Friday, January 11, 2013

What To Do When Life Happens

Among the various pieces of well-intended and often quickly accepted pieces of advice given to me -- and I would guess many cancer patients --  is this:

Take time to focus on getting better.

It's usually paired with other offers, as in: Don't worry about that project. Just take time to focus on getting better. Or, don't worry about gaining weight. Just worry about getting better.

And the intent is clear and well-meaning. It's an offer to take one helping of worry off of a plate already heaped full of cancer-related worries. Importantly, it's also an opportunity for people, who often feel as helpless as the patient, to actively help; to do something even if that something is simply pickup up the slack for a project, or an obligation.

I've both profited from and offered up this type of help. But there's a dark side to the bargain. Life doesn't stop just because you do. Sure, you can schedule a trip to Disney so it falls during the most optimal time. But you can't schedule all the elements of  life around cancer. You can try. But daily events will keep on keeping on. Kids' homework will continue. New projects will arise at work. Practices will get scheduled, games will get played. School plays will be performed. Snowball fights will happen. Holidays will happen. Life will happen.

Suleika Jaouad writes about  Life, Interrupted on the New York Times Well blog. It's about the particular challenges that she, as a young adult faces, when cancer interferes with her life's normal trajectory. For many patients, there is little choice -- life does have to be put on hold even as it careens on all around one. I'm lucky in that my treatment produces only mild effects that have been limited to a few rough days a month. There have been no surgeries, no hospital stays, no isolation  watching the world move on. For me, though, the roughest part of my foggy fatigue funk has been the effort to stay connected -- to the daily routines, to the ebb and flow of office work, to life. At times, it seems like it would be easier to just crawl up and sleep through the day -- but I'm not willing to concede two days a month. I'm not going to give my cancer that.

Instead, I find ways to stay connected as life whizzes on. I meet the school bus at the end of the street; I watch sports on tv with the boys; I respond to emails. And If the fog permits, I blog.

I'm grateful for the support of my family and friends and colleagues. It would be all but unbearable to go through diagnosis and treatment without it. But while being a patient has taught me that it's okay to ask for help, and to accept the help that's offered,  I can't put aside the beautiful mundane events that make up my days and weeks to focus solely on getting better. I'd miss them too much.

--michael