Friday, May 17, 2013

10 More Things I've Learned From Cancer

A couple months back, I posted this list about what I've learned from cancer. It's now been more than three months since my chemo ended; more than two years since I began the trip down biopsy road which would end with my follicular lymphoma diagnosis. 

Along the way I've gone from anxiety and awkwardness (about disclosing my diagnosis) to understanding and openness, passing through a variety of states -- denial, ignorance --on my way there.

One constant has been learning. So before my next three-month check up in June, time for another list of what I've learned from cancer.


1.  Maybe it's just me, but there seems to be a paradox among cancer survivors: we celebrate our successes quietly and we celebrate other survivors' successes loudly. Maybe it's that I don't want to jinx my own success, but the further removed I am from the inner circle of diagnosis, the more comfortable I become using words like "cancer free" and "congratulations.'

2. Every season in New England is the best season. I thought that before my diagnosis and I feel it more strongly now. It's not that I'm enjoying each season as if it's my last -- far from it. It's almost as if I'm enjoying each as if it's my first.

3. Anger is the most useless of all emotions, but passion and anger often get confused. Anger comes from darkness; passion comes from light.

4. Here's another cancer paradox: every cancer is different yet many cancers share similarities. No two people will present exactly the same, but on the biological level, understanding the similiarities of cancers -- not just of one particular cancer, but of cancers even of different origin, is one of the keys to unlocking treatments and cures.

5. There are few things better than watching a kid who has struggled at something, and really tried to get it, finally get it. Doesn't matter if that something is hitting a baseball or understanding quadratic equations. It's great when it clicks.  (Okay, in truth, I didn't need cancer to learn that one.)

6. It's amazing how much research is going on into new drugs, new approaches to treating lymphoma, and in particular NHLs like follicular lymphoma. But every time I read about the "promise" of this or that approach, I want to scream: "Stop promising. Start delivering." It can be maddening how long it takes for drugs to get to market. Sometimes I feel like it's a race between drug discovery and indolent lymphoma growth.

7. Knowing you have cancer every day is different than thinking about your cancer every day.

8. Cancer sucks. No doubt about it. But smiling helps. So does laughing. It's hard to be angry, nervous, anxious or any other negative emotion if you're laughing. It's as if your mind is occupied with the laughing and it crowds out the other emotions. 

9. There's a lot of talk about defensive medicine and over testing, and the burdens it puts on the health care system. But if my primary care physician didn't continually chase my initial complaint about a swollen lymph node that wouldn't go away, my lymphoma would have grown and grown until... who knows. 

10. Don't worry about seizing the day, just seize the moment. That's good enough. The next scan, the next blood test, the next appointment is months away. It's tempting to want to rush to turn the pages in a calendar to mark the weeks, months or years in which we are in remission, cancer free, surviving. But it's better to live the days than count them.

--michael