Terminal: Taking Back Power After Bladder Cancer
I have nothing but the utmost respect for medical professionals. They have years of training and experience, vast amounts of knowledge and learning. I get all that, but here is an awkward truth: they can only give you answers based on their experiences. They cannot give you an absolute.
Changing the narrative
I say this, not as an indictment of doctors. I say this as a point of reference for the prognosis of “terminal.” By definition, the moment we draw our first breath, we become terminal. When I first learned I had cancer, I thought of death. Every survivor I have ever spoken with has had that moment. The “I am going to die” moment. Now, thirteen years later and less than two weeks from my annual scope, I want to suggest a change of terminology. A change of wording to embrace a more positive narrative.
The power of cancer
The power of cancer is the fear assigned to it. What if we change the focus from what is killing us to what we are surviving or living with? What if we shift our thought process away from cancer being the enemy to cancer being a challenge?
I want to take my power back
I want to change my narrative. I want to change my mindset. What I really want is to take my power back. Not control, power. Control is an illusion most of the time, but power is absolutely mine. I have the power to choose how I respond to life and any part thereof. I have my times of fear and dread, but that is part of the journey, too. My goal is not perfection. My goal is improvement. I want to limit the power I allow cancer to exert in my day-to-day.
Overcoming my mental hurdles
Three years after my diagnosis and surgical bladder tumor removal, I had a brain tumor. This tumor was non-cancerous and removed with minimal trouble and fuss. I was left with a scar from the temple to behind my right ear. As with my cancer, the mental hurdles far outweighed the physical hardships. I include this here to illustrate the point I am hoping to convey. Life is a day-to-day roll of the proverbial dice. The only warnings I had were some headaches. Not enough to cause alarm, except in hindsight. I stopped to put gas in my car and woke up in the emergency room with my family around the bed and everyone looking worried.
The first surgeon that visited gave me the diagnosis and prognosis. “Do you have any questions?” he asked.
My only question was, “How long until I can ride?”
“Ride what?” He seemed baffled.
“Motorcycles,” I growled.
“You’ll never drive again, much less ride a motorcycle!” was his reply.
A part of my life I cannot give up
This is a pretty good recollection of our encounter. He looked to my wife for assistance, but she knew I was serious. This may sound cavalier and foolish, but riding is a part of life I cannot dream of giving up. It turned out he was not on my insurance, and the crisis was averted. The second surgeon listened to the same question and chuckled. He made me promise that I would wait at least a week after the surgery before riding my bike. For the record, I got home from the hospital the day I was released and rode around the block. Mrs. is still pretty miffed about it. Miffed but not surprised.
I made my own decisions
I had taken the power back. I made my own decisions and accepted the price for those decisions. Doctors give you advice. They tell you what they think is best, and I respect that. However, at the end of the day, the choice is yours. Even if that choice flies square in the face of the best medical advice and everyone else’s counsel. The power of the decision is yours. Keeping that close at hand allows me to navigate health challenges as a captain instead of as a victim.
My grandmother's story
My grandmother was diagnosed with cancer later in life. Her doctor, a child by her measure, came in and informed her of what the treatment would be. She looked him in the eye and smiled, “Son, I have been alive a long time. I love Jesus, and when the time comes, I will see him. Until then, I am going home to live out my days and have a nightly martini and cigarette with my husband. I will call you when I need you.” The doctor tried to argue, but she already had picked up her handbag and was halfway out the door. The last time I saw her alive, she stood behind me and put her necklace around my neck. “I love you, boy, make your own decisions and live your life on your terms.”
Living life to the fullest
Every one of us is “terminal.” It is not the terminality (my own word) that robs us of life. It is accepting someone else definition of that terminality that robs us. Own your power, never relinquish it to anyone and live every moment to the fullest.
How long did you wait before telling others about your diagnosis?