Sunday, July 8, 2018

Gifts, they keep on coming....

Me and my son at Caltech's Graduation Party

I've fallen back into the world of the consumer, living life as others do, unworried about the future,  as it should be for a person who has lived 3 years in remission.  The cloud is gone, the sword has disappeared, and I no longer worry about my illness and death.  Fantasyland?  So far this disease is not considered survivable - but that was before there were many of the drugs we have now.  We don't have new statistics as we haven't reached the end cycle of the studies.  I may have a relapse and die, as several long-term friends sadly have, or I may be on the leading edge of a new wave of Stage 4 Survivors.  For now, my doctor says stay in treatment, we'll talk about it in a decade, and he doesn't know more than that.  I can live with that, I have learned how.  Uncertainty is my jam.

Whatever happens with my cancer, it is not happening today, this month, the next three months or (with fingers crossed), even this year.  So sure, I am left with certain problems from years of continuing treatment but on the whole, living well.  I am back to buying clothes off-season for the savings, buying regular beauty boxes without worrying I'll be gone before it arrives, splurging again on a handbag or shoes since I believe I'll be here to enjoy it and I deserve it (as does everybody), and generally going crazy with the perfume!  (I smell wonderful, always, even if I wear PJs all day.)

But as much as I am back to enjoying frivolity, I have been given gifts much more satisfying.  For life continues to march forward, with milestone after milestone, ones I thought I would not be here to see. Now, each one delights me, and I enjoy it like a child on Christmas morning.   A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to watch my youngest son graduate -  from college.  Something that back in the early days of this disease, and which long time readers of this blog know, I never thought possible.  Well, that isn't even the truth, I never thought about it at all. 

I cried like a baby when he made it to his high school graduation and vowed to make no more future goals aside from making his college dorm bed.  And I haven't, but life in its beauty and sadness keeps coming.  This time - this graduation - there were no tears, just beams of pride.  (And a rather large dent in the bank account, chewed up feet from mismarked shoes and an argument with a stranger that maybe I'll tell you about one day.)

He has always been a high achiever, my baby, and he continued that at Caltech, one of the top technical/science schools in the world, graduating with a high GPA and a double major - in mathematics and computer science. Yes, I most certainly am bragging, but he's done, I can't brag about college again.  (I'm sure I'll find something else.)  He has never been home since he left at age 18,  except for Christmases and holidays.  He spent every summer interning and learning software engineering, and now he will start working at Facebook this fall, making, at age 21, a starting salary that made me gasp.  He seems happy to be done with college, and eager to start his new life but mostly, he seems to be enjoying each day.  And isn't that what you want for your kids?  To do better than you, certainly.  But to also be happy.  So wherever his path takes him, I'll be there rooting him on, even if it changes and becomes entirely different.  It does for most of us, doesn't it?  I am lucky that he is home for this summer - the last time he will ever live with me.  Then, the plan is to scrape up the last of my father's inheritance (which is how we paid for his school) and we'll go to Hawaii for a family vacation, of which we haven't had many since I got sick when he was 12.  Then he'll move to the Bay Area.  This time, I'll let his girlfriend make his bed,  and again and forever, it'll just be holidays and rare weekend visits.  Sad, as I would love for him to live nearby like his brother does, but this is as it should be.

The rest of my family is also doing well.  My stepdaughters are busy and happy and doing well in their respective careers, my grandchildren are incredibly beautiful and growing so fast!   My oldest son is also settled into a good career and has an active life with lots of friends and doing interesting and scary things. (Have you ever heard of Tuff Mudder?) 

So I did get everything I wanted that day I was told my cancer was life-ending - the knowledge that my family is well-ensconced in their own lives.  And now?  It's just my husband and me in our boring, married routines - watching TV, reading, me shopping, him shaking his head at me shopping. He is a decade older than me, and for the first time, I worry that he may go before me.  Fortunately, he's very healthy.

My best friend says that I'm now living life like an old person - enjoying other people's accomplishments and milestones instead of my own.  At 60, I'm too young for that, she contends.  She's busy packing and her house is on the market for a retirement to Belize and exciting adventures ahead.  Me?  Well, I can't argue with her, she's right. These days, an accomplishment of my own would be spending a few hours shopping or seeing a movie with a friend.   My husband would clap if I did laundry and took it out of the dryer on the same day.  So yes, I do live through my family.

