I have been asked on more than one occasion about how I manage to keep going through my treatment with a positive attitude. After all, my lung cancer is metastatic, inoperable, incurable, terminal. Those are the words that people use to describe my diagnosis. Since the first weeks of being told I was Stage IV, folks have expected me to curl up and die and express dismay when I am not bitter, angry, resentful, confused, or afraid. It seems they want me to give them something that they can understand.
How can you be so optimistic?
In the face of a deadly disease, with something in the broad statistical range of a two percent chance to see my fifth year following diagnosis, it might seem odd that I can be cheerful, upbeat, even certain about my tomorrow. A few have suggested that I am living in denial, my head buried in the proverbial sand. The truth is, I am pragmatic. I approach my condition scientifically; not detached, but with carefully gathered facts and an understanding of what statistics mean (as well as what they most certainly do not mean), and with no small amount of critical, skeptical curiosity.
I am under no illusions about what my diagnosis means, nor do I have a shortage of information on what may happen to my body over the coming months or years. I am fortunate enough that I am distinctly different from the dominant demographics for my particular disease and that while I was diagnosed at Stage IV, it was still early enough that I was not showing symptoms and I was comparatively young and healthy. Even more fortunately, I responded effectively to my chemotherapy and tolerated it well long enough to get halfway to the vaunted five-year mark. That alone bought me the time for more medical options to come to market and the possibility of joining a new clinical study. But it also leaves me with a greater sense of uncertainty about the future of my treatment because I will enter uncharted territory. And yet, my attitude has not changed. My willingness to forge on and face whatever happens, one day at a time, continues to raise eyebrows.
Why are you not depressed?
One simple word: acceptance. This is not a super power. It is just a willingness to let go of guilt, blame, rage, and any other useless emotion that prevents me from enjoying the life I have. It would be disingenuous to suggest that I have no sadness or regrets or that I am not scared sometimes about what might or might not happen on the road ahead. But how is that any different from the way I felt in the days before my diagnosis?
There has never been a moment when I have questioned why I have this disease. It would be pointless. Even if my medical team or family had been able to pinpoint any risk factors, that still would not offer a “reason” in the sense people seek. I do not question whether this is my fault, either. There was nothing I did to bring this upon myself, there is nothing that makes me deserve to have lung cancer. There is nothing and no one for me to lay blame on or curse or scream at into the darkness. The cancer in my body simply is. For lack of any better way to frame it, this experience is just a part of my life, for as long as it will be. There is no way to retract it, so looking back for answers or blame is futile; life is a forward moving stream and I have chosen to swim it.