewhat apathetic. Tasks which once were priorities are now relegated. Maybe not to the dustbin, but low on the totem pole so that I don’t even know where the totem pole is, figuratively speaking. But as I’m always myself saying: I have bigger problems, so who cares?

I do, or rather I should, but changing the course of my most recent history, admirable and desirable though it may be, may in turn be creating stresses and unrealistic demands that are counter-productive to who I am and who I want to be. My circumstances/situation/prognosis is bad enough on its own; I don’t need to make it any worse.

There’s a fine line between accepting your circumstances (you’ll note I didn’t say fate) and not giving into them. On the one hand, it’s knowing your limitations (so as to not make matters worse); on the other, it’s doing what makes you happy. Because being diagnosed with stage IV (inoperable/terminal) is all it’s cracked up to be. Finding a way, mentally, to navigate through the slings and arrows of this outrageous misfortune (to turn a phrase inside out) is the order of the day. To be a survivor, one has to have a certain ability to not take personally that which is happening to your person. Moreover, the challenge is finding a balance between living for yourself, living for others, living for today and living for tomorrow (very much easier written than actually accomplished).

Cancer is insidious. It affects you physically for sure, but at least for me, emotionally even more. Generally speaking, the treatments are about the physical (tumors) manifestations of the disease. The mental/emotional effects are less obvious and not usually indicated on any of the diagnostic scans oncologists recommend. Interpreting a scan is one thing; reading a patients’ mind quite another. No one said this cancer experience was going to be easy; in fact, a close friend, Lynne (a cancer survivor herself) said to me: “This is going to be the toughest thing you’ve ever done.” And of course, she was right. Unfortunately, the experience hasn’t made it any easier. Familiar? Yes. Manageable? Mostly. In control? Not so much.