The Road Ahead

Interregnum, day 6. I’ve discovered that I don’t do limbo well. When the focus has been on simply “getting through it” — whether the “it” is surgery or chemo — a period of no treatment, with no progress toward the next goal post, and my energy coming back at a snail’s pace, is hard. Made harder still by the prospect of what comes next and what I’ll have to live with longer-term.

I was more or less ok knowing that I had six weeks of radiation ahead of me, starting right after New Year’s. I knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park, but that it had to be a damn sight better than chemo has been. And six weeks compared to three months of chemo, piece of cake. Then I confronted the reality of what radiation would involve, potential side effects, and now the prospect that they will have to find another method in order to protect my heart. Holding my breath was the preferred method, and now I’m facing something that perhaps won’t be as effective in doing that. You see, one of the reasons that I originally decided to retire when I did — a decision that happened before the cancer diagnosis — was due to the fact that I found out that I’m at risk for cardiac issues and I wanted to prioritize my health, something I could not do in the job I had. And I was making great progress — losing weight, exercising regularly — until cancer struck. Ironic, huh?

Complicating all of this was the information I got during Friday’s appointment with my medical oncologist, where I learned about the long-term medication I will have to take for five years. Potential side effects, include, yes, you guessed it, heart damage. Along with decreased bone density, fatigue, and depression, among other things. Now it’s one thing to think, I need to get through three months of this, or six weeks, quite another to think about five years, particularly when I am feeling today like I have less energy than the average 85-year-old. Talk about depressing. I know that the oncologist has to give me the 10-page list of contraindications and side effects and that not all of them will affect me, and that if they become unworkable, he can try another drug, but it brought home the reality that I won’t be “over” this for quite some time. And that I will have to choose getting rid of my cancer over protecting my heart. And that I will have to craft a life for myself in those five years that includes dealing with those side effects. Hard to imagine today, when I’m wondering if it’s all going to be worth it.

I may be a survivor, but I will be living with cancer, and all that comes with it, for some time to come.

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