Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Well, I got my test results back just before my every-3-month booster and they were encouraging. What had been in the normal range stayed there and the markers of my cancer continue to decrease, one from 9.2 to 2.8. But, what do they mean? As I explained before, anyone with an illness who is breathlessly awaiting any news, any information on their condition is looking for some form of hope. Even if you’re feeling better, what is really happening inside? You can’t trust your body anymore because it has become foreign to you.

I don’t know whether it means more time or how much, whether to hold out false hope. Will I make it past the “median” projected time I have left (half die before, half after), or will I be a part of the “unlucky ones”? The pessimistic side of me, which has been reinforced by my diagnosis, says “Why should I think luck should be on my side now?” The optimistic side, which I try hard to nurture and harness whenever possible, says “Anything is possible, just keep doing what you’re doing, it’s working.”

So, I vacillate on a daily basis between hopeful and hopeless thoughts. I have never been one to give up but at the same time, I am realistic and try to balance out what I know to move forward pragmatically. Of course, that means keeping on going like the “little engine that could,” but it is the uncertainty, the ups-and-downs that sideline me at times.

You can say that everyone has uncertainty in their lives and they just live with it. Besides, as some have told me, anyone could get hit by a bus or die from a car crash any day of the week. But it is a hypothetical, a possibility, not a certainty. What are the chances of that happening to someone? However, I know with certainty, not that this cancer will kill me but that it will cause my organs to fail. So, I look at the “whens” and “what ifs”… When will I relapse (not if)? What if this chemo regimen stops working? What if every other possible alternative doesn’t work anymore? What if there are no new advances by the time that happens? …And it does me no good.

Instead, I have decided (and continue to remind myself) that it is all about living with cancer. People live with chronic illnesses every day of their lives. And I remind myself of the wonderful lady’s blog who has lived with this for 17 years now that “it is a treatable disease, not an end game.”

Its meaning has changed for me now. I used to say that I couldn’t die until I’d seen everything I had wanted to see, traveled the world, accomplished everything I had wanted to do. Of course, that is an impossibility, and I’m increasingly okay with that. Now, I’m beginning to focus more internally and I’m not quite sure how to explain it.

I still want to experience everything I can in life, but it’s as if I feel this need to somehow make sense out of everything…the course of my life, what has taken me here and where it will still take me. I am pulling out any of those file drawers of memories with emotions still raw and working through where those negative experiences led me. In doing so, the energy that was still attached to those experiences is released and I have been able to see where they fit in my decisions that impacted on my life moving forward.

It is giving me not only more energy, but a growing inner peace. The frustrations and mysteries of why things happened have lost their meaning and importance. Tracing where they took me instead, following the curves and bends in the river of life is not only making sense but affirms the decisions I have made in my life. Those painful memories now flitter by, with not a twinge of sadness because they brought me to where I am now with few regrets and no resentment.

Is this self-indulgent? Maybe, but as I so often told my patients through the years: “Thinking of yourself is not selfish. If you don’t think of you, who is going to? A lifetime of selflessness does no one any good, as if you can’t be there for yourself, you can’t be there for others.”

I may not know what those test results mean, but somehow, that’s okay. We all live with uncertainty about our future. For me, fitting in those pieces of the puzzle from my past is reaffirming and freeing. In some small way, it gives me a ray of hope moving forward, as I’ve made it through so much to get here.

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KLP

KLP

As a now-retired psychologist, I was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, and am currently undergoing chemotherapy to hopefully prolong my life.