Monday, March 25, 2013

The Cancer Blog: Week 9

My Health

This blog within a blog will discuss cancer and all of my fears, hopes and expectations for a positive outcome—full and complete recovery. In addition, I plan to throw in some latest medical research. All cancer patients are interested, to some degree, in research and the latest medical findings; I am no exception. Today is Day 98 living with cancer.


One of the difficult things that I have to deal with daily is that I still have young children at home while focusing on my cancer recovery and yet facing all the regular pressures of family life; it's takes not only a great amount of energy, but a need for attention in two areas, not always working in harmony. Routines being what they are can be comforting in many cases; it certainly applies to the expectation that your health will always remain robust, often in disregard to our age.

Of course we fool ourselves as humans into believing so; health eventually fails, or at least our capacity to do things reduces as a natural consequence of aging or, as is the case with me, of illness. Exercise and diet can go a long way to improving one's health, but one's biological inheritance, one's genetic blueprint, might have more of a say of how long you live and how well we live than we would like to admit.  Yet, we forge ahead, as we ought to; it is imperative that we do. But in the back of our minds is the thought, disturbing as it might be, that we have less control over so many matters in our lives than we can easily admit, so we exert the little control that we can muster. This gives us some measure of comfort.

My two boys, aged 4 and 11, know I have cancer, some illness that has changed both my mood, my routine and in some respects my physical appearance. But they don't always see how it—the cancer and treatment—affects me. I often keep such things hidden from view, as I ought to as a parent. So, being young boys, they require a great deal of attention, or at least more than I often can give them; I try my best, but I often fail, ending up feeling guilty and grumpy. 

This becomes as they say my new normal, a departure from what I was, and from my routine of the past. Humans, like most animals, are truly creatures of habit. If we choose to depart from a routine, it's usually a choice that gives us pleasure, excitement or happiness. We don't typically choose things that make us unhappy, though some individuals mistakenly do, a choice often emanating from ignorance, a lack of knowledge.

Cancer is cruel in many ways because it is an uninvited guest who often overstays its welcome. I use such an analogy as a way of demonstrating cancer's ability to disrupt what may have been decades of daily routine. Now, I have learned a new routine, perhaps it's only temporary, and I will return to my previous routine. But it will not be precisely the same one as before, since I have been marked by an experience, and in some way we are the sum total of our experiences. I have a high degree of awareness of the changes my body has undergone, aware of all pains, aches and signs of discomfort.

According to statistics, my probability of being around in five years is 73%, what is referred to in the medical literature as the five-year survival rate; some people might consider it morbid to talk about mortality. I don't; I think about it often, particularly as it relates to my two boys. I want to be around for all their important life events—to see them graduate from university,  establish a career, and then dance at their weddings. Longer life is always preferable to a shorter one, especially if one's health is sufficient to enjoy it.

Weather also affects my mood, as it does many others. Toronto is a grey city; at least that's my impression. Since moving here on November 30th, 115 days ago, I can say with precision that at least 80% of the days have been overcast, leaden skies, heaviness. That equates to 92 days grey and only 23 days with sun. That's hardly an appealing recipe for well-being. I am not a sun worshipper, but I enjoy sunny days more than cloudy ones. I wonder what the rate of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is here in Toronto, and whether it is among the highest rates in Canada.

For now, I have to limit such thoughts, such not being helpful in any way in feeling better. Tomorrow,  I have to go for another chemo session (no. 4)—another milestone—one-third the way through the long process. Tonight marks the first night of Passover (Pesakh), where Jews worldwide celebrate a Feast of Redemption. For modern Jews, it's also about personal redemption. For me, it's clear what they would be. I wish everyone a Happy and Healthy Passover.