You’re either living or you’re dying. There’s not much in between.
Despite a diagnosis of terminal prostate cancer, my roommate on the South American trip, MDP*, is living. About five years ago, he was diagnosed with advanced, aggressive prostate cancer. After surgery, radiation and hormone therapy** were unable to contain the cancer, MDP chose the even more dramatic option of surgical castration.
Some success – his “tumor markers” remain low. Quarterly blood tests show good results so far, but someday – perhaps within the next five years – that will change. He is a scientist. He has carefully studied the statistics and has a solid grasp of probable outcomes. He is resigned to the prospect that the day the cancer returns, he has about three months before painful bone metastasis kicks in, then perhaps another six months before he dies.
His initial reaction was quite human. Deep depression. Planning his funeral, making all burial arrangements. Planning his “farewell party”, down to the menu and invitation list. Doing the work of depression – preparing and letting go. When all that was done, he said “OK. Now what?”
He set about living. Living life to the fullest, pursuing joyful things. Working. Hosting dinner parties for friends. Adventure travel. Managing his medical issues while getting on with life – and not unloading responsibility for his quality of life on anyone else. He is living with cancer. He is not dying from cancer.
There’s a world of difference.
Sharing a room with him on the trip was quite an experience. He puts his circumstances right out there – often broaching the subject by explaining to people that he is a eunuch***. Openly annoyed when his “diaper”**** slips and he needs to make an on-the-fly adjustment. This is a little unnerving for the unsuspecting, but it certainly starts the discussion, and invites questions.
A reality check for us all. How many of us know how, or approximately when, we will most likely die? i’m not a biologist, but i’m pretty sure we’re all circling the drain. My brain function shall cease, my heart will stop and my lungs will sigh one last time… This death thing? Right up there with taxes on the “certainty” scale.
You make choices every day – and like MDP, i choose to live. i don’t want to waste one neural firing*****, heartbeat or breath…
* During one of our “slumber party chats”, MDP agreed to let me write snippets of his story – even refusing any editorial rights. Talk about a Brave Little Toaster! He trusts me to tell his story… Ha!
** Prostate cancer feeds on testosterone. By reducing, or eliminating, testosterone, it is possible to starve prostate cancer, so estrogen shots are often deployed. Extremely painful treatment.
*** Got to say that until i met MDP, i’d never discussed castration over dinner! Ummm… Come to think of it, i’d never had dinner with a castrated man… After seeing it play out a few times? i got used to it. Interesting to watch how people react when it happens! And just maybe MDP is amused at the reactions.
**** The radiation was devastating to his lower body innerds. Destroyed much of his “bodily function” hardware in the process.
***** Yeah. i know. To be consistent i would need to quit my job and disconnect from The Trailer Park. Oh, and probably give up blogging – a key source of my current wasted neural activity. Poetic license and all that stuff…
How cool! A lot of people don’t realize that more and more cancer, like AIDS, has just become a chronic disease. Lots of folks out there living with it, and with the aftereffects of treatment. It’s not so much a death sentence anymore as a life sentence.
If I was your friend, though, I would be mad about the Brave Little Toaster thing. But that’s just me, it goes along with the “inspiring” thing. We are just living.
I like “brave little toaster” as an expression 🙂
good luck to your cabinmate. sharing a room with you is certainly one way of living life out loud….. xx
Live each day like it isn’t filled with morons.
A chilling and intriguing post on this chilly morning. I’ve written and deleted my comment about 8 times, either because I’m still scared shitless of cancer or because I haven’t had enough coffee and everything I write is pure drivel. MDP’s story about living with a terminal diagnosis has left me inspired and grasping for words. I adore his bravery and joie de vivre and I adore your willingness to share his story. *sniff*
silverstar – yes! exactly! although cancer treatment will often throw you down the stairs, sometimes for years, it is possible in some cases for it to be processed as a “chronic” condition… i meant “brave little toaster” in the sense of him being brave for letting me write about him with no editorial control. But if i find a sunset, book or person inspiring and brave, then i do. Understand your frustration – but the fact that you are “just living” is part of it… (oh, and MDP wrote “The Brave Little Toaster is pleased with this post” so i think i’m safe… for now!)
nm – Brave Little Toaster was an animated movie… and a really good one! Appliances, trapped in a summer home, must save themselves!
kyknoord – if you ignore the morons, and cut the parasites and blithering idiots out of your life, you’ve at least quadrupled your quality of life… baby steps…
tNb – being afraid of cancer is a sign of intelligence. but letting that fear – or ANY fear – get in the way of being alive is where it becomes chilling for me. i adore your bravery for packing up and following your heart halfway around the world! Take two cups of coffee and a few ounces of dark chocolate… caffeine clears the head! it’ll be ok!
a righteous “Amen!” from this corner of The Wilds… to all said, including comments. the divorce is cutting a combo moron/parasite/blithering idiot out of my life. ooo, i typed that out loud, didn’t i…
but, have to ask… if we’re all circling the drain, are we doing so clockwise or counterclockwise and… hmmm… does spending time going in the option direction by visiting south of the equator therefore lengthen our lives? I should have been a scientist…
I posted a similar reality check story last night. It pays to do some occasional naval gazing so that you don’t get too wrapped up in self pity. It’s actually quite easy to do and I should know! I catch myself doing it all the time!
Wow. I have an aunt who has been suffering from a brain tumor for 16 years. I wish that her quailty of life was as good as your friend’s is.
I sometimes think that if we were exposed to a bit more death that it would do more for the quality of our living than all these attempts to live longer.
Sounds like an incredible guy.
A sobering and inspirational post. It was a pleasure meeting MDP during our recent trip to Peru and wish him all the best living life to the fullest.
gnu – thanks for the reminder that my “drains across the hemispheres” post is a bit overdue… you are a clever boy, and perhaps should become my lovely assistant. how do you look in a white lab coat, thigh highs and heels?
unbearable banishment – we all have dark days, and i don’t think there’s anything wrong with that… i just don’t want to be a “carrier” for someone else! trying hard to stay under the quilt when i’m off, rather than spread the joy…
miss – good point! there are many cases where the quality of life doesn’t lend itself to much adventure. sorry about your aunt… that’s not a “battle” with cancer, it’s a “war”…
dolce – exactly! denial is only good when you’ve got an iron clad alibi! accepting death as part of life, discussing it, comig to terms with it… much better than waving a magic wand and saying “she’s in heaven with jesus now…” And of course, MDP is one in a million!
Mercurio – Welcome to The Park – and thanks for the kind words! i think after dealing with a post-holiday illness, MDP is back in the game! Fabulous to meet you halfway under the world!
the man is doing everything right, you either get busy living or you get busy dying, now i think he needs to write a book, he could help alot of people i do thinks.
Daisyfae and Mercurio
MDP is back in the game but still needs some extra time outs for now. Going in for some plumbing checks.
How about a cruise through Ukraine and the Black Sea next year?
kono – damn straight! i asked him about writing his own story, but he didn’t seem interested – so that’s how i offered to serve as his merry scribe along the way! one way or another, the story needs to be told!
Welcome to the Park, MDP!!!! Delighted you stopped by – and hope that you’ll hang around (and let me know if i get something terribly wrong!). Here’s to successful plumbing… and Ukraine/Black Sea sounds intriguing! Hmmm…
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