Considering that I’ve been cancer-centric now for nearly five years, one would have thought I might have learned and totally embraced an alternative concept: forward living – and less thinking about past causes and their possible current effects. Certainly cancer causes physical manifestations and symptoms that are diagnosable and indicative of trouble. But it’s the unseen effects that in some cases cause as many difficulties. What I am referring to is the mental and emotional toll a terminal diagnosis and short term prognosis can have on the patient’s perspective on life and living, and what’s presumptively thought to be left of it.
And in my experience now as a comparatively long-term survivor – five years come February 27, of stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), backwards thinking, as in why me, as in woe is me, has generally not been characteristic of my daily grind. Sure, I’ve made changes to my pre-cancer Kenny regimen of poor diet and above-average stress, and have regularly compared and contrasted my past with my present/future. However, much of this has been ongoing. I’ve never felt as if I’ve dwelled on any of it. Focused maybe, but not so much as a negative, more as a positive, as in changes which needed to be made – or else. Moreover, to learn the error of my ways and try to parlay any new found knowledge into a future that initially, according to my oncologist’s original prognosis: "13 months to two years", was hardly guaranteed.
In spite of it all, I have lived – and learned and accepted that my new reality is somewhat different than it once was: somewhere between tenuous and temporary. Still, thinking about the past can only do so much good when contemplating a future that has been snatched away somewhat (somewhat? quite, actually) unexpectedly at 54 and one half. If I want to have a future, thinking and living as if I have one is more agreeable and more rewarding – and much less stressful than thinking I don’t. And constantly reviewing, assessing, and connecting with the horse on which I rode in, as informative as it may be in helping to understand and appreciate the medical predicament in which I find myself so immersed, might actually be causing more harm – emotionally, than I’m willing to admit. I can’t change the past, so living with it on a daily basis when I have a present and a future to consider might be shackling me in some emotional way that is preventing me from maintaining the positive and optimistic attitude so crucial in defending myself against the insidious disease inside my lungs.
Not that I’m suggesting that I can talk/think these malignant tumors ("metastatic to the lung") to cease and desist, but spending mental time on what has already occurred, instead of what possibly could be, seems counterproductive, maybe even harmful. Trouble has already found me; I don’t need to encourage it. And after all these years, I should know better. I do know better. Nevertheless, as the content of this column clearly indicates, I am still under siege. I am still trying to balance the challenges of living with a future while being mindful of a past and understanding that some emotions I can’t control. Cancer is funny like that, but it’s no laughing matter. Even so, I did think the subject was fodder for a column – or maybe I’m just indulging myself at your expense. If it’s the latter more so than the former, I appreciate your patience. I probably need it.