6 weeks out from surgery. Brooke and I traveled to MD Anderson last week for my surgical follow up. Thankfully it went well. The surgeon was pleased and I am on track and recovering quickly. The one bit of concern was the persistent headaches and dizziness I have been wrestling with, a small cause for concern.
Brooke and I watched the surgeon’s face when I mentioned the headaches and dizziness, a flicker of concern, and he ordered a brain MRI to make sure I was clear. The MRI threw us for a loop. It was poignant reminder of how fragile we are, and that even with a good prognosis nothing is for certain when dealing with cancer. We had another 48 hours of “what if”, waiting for the results, holding our breath, and breathing through the uncertainty.
Thankfully the news from the MRI was positive, no issues. Most likely the headaches and dizziness are from a lingering sinus infection. Makes sense, my body has had other issues to worry about! So I started a round of antibiotics and the headaches and dizziness, although not entirely gone, seem to be receding.
Holding uncertainty is our new norm. Now, like so many other survivors, we play the cancer game. I am in remission and that is excellent, we stay vigilant for 5-years, get regular scans, and live as healthy a life as possible. Good diet, low stress, plenty of exercise, gratitude, and appreciation for everyday. Brooke and I can now let go of the constant fear and ease back into a “normal” life. Yet for me I feel as if I have walked through a looking glass. My life changed August 1st and it will never be the same.
As it turns out my cancer was farther along than previously thought. My first pathology report in Boulder said it was in situ, so early that a quick surgical procedure and I would be cured, a 100% survival rate in five years. My post surgical pathology revealed a bit more advanced nemesis, Stage 1B. The five-year survival rate for people with this stage, who have had my exact procedure and outcome, is 60%-80%. My surgeon said I should be on the “higher end” of that scale, I am relatively young, fit, and the tumor had not invaded the pleura or lymph’s. Good news.
And yet, if you deal with %’s each day, as I have been trained to do, that still leaves risk on the table. 1-5 people, standing exactly where I am standing today, will be dead in 5 years. I don’t say that to be dramatic, it is just a fact. And while I am more than confident that I am solidly in the majority, I would be foolish not to be cognizant of this reality.
Like so many elements of this journey this too is a gift. I fully intend to live my life with the knowledge of another 40+ years ahead of me. At the same time if in 3 years I learn that I have stage 3 or 4 metastasized brain cancer I don’t want to have 1 minute of regret. Not 1 minute! I am not sure I can make that claim about the last 3, 5, or 7 years. I wonder how many people can?
I know that along the way I have made what I thought were meaningful sacrifices, trading X now for Y in the future. No more. I don’t want to have any “I wish I had…” spent time with my family or friends, time in nature, exercising, or investing in service to others. I do not want to waste another minute, personally or professionally, in areas that I am not completely passionate about. Life is too short. The gift of this cancer is that standing facing my own mortality, I can no longer pretend otherwise. That genie will never go back in the bottle.
Isn’t that really the case for all of us? I wonder what the actual statistical percentage is for each of us once we pass 40 years of age? Life happens, illness, accidents, whatever…Maybe we all have an x% chance of survival in 5 years? Perhaps the only difference is that I have been given the gift of awareness to remain vigilant, to not slip back into the daily trance, the constant societal and cultural allure of “planning for the future at the expense of the present”.
As all the great spiritual and wisdom traditions teach us, death can come at any time for each of us, “this body too shall be a corpse”. The trick is to never forget the timeless wisdom, to live everyday as if this were our last. Carpe Diem!