After looking at my scans, my oncologist recently reminded me: “every day is a gift.”
Yikes, I thought. Don’t I know it!
Treating every day like it’s a gift is the right way to live: swing from the fences, tell the world you love it, be grateful, be kind. But when the doctor makes such proclamations, you think – uh oh, better be kinder and more grateful. Better swing harder – and fast!
The doctor told me that every day was a gift after looking at a “good” scan. There was shrinkage! I was to continue on the same treatment! No new spots! He even said that my brain looked “perfect.” So did I really need to be reminded about the preciousness of my days and the precariousness of my situation at that moment? Couldn’t he have said, “You are amazing – keep up the good work! Have some chocolate – here’s some money – enjoy!”
The truth is that I like forgetting that I have Stage IV non-small cell lung cancer. Sometimes I go nuts trying to induce little amnesias. I hike up mountains, and ride jetpacks. I lose myself in elaborate art projects and go to as many rock shows as possible. Am I not living each day like it’s a freaking gift?
By willfully forgetting that I have lung cancer, I also lose the power to experience the tiny, quiet, beautiful pieces of my larger life. It has been easy to ignore my cancer while living the hell out of each of my gifted days. Why? Because I feel fine.
Even when I was diagnosed in September of 2014, I felt fine. I didn’t have any pain. I didn’t have shortness of breath. I didn’t have a cough. Sure – I was tired, but it was happy maternity-leave tired. It was finally finished with grad school tired. It was just moved out of New York City and this country air is making me tired, tired. I only took myself to the doctor to fix my fuzzy thoughts and memory loss.
An MRI revealed a giant brain tumor that had likely been growing throughout my pregnancy. After the brain surgeon removed the tumor, it was clear that it was lung cancer that had metastasized to my brain and bones, liver and lymph nodes.
That I am able forget my diagnosis speaks to the wonders and advances in lung cancer treatment and care, the kind and careful advocates and organizations that reach out to us and help us feel safe and connected, and the love from my super-heroic family and supportive friends. But I should remember.
I have lung cancer – it sucks, and it’s scary. Balancing on the ledge of life and death is a strange act that requires concentration, not carelessness. Now that my brain is “perfect,” memory loss is no longer an excuse to ignore my diagnosis and plow through the rest of my delicate and rich life. Every day is a gift – I’m trying to stop sprinting and start strolling through each of them.