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?


  • Dolllie Harvey

    Can certainly relate to this, Jan! Though my journey with cancer has not been nearly as devastating as yours, it’s been a long, long uphill battle for the past ten years or so, and I feel like 70 going on 100! Feel way old before my time, but then I remember that Scripture has only promised us three score and 10 (70) so I’ve actually already outlived the promise. My desire is to keep on keeping on, despite the problems and pains, trying to be an inspiration and blessing until my last breath. Thanks for sharing this!

  • jhasak

    Dollie, I am so glad this resonated with you; it makes me feel much less alone! Here’s hoping the Scripture you shared will apply to my life–it would be lovely to see 70, especially with a decent quality of life that doesn’t degenerate too much. I love the desire you expressed and the sentiment behind it. You are an inspiration to me! XOX

  • http://none karen sutherland

    dear Jan,

    feeling older than we are is a bitter pill to swallow. but I think you are definitely on the right track by clinging to the golden days, the ones that bring happy memories, and looking outside of yourself to care for others, something you accomplish with every post you write for your blog. so many people must sigh with relief after reading your eloquent words, knowing they are not alone. and being in the clinical trial and the possibility that your genes may provide answers to metastatic breast cancer is a huge contribution.

    and yes, I feel both older than I am,, and I certainly look older. I never dreamed my goal of shedding excess weight along with going through the treatment for uterine cancer would result in the loss of collagen and the addition of more wrinkles to my face. and being bald with dark under-eye circles – well, perhaps that will be temporary.

    I think it all boils down to prioritizing – we have to work with what we have and do what we are able to do. I am grateful that I still have the strength to go for nice walks and absorb the beauty of the natural world, that my mind and soul have joined forces to help me through the travails of widowhood, that I am slowly but surely, albeit with baby steps, trying to find the me I am meant to be, and that, for the most part, my body is functioning fairly well. age is just a number, and just like all the other numbers in cancerland, we don’t have to, nor should we, assign ourselves to them. once, I laughed myself stupid thinking just how old I would be in DOG YEARS!

    much love and light to you, dear Jan

    Karen XOXO

  • jhasak

    Karen, I am hoping that the baldness with under-eye circles will be only temporary effects for you. From all I can see, you appear to be coping extremely well, especially after widowhood. Taking baby steps is absolutely the key. I like your observation that age is just a number, like other cancer statistics that don’t reveal our uniqueness. How old in dog years? Yep, laughter is the ultimate medicine. Thanks ever so much for providing your keen insights as usual. Much love and light back to you. XOX

  • Marie Ennis-O’Connor (@JBBC)

    How ironic that I am reading this the same day that I commented on the gorgeous picture of you at your son’s wedding. You looked radiant in that picture, and yet behind the smile, you have all this pain to contend with. You are not a complainer – I know that much about you Jan, but you are telling us the bald (no pun intended) facts about your situation. It is something that should put our image and beauty obsessed society to shame. But no matter how frail or ill you get Jan, your beautiful spirit still shines brightly – nothing will dim that for those of us who love you xxxxx

  • jhasak

    What a sweet comment, Marie! The picture I posted on Facebook was taken a couple months ago, and I never know how I will feel as the months go by. I faded fast at that wedding, especially after the mother/son dance, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell from the picture. Looks can be deceiving. I am so touched by your words and will treasure them in my heart, no matter how frail I become. XOX

  • Philippa (Feisty Blue Gecko)

    Thank you for such an honest post on the reality of living in bodies which constrain us both by disease and treatment. As Stage 3, I can also identify very much with the frustrations and limitations you talk about, following surgeries, and both the side and after effects of heavy and horrible medication, which we rely on to preserve life.

    I wish you continued strength, and that clarity of voice which tells the reality so clearly and accurately.
    Love and warm wishes to you

  • Knot Telling

    As I turn 59 in a few days, as I continue to live with Stage IV breast cancer, your post resonated with me very deeply. Thank you for telling our truth… and telling it starkly and well.

  • Audrey

    Oh Jan, what a cruel disease this is and you deserve so much better. As Marie says your beautiful soul shines so brightly in all you write about. Sending love from Scotland to warm you. Audrey xxx

  • Stephanie

    I love these words you penned:
    “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.”
    But most especially I liked “I’m still on this side of the dirt.” And that’s what makes it a good day…this side of the dirt.

