One of the hardest things I found about living with chronic cancer and how I deal with it.
As you guys may have read in my last blog, my tumor markers skyrocketed. And me being me, I got a bone scan, PET scan, CT, and an MRI to get to the root of the problem. I took my blood work again. And everything came back stable. It was a two-week glitch, but I’m still shaken. I hadn’t had tumor numbers like that for seven years. Was it my COVID infection? My bronchitis? Missing a few days of my medications? I’ve let go of the rumination, but the experience got me thinking about a big loss that cancer patients live with — loss of anticipation.
There are three big areas that we can base our lives on: the past, the present, and the anticipation of the future.
The future has all the things to look forward to. The things to organize your life around other than the present. I’ve gotten good at living in the present, so I don’t really dwell in the future too much, but that’s a loss. Sitting in bed and deciding that I have to write things in pencil instead of pen is a loss.
I took my children to Africa about 6 years ago. I didn’t take them because it was on my bucket list. I took them because I thought it might be on their bucket list one day. I took them with the knowledge that I may not have the opportunity to be part of their adult life and the experiences they will have. In setting the date and buying the tickets, I knew there was a chance that I wouldn’t be able to go. I was making the trip plans far in advance. And I also knew that even on the trip, there would be things I couldn’t do given the level of cancer I was carrying. But I still made the reservations. I put it in pencil in my calendar, and I knew that if I couldn’t go, I would still be thrilled that they could come back and report to me. I couldn’t guarantee that I would be able to go with them or wait for them until they got back. And that was a bit of a loss. However, I still made that decision because if I could go and all the stars aligned, we could do it and immerse ourselves in the present in Africa.
We all made it to Africa, and I saw what an online quiz called my spirit animal: the humble dung beetle. It creates a giant ball to protect its offspring—its future. It has determination like nothing else in this world, fighting an uphill battle with its future and makes it to safety. I realized that, yes, this is my spirit animal. They carry around their hope with them every day with the knowledge that it may amount to nothing.
I focus on the now. It’s the only thing I can do. I literally live day-to-day. I wake up in the morning and I think: what am I doing today? I go through it in my mind. I think about how to go about it in the most joyful way possible. And I look forward to my day. Even going to the doctor, where sometimes the news isn’t so good, I remind myself that I absolutely adore my oncologist and the interaction we will have. Even if it’s not such great news, I will feel incredibly comforted by her.
I cherish the people in my life. I have weeded through my relationships, and I hold the ones who give me joy close. I have less space for people who are sucking more life out of me. It sounds harsh, but with the state that I am in, I need to keep the joy I have. I cannot spend excess energy on people who cannot send it back my way or add to the joy in my life.
So living in the present and clinging to the tiny future of today:
- I look forward to being in my apartment every day. It is such a safe space for me and such a beautiful space for me.
- I look forward to the interactions I’m going to have with people today.
- I look forward to saying hello to the people in my life that I treasure.
- I look forward to whatever I’m going to eat that day.
I look forward to the joy of life. And that is a tremendous amount.