Reflections of a 5-year Lung Cancer Survivor
Right out of the starting gate, I found that some friends downplayed my lung cancer diagnosis practically to the point of denying it had occurred at all. Some relatives tried to insist that I react in highly emotional ways that would have been totally unnatural to me, but were a projection of how they were feeling. These responses were initially hard for me to accept.
Thankfully, I was able to take a breath, step back and realize that a serious diagnosis like stage 4 lung cancer doesn't just impact me alone. My circle of family and friends had to deal with it in whatever way they could as well. These ways were sometimes different from my own. Once I recognized that on a visceral level, I could stop feeling frustrated by their behavior, and be understanding instead. It helped me, and I believe this altered my reactions in a way that helped them too.
Making decisions after a life-changing diagnosis
During the first month after my diagnosis, I learned the grim statistics surrounding late-stage lung cancer. As a result, I concluded that there was a strong likelihood I might not be living a year later. In fact, I wanted my oncologist to give me personal survival odds, but he refused to do so. I had finances set aside for retirement, and if it was a near certainty that I would not make it to that stage of life, well, I wanted to start using that money in ways that would make me happy...right now. You know, you can't take it with you and all of that. But, on the other hand, I didn't want to be reckless either. What if I lived longer than expected? Even to retirement?
It turns out, my doctor used good judgment in not leading me to make a rash decision, since I am now in my sixth year of survivorship. Tumors continue to live within me, but I've learned that only God knows when my life will draw to a close, so I must take each day as it comes and be judicious about my finances. Should I take those trips that might have waited for retirement now rather than later? Probably. But, should I quit my job to live it up while I still can? Probably not just yet.
Taking each day as it comes
I have heard the term scanxiety bandied about practically since my first follow-up scan after I'd begun lung cancer treatment. Should I have joined the chorus since it seemed to be such a common concern among others in lung cancer world? I didn't feel worried though. I didn't feel apprehension. What I felt was curiosity. I felt eager to know the results of my scans. I have come to call what I feel in these circumstances "scanticipation".
The way I look at it, a good scan will keep me moving in the same direction I'm headed concerning treatment decisions, but a bad scan will simply provide the information I must have in order to change my treatment plan for the future. Without that knowledge, I could potentially be in a lot worse circumstances. So, I try to continue my "take each day as it comes" attitude.
A time of introspection
After I was diagnosed, I never really asked the question "Why me?" I did, however, go through a period of serious introspection which resulted in the conclusion "Why not me?" My life had largely been one of over-achievement on an academic scale, but of a decided lack of focus when it came to determining my career direction, indeed my life direction. I tried. I seriously tried to figure this out, but never could. I came to understand that some of us find our purpose late in life.
For me, I realized that sometimes it takes a lifetime of preparation to fulfill the mission God has put before us. I had lived 53 years in preparation for opening my life and lung cancer experience to others. I could not teach, inspire, guide, mentor, commiserate, or any number of other important activities I now perform without having the first-hand experience of living life as a late-stage lung cancer patient. I don't thank God for my disease, but I do thank Him for the opportunities I've gained as a result of it. They are opportunities to help others, and isn't that what we should all be about?
Editor's Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on June 8, 2019, Karen Loss passed away. Karen was a valued member of the lung cancer community and an incredible advocate and avid writer. She will be deeply missed.
Do you find that staying zen through your lung cancer diagnosis has helped you in your journey?