Thursday, February 16, 2012

Are Hope and Acceptance Exclusive?

At a very young age, I had already read or at least been taught, maybe even in electuary school, that a person facing a terminal or possibly terminal disease go through certain emotional phases ending with acceptance. I distinctly remember that I would be the one person who would never reach the acceptance phase, wanting to cling to life always. But alas, I have, in general, arrived at that state and once again, I find that I am not as unique as I once thought I was.

My doctors have not given me a death sentence only in that they are not certain how much time I have. I think they will have a better understanding of that after tomorrows PET scan. They have expressed their opinions that the cancer is not curable, conditions that firmly place me on the course of the known process of acceptance. What’s strange now is understanding how a person can arrive at the acceptance of their own impending death (I do not believe that my is a for gone conclusion – and I hold out much hope).

I mean, how can a person actually accept such bad circumstances and do so in a generally happy disposition? I have thought about it a great deal. You know, we all learn early in life that an eventual death is utterly inescapable. And while we may go though a period of depression regarding our eventual mortality, we all come to accept this aspect of life in our youths. It is never pleasant to any of us, but this knowledge does not prevent us from carrying on productive lives and accomplishing a great deal. Very few young people simply fold up and do not live life simply because they have been given the knowledge that it will eventually end. Life itself gives all of us the ability to proceed with a happy and productive existence in spite of Natures seemingly cruel characteristic, we will ALL do so with the knowledge that we will eventually come to an end, at least here on Earth.

I think that when we are diagnosed with a terminal or potentially terminal disease, we simply go though a more thorough process of acceptance than we went through earlier in our lives. And just like the earlier, undetailed process, we will have times of weakness and also great strength – a strength that allows us to carry on with the lives we have in a manner most pleasing and rewarding to us as individuals. It appears to me now, to be the same way in any given latter acceptance process – the one in which some, if not all of the details are filled in. Once the acceptance process has been matriculated and we have arrived at a general state of acceptance, it seems to make only a little difference that we know how and when we will depart.

Still, acceptance of a terminal or possibly terminal disease does not remove our desire to live, nor lead us to desire less time rather than more. I want to live as long as I can, and within and about my acceptance, I have sadness and fear. I have a deep desire that this had not happened and I would much rather live a normal length of time. But these things do not cancel out the acceptance I have found and am finding.

And there is always hope. The disease I have been diagnosis with will eventually take nearly all of its victims. But an analysis of the data, statistics and mathematics of the disease indicates that it doesn’t take everyone. Therefore, there is no reason I couldn’t be one of the ones who survives it.

So as odd as it may sound, there comes in a persons heart the need for a delicate balance between acceptance and hope. Both emotions are greatly important for a rewarding life with this disease – but it seems they may counter each other. For example, I have a lot of hope that my PET scan tomorrow will show no remaining cancer (results to be known on February 23). Those hopes and desires, if not realized, will cause me to go back into the acceptance process with great fear and trepidation. And it is like this on a lesser scale, every day. And this does not cancel any acceptance I had already attained.

I suppose that it stems from my desire to live, but also my desire to accept my circumstances and live as best as I can with the least amount fear and anxiety as possible. It seems to me, it is fear and anxiety that kill us prematurely and never the disease itself.

For me know, the symptom of the disease I dread the most is fear, and I will do all that I can not to experience it in levels that damage the life that I have or prevent me from accomplishing the things I want to do in my life: whether it is a life of three more years, or forty.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Processing Fear and Faith - And Finding Joy Even In The Smallest Things

Strange that as time goes on from the original discovery, I become less needful to express myself regarding the cancer; at least for now. Looking back, and I have been contemplative, it is remarkable how little I knew about cancer, and what kind of cancer patient I would be. When a person learns, especially when they have learned quickly, we often look back, or remember ourselves and the way we thought when we hadn’t learned the things that we know now from our “looking back perch”. And we almost always think of ourselves as having been naive.

