On the one hand, I want to take note every month on the 27th as yet one more notch on my living-with-cancer belt. On the other hand, maybe I don’t need a belt to be notching but rather a life to be living. Perhaps it’s time, nearly 44 months post-diagnosis – at press time, to stop counting backwards and try more living forwards. It’s not as if keeping a running total in my head (as I do), gets me any closer to some sort of finish line where life can begin anew. Hardly. I’m not exactly cancer-free, more like cancer-stalled. Nevertheless, my monthly total does indicate how far I’ve come, how long I’ve lived, but it doesn’t necessarily translate into how much longer I may live. In fact, it might suggest the exact opposite (only so much time left on the clock, hypothetically speaking), so why bother tracking time? Why not track the future instead? Go somewhere! Do something! Live a lot, not just a little.
Unfortunately, survivability in the terminal cancer world may simply be the means to your end. If you can’t beat it, then you can only join it. Although you hope to outlast it, stay one step ahead and try to keep it from catching you. Perhaps I should consider – and embrace – the words of the great Satchel Page: “Don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” Still, for me, totaling up the number of months since I received my official diagnosis/prognosis, gives me confidence that having survived this unexpectedly long (original prognosis was “13 months to two years”; median life expectancy is eight months) somehow means something positive going forward. Not that there’s any statistical relationship between the past and the future. As Starfleet Captain, Kathryn Janeway said to her first officer Commander Chacotay on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager: “I swore I’d never let myself get caught in one of these Godforsaken paradoxes. The future is the past, the past is the future. It all gives me a headache.” Certainly they weren’t discussing cancer, but for me, wondering if counting the months I’ve lived with cancer might possibly have an effect on the months I have yet to live with/hopefully without cancer is beneficial somehow to surviving, is sort of how I roll. Whereas choosing the alternative approach: not counting and/or considering anything/everything, gives me a headache.
How do I stay ahead of cancer without betraying who I am or compromising my principles? As Curly Howard of The Three Stooges said while harnessed like a horse and pulling a wagon in an episode called “G.I. Wanna Go Home”: “If I’m gonna work like a horse, I’m gonna eat like one, too” (as he began eating an extra-large sandwich). However I do this (live with cancer), I have to do it my way, or at least in a way that doesn’t make me miserable. Because being miserable is all it’s cracked up to be, and having a bad attitude likely fuels the cancer that unfortunately burns inside me. But I never want to think that I’ve learned all there is to learn to help my body/my mind fight the cancer. Maybe looking forward to potential accomplishments might extend life more than taking stock of previous achievements? On the one hand, those accomplishments (still living 44 months post diagnosis) might breed a certain confidence that bodes well to be well. On the other, focusing on the past may compromise the future?
I hope this column wasn’t too confusing. If it was, welcome to my world. If it wasn’t, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din,” (Cary Grant from the movie of the same name).
Kenny Lourie is an Advertising Representative for The Potomac Almanac & The Connection Newspapers