Lung Cancer: A Lonely Place

Ever since I was diagnosed nearly 10 years ago, my life has gained a sense of surrealism. I am not exactly sure how to be. There are few guidelines for those of us who are faced with our own death in such a concrete way. Even before my diagnosis, as the daughter of a holocaust survivor and a mother who died within four months of her lung cancer diagnosis, I already understood the urgency of enjoying life to the fullest.

I worked hard and played harder. As a doctor, I never felt the need to measure my worth by my income. I refused to work like crazy, to be seduced by the money I could make by squeezing more and more patients into my schedule. I passionately traveled the world, absorbed different cultures and tried to bring a sense of connection to whatever room I entered.

Now, when I head out the door, I know that friends and acquaintances will scrutinize me, looking for signs that things are changing. Does she look tired? Has she lost weight? How are you doing?  Then they can report to others that they saw me and give their analysis.anne looking into future

I am 58 and surrounded by people complaining about this and that; peri-menopausal woes in particular, insomnia, weight gain, back pain, wrinkles. Admittedly I have little tolerance for those benign concerns these days. As time since my diagnosis grows longer, I may also join them in worrying about these things, thinking at times “hey, I’ve lived this long, maybe I should try botox?” Stress about aging is a lovely, welcome luxury. Nothing compares to a spot on a chest x-ray, a lump in the breast, a suspicious mole.

Lung cancer is a tough one. It isn’t breast cancer with a massive support system, pink ribbons, tons of research money. Is it because it’s a boob thing? When it comes to lung cancer patients, survivors are few. Early detection and treatment options are not even close to those available for breast cancer patients. Almost everyone knows someone who died the painful, horrifying death that is associated with lung cancer. In Dr. Christine Northup’s best selling book on women’s health, lung cancer does not even appear in the index, while it is the number-one cancer killer among women  – more than all of the reproductive cancers combined. The number is rising, particularly among non-smokers. I wrote a letter to Dr. Northup, noting this serious omission, but predictably never received a response.

Our society is built on planning; we are penalized with high fares if we decide last minute to hop on a plane. We work and work to save for the future. We live with the delusion that we have the luxury of putting things off. When I retire, when the children leave, when I can get a bigger pension, whatever it is. ‘Save the Date’ notices appear more than 6 months before an event. All I can say is that I don’t buy green bananas.

Since my diagnosis, I understand that the future is now. I wake up every morning and first try to shake off the post-traumatic thoughts of my illness and months of treatment. I know each day is a challenge, trying to be ‘normal’ when nothing is normal anymore. I am grateful to wake up, to delight in the achievements of my children, to continue to explore the world as long as I can. I feel empowered to call others out on actions I find hurtful. I have a stronger voice.

I can begin my lifelong dream to write, and although I never imagined I’d be writing about this, I may never write about it again. This marks the start of that dream.

LIFE AS A GYPSY

Anne Koplin, Author of Love and MedicineNo wonder why it has taken so long to get words on paper. What gypsy has the tenacity to sit and write? We write in our minds, we start paragraphs on one of the four computers scattered around. We can’t find the documents and fit them together. We write on our phones, in one of our 7 journals, on scraps of paper, but mainly we write in our heads. All the time. We buy new laptops and declare” this one is devoted solely to writing” but soon a kid picks it up, we can’t find it, and then can’t recall where we saved the document.
Or if it was saved at all.

It’s not easy being a gypsy. I don’t have a 401K, don’t plan more than two weeks in advance, make decisions on a whim. I leave one of my offices at the end of the day and bring everything with me because who knows if I will ever be back there? I could be dead or in another town altogether. Even if I am scheduled to be in the next day. My diplomas are in the basement because I don’t have an attachment to any workspace enough to hang them up. There is always a suitcase in the bedroom, ready for the next move.

Now I am a 58 year old trying to figure out what I want to be. Now don’t get me wrong; on paper it all looks very conventional. I am a medical doctor, specializing in Psychiatry. I have been married to the same man for 28 years, live in the house I grew up in, have 3 kids. But nothing is as it seems.

We’re going to get to know each other real well through this blog. We’re going to cover a lot of territory and have some fun. I’ll be a doctor, a guide and a friend, depending what we need. We are going to go light and we are going to go deep. No holds barred.

Hula Hoops

Hula Hoops by Chuck Rogers

Why in the world would anyone posting their first post on their first blog write about Hula Hoops?

Because hula hoops are a metaphor. They represent what I write about in this blog.

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