One hundred and sixty three days have passed. I have had two surgeries, endured seven 72-hour chemotherapy infusions, seen many doctors four of whom expressed an opinion of incurability and I have spoken to countless cancer patients and survivors. I have had scans and tests and I have been stuck, poked, pinched or injected seemingly every other day. I have even grown not only tolerant of waiting room waits, but fond of them at times. I have read dozens of papers and articles regarding cancer, several books by remarkable survivors and watched videos of many kinds and types. I have been angry, distraught, despondent, totally defeated, frightened beyond what I thought possible, hopeful, happy, peaceful, stoic, and even totally serine. I have deployed my own mathematical expertise and calculated my own mortality based on known mortality and half-life functions. I have prayed extensively, been prayed for, prayed over and my survival has been brought to the Alter of many churches and many other personal sanctuaries. I have received thousands of encouraging notes, letters, cards and comments. I have even received money anonymously, and I have had chores done for me even by persons unknown. I have been shown love, compassion, concern and empathy that I did not know existed in our society. I have learned that some people are not only willing to speak with me about the cancer, but more often than not, eager… and that others are uncomfortable, and are not only cautious and avoidant of conversations regarding cancer with me, but at times, all-together absent and incapable of even seeing me at all (which is understandable and fine with me – no hard feelings at all – just understanding on my part).

I have had days when I was sure I would not survive more than just several tens of months and I have had many more days when I was sure I would survive a great many years. I even have days when I was sure the incurable cancer within me would be gone and not come back at all – and I would be given back a typical longevity.

In these 164 days, I have gone from experiencing pain and sadness at birdsong, and other beautiful natural phenomena – believing within the instant of the experience, the experiences themselves were now limited. And thus, unable to appreciate the beauty and joy in the moments grandeur that come to all of us every day… But I have now gone beyond those beliefs and emotions, and I now experience these natural wonders with more joy and awe than every before – where, if before cancer, I’d feel a genuine smile behind my face at the singing of a wren, now, not only is my entire face the smile, but my soul. These types of sadnesses have inverted into happiness like I have never had before. Indeed, I have had enough time to recognize the most important things and aspects of my life, and strengthen them while allowing the less important things to slip into what were always more appropriate levels of my attention and concern. In these five and a half months, I have experienced the deepest, most profound fear as well as the brightest and warmest hope for the future; and I have accepted, with only a little fear, the future that I have before me – no matter what it is.

The amount of time having been so short since my diagnosis, I am certain that I will continue to grow, and my opinions will continue to change – and I will probably look back on this day now, as I now look back now. And I may very well consider “the self” I am today na├»ve again. We grow continually.

But if I were to summarize these extraordinarily dynamic times, I could do it easily.

The only certain thing in all of this is that nothing is certain. One doesn’t have to get cancer to know this, but it does become markedly more obvious. And the uncertainly that I am talking about is regarding the cancer itself and specifically whether I will survive it or not and if not, the amount of time I may have left.

In this very short period of time, I have discovered how truly valuable and wonderful people are; family and friends, fellow cancer patients, and strangers. I have been able to see a new, reborn beauty and awe in the World that was invisible to me. And while I have experienced pain and suffering, sickness, weakness and profound despair, a beauty and Faith that I have never known, have been woven into the process of my life that is unique to what has happened to me. I have far more days of hope and joy now than I do of fear and despair. Even the fears and pains from my earlier, cancer-free life have greatly reduced if not vanished altogether.

Still, even within what I have learned and within the adjustments in my beliefs I have been able to make, I do not want to die early. I want to live to be an old man, but there is a chance I will not have that opportunity. So, as things are, and upon the course I am totally bound to, no matter what that course is, I am, this moment, a survivor of this cancer.

At this moment, I am among the living. I will likely survive and enjoy this day. I will likely survive and experience some joy tomorrow. It is highly probably that I will survive this entire year; even next year. But even if the future, in its extension becomes less certain for me (as it does everybody), I have learned that it is even more critical to live for today, and live to life for tomorrow, next week, next month, next year….. and that nothing is certain, for any of us.

A short life gripped in the ugliness of fear and despair is a life too long. A life lived in joy and faith, despite sickness and pain would be a long and good life, even if it endured just a few months – and this would ultimately be as adequate and good as a life of many years.

And since I do not know, nor do my doctors, nor anybody but God himself what my future holds for me, I have been able to let peace and serenity into my heart and while I am, at times frightened and in some despair, I am, far more often in a warm state of acceptance and even peace. And this is only by the Grace of God. He truly does not put more on us than we can bare. In his Universe, every affliction has a cure and every condition contains within it, a path to peace and serenity. Our task is to stay on that God Given path as much as we possible can. And then, no matter how short or long our lives and futures may be, the life we will have ultimately lived will most certainly be one of wonder, beauty and triumph.

While I have not been the most “church-going” person, I have always believed; I have found new wonder, hope and beauty in the words “Praise be to God”….

… and the word, “tomorrow”.