  • Nancy’s Point

    Hi Jan,
    Cancer takes a toll on our self image that’s for darn sure. I, too, feel older than I would be feeling if not for that unwelcome intruder in my life. And I’m sure such feelings are compounded many times over when a person is dealing with metastatic disease. I’m sorry for all your pain and for the fact that you feel so fragile in many ways. I know it’s cliche sounding, but beauty really does come from within. The trick is believing it ourselves, right? Thanks for sharing so honestly. Much love to you, Jan. xx

  • ButDoctorIHatePink

    Funny to read this today, as yesterday I was thinking this exact same thing. Four and a half years of chemo has killed my short term memory and I can’t remember the simplest – or most important – things. My knees and joints and back ache like an elderly person (but no cancer there, just in the liver) It takes me a long time to warm up in the morning to get going, and the daily constitutional {ahem} has taken on mighty importance. My youngest will be off to college this year, and this is the time my husband and I had set aside to do traveling and relationship-building – and the thought of being anywhere other than home requires great effort. Just the thought of sitting in a plane or car for a couple hours makes my back and knee twinge and my head ache. Not to mention that I’m tied to that infusion chair so whatever trip we took would have to be short. I live like an old person. After nearly five years of illness, I’ve lost all muscle mass and the skin on my arm drops in a wrinkled mess, like an 80 year old, only I am in my early 50s. My healthy sister and I used to look close in age and now we appear to be ten years apart – or more. My grew back grey after chemo, a fact that horrified me and had I not been stage IV and always undergoing therapy, would have changed, but I don’t have the energy for upkeep and am not going to die with roots!! Grey it is.

    But nobody is guaranteed me any kind of life, and I have a cat snoozing on my lap right now who could care less that my eyebrows (drawn on these days) are falling into my eyes, my husband is still snoring next to me in bed at night and my sons are doing well in their endeavors. MY stepdaughter will be giving birth to my first grandchild in the next two weeks and so despite the fact that I have metastatic cancer that has aged me 20 years, there are wonderful things in my life. I guess I’m not going to be the GILF I thought I would be but the ILF part is iffy after 4 years of chemo, liver resection, gamma knife, and all else that has happened.

    I just figured out that the universe, knowing I’ll never be old in reality, just decided to give me that experience anyway. :)

    FYI: If your shoulder doesn’t improve, you might be getting a frozen shoulder, aka as adhesive capsulitis. I have had it since my old recon days. It’s never gone away but the inflammation has been tamed with injectible steroids. I recommend it ASAP if that’s the diagnosis. The hallmark is not being able to close a bra. It gets worse and worse until you can’t lift your arm and the pain becomes really bad, so if you haven’t had it dx’d yet, I’d see an osteo. Good luck.

  • jhasak

    Thanks for adding to the conversation, Philippa. Our combined voices can make a difference to those other souls who feel trapped in a body they did not choose to inhabit at their biological age. Warm wishes and love back to you. XOX

  • jhasak

    Living with our stage of cancer, we need to keep speaking the truth, so that others can understand, or at least be educated in the stark realities of our plights. Thanks so much for your comment. XOX

  • jhasak

    I can feel that love, Audrey. It permeates all the comments you write from your bonnie country. Thanks for your loving words; they mean a lot. XOX

  • jhasak

    I agree completely, Stephanie. This side of the dirt makes it a good day. And for that we are grateful. Thanks so much for spicing up my day today. XOX

  • jhasak

    Beauty truly does come from within, Nancy. We just need to grasp that truth, as you say. I feel stronger just reading all the words of support and appreciating the senses I do have that haven’t weakened with age: my eyesight, hearing, and abilities to smell, taste, and reason. For these and many other miracles of life, including all my off-line and online friends, I am most grateful. XOX

  • jhasak

    Ann, I am so sorry that you have also experienced this unwelcome feeling of decline. I’ve embraced the white hair that grew back with my stage IV treatment for the same reasons as you. It’s so refreshing you have an adoring cat, a wonderful husband, sons doing well and a grandchild to come! You remind me we do need to embrace those milestones and pleasures offered to us from time to time. Maybe such kindnesses will include allowing us to live long enough, with reasonable quality of life, to experience true ageing. With each new drug discovered and developed, we are treated to new hope of longer lives. Thanks for the tips on the shoulder. I’m afraid it may be what you say, and am glad to know that injectible steroids might keep it under control. My oncologist wants to start with physical therapy and go from there. Thanks so much for adding your voice to this discussion, and for your blog. We truly are not alone! XOX

  • Elizabeth J.

    Thank you for speaking out. This spoke to me on so many levels, and I am only two years into this journey.
    I went from people assuming I was younger than I was (BC) to looking and definitely feeling older than my age (AD). Fatigue and joint aches from treatments. Hair grew back thin and grey.
    Ironically, at a baby shower the other day, one of the ladies from my church was commenting on how healthy I look now (sure don’t feel it) and how lucky I was I wasn’t stage 4 like so-and-so. Really? How quickly they forget! (That’s why I take those pills and get monthly injections that have me on so many other meds for side effects and get some kind of scan at least every three months.
    In a few days, I hit sixty. I sure am not hiking and skiing; neuropathy and joint pains have made me give up daily walks. I figure I will be here, treatments will work, as long as God has a purpose for me to stay.

  • jhasak

    I can totally relate to that baby shower comment you received. I, too, hear how healthy I look (thanks to blush and carefully applied eye makeup). Very few can tell by my appearance that I feel eighty in this shell of a body. And people tend to forget the dire diagnosis. I am so sorry that neuropathy and joint pain prevent you from walking. It just isn’t fair. I’m not yet two years into AD as you are, but I agree that treatments will keep working as long as God has a purpose for my life. Thanks a million for your insights, Elizabeth. XOX