Remember, although I'm in remission,  I still do chemo regularly.  I still don't feel healthy often. I keep thinking I should find a job at a little boutique or something; the money isn't important (although I'd feel less guilty adding another perfume to my shelf if I earned some).  Just the routine would be helpful.  Or, I should volunteer at my old school.  But then, I do chemo, and I'm sick for ten days, or I go out to lunch with a friend and am so tired after 2 hours I need to sleep for three.  I remember again how unreliable I am.  Not to mention my white count is usually about 1.3 before my chemo, which those who get chemo understand - I barely have an immune system. They always call the doctor to ask if it's safe to give me treatment and he always says yes. 

The point is, it isn't fair to others to inflict myself on them and it isn't always safe for me to be around others. 

I don't know what goals, if any, I would have for myself, if I hadn't gotten sick. Would my husband and I be travelling?  Have moved?   The thing is - I suspect, knowing me - nothing would have changed.  I've always been happy being an introverted homebody. I've never needed loads of friends or lots of activities.  I'd still have a job, so less of the inheritance would have gone to Caltech and we'd likely have spent some on long overdue home repairs.  But that's kinda it.

Years and years ago, when I first started down this road, back before my first chemo, December 2nd, 2009 (can you believe that?)  my doctor once told me that it was active people who suffered more with chemo - people who were athletic and physical.  People like me, who enjoy reading, watching TV, doing family things - we don't feel the slowing down as much. I suspect that is true.  There is no chance I would have uprooted my life at age 60 to go to the blue waters of the Caribbean sea,  and while I admire my friend's intrepid spirit, we all live our lives in the way that is best for us.  Needless to say, I'm glad it was me who got the disease, and not her. 

There are worse things, I think, than living life through the eyes and accomplishments of those you love.  Not having those people would be far worse. 

I hope to continue to live through other people's accomplishments for many years, as long as it is these people.

My husband, son, and me after the graduation ceremony.  

I'm sorry I haven't written this blog in a few months.  I have a few things to tell you so don't disappear!  And as always, you can find me on facebook although I've been less active there lately too for no reason other than my son is home and I'm enjoying that.  


  1. I am so, so happy that you have been able to restore more than a semblance of normalcy to your life, and that, God willing, you'll be living that life for years to come.

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  3. Or how about he makes his own bed? :o) ;-)

  4. I was just thinking of you this morning and just read your latest blog this evening. Your family sounds wonderful and don't blame you for them being the center of your life - enjoy your son being with you this summer. As for the chemo, yuck, it never gets easier. Keep up the great attitude, it sure does help.

  5. Ann I am so happy to read this and see not only how well you are doing but also celebrate the wonderfully positive attitude you are "Living" with.To see you winning this battle for however long is so wonderful to someone like me who lost their spouse to this battle.It does my heart good to see you kick cancers ass for a time. I pray this continues for a long time to come.
    Thank you from all of us that want to see you succeed in memory of all that have gone before you.
    Love and Prayer
    Steve Lowe

    1. Steve, there is no way I can tell you how much I wish it had worked out this same way for your wife. Your generosity in your continuing to wish me well means a tremendous amount to me, and thank you.

  6. So glad to see this post and so happy for you on getting to all of your milestones. Keep making them girl!

  7. Lovely post, nothing wrong with being a proud parent, enjoy it....and Hawaii/perfumes/shopping.....don't worry about what others think, live life as it suits you, the grass isn't always greener for others, it might just appear that way xx

  8. Thank you for this. I was diagnosed stage two breast cancer in 2012, but I am now incurable stage four colon cancer. I remember your goal of seeing your son graduate from high school, and this post gives me hope that I have more years ahead of me, too.

    1. Joan, I wish the same for you. They can do amazing things now. You can pick your cliche, but remember, nobody can stamp and end date on anybody.

  9. I've been following you for a long time, Ann, and I'm enjoying reading about how your life is unfolding. This made me smile. Congratulations to your son, and to you and your husband as well. You've done a fine job!

    As a side note, I watched your Soul Pancake video many times. I feel like there's so much wisdom in it, and sometimes I need to be reminded of what's important. You said something great in there, about the people you love being what matters when all of the distractions of life fall away. I've always remembered that. Thanks for updating and for continuing to share your lessons with us.

  10. Dear Ann, having been diagnosed with your same diagnosis a little over a year ago at age 52, your journey is an inspiration to me and many others. I am so grateful to my Sutter Oncology team that guide me but let me make the decisions.
    May you continue to enjoy a long life with what brings you happiness. Go to Hawaii!!


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