Turning points: When you realize it’ll be okay

Sometimes, you have a definite turning point where your attitude towards life changes. I wonder how often it’s when someone tells you what you already know, but in a different way.

When I had my third cancer, last April, I was told by several doctors that one in five people with it lived five years.  (The odds don’t really apply to me. That last cancer was detected early, and had probably travelled via capillaries, so all traces of it were probably taken out.

mitotaneThus, there’s a good chance I’m taking mitotane (Lysodren™) for no good reason. Still, I don’t think the “make sure my family can carry on past my death” preparations helped me to evade having my mortality sitting on my shoulder all day long. The darkness was there and it was hard to avoid it.

Bill Schiemann is the founder of my former (1998-2001) employer, Metrus Group, which does various things to bring corporate attitudes, capabilities, and engagement into line. I worked on employee surveys and linkage analysis there.  When Bill heard I’d had cancer, he told me about Marisa Harris, a former client who was given a dire prognosis and now runs a web site for survivors.

There are lots of people who have made it past the odds. I think it makes a difference when it’s someone you know, but what really made a difference was having things I could actually do. Other than take the energy-draining, memory-destroying, chock-full-o’-side-effects-but-cheap drugs. (Current research on my particular cancer ignores most of Marisa’s suggestions but does endorse the mitotane — fooey — as well as taking statins with it, and being a man, which apparently helps the odds somehow.)

marisaThe point is, reading her web site stopped me from focusing on death and took darkness from my life. It made me very, very happy. It was empowering. Even if the cures come to nothing, I will have lived a better life.

The specter of death is further off now, and as my GP says, I can focus on not having a heart attack instead (she’s a barrel of laughs).

I suspect a lot of us have had those turning points, places we can point to that took us out of the darknesses. Have you had one?


4 thoughts on “Turning points: When you realize it’ll be okay

  1. Bob Lincoln

    I admire the candid and low-key manner in which you’ve dealt with all of this, Dave. Many people I know have worn their hearts on their sleeves and brought drama to the forefront. Others have turned to gloom-and-doom attitudes.

    I first realized the fragility of life with my mother’s 4 bouts of colon cancer, as it kept coming back each time, despite best efforts at the time. The first two didn’t faze her as much. The third one literally took her guts out – bladder, vagina, rectum – and she became the only known person in the country at the time living with both a colostomy and ileostomy. Because of this, she felt utterly alone with her perception of being mutilated. She told us she was a monster, that she had already died, that she wasn’t Shirley anymore. So my dad wrote a letter to Senator Hubert Humphrey, who had had bladder cancer and an ileostomy. The personal letter that she received back was incredibly upbeat and encouraging, as he urged her not to let herself be changed by her experience, or the cancer had won. At first she was angry that my dad had written him, but then she was inspired and glad. Someone else had gone through something like what she had, and survived – just as you have indicated; it inspired her. She was at that point just accepting that she could live the rest of her life this way. When he died several months later, she became bitter, and said, “Well, you’ve left me, Humph.” The fourth time the cancer came back, there was nothing more that could be done, and she lost all hope. She died two months later.
    I’ve discussed her struggles with friends, and was once asked, would I live life any differently if I knew I had a terminal illness? I replied honestly, No, I would not. First of all, that would be empowering the disease and letting it win over me. But more importantly, I am very content with my life and what I have accomplished so far. Whether I die tomorrow or 50 years from now simply affects how much I can accomplish in my time here, but not the quality of it. The more I can do and the more people I can help, the better. But we will all pass someday, and I will not let that fact ruin or detract from the way I live my life, will not let it steal time from me or change the way I live. I will have still lived a full life and done with it what I wanted, and what I was supposed to do.

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    1. Joe Normal

      Your attitude is very commendable. It does sound like she had that turning point but went back – understandably! I have to say that I turned to dark humor to get me through the worst. I was utterly miserable in the hospital after the first couple of days. (Bad roommate and nurses that couldn’t do an IV right didn’t help; learning to fix and clear errors on the drip machine was a triumph for me since they generally took 10 minutes to an hour to respond to the alarms.) A lot of it was being helpless and I think that what’s made my turning point last is the ability to feel some control over my life.

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