Saturday, April 17, 2010

Clarity about what is important in life

Nothing clarifies what is important in life more than a diagnosis of cancer. In a moment, the things you thought were important priorities suddenly take on lower status.

Oh yeah, there is a job you have to report to and duties you need to fulfill to the best of your ability...but things are different. Things like deadlines at work, financial decisions, doing your taxes, preparing a meal...those things are still there and you are aware of them, and you still do them as best you can. They are not critical, though, in the broader sense of things. Doing what is necessary to stay alive and heal...that is what is important.

I remember when I was in my early twenties and I was making decisions about graduate school and career plans. There were moments when things went wrong and I was terrified that the goals I had for myself had seemed like my whole future was on the line. I remember that there were times that members of my family of origin seemed to be working against me and the future for my life that I had envisioned. I don't know why they were like that. Maybe my parents were disappointed in the way that their lives turned out and in their own way didn't want me to repeat any of their mistakes...or didn't want me to do any better than they did.

Well, there are some things about my life that did not turn out as I had envisioned. Along the way I had many disappointments. There were times when I felt betrayed by the people I had looked to as models. The institutions in which I had placed my trust and dedicated my life were not what I thought they were. At 55 I am working to earn retirement from the City I work for...instead of the place I thought I would be. So I have had mixed feelings about my place and usefulness in the world off and on for quite a while. This has contributed a lot to the depression I have felt through the years. I don't know what you call it...identity crisis...mid-life crisis...male menopause...whatever it is, I have been dealing with it for a while.

Then March 4, 2010 came along and my doctor told me and Elizabeth that I had prostate cancer. If an earthquake had happened at that moment, I wouldn't have known it...but the ground under my feet was sure shifting. I really wasn't that surprised, I guess, as breast, liver and prostate cancer have devastated many branches of my family over the years. No one who had it survived it until recent years. That was what I knew.

What I was not aware of is how much the state of the art in treating prostate cancer has advanced in the last 30 years. I started reading and talking to people. I talked to many doctors and some cancer survivors who tried to convince me, without saying it directly, that a diagnosis of cancer is not a death sentence.

I had to get through several frightening weeks when I really didn't understand what I was facing or what I was going to do about it. After talking to doctors and others who understand the situation, I came to the realization that the only thing that was important now was to stay alive. That process came in stages.

Once the method of treatment was decided upon, and it was clear that I was not going to have to have very difficult surgery, I began to feel better. I started the Lupron shots and taking Flutamide, and though I was feeling tired, I was feeling better. When I went to the doctor the other day and we starting talking about getting ready to do the radiation, I felt better. My path is much clearer now.

Sometimes, when I am with others who are struggling with their cancer treatments, I feel very guilty because they are having a much harder time than I am. They are dealing with a lot of pain and recovery issue from surgeries. Some are experiencing terrible nausea or problems with their eyes because of the chemotherapy they are going through. I have not had many problems compared to them...other than huge medical bills. It doesn't seem fair.

I believe in the treatment I am receiving. I believe it will get rid of my prostate cancer. However there have been moments when I wondered if all that medication inside of me is doing what it is supposed to. The first hint I may have of that might be in May...but it probably won't be until July. There is a part of me that wonders if I am getting well if I am not getting sick from the treatments. The doctors have stated with no doubt whatsoever that what we are doing will I am going to trust them and belive in them...but most of all, I will have faith in the God that gives me and those doctors life and strength every day.

Clarity...I highly recommend it. You see the people who you love, live, and work with with every day in a new light. Everything you do is an expression of gratitude for life and love. Life is a gift to be cherished...and folks, that is what cancer does. It changes every moment, every breath, every conversation into a gift that affirms life if you are open to it and listening.

I need to go empty the dishwasher now...but that is okay...that is just how life is. :-)


  1. Richard, we are sending you bushels of good thoughts & prayers.

    Laura, Frank & Max Healy

  2. Richard, I have a song for you to listen to. It's called "Your Hands" by JJ Heller. It was encouraging to me during a tough time, and I hope it is to you as well.