But once I healed from the surgery on my leg I quickly regained my emotional stability and found hope for a long-term remission. I was young (well, younger) and even though my melanoma wasn’t caught early, I believed I would survive it. Others might die of cancer; I would not.
The cancer has recurred again and again since 2006, reminding me that my flesh is indeed mortal. When the melanoma became officially metastatic (stage IV) in 2010, I was once again thrown into an emotional maelstrom. The cancer was now “incurable.” Mostly small surgeries were done every few months. I coped, but never despaired. If I had to make compromises because of my melanoma, I did what I had to do. I assimilated but never took seriously the charts that indicated how few months I had left to live. Survival statistics quickly became an emotional abstraction.
And now, with my recent brain met, I’ve been pushed about as far as you can go with this crazy disease. There are all sorts of scenarios for what happens next, and I totally understand that my odds of survival have diminished, at least on a statistical basis. The melanoma remains incurable but I’m disinclined to use that term. I’ve taken instead to thinking of my cancer as being merely chronic. It’s present, it’s unlikely to go away, it changes how I live and the decisions I make, but it’s not the controlling factor of my life. I don’t believe I’m going to die soon.
Based on the best information I can glean from my docs and from the medical literature, I know I can be treated (repeatedly, if necessary) and continue to live pretty well. I have purpose and focus in wanting to manage the disease and proving that I can live fully in however much time God has given me. I am at ease with the knowledge that anything is possible and that my days will be of exactly the right number.
So if it must be chronic cancer, then so be it. I am reorganizing my life in a way that makes sense to me and that invites God to work his everyday miracles of joy and healing. Among my resolutions:
1. I let myself be sad at times. I have so far stayed mostly positive about my prospects, but there are moments when I crack emotionally. My resilience is not infinite. This world is too sweet not to be taken seriously, and I hate the idea of leaving the party early.
2. I give my body the best possible chance of defending itself against cancer. I try to eat well, which has been hard since my brain surgery because of changes in taste. I walk at least a couple of miles a day, hoping that eventually I might run again. I believe it’s possible. And if it’s not, that’s OK too. I’ll stay active in whatever way I can.
3. I rest when I get the urge. I gardened for an hour this morning, and then collapsed into my recliner. It was worth the effort. I’ve invested a lot over the years in creating a beautiful garden, and it brings me pleasure to keep it in shape.
4. I count my blessings. I will write another time about some of the extraordinary ways I’ve been blessed since my surgery. Dealing with cancer is hard—don’t let me fool you into thinking I’m kicking its ass. But even on days when I’m feeling most burdened something will bring a smile to my face.
5. I take pleasure in my family. Ellen and I have never communicated better. We’ve laughed more in the last two weeks than I can remember ever laughing. We enjoy each other so much. There are absurdities in life that defy understanding, and we've never felt so free to enjoy them. Our love abounds and keeps us sane.