Random musings of a stage four cancer patient:
- How does one deal with this on a daily, hourly, minute by minute basis? In my case, I don’t. Or at least I try not to. By this I mean, I do not engage in a countdown of sorts. “Well, that’s another hour gone, another day gone. One hour, one day closer to….” That’s not what I do – at least not to any greater degree than I might have, or that anyone might have, before the diagnosis came in. Everyone has a finite stretch of time. How dumb it would be to squander any significant amount of that time by worrying about the countdown clock.
- Sure, it’s on my mind – on our minds – from time to time, but not in a dominant way. We see the physicians. I take the meds. I roll with the side effects. We move on. Many mornings, it’s not until I finish washing up that I remember, “Oh, yeah. That.” But, not to be cavalier about it, we do move through what passes, rightly or wrongly, for our sort-of-normal lives. We hang out, we take long(ish) walks, we share meals, we help take care of the grandkids, we spend time with our friends. We even just finished our first post-COVID-outbreak vacation trip – a quick up and back to New Hampshire to spend a few days with cousins Barry and Sharon in their lakeside summer home, rebooting a pre-COVID annual tradition. It was terrific.
- This is not to say that it’s all super-duper. Several times during our stay there, I fell asleep in their family room smack in the middle of conversations. They were swell about it, but still. Not ideal. I now call these “brown outs.” The chemo kicks in, the power goes out and the only way to hit the reset button is through a nap. Happens one to three times a day. Also, every now and then, during the week after the monthly chemo belly-shot, Marion catches me with a grimace on my face and says, “It hurts?” I say, “Yeah, but it’s getting better.” And it is.
- I do not feel sorry for myself. I really don’t. Stuff happens, especially as one ages. But, to be perfectly honest, I am a little pissed off. For one thing, my body is betraying me. Bad stuff is going on in there and it stayed under cover and it’s a stubborn thing and…it pisses me off. Also, we navigated ourselves and our family through the COVID crisis and we got our vaccinations and we were just coming out of quarantine and we were just resuming a semblance of normal life and then…wham. This. And that pisses me off, too. Ah, OK. That’s off my chest. Well, actually it’s in my chest…eh…never mind.
- What I am a little worried about: This is the best I’m going to feel for the rest of my life. And it’s perfectly fine. It could be a lot worse. But it’s not going to get significantly better. My oldest friend – we’ve known each other since birth – asked just yesterday, “Do you have any good news? Are you getting better?” Well, that’s not the kind of situation we’re in here. In response to the chemo, the PSA blood marker is slowly diminishing, which probably means that the lesions are growing/spreading more slowly and some may even be shrinking, but “good news” and “getting better” are more relative terms than they’ve ever been before. Other, stronger regimens with other, more difficult side effects are going to be required at some point down the road. So, while I really do appreciate where I’m at now, I am concerned about where I’ll be in a year or three. Nothing can be done about it, other than front-loading now all the stuff I’d like to do.
- Which brings me to: Wisely or not, before we hit this bump in the road, I took on three (3!!!) writing projects. Though the cancer’s recurrence has created impediments, I’m determined to see them through. One is for a friend who is attempting – re-attempting – to substantiate through a demanding written document his well-earned claim to the pinnacle of his profession. That project is not yet very far along, but it will have low impact on my energy and schedule. The other two are manuscripts for clients who want to share their life stories. One of those is virtually done. The other, more ambitious project, is approaching its final stages, which is a good thing. They’re all going to get the full Merz, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to work around the brown outs and other side effects. I need to retire pretty soon, for real this time.
- Outwardly, there is no obvious change in me. People say, “Hey, you look good.” That’s kind, and I understand the thought behind it, but the truth is that most cancer patients, even four-stagers, don’t show any obvious signs of it until the end stage, when they might grow emaciated. Thankfully, we’re nowhere near that now. Someone on a prostate-cancer message board posted that he sometimes feels a little guilty about the lack of exterior signs of his condition. He wrote: “It’s almost like, ‘Are you sure you have cancer, because you don’t look like it.'” I know where he’s coming from, but you can’t blame or judge people for what they say. Each person deals with this situation as best they can – and each person deals with it differently.
So, I think that’s it for now. Though I’m pretty sure I’ll think of something else as soon as I hit the “Publish” button. 🙂