Life in the Surpassed Lane

  • 30 March 2014

 Double yellow line

It’s been almost a year and a half since the diagnosis that shook (but not took!) my life: the Stage IV variety.

The top question I’m asked is when my treatments will end. Another popular question? Am I considered in remission. Innocent questions like these abound because the public is well aware of the pink campaign that highlights earlier-stage breast cancer diagnoses, those in which treatment will end without talk of hospice care and in which remission IS possible. In my season of life, a season no one wants to enter, remission is not an option: “cancer being stable” and “no evidence of disease” are the operative phrases (pun intended) for those whose cancer has not progressed. A wonderful primer on this not-so-wonderful disease awaits the reader who really wants the scoop.

As to hair, I had been ambivalent about my new white locks, but have come to love them. Many people who know my history think they are fab–even glam–and encourage me to keep my hair gamine-cut and au naturel. At a dining establishment I frequent on my way to Stanford, the white hair has landed me a senior discount without my asking for it. But sometimes my silver-topped pate triggers discussions about how young a 79-year-old looks who still has some natural dark hair. The ensuing conversation is rife with justifications for coloring hair. We ladies are so protective of our looks, something ingrained in us since early childhood.

Regardless of what our culture thinks of premature silver locks, I’m grateful to have hair while on continuous chemo, and that it is coming back (now that taxol is finished) fuller than ever. The ability to keep my hair is due to new targeted biologics (Kadcyla and Perjeta). Wearing wigs or hats and scarves isn’t something I would desire to do for the rest of my life. And dyeing my hair with chemicals seems harsh, when I don’t know what caused my cancer in the first place.

A nice recent touch to my new-normal life? A bubble bath. In my former life I luxuriated in them. But up till a week ago I had not taken a bath since before diagnosis. But before I am judged as unhygienic, let me explain that I do take regular showers. What made baths so undesirable were regular infusions of chemo, particularly taxol. The drug made me shiver so profoundly that I didn’t care to undress even long enough to go into a hot bath. I was that cold. It seemed a waste to turn the thermostat so high just to get me into a tub. Now, however, I’m able to withstand the cold in the amount of time it takes between undressing and entering the suds. I reveled in a book while peripherally watching real candles flicker. I didn’t even feel guilty that perhaps this bathing would trigger another urinary tract infection (UTI), a frequent side-effect I’ve been battling due to the Kadcyla. I decided that taking a bath was worth the risk, and if I got the UTI, I would simply not take baths anymore.

If nothing is risked, nothing is gained.

Life in the surpassed lane doesn’t have to be shabby. Some days I’m content to watch as others rush past me in their eagerness and impatience to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, I can soak in my more relaxed lifestyle, cooking more meals at home without resorting to so many frozen entrees and take-out fare. These seem to be a scourge of the harried, two-income family. I can strum my ukulele without glancing at the time worrying about when the gym will close. I can take walks instead of runs; I can stop to watch a heron’s nest or spot an owl in a tree near the lake where I live. I can even still bend over to yank a dandelion from my front yard or plant a pot of carnations.

Enjoying each sensory experience is magnified with a Stage IV diagnosis. It’s one thing to say “I’ll appreciate each new day now,” once you’ve had a pre-Stage IV cancer diagnosis. It’s another thing to say “I’ll appreciate each moment of each day when I’m not in pain” when the clock is ticking on the Stage IV route.  The horses pulling my coach prance at a more leisurely pace. My gratitude journal abounds with wonders happening all around me. And I’ll continue to fill it as long as I can hold a pen or type on a keypad.

Such is the life of the idle, at least my idea of idle.  It might not be ideal, but it surely beats the sharp turns  of the overloaded road.

Which lane are you traveling in?