My oncologist was very happy to give me my pathology report two Fridays ago (March 11th) when I went to see him at UVA. It was not just good news, it was “great” news – the kind of news neurooncologists wish they could tell all of their patients every day of the year, but can’t. Because the news that neurooncologists generally have to tell patients is pretty hard stuff.
The bottom line is that my brain tumor was what they thought it was. The dog barked. The prognosis is much, much better than it could have been. It’s the best we could have hoped for, in fact.
I don’t have to have chemo or radiation right now. They are going to do another functional MRI in May and will continue to follow me closely. For a long time.
I want to be grateful for this. I want to share my oncologist’s joy. But I don’t.
I am usually a cockeyed optimist. Ask Marshall – I am the person in the family who almost always sees the glass as half full. But right now I just can’t quite see it that way. This past week, I’ve felt like the life I’ve always expected has been radically and forever altered – so altered that it is, in effect, gone.
Yes, the prognosis the doctor gave me was “great” in comparison to what it could have been. But it is still, probably – how can I tactfully say it? Limiting.
I’m intentionally being vague about my prognosis. Let me be.
I have not blogged until today because I’m still trying to process all this prognosis stuff. I want to be grateful for the “great” news – but honestly, I am not. Who wants to hear they might not live as long as they always envisioned they would? Who wants to grasp uncertainty by the hand and invite her to the dinner table each and every night to eat with the family? Who wants to grapple with all the mortality questions that keep bubbling up now: Will I see old age? Will I meet future generations of my family? Will I write all those books I was planning (but was too scared) to write? What about all those ideas I was so excited to think through? What am I going to do with the life I am given – no matter how long that life ends up being?
If I am honest with myself, these questions are the same as they were before my brain cancer diagnosis.
I’ve been asking myself these types of questions for a long time. Good thing for me – otherwise, I would have been completely blind-sided by them in the last two months. Even so, there is more urgency about them now. Perhaps this is because now it doesn’t feel like I have all the time in the world to answer them.
Actually, before my diagnosis I always believed I knew the answers:
- I would live a a long, healthy life;
- I’d “always” be there for my family;
- Of course I’d write all those books and noodle out all those questions. At some point. When I got around to it.
But these weren’t real, true answers. They were delusions – placeholders, default answers, assumptions I’d made for the life-narrative I was weaving. I was going to do this and that. My life story was going to be like this and that. After all, I’d planned it that way.
The real, true answer would have been that I had no idea what my life was going to turn out like. I had hopes, yes. Plans, yes. Dreams, yes. I knew – or thought I knew – how I wanted my life to be. I lived secure in the happy illusion that I controlled far more about my life than I actually did.
Then I was diagnosed with brain cancer. And I learned that the real, true answer is that I have very little control over what my life will look like – or how long it will be.
The reality is that life is a gift. Each and every moment. There are no promises. No guarantees. Just the moment. Just the gift.
After we live for awhile, we start taking the gift for granted – we begin assuming that the next moment (and the next and the next) will always be there. This is a faulty assumption. It won’t always be there.
But it is there right now. So I’m focusing on now. It’s what I’ve got, and I’m going to take advantage of it while it is here.
And you know what? Thinking about it that way makes me truly grateful to have it.