Thursday, September 24, 2009

Live Life as Though You Have Cancer

As I stated in the previous post, it's been a year since going through the hellish experience of cancer treatment. At the end of it, I had coffee with a long time friend. She was on vacation at the time and was going over all the wonderful things she had done in the past couple of weeks and changes she had made in her life. Mainly, taking more time for herself and less on her job.

After our meeting, I headed straight to the Canal for an extended weekend of clam digging and such and on the way down, I wrote a blog entry in my head. I titled it, 'Live Life as Though You Have Cancer'. I put it to paper but after reading and rereading, I didn't feel like I captured the essence of what I wanted to say. So I shelved it, thinking I'd get back to it and make it, 'right'. Then I'd make the post...

Well, that was a year ago and I still haven't made it 'right'. So I'm going to publish it now in it's original form. It's funny, after a year has gone by it seems to be more 'right' than it was when written. Go figure. Anyway, here it is.

Live Life as Though You Have Cancer

If you found out today you had cancer, imagine how your life would change. Step back for just a moment and contemplate the unimaginable. You are now at the beginning of a new and unchartered journey. How would your life change? Would you begin to analyze your mortality in a more urgent sense? Would things that used to seem important, become less so? Would things that seem very important take on a much greater sense of urgency?

My guess is your view of life changes. You now live far more in the now and the immediacy of it. You might view life not so much of this world but more from an eternal perspective. When you see friends and spend time with them, you can’t help but think this may be the last time you see them in this world. What used to cause anxiety in your life, is merely a mosquito buzzing about the room. Imagine not living your life in fear for tomorrow, but alive today. Remember how there was always tomorrow and how you made life harder than need be by worrying about things of this world from the realm of what if, what might be, what might happen; opposed to what is and what’s possible.

I’m sure you’ve been asked the question at some time in your life, “What would you do if you had but one day to live?” Be honest, what is your answer? Would you change anything? Would the world look different? Would you pick up the phone and tell a long lost friend or loved one something you’ve been meaning to say? Would you run to your kids room and throw your arms around them and tell them how much you love them and how much they mean to you? Your parents? Siblings? Would you be a different person? Would you treat people differently? Be honest.

Give this some deep and meaningful thought. Not from a negative or sadness point of view, but from a position of walking in cancers shoes. Let the situation sink in and think hard and deep about how your life would change.

Cancer has been a blessing for me in many ways in which I’ve described. It is not a curse nor a death sentence. It’s a window to living. A very clear and fog free window on this world we live in. And a daily reminder of just how short this trip we’re on is.

I’ve come to the understanding that death and the possibility of such is easy. It’s living in this life that is hard. Really hard. And I want to challenge everyone who cares to listen to really live. And to live for today, not tomorrow. Not in the seats as a spectator but on the stage as the principal in a play.

So imagine you have cancer and choose to live life as such. You might be amazed at the possibilities that open up when you live your life from this point of view.

It's been a year!

How quickly a year passes. Truly amazing and as we grow older, each year appears to be passing more quickly than the last. That said, it's been a year almost to the day that I completed my chemo / radiation treatment at SCCA. Much has transpired and for the most part, all has been good.

My last tri-monthly appointment this month with Dr. Martins was consistent. Again, he popped into the room brimming ear to ear with a smile stating, 'The CT looks good; lymph's, mass no larger (only scar tissue), and the radiologist was having a very, very good day'. He then read the report verbatim and yes, the radiologist was having a good day. You could hear it through the Dr. speak and terminology.

Back to the year and all that has transpired. When I completed my treatment, I was left with the information from my surgeon that I had approximately a year to live. That was from my appointment with him in July following the surgery. So, a little quick math will tell you nine months give or take. And in that time, what would my condition be like. You've probably seen the pictures and / or known someone you've seen deteriorate with cancer and what their condition looks like. Would I be able to function, would I be bedridden, hospice,walk, on oxygen, pills, shots, more hospitalization, move, function, etc. All ever present thoughts.

I set an objective and number one was, get as close to my kids, family and friends as possible. For my kids, I wanted to be with them in the time I have and enjoy each others company to the fullest. I felt that it would be much better to leave them (if in fact I was to leave this world) with memories in lieu of inheritance. So I started booking trips with them one on one in order to connect solely with each other with new, memorable and interesting experiences.

First, Riley and I headed off to Hawaii to swim with the dolphins. The latter didn't appear when we set out to be amongst them but he and I made up for it in many other ways. Next, Emily and I headed to NYC & WDC. We had a blast and it was great being in those two cities over the Thanksgiving holiday time frame.

During the holiday season, I travelled to Los Angeles to be with my folks, sister/brother in law, and several past friends from my days in LA. We got my folks settled into a great assisted care living situation and although my dad was in the hospital much of this time, it was great being there and being close, in a way that I can only describe as uplifting. It was special in all senses of the word.

When my dad was home from the hospital, I stayed @ my folks place and he and I shared his bed a couple of nights. To wake in the morning and be able to reach over and put my arm around him and give him a hug, was truly something special. I was still his little boy and he my dad at the ripe old age of 52 and 83 respectively.

I travelled back and forth between Seattle, LA & San Fran for much of the remainder of the winter and spring to be with my folks, sister and friends as much as possible all the while staying connected with my kids at home. I even made my way to Hong Kong as well as a cruise out of Seattle to Alaska (two things I had never done; go on a cruise and go to Alaska). I have now been in all 50 states (many on multiple occasions) and I feel very good about that accomplishment.

Once summer arrived, it was time to head off with the kids again and be with them as much as possible. Riley and I went to Alaska to go fishing and Emily & I went to San Francisco for shopping and then returned to Hawaii to lounge amongst the surfers and the waves. We also made trips to Hood Canal on several weekends for geoducks and clams between their respective camps.

At the end of the day (or year if you will), it was packed full of memories. One of many experiences, encounters, new places and things to see. But most of all connecting the dots with the one thing that matters most in life, the friends and family we have around us. Objective accomplished.

I am extremely grateful to be so blessed with the people in my life, the time to share it with them, and even in my hampered state, the wherewith all to do so. I have constant reminders of life's short ride and the balancing act we must go through in living it to its fullest. I would be a liar if I told you that with all of the joy and gratitude I experienced this past year, I did not have my challenging days. They are ever present but I find them to be reminders that help me live even more. However, it's something that I stress over more than I care to admit.

I recently re-connected with a close friend of 20 years who leaves each conversation or email with, 'Make today extraordinary'. It doesn't require something big to accomplish that. Sometimes its the little things ...

Much love,