I've wanted to be a teacher my entire life. I love learning new things, and one of the best ways to really learn a subject is to teach it. As long as a student is motivated to learn, I have infinite patience in trying to teach new concepts and ideas. In college, however, I learned that in my chosen career, science, teaching isn't rewarded. Research is.
So I decided to pursue a career in industrial research, where, ironically, teaching is rewarded.
Part of the point of this blog will be to teach others (and myself) about living with metastatic cancer in general, and metastatic breast cancer in particular. So I'm departing from what I had planned to write about to opine on a question that was posted on my Facebook page. Fair warning, my friends don't ask easy questions, so this topic will probably be addressed again in the future.
The question? Drum roll please......"How does your prognosis change your day to day life, your thoughts and emotions?"
My thought process and the way I deal with emotions are probably not typical. I am an extremely analytical and very pragmatic person. It's not by accident I became an engineer. However, the answer probably is pretty close to universal.
One lives with a terminal illness by taking each day as it comes. In the beginning, I would tell myself that I wasn't going to die that day, and that I wasn't going to die the next day or even the next week. After time, the days started to accrue. Slowly but surely, plans were made; goals were set.
And so I learned that dying is really about living.
It's about taking each day for what it is, piecing together something good in it, and moving on to the next day. It's about planning for the future, while simulatenously planning for a future without you. It's about understanding the limitations that being sick puts on you, accepting those constraints, and doing things anyway. It's about simplifying your day to day life to enjoy more time to do the things that bring you joy. It's about friends; it's about family; it's about health.
I also made a conscious decision to embrace this phase of my life. I wouldn't have chosen to be in a position to have a short life, but I wasn't given a choice. So I decided the one choice I could make is to do everything possible to make sure I enjoy my remaining time.
I openly discuss my prognosis, because for me, it is a necessary part of accepting where I am in life, so that I can make the most of it but not burden my loved ones with false hope or unfinished business. And I am actively and aggressively seeking treatment, because the cancer needs to be controlled for me to maximize my quality, if not quantity, of life.
Left unfettered, the dominant emotion would oscillate between anger, grief and sadness. In the eight years that I've lived with cancer, I've made many friends in the breast cancer community. And I have had more friends than I care to mention die of this awful disease, leaving behind young children, husbands, and dreams. Cancer is insidious.
Luckily, I've met a number of people who have helped me channel those emotions into action, so I am spending much of my time working to make sure that the future of metastatic cancer is not just a repeat of the past. I want a better tomorrow for those left behind. I want to educate people about what metastatic disease is. I want to get metastatic research funded and completed, because it is ignored. I want metastatic cancer to be a chronic disease, not a death sentence.
Because dying really is about living. And I plan to leave a pretty big wake when I'm gone.