Column: Up and Down and All Around

Column: Up and Down and All Around


No. That’s not my stomach talking. Nor is it the recurring effects of the six-plus years of chemotherapy. Fortunately, nausea has rarely been a part of that experience. However, like so many others, I have endured my share of side effects: I’ve lost my hair, lost weight, lost interest in food/lost taste, lost energy, lost sleep and a few other things I can’t remember I’ve lost (“chemo brain”), but amazingly, I’ve not lost my life. Neither have I lost my will to live. Still, living with cancer is hardly the stuff of which dreams are made; more likely, they’re nightmares. And though living is its own reward, for a cancer patient/survivor, it’s not a given; you sort of have to take it.

To say that “living with cancer” – meaning you’re the one afflicted – is like being on a roller coaster, would be unkind to all roller coasters. I can’t really see that there are any thrills to being on board for this emotional/physical ride. Aside from there not being a safety bar, there are no guarantees that you’ll survive the trip/ordeal; and unlike the ride at the amusement park, it’s unlikely you’ll want to go on again. For cancer patients, being diagnosed once is more than enough. And if your diagnosis is the terminal kind, once really is all there needs to be. Because if there’s one thing that cancer has proved to be beyond a reasonable doubt, is an indiscriminate killer with reach beyond many a grasp.

Ergo; assimilating, integrating, processing this fact into your daily existence is hardly the pause that refreshes. It’s more of the premature finish that you worry about. Immediately, your outlook on life changes. Whatever plans/expectations you may have had for a long life may have to be modified. I had a modest plan, more like a presumption: that I would live into my mid eighties, as both my parents had. Learning at age 54 and a half that my presumption turns out to be an assumption I shouldn’t have made, is unsettling to say the least, and extremely disappointing to soften the most. Finding a level, a mechanism, a rationalization, a sense of purpose in the midst of such a devastating change of plans is the axis on which your life – with its cancer-related fits and starts – twists and turns.

As difficult as this challenge is, it is particularly difficult during the weeks leading up to your CT Scan and the days following, until your appointment with your oncologist when the results are finally discussed. Then you’ll know where you stand or whether you should be sitting; whether your life hangs in the balance or whether the balance is completely out of whack. It’s rare that you’ll be pardoned; realistically speaking, all you can hope for is lighter duty. But that’s the problem, there’s nothing light about it. It’s all heavy and often very unpredictable. And there’s very little that’s amusing about it. And unlike a roller coaster which has a beginning and an end with a middle to die for, cancer’s beginning, middle and end is all to die for.