The doctor said expressionless, “Well you need to know that the average life span for this type of cancer is 104 months.” I shut down totally and felt the room
I left the office devastated. I had walked into this office a few days ago with anemia and came back out with a diagnosis of cancer. I had Myelodysplastic Syndrome. Like most people, I had absolutely no idea what this meant. I started researching online, but that was depressing too. There are five different types of this blood cancer and the patients can typically live any length of time from 2 months to 10 years. Every report stated the final prognosis is not good. Treatment can only slow down the cancer, not cure it.
It is truly a frightening experience to face the idea we are not immortal. I was 59 at the time. My parents and most of my other relatives had lived into their eighties and nineties.
I did find another fantastic doctor who was optimistic and compassionate. She acknowledged that the average time is limited, but “There are so many things we can do.” I found what I was looking for which was an oncologist who would fight this horrible disease alongside of me and give me hope.
It is now 7 years later. I started out on oral chemo, and now get 10 painful shots in the stomach and arms over 5 days each month. I have several bone marrow biopsies a year to test how many of the cells are mutated. With each procedure, I hold my breath wondering what the cells will tell me. The number of abnormal cells has fluctuated in a range from 30% to 95%. I have lost a great deal of my hearing also.
I know I am approaching that 104 month mark. The chance of living past 10 years is not great. However, I was younger than most people when diagnosed.
I would be lying if I did not admit that I get extremely depressed at times. I wonder when we are planning family events if I will be here for milestones. I am hoping to make it to my 70th birthday and have a huge party!
But something wonderful has happened along the way. I have met many brave and courageous people on my journey. I see them every month in the cancer waiting room. I share messages with them on Facebook. I belong to a nutrition group for people facing cancer and the aftermath.
I never knew how anyone would go through something like this and survive. The human spirit is amazing and we do rise to the occasion. My faith has become stronger, and I find my church to be a huge support group for me.
I have been thoughtful and deliberate to define what I can do instead of what I cannot do. I reserve my energy to be with family, friends and doing activities I enjoy. I have been going on cruises to special places.
All of this has been wonderful. BUT – the most helpful activity is my own self talk. I have a doctorate in counseling. I used to instruct my clients to think positive instead of negative thoughts. It is absolutely a fact that the brain is not able to harbor two thoughts at once. It may be a millisecond, but the brain cannot think something positive and negative at the same time. This is the theory behind the popular counseling technique named cognitive therapy.
So what I do is this. When I get scared, when my medical reports are bad, when I am really hurting from the chemo, or wondering how long I have to live, I remind myself that I just spent fifteen minutes or more worrying. Because of the cancer and my chemo draining me, I do not have much energy now. Do I REALLY want to waste my remaining energy upset or do I want to embrace adventure? These 15 minutes of stewing accomplished nothing except to rob me of my zest for life. If I had spent 15 minutes enjoying the sunset, or talking with friends, or writing an article, I am much happier. Of course I have my days of feeling sorry for myself and that is OK too. Mentally I need to have some time to vent. But I dare not let this attitude consume me or I will spiral into a drain and never come back up.
Actually “seizing the day” is good advice for anyone with or without cancer. I cannot choose what happens to me in life. I can choose how I react. Am I going to worry or be positive and enjoy life? It is up to me!