Looking Back at the Week Ahead

Once in a while, I feel like it’s appropriate to update my meager readership on what is going on that is relevant to this blog and my other work, as well as recapping incidental anecdotes about life in general. Such is the justification for this post. Plus, I thought it might be nice to write something short after that last one… And since my next planned post is already proving to be a bit on the longer side, I’m looking at this like a small snack break between meals. (Well, comparatively small, anyway — I’m actually something of a heavy snacker most days.)

Living with cancer has, of course, its own set of challenges. Even if the cancer is well maintained, even if the response to treatment is going well, it complicates life in ways both predictable and unexpected on an ongoing basis. It adds stresses that might otherwise never present themselves. For example, for the past two years, every time I have a headache, no matter how small, it makes me question whether that is a sign of a brain lesion, some new metastases that had gone unnoticed, a harbinger of (for me) yet uncharted radiotherapy treatments or a potential ticking time bomb. And time, always, is on my mind, an urgency there underlying everything that I do; time is a limited resource and there isn’t a day that I’m not reminded of this.

One of the first headlines that greeted me this morning was about the death of actor Bill Paxton. At only 61, he died as the result of complications from surgery. A few days ago, I turned 49 and 61 seems really, really close to me — as well as interminably far away. At 46, my diagnosis with Stage 4 Lung Cancer left me quite uncertain about whether I would have made this birthday at all, much less anything a decade or more beyond it. A disproportionate number of news stories that filter through my network revolve around the Affordable Care Act and the current attempts within Congress to repeal this piece of legislation that arguably is a key reason that I am still alive. Maintaining my medical coverage will be a critical component of whether I am still around in two or five more years, and absolutely essential if I am even going to consider the prospects for another dozen. For now, however, I stay focused on day-to-day living, always with an eye toward tomorrow.

Time is a precious resource, for all of us. It is hard not be resentful of the hours spent dealing with the DMV or filling out paperwork for, well, anything, things which seem to have been unduly occupying my waking hours over the past week and will continue to do so through the next one. Part of it is my own fault, of course; chemo brain affects my filing system and things tend to have piled up on me by the time the fog clears enough to attend to those obligations we have mostly agreed to in order to live in our society. Still, I keep lists and try to ensure everything is on my calendar so that, mental clarity or not, I can keep on top of deadlines.

This has been one of those months where my calendar has been getting increasingly full and it is rapidly bleeding over into next month, too. Which is a good thing, I suppose, as long as at least some of what is scheduled serves to fill the well rather than drain it. To that end, the coming week is balanced out with some interviews that I have lined up for my podcast. I’ll be speaking with another patient here in Los Angeles to discuss dealing with chemotherapy and coping with other aspects of treatment toward the end of the week. Tomorrow, I’ve got two interviews lined up. In the evening, I’ll be teleconferencing with a fellow blogger who lives in Australia to discuss the experience of being a wife and mother whose husband was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 small cell lung cancer. But tomorrow morning I begin the week with arguably one of the most important interviews I will be conducting.

I’ve written a few times about dealing with our own mortality and facing death. My focus tends to be on an optimistic look at increasingly effective medical treatments, or critical examinations of claims being made by those who claim to have new cures, or simply just how to live joyfully in spite of dealing with some big disease looming overhead. But once in a while, it is important to look at the inevitable.

When I interview my guest on Monday morning, we will be discussing how he is approaching his final months of life. Already, his treatments have helped him to live far beyond his expectations. And he has used his time well, treating every day as an opportunity, even the ones that have been progressively shorter as his energy has lagged and his body has slowly prepared for ultimately shutting down. I’ve only known this man through his words, through his contributions to various forums and cancer support sites, but I have never been quite as honored to host an interview.

Some people approach death with fear and apprehension and anger, and I imagine that this gentleman is feeling all of those things. But he is also filling his remaining days with purpose, fundraising for charity, raising awareness about the realities of cancer, working hard to make the world a better place for his having been a part of it. He is living these final days of his life with grace, honesty and a vision that transcends victimhood or self-pity. It is going to be a truly interesting interview and I expect, in some ways, it will be life-changing for me.

I’ve known people who have died, of course, but I’ve only watched from a safe distance. Even though I spoke with my own father just prior to his death, and had talked with him frequently before that, our conversations rarely touched on his experience with dying. Now that I find myself hyper-aware of my own mortality, and have important things yet to accomplish before my flame is extinguished, it seems like a very special gift to find someone so openly willing to discuss this experience and share it with the world.

Death is a natural part of all our lives, sometimes coming earlier than anticipated, sometimes perhaps robbing the world of a promising light, sometimes pushed back through good fortune or the miracles of science, but ultimately inescapable. It isn’t death that I dread, per se, but the ever-quicker passage of time. It’s the wasted moments, caught in bureaucratic red-tape, fumbling through busy work and endless forms and waiting on hold for hours just to get a simple yes or no on a question that, in a perfect world, would never need to be asked. It’s standing in line, being stuck in traffic, sitting and sitting in the waiting room. It’s the fog that creeps in nearly a third of the time, when the clock shifts by hours between glances. It’s any time that I don’t have my arms around my daughter, feeling her squeeze back, reminding me that I’m right there, in that moment, where I wish I could be forever.

But moments don’t stretch that way and as much as I would like to hoard as many as I can in that fashion, I also want to leave myself connected to the future of the people that I love in the best way that I can. And that means ensuring that I do my part, every remaining day, however many of those that are left.

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