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Thursday, February 5, 2009

The 20-Year-Plan

Something has been bothering me for a while now.

A few weeks ago (or maybe it was a few months ago), during one of my meetings with my oncologist to discuss switching to Taxol, I casually asked if this change is going to "interfere with my 20-year-plan."

My doctor immediately became serious. "Who gave you that number?" he queried, adding "I did not give you that number."

"I know," I responded, reassuringly.

I completely made up that number. It is a random number, representing my intention to live with this cancer-thing for a long time.

But then, I got worried.

"Why," I challenged, joking, "is it too short?" Then, I added, verbalized my fear, "Or is it too long?"

But my oncologist would not play that game.

"I do not do numbers," he declared, quite seriously, "You know that."

I do. But the Pandora’s Box was open. Perhaps I was just living in my own little fantasy world.

So, today, I got up my courage and asked, "Am I deluding myself?"

Now, though this conversation has been plaguing me for months, it was not immediately obvious to my oncologist that I was referring to his comment about my 20-year-plan. So, I reminded him of our conversation and, a little bolder now, repeated my question. "Am I deluding myself?"

"It's a bit of a long shot," began my oncologist. (ouch) I imagine my face fell a bit. "I am not telling you something you do not know;" he continued, leaning forward in his chair, eyes locked on mine, "you are familiar with the statistics. But you also know that I do not make predictions." (yeah, I know)

He cited a patient of his who has been living with metastatic breast cancer for 23 years. (He did not give me any details, of course)

"It is reasonable," he continued, a bit softer, "to plan for the future."

And, though it is unusual for him to give his opinion about what I should do, he added, "I think it is right to live your life that way."

I wish I could remember exactly what else he said, because he gave me a rare compliment about how I am handling living with cancer exceptionally well. It was really nice.

Then he asked me: if I knew I had 18 months left to live, would I do anything different?

I said I would get things in order. To which he responded, quite sternly, "you should do that anyway, and it has nothing to do with cancer."

Then he continued, "my guess is that if you knew that you had only a year and a half left to live, you would accelerate your lifestyle, not slow it down."

I conceded that his assessment was accurate. But still, I persisted. "I talk with my children about the future, even about the long-term future."

I wanted him to understand that it was important to me not to be deluding myself, and also not to be deluding my family.

He got it.

"Planning for the future is the best thing you can do for both you and your children."

He wanted to make sure that I got it too.

I got it.

Please daven (or send happy, healing thoughts) for RivkA bat Teirtzel.

With love and optimism,


rickismom said...

Here's hoping you make 20.... and that however long you have, will be good.

rutimizrachi said...

It's a good lesson for me too, isn't it? Because I haven't a clue. None of us does. (Personally, I think you're planning a bit far in advance. Moshiach is coming long before then -- and if THAT don't alter your plans, I don't know what will.)

Anonymous said...

20? k'tan alayeech!

Batya said...

I'm impressed. You and your doctor make a good team.

Shabbat Shalom

Sarah said...

Don't live on counting, count on living!!!

Kate Burton said...

Lovely post. Hope you're handling Taxol well, not fun but there are some chemos that are meaner so maybe this will be the one that shows cancer who's boss!

Baila said...

I like your doctor. He seems to be able to be honest and reassuring at the same time.

A Soldier's Mother said...

I like Arnie's comment most:

20? k'tan alayeech!

There are people who live to 100 and don't live at all...and there are people who live it all in so much less. Your doctor has it right - live now, live great, live as full as you can. No one really knows how long they will live, those of us who don't have cancer just delude ourselves better into thinking we can control this. We can't - you can't - but you are doing something about the quality of your life and that's so precious.