With cancer, if death is not imminent, how does one focus on life?

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    Death can give life focus. That’s my lesson for this week.

    I had a wretched few days where I almost “broke bad” in placid Lewes, Del. I wanted to run down smiling tourists on my bicycle as I left the farmers’ market. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me on a perfectly gorgeous fall day. Then it hit me.


    Plain and simple.

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    I saw my oncologist. I had a CT scan and X-ray done, and I was waiting through the weekend for my results.

    This is how it works, people. I don’t know about other cancers, but with metastatic breast cancer, one gets scanned every so often. They’re checking to see if the cancer has learned to evade the latest treatment drug and is growing anyway. Metastatic cancer is treatable but it isn’t curable. If the cancer is “misbehaving,” to quote my doctor, then it’s on to the next drug until either your body gives out or there are no options left. Or maybe that’s the same thing.

    But here’s the kicker. After the evil-feeling weekend, the test results were great. My disease is stable. But instead of celebrating, I began floundering and questioning everything. I have no plan, as I have been waiting to get sick.

    So how does one live without waiting to get sick? And before someone waxes philosophical and says “We’re all dying” or “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow” — no, it’s not the same. Actually those responses usually enrage me. I told my doc that I hear that often. He said, “But their bus isn’t sitting on their shoulder.”

    Knowing the odds — 50 percent of those with metastatic breast cancer die within two years of diagnosis, and 80 percent die within five years — how does one make plans, make choices, live fully? I am now accepting that I won’t die quickly. I’m almost at the two-year mark and not even close.

    Now that impending sickness and/or death isn’t providing the focus, what will? Other women describe this living as a type of purgatory. It can also be an opportunity. Or both. Maybe I’ll finally learn Arabic or help repeal the death penalty or write a dramedy TV series about aid and war and foreign policy (think “M.A.S.H.” circa 2003). Does anyone know Jenji Kohan from the series “Orange is the New Black?” I need to meet her.

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