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…