Update #10: Shi(f)t Happens
I was struck by a quote that my friend Samantha posted on Facebook a few weeks ago: “You can’t start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.” I’ve been building up to shifting my mindset and starting a new chapter in this LC journey for a while now. (You can see it starting with my Living Scan to Scan post.) I am ready to change. Or, at least try to. Or perhaps a better way to say this is, I’m ready to live my life differently than I have since the day the doctor told me I had advanced lung cancer.
I am not in denial about my diagnosis. I don’t think I’ve ever posted the survival statistics here, because, ugh, they are awful. But, I think it’s important to share so others understand my situation. The 5 year survival rate for people with Stage IV lung cancer has recently doubled. That’s the good news. The bad news is that it started at 1%, so doubling to 2% doesn’t exactly have life insurance vendors flocking to my doorstep. So, how do ya like them apples? They suck. That is an extremely shitty bushel of apples.
When I understood the gravity of my diagnosis, I swiftly adopted a new identity. No longer was I Lisa, the primary caretaker mom, the wife, the fitness instructor, the school volunteer, the creative putterer. Now I was Lisa the LC patient. I immersed myself in the LC world: surviving treatments, managing side effects, researching, blogging, advocating, thinking about LC in some form or another almost constantly. I could hardly introduce myself without mentioning it, “Hi, I’m Lisa, I have lung cancer, what’s your name?” (super fun conversation starter, by the way, not awkward at all). Lung cancer, quite simply, took over my life, my identity, my everything.
Living exclusively as “Lisa the LC patient” is exhausting and not what I want anymore. I am ready to loosen my grip on LC, so I can shift and grab for something else. But, letting go of LC as my primary identity feels scary, and perhaps here’s where the “brave” part of dealing with cancer that everyone references kicks in — it’s knowing the truth and living on in spite. I know exactly how much I have to lose, and how devastatingly quickly I can lose it. I’ve been burned once, badly, trundling along through life as if I had plenty of time, as if my healthy lifestyle choices offered some sort of guarantee against at least some ailments, LC certainly among them. For a long time, it felt naive, stupid even, to re-engage in my pre-cancer life. I didn’t want to open myself up to that excruciating wake-up call again, and I wasn’t sure how to avoid it except to constantly be prepared for the worst – to curtail living in order to be ready to die within weeks.
Some patients are able to cope by telling themselves that their cancer isn’t real, isn’t deadly. That’s not me. “Head in the sand” is not my dysfunctional coping mechanism of choice (we’ve discussed this before, chocolate is, and I have the ass to prove it). Look: This will never, ever be OK; everything I experience in life will forevermore be through the lens of having this diagnosis. BUT. I have decided that I can also live like I’m living. It has finally dawned on me that it’s not necessarily an either/or proposition, it’s both/and. I can live both with the knowledge of my diagnosis, and proceed with my life. I can be a diligent patient, advocate and blogger AND resume teaching, travelling, mothering, attempting art. Because, as Paul said, “even if I’m dying, until I actually die, I am still living.” I don’t know how long I’ll get to live here, but none of us do. What if I AM in the 2%? What if my diagnosis wasn’t a death sentence, but an invitation to live the days I have left as fully as I can? I can live like I’m dying AND like I’m living. Because I am. We all are.
Epilogue/UPDATE #10: My newly shifted mindset was recently put to a test. I had a PET scan a few weeks ago that looked great in my lungs, but showed a couple questionable spots in my pelvis. The jackass radiologist dropped a little anxiety bomb in the report and described the spots as “probable metastases.” My oncologist disagreed, but we still had to follow-up. So, for over two weeks I went through a slew of additional appointments and tests and waited to hear: are these spots metastases indicating my cancer is becoming resistant to my medication which would trigger a whole cascade of shit, or am I still stable? Two weeks in this precarious no-man’s land could have easily sent me right back live-like-I’m-dying-LC-Lisa, but it didn’t. I can’t say I was a model of Zen, but I held fast to my new mindset. I taught 3 spin classes in those two weeks. I went on a date with my husband. I painted and parented and even spent a weekend with girlfriends in Las Vegas. And in the end, I got the news I hoped for — the “probable metastases” was nothing but a red herring. I am still stable and can relax a bit until I get to start this process all over again with my next scan in 8 weeks. Thank you for your continued prayers and good wishes, I’ll still take any you have to spare and I’ll send some back out for good measure. xo