Saturday, February 1, 2014

1 Year Post-Chemo: 10 More Things I've Learned From Cancer

That was me one year ago today. My last round of chemo. Feb 1, 2013.  What better time for a return to my list of 10 Things I Learned From Cancer. (The first two lists are here and here.)  This time sprinkled with links to some of the more expanded version of the idea.

1. Numbers are irrelevant. People place an over-sized emphasis on numbers - in everything I suppose, but particularly in cancer. You can look at the number of people diagnosed with your cancer, the cure rate, the progression-free survival rate, the chance of recurrence, the chance of secondary cancer. Stem cell transplant patients gratefully celebrate the day they received their transplant as their new birthday. I write a blog post for the one-year anniversary of the end of treatment. It's all meaningful... and meaningless.

2.  People want to help. They may say stupid things. Ask ignorant questions. Tell tales or relatives who died of cancer, were cured by wacky diets. They just want to relate. The ignorance used to bother me. Now I try embrace it. To me, the more ignorant the question, the more removed they are from cancer. Good for them.

One of my favorite photos of the boys
enjoying an ordinary moment
3.  We try so hard to have the perfect moment, that we forget the most ordinary moment can be its own perfection.  It's easy to mistake quantity for quality. Last year, for example, we went to Disney World, in between my fourth and fifth rounds of chemo. It was tempting to try to cram everything in -- to make sure we mapped out every moment to make sure we saw and did Everything.  But we didn't. We had a loose plan. We saw lots. We missed a bunch. It was a great trip.  

Living in the moment isn't just about trying to squelch anxiety about what the future may bring; it's also about not living in a permanent nostalgia for better days. But the thing about living in the moment is that some moments are harder than others.

4. I'm sometimes amazed at the pettiness of otherwise good people. 

5. Cancer doesn't necessarily make you better, but it can bring out the best in you. It can amplify what's already inside of you.  

6. Everyone needs something to help them get through the diagnosis. Something beyond the family support. Beyond the friends. Beyond the professional help. Call it a hobby, a passion, a pursuit, an interest. It's just something that you can call your own. For me, it's not this blog. It's running. 
Matthew and I after
a Father's Day run

7. Ego can be a terrible thing. It can get in the way of lots of good intentions.

8. Cancer advocacy is hard work. I often get to work with cancer patients who are advocates for cancer awareness, research funding or health care legislation. After being forcefully immersed in the cancer world — through diagnosis, treatment, recovery and who knows what else — choose to surround themselves with the topic through volunteerism. That's not easy.

9. There will always be mental hills and valleys. It doesn't matter how many months or years you're out from a cancer diagnosis, there will be nights when it's inordinately hard to deal with the thought; there will be days when it's but a distant memory. When you're on top of the hill, it's easy to see that landscape. When you're down in the valley, it all looks like mountains.

10. It's great to hear stories of follicular lymphoma patients who are 20+ years out but there's only one cancer that matters. Mine.

-- Michael