Tag Archives: Cancer

Sticky Note #1

Throughout my cancer journey, I’ve made mental and physical notes to myself about cancer, about people with cancer, about my cancer. They’re random, casual and brief — almost all would fit on a sticky note. This is my first sticky note.

Early on after my cancer diagnosis, Kristina, a friend then in a courageous contest with breast cancer, advised, “Don’t get caught in the Calendar Game” — that bell curve of statistics that seeks to bracket the X and Y of years of probable longevity. “Those numbers include all kinds of people,” Kristina said. “Focus on your disease, your treatment and your health.” I’ve always thought that was sound advice: There are people in those numbers with multiple health problems, people who never took care of themselves, people who don’t follow their doc’s advice, and on and on. They become part of the odds, and probabilities, and chances. It’s about all, not about you. Or me.

Focus on your disease, your treatment and your health.

The HAY Question

It happened again.

A very close friend asked, “How are you?”

“I’m fine.”

“No,” he said. “How are you.” Oh, my cancer.

And a cousin wrote, “I signed up for your blog, and it’s very informative, but sometimes I can’t get a real sense of how you are doing.” They’re certainly not the first to ask, and I doubt they’ll be the last. So here goes.

I’ve been open (blatantly so) that I’m Stage 4, and that there is no Stage 5. But within my staging, there’s a cancer continuum that arcs from where I am all the way out and beyond the horizon to hospice. I’m classified Stage 4 because of lymph node involvement, a tiny tumor in each of two lymph nodes (out of 13) sampled at surgery. Regional metastasis, I believe it’s called. It’s that serious, and it’s that simple.

Physically, I’m fine. I’m active, and I feel great — no aches, no pains, no masses burgeoning within me to make life uncomfortable. When my calendar’s not full, it’s busy. On any given day, I feel like a healthy 67-year-old who goes to the gym for a vigorous workout. I take no meds related to cancer, and I live a ‘normal’ life, traveling hither and yon, unimpeded by my cancer. I’m soon off to Peru and then Sri Lanka.

Life goes on even as more hormone therapy and radiation await. They’re in queue not because I’m in dire straits but because I’m being aggressive — early and often — in kicking cancer’s ass. Prostate cancer has an affinity for bone when it metastasizes, and my April 27 bone scan came back clean. But, like about 99.9 per cent of cancer fighters, I get fatigued — not so bad now as when I was on hormone therapy. Back then, somewhere around 4 each afternoon, I’d fall off a cliff. Fatigue just comes with the territory, whether the territory is cancer or cancer treatment.

Bottom line: To be with me day in, day out, you’d never react, OMG, Bill’s ill! I make plans, sometimes quite far out, and I buy green bananas, sometimes quite green.

Mentally, I think my head’s screwed on straight. I accept the fact I have cancer — I’d rather not have it, but I accept that it’s my new normal, and I don’t waste time/energy/life being angry about it or wishing it weren’t so. It is so. I had two best buddies, Al and Bill, both killed in their 20s, and I’ve often thought they’d love to be my age and have a good case of prostate cancer. That gives me perspective on life and puts my cancer in its place.

I try to focus on enjoying life, enjoying my family and friends and doing all I can to counter the cancer within me. Oh, and getting as much good out of my cancer experience as I can (and there is good to be had, make no mistake).

I confess to three really bad head days — all of which occurred while I was on hormone therapy: From out of the blue came black. I just fell into a black hole, and that’s the only way I can describe it. A black hole. How, why — who knows? Each time, I spent about a day in the black hole. Twice I climbed out by watching the movie “Rocky” (see the Yo, Adrian post below), and once, I just had to have a little talk with Bill.

Bottom line: It is what it is, and I’m dealing with it as best I can, given who I am. There’s no training or preparation for cancer. One day, someone just hands it to you, and you begin the process of figuring out how you’re going to handle it — the where and how it fits into your life and into your mind. Stoically, I’ve never even been tempted to ask, Why me?

Although I have mused, Why not me?

My Cancer Hobby

Days after my prostate cancer diagnosis on March 26, 2007, my wife presented me with a copy of Newsweek dated April 9, the one with the cover story, “My Life with Cancer,” by Jonathan Alter. I didn’t read it then, and I haven’t read it now. I remember the exact words that ricocheted through my mind the moment she handed me the magazine: “Cancer is not my new hobby.”

This was, of course, back in the days when I lived under the presumption that  a prostatectomy would “cure” my cancer, and I had an 80 per cent chance of it. So, no, cancer was not going to be my new hobby: I’d have surgery, be done with it, and get on with my real life enjoyments — travel, photography and cooking.

But my first cancer did not go away, as was my plan, and this blog exists not because I had cancer back then; it exists because I have cancer right now.

And cancer has become my new hobby.

How did this happen, I ask? My treatments certainly have not taken up that much of a retiree’s time. So…?

It started with annual prostate cancer symposiums and then general cancer gatherings, where researchers, survivors and families would share the latest. (A woman in a wheelchair at one of these conferences talked about being sent to hospice to die — three times! She just refuses to.) Next I added informal monthly presentations on cancer and nutrition, and my kitchen hobby morphed into a cancer-fighting cooking interest.

And all along the way, there became this increasing need to get current on the latest developments in treatments of my advanced (or Stage IV) prostate cancer. (I had skipped that chapter in the book I read in March 2007.) Ever so gradually, gathering by gathering, article by article, test result by test result, cancer was expanding its place in my life, just as it was expanding its presence in my body.

Then this blog. I started it to keep family and friends in the loop on something that’s become more than a fleeting wisp of a health matter. It’s fun, I enjoy it, and it helps me work through how I feel about cancer things.

But — and how did I not foresee this? — the blog, and similar postings on my high school class website, have prompted extraordinary conversations with others about their cancers. Long-time veterans with courageous war stories. Serial survivors on their second and third diagnoses. Super people who challenge me and, in the process, help me distill my thoughts and decisions. Some long email exchanges, and often. You’ve seen some of their names here; you’ll see others in the future. It’s no longer about me; it’s a bit about us, the cancer community, and each other, and those who care about us.

And now, on May 25, I’m to give a presentation at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance on Blogging about Cancer. So I’ve been somewhat in overdrive to get ready to stand and deliver next week. I even found research saying that people who have meaningful conversations and who blog about their cancers “better cope” with their health conditions.

It’s been so mind-expanding — and the notion that I might be able to give back just a little, just a teeny bit, to others dealing with their cancers — well,  we’ll see how it goes.

I am, after all, early on in my cancer hobby.