Sixty, the New Eighty

  • 26 February 2014

female runner

We’re told so much these days that 50 is the new 30, etc. In fact, a recent Harris poll of American adults revealed their perfect age: 50. Men preferred to be 47 and women, 53. The influence of baby boomers on this new finding cannot be overestimated. They showed it was fab to be fifty, and soon they’ll proclaim the wonders of being sixty or more.  So much for the stereotype in the lyrics of the boomer-era Beatles song, “When I’m Sixty-Four.”

But the roaring fifties or sixties remain silent with some like me.

In my case, hitting sixty felt like being closer to eighty, at least from what I understand are the challenges of eighty-year-olds I’ve interviewed. More than a year of continuous chemo treatment has taken its toll on this baby boomer body. I feel cheated out of my supposedly glory years, when everyone else my age seems to be skiing, running, and volunteering for every activity if they are not still employed in a high-paced environment testing their physique as well as their mental acuity.

My Debbie Downer symptoms? Where do I start? Fatigue set in to my legs and my body became increasingly fragile. I apparently now have an injury to my shoulder I didn’t know I had damaged. The pain suddenly came upon me when I fastened clothes from behind or lifted my arm to don a sweatshirt. To prevent mishaps I grasp railings as if the slightest turn of my ankle will send me sprawling. Urinary tract infections plague me like guard dogs. I need grab bars sometimes to get up from a low seated position. I take a dazzling amount of prescription pills during the day and before bedtime. Does that sound like today’s sixty-somethings in affluent Western culture?

I think not.

No longer can I identify with those who want to lose weight, those who still define themselves by their fashion-wear, those who frequent the gym, those who wear anti-ageing creams to keep their life as wrinkle-free as possible for as long as possible. I just need to maintain my weight, force any kind of clothing over my head, and use medicinal creams to prevent more dryness from all the drugs I’m taking.

But how can I complain? I am still on this side of the dirt. Still among the breathing. My mind still functions well and short-term memory is quite sharp. If I live another ten years, I wonder how normal ageing will affect me, with more accumulated treatment under my belt. No one knows, of course. I’m in a clinical trial leading the pack to help scientists understand how the drugs I’m taking will impact patients long-term.

Friends well into their seventies seemed shocked recently when I mentioned the word “hospice” in connection with myself, a possibility not so remote for those with advanced cancer. They asked me how old I was. As if my relatively young age would immunize me from that space, considered by many to be reserved for the most elderly. A gentle response to educate them on the reality of my condition proved sufficient to assuage their curiosity.

In the end, we all go to the same metaphorical place in the cemetery. All that’s different is the route we take to get there. Some have incredibly good anti-ageing genes. Others, not so good. We should take the bad with the good, knowing that no one gets through this life alive.

It would be wonderful to be eighty and feel like sixty. I know some people like that. Good for them. But I can identify better with the Stage IV cancer troopers who live independently and weather their way through their routines, taking each day, each moment, at a time. Some days are better than others. Our memories just need to cling to those golden days like a favorite blanket worn thin over time. And we will do well to count the blessings we have and assist others where and while we can. It helps me to have faith in God’s goodness and promises of eternal life. Others hold on to promises of new generations in their family.

Any age I attain is enough for me. Sixty is the new Jan’s age. And that comforts me.

Do you ever feel as if you are older than you are in age? Do you ever feel younger?  When you feel older, what helps you cope?