Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Panicking About Time

A friend of mine asked me if I’m panicked about time, now that my cancer has returned. I’m not, but I wonder if I should be.

Given that the average metastatic breast cancer patient lives for 24 months, we could say I have about that much time left. But that average includes patients whose cancer returned many years after the first diagnosis. Mine came back less than a year after my initial treatment was finished. So logically, I’m on the lower end of that 24-month range. So I should be panicking about time, getting my affairs in order (what exactly does that mean?), writing letters to my kids, giving my stuff away, apologizing to people I’ve pissed off during my life.

But it seems I’m not taking this dying thing seriously. I haven’t done any of the things that I should or would be doing if I really had less than a year left. In fact, I’ve started a few projects that could be long-term.

Sometimes I get really worried that I’m going to get stuck suddenly with very limited time, sick and in no state to write those letters to the kids. And then I’ll be sorry that I wasted all this time doing silly everyday things.

Then again, I don’t want to start preparing for my death because 1) it’s morbid and pessimistic, 2) it’s logistically difficult because I have two young kids to look after and just don’t have the time, and 3) it’s overwhelming because really, how do you prepare to die? Is there a manual on this, with chapters telling you what paperwork you need to get done, how to book a funeral, who to invite to the deathbed? Maybe I should write one, except by its very nature, anyone who’d write this stuff from experience would be dead and would have no reflective tips to give after-the-fact.

This is a real dilemma. How do you live while you’re supposedly dying? Tell me, all of you reading this Blog. What would you do in my position?


Paul McNeill said...

Hi Shin,
I have been following your blgs for the last couple of weeks and have gone back and read them from the start of the Summer when you went back for your check-up. Serious stuff indeed, very funny, very heartfelt, very open and very you and I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I have given your question some thought, not just because you posed it, but because it can and will happen to any and all of us with or without the warning, or the sand-timer having to remind us of the time. Your situation is more acute and heartbreaking than most, but then again your strength and will is more than most. My thoughts are; to do what you are doing, living your life, setting your personal milestones and goals, sucking up the love and energy from Tony, Josie and Toby and letting that run through your veins. Your babes are what you and we are here for, and they are the ones that live on through us. Our genes, characters, images of ourselves in their own unique way. Give them all the love and time and learning that mummy can give them, be it for shorter or for hopefully well into the stage when they are able to support you. Live life like Shin, as Shin and as the fabulous mummy and wife that you are, that is what i would do and I am trying to do with my little one, it is all fleeting, some people live five lives in one short life and others hardly live at all, no matter how old they become.
take care and hopefully see you soon,
Paul x

Daniel Nothmann said...

How would I handle this? Have you seen "Young Frankenstein" with Gene Wilder? After his failed attempt to resurrect the "creature" he is forced to acknowledge his failure and he resolves to do so, "with quiet, dignity and grace". Then, after a solemn moment of quiet repose, he then starts pounding on the creature's chest, screaming, ranting and raving. At this point, for comedic effect, Marty Feldman looks at the camera, raises an eyebrow and says, "Quiet, dignity and grace".

If you haven't seen it, you must. But to answer your question, as to how I would react in your position..."Quiet, dignity and grace". I only regret the absence of a Marty Feldman to make my freaking out comical.

David Nothmann said...

Shin - Checking in from St. Louis and letting you know that your words reach far and wide. It's great that you are running and feeling better for it. I'm training for my first marathon and will keep your words and goals in my thoughts as I train and eventually run on December 1 in Memphis, TN.

On a separate note, I was thinking about a book that I read about 4-5 years ago called "HER-2", which provided me (as a relative ignorant in information about cancer) a good overview. If you have friends who can't keep up with all of the latest and greatest but want to have a fairly concise read, this might be one you recommend (albeit via my suggestion).

Her-2: The Making of Herceptin, a Revolutionary Treatment for Breast Cancer by Robert Bazell

Faraway hugs and best wishes,


Mel said...

Hi Shin. As you know I'm getting the results from my 2 year check up tomorrow. I have been thinking the very same thing that you are asking, as I'm trying to prepare myself for potential bad news. I said to my husband yesterday "If my cancer has come back, then I'm getting a cleaner to do the house". He thought this a bid odd, but I explained that if I have limited time to live, there's no way I'm wasting it doing the bloody cleaning! I have come to the conclusion hat I am not going to prepare to die. I am going to live each day as it comes, appreciate the good ones, and try to get through the bad ones. Take the chemo as a part of the routine of daily life, and buy myself a really nice horse (well - you have to spoil yourself sometimes don't you!). Of course, I say this from the perspective of someone who is not yet in your position, and as we all know, things look very different when you are actually in that position. So I'll answer your blog again tomorrow afternoon when I may or may not know the answer. All my love. Mel xxx

Anonymous said...

You guys are so amazing!! Here I am sneaking out to have a cigarette, a potential killer, which I know my husband hates. I know so many people that are dying from cancer, and here I am still puffing away! ( a little)

I ran 8.5 k the other day and I was so proud of myself, then I saw that Shin, who is supposesd to have lung cancer (I don;'t believe it myself - not trying to be funny, but you look so amazing, Shin, and how could you run so far) - she ran 12 k after chemo!! That's so amazing!! Shin, how do you do it? I'm trying to emulate you in a lot of ways, I am pretty tough like you, but....and if you'll excuse me the odd cigarette (which I know Shin never has). Wow, you're amazing, girl!! I have no doubt you'll do the marathon, plus, plus.

Mel said...

Well it's not back yet, which is great news, but of course it will be hanging over my head now for the rest of my life. When I was "preparing" myself for bad news this last week, as well as getting a cleaner and an expensive horse, I had decided I wanted to do some charity work for the SPCA and also for a charity that helps old or sick people do all their errands, should my cancer come back. I had decided to really try and enjoy each day and give myself lots of little treats. Now that it hasn't come back, I don't feel like I deserve all the little treats, or the cleaner, or the expensive horse. I feel that I need to start working hard again for the future, saving money and being frugal. I also don't feel I have time for the charity work as I have so many other things to do. On the face of it - which approach looks better to you? Of course, the life with cancer involves chemo and lots of stress, but my god, I was really planning to live in the moment and try to enjoy every day. Now I need to look to the future and not get carried away by enjoying myself too much. Please don't think II'm ungrateful that I am clear from cancer at the moment - I am honestly so grateful for that - but it is amazing the difference in mindset when you think you may have limited time. The stupid thing is that we all have limited time, but for some reason are unable to live in the moment and enjoy every single day for what it is. Of course