June 26 marked the seventh month since my diagnosis of Stage 3B non-small cell lung cancer. Life expectancy from date of diagnosis, with treatment, is 12 to 18 months. So I’m a little shy of halfway there, if we’re going by the more optimistic figure. Of course, statistics are only statistics, not a finite rule applied to everyone fighting cancer. A number of people survive far beyond that bleak prognosis; I’ve met some who’ve passed the seven-year mark, a few even making 10 years and beyond. But that’s rare.
With this in mind, I feel I should be getting ready for something substantial, like a journey to some unknown destination for which one isn’t quite sure what to pack. True, I feel fine, except for the cough and some shortness of breath. Much of my energy has returned, I’m sleeping well again, don’t have a fever and my scalp is sprouting baby-fine fuzz, which just may turn into a full head of hair.
My wife, Joan, and I had a small crowd over for a barbecue yesterday. All day, I received compliments of, “You look great!” Each sounded sincere, if slightly surprised. The unspoken subtext seemed to be, “and you have cancer?”
The other thing people openly marvel at is that I continue to work. I have financial responsibilities requiring me to keep that job, but also, what else would I do? With the exception of the few days recovering after chemo treatments, there’s been no good reason to stay home. Life is comprised of the whole experience, not just the vacations away from work. And … work really does make these long weekends extra special.
All my life, I’ve eagerly anticipated trips to places I’ve never been. Joan and I are planning a road trip to Mt. Rushmore in September. We’ve been poring over maps and travel guides we picked up from AAA weeks ago. We’re even practicing erecting and breaking down our pop-up tent in preparation.
By the day we leave, we’ll hopefully be well-prepared for the trip ahead. We take as much pleasure in the planning and preparing as we do in the actual travel.
So, whether or not I’m halfway to whatever comes after this, or not, my focus is on getting ready. I’m not completely convinced there’s an afterlife, or reincarnation, or anything at all following this life. None of that is within my control.
What is within my control is how much care and pleasure I take in preparation for the journey … which might not be a journey at all. And that would be true whether there were five months or 50 years left until day of departure.
Croker is a graphic design manager residing in Atwater Village. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in November 2010. This essay is taken from her blog, Sprinting Towards 60 (sprintingTowards60.com), which chronicles her experience.
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