When the young surgeon gave me the news after I awoke from the bronchoscopy, I was not only upset, but incredulous. As someone who never smoked, how could I have lung cancer? After a day spent mourning, I hopped on the computer to research this new monster in my life. I found the grim statistics, and accepted the information. And decided to fight it like hell. Over the past four years, I had radiation, then four rounds of chemo. The treatments shrank the tumors—but only for a while. Happily, each time the cancer resumes growing, my oncologist comes with another chemo drug to try. Hopefully, after the current clinical study ends, there’ll be a new drug available.
The most surprising thing about having cancer: I started relishing life. Not that I never enjoyed life before. But I tended to get stuck in what was wrong in my life and blaming people and circumstances for making my life crazy. After cancer, my focus switched to The Big G: Gratitude. In the beginning, my list was short: I thanked the Goddess every day for my wonderful wife, our funny, affectionate pets, a job that had its perks along with its frustrations, health care I didn’t have to fight insurance companies to get, as so many cancer patients must, and supportive friends and family who lent their prayers and good wishes.
In four years, the list of pluses has grown as most of the resentments fizzle away. While I still send up a prayer of gratitude every night before I drop off to sleep; increasingly, there are bursts of thankfulness popping up each day. Yesterday, after chemo, I found myself blissed out by the feel of sun on my skin while waiting for a ride. Before cancer, the feeling would have been precluded by my overwhelming list of tasks to be accomplished. It finally became clear to me that the “urgency” of these tasks was largely self-invented. I finally figured out what is obvious to happier folks: we’re largely responsible for our own happiness. Only we can allow ourselves to feel joy. The decision to be made was simple: how would I like to spend my remaining years? Bitter and miserable, or mighty happy to be here?
The next stop on the cancer stats trail comes November 26, 2015. Only 5% of patients with this stage of nsclc are still alive at the 5-year mark; another gloomy statistic we hope to beat. In the interim, there are friends and family to enjoy, a turkey dinner to cook and the promise of fair weather to enjoy along with the storms.
Until then, every day will be Thanksgiving.