One of the challenges of living with cancer is having to adjust your lifestyle. The effects of cancer prevent you from participating in activities that were formerly part of your daily routine. They also force you to cut back on other activities that contributed to your enjoyment of life.
Losing those activities is a significant change. It forces you into uncomfortable adjustments.
Before talking too far about how change impacts the patient, I want to clarify something:
Many of the cancer-related changes impact people beyond the patient. They impact the patient's family, friends and coworkers.
For instance, M.A. has taken on more cancer-related anxiety and caring than I. She's had to tolerate my (grumpy) attitude caused by my not exercising. And she's tolerated my quirky sleep schedule. She's endured a lot of change.
And enduring change is a challenge. The change hits you every day with feelings of void and frustration.
Endurance implies a finish line. And the finish line is where the discomfort ends, and the return to "normal" begins again. Endurance means pushing yourself through the discomfort until you reach that finish line.
And once you get there, you celebrate the victory of having outlasted the discomfort brought on by the change. Then life returns to normal.
But what if there is no finish line, and return to "normal?"
A greater challenge than enduring change is accepting the change. Accepting is when you acknowledge that there's no finish line and that yesterday's "normal" won't return.
Last week, I met with an orthopedic surgeon who's been monitoring the compression fracture in my spine. For the first 24 months of treatment (bone strengtheners and reduction in physical activity), there was noticeable healing.
My optimistic self assumed the healing would continue, and in time I could start skiing again and putting in full workouts at the gym. But the images from the recent CT & PET scans said otherwise.
The fracture is still very much a fracture, and the surgeon believes the healing has stopped. This means I'll have to live with a very delicate spine, and treat it accordingly. It means there's little chance I'll ski or engage in hard-core sweaty workouts again.
So far, accepting the change is more challenging than enduring the change. But I'll get there. I know that because I see other cancer patients in the oncologist's office, and they're facing changes that far more extreme than mine. Seeing them, and imagining what they're going through causes me to think, "Who the hell am I to complain about the changes I've endured?!"
Back in college, I remember riding a chairlift up Vermont's Mt. Ellen with an older gentleman. I don't remember the entire conversation, but I do remember him telling me, "In every problem, there's an opportunity."
That seemed profound at the time. (Though the threshold for profundity and wisdom isn't particularly high for most 21-year-old males.)
I'm accepting the reality that I probably won't ski again, nor do many of the physical activities that I've loved doing throughout my life. But stopping at acceptance won't be enough. There's a void now, and a gut feeling that the void should be filled with something. Something positive. Otherwise, the void becomes a psychological cancer of its own.
We need to take it a step further; we need to fill the void with a new passion; something productive; something that's emotionally fulfilling.
I don't know what that is, but I'll figure it out.