May 5, 2016
My 57th birthday is one month from now. I was reminded of the fact this morning when I received notice by mail that my driver’s licence expires June 5th. To my surprise, it hit me hard and with enough shock to make me think; really think. My first reaction was, “why bother, I’m not going to need a driver’s license”. A surprising reaction since I have been determined to stay positive throughout this process. I had no idea these feelings were lurking.
Eight months ago my oncologist and surgeons prognosticated a 5% chance that I would be alive in 2 years. Since then I have read study after study describing measurable, statistically solid facts supporting their prognosis. Now I have been irradiated, carved up and poisoned with cancer killing chemicals but I have no idea whether the long term expectations have changed at all. Sometimes, I think, I believe the successful radiation and bowel surgery must mean the survival odds have grown. Everything I have read belies that belief. There appears to be no research showing any correlation between successful attacks on the primary tumor and long term survival.
At least on the surface I can choose to believe, as many of you have encouraged, that everything so far has been a series of good signs and positive results building toward a miraculous survival. As we have discussed, several times over the past eight months, doctors tend to be cautious about promising anything positive in their prognoses. That may certainly be true. At least the cautions and odds I was presented with prior to radiation and before surgery support that conclusion. If we take into account every horrible result I was threatened with in the interests of informed consent, I have beaten the odds on all accounts.
Doctors probably do avoid being too positive and they certainly take great care to inform a patient about the myriad ways their procedures might kill them. The 5% survival rate for stage 4 colorectal cancer, however, isn’t a caution or an opinion. It is a simple, statistical, medical fact.
My gut reaction to a simple driver’s license renewal is undeniable. I have to face the fact that those feelings exist and aren’t imaginary figments. I can stay as outwardly positive as I desire but deep down, on the level of my new semicolon, I know the truth is that I am unlikely to see a 58th birthday.
This isn’t despair, resignation or submission. I am merely recognizing a fact supported by empirical evidence. I am by no means giving up the fight. I’ll attack every challenge with a positive and hopeful determination. I’ll shoot myself full of blood thinners every day, show up for chemo, surgery and whatever else they recommend. I’ll do it all with a smile and outward denial of the long odds. I’ll fight.
We’ve all lost people and wish we hadn’t waited to say our last farewell. I remember my feelings of satisfaction, closure and love when I chose to visit my dying brother in hospital instead of waiting to attend his memorial. I got to hold his hand, express my feelings, introduce him to his baby nephew and end our living relationship in a dignified, caring way. I wish I had the same opportunity with my mother, father and others I miss every day.
For all these reasons, I am declaring this June 5 my first annual last birthday. I’m planning to take the opportunity to craft my first annual eulogistic necrology. After all, if I write it myself, my obituary is bound to entertain and inform.
I’m inviting you all to say your first annual goodbyes on June 5th. You have a whole month to think about it but there is no pressure to get it right the first time. You can revise your opinions on my second annual last birthday in 2017.
I want a cake.
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