Lately I've been reading a cancer blog written by NPR's Leroy Sievers, who has brain cancer. Steve heard him speaking on a radio program recently and told me about him. He's pretty far along. These days, he's writing about things like whether to get hospice care and how he sold his Jeep because he hasn't driven it for six months. The other day, he posted something his wife wrote: "So I guess we've been through the 'easy' part of this experience ... it's going to get hard from here on out."
And I realized: I'm still in the easy part. Sure, chemo sucks (really, really sucks). And I don't like that I have to get around with a cane and can't go for long walks anymore and am so much more tired than I used to be. But I'm still in the part of my life — the part of this journey — where I'm still fully focused on living. I can wash my own face. I can walk downstairs to do laundry. I can drive places on my own. I can host a party. I can lift my boys up in my arms. I can (sometimes) have sex with my husband. Sure, dying is a fear on the horizon, and sometimes the idea of it petrifies me. But the prospect of actually going through the dying process hasn't become a reality yet; the doctor hasn't told us to get our affairs in order or take a cruise. We're still working on keeping this thing at bay, and even within the crappy margins of success that exist for this sarcoma, there's still hope that maybe I'll get more time. So we haven't had to turn onto the hard road yet, the one where you know where it ends, and you have to actually face it.
Last week, Randy Pausch died, two years after finding out he had pancreatic cancer. You may have heard of him; I guess he got a lot of press for his book, "The Last Lecture," based on the talk he gave last fall at Carnegie Mellon University. I'd read it this spring and admired the way he dealt with his terminal diagnosis. He was honest about how hard it was to prepare his family for his death, yet he was also pragmatic. He did the things he needed to do to make sure his wife and kids would remember how much he loved them. He took them on trips. He made lots of videos and wrote them letters. He was real, and full of enthusiasm and positivity. And he died. He didn't just go through the motions of preparing to die and then get miraculously healed, as if his positive attitude and fighting spirit were going to cure him. Don't get me wrong: I'm terribly sad for his family, and if he'd somehow managed to live, I would have held him up as a reason for hope. But he did die, like many cancer patients do. He didn't escape the hard road.
I get kind of tired of hearing well-meaning people tell cancer patients that it's important to keep a positive attitude, as if that will turn the tide of the tumors or make chemo more effective. It's a tall order. No one can stay positive all the time — not me, for sure, and I know it's normal to go into that black hole from time to time. Sure, some people are naturally more optimistic than others, but I refuse to buy into the notion that it's the optimistic people who live and the negative people who die. Positive people die of cancer all the time ... witness Randy Pausch.
So anyway ... I'm keeping an eye on Leroy Sievers. He writes honestly and simply about what it's like to enter that hard part of the journey. I feel like I need to know what it's like because I may be going there sooner or later. For now, though, I'm very aware that I'm still in the easy part, no matter how hard things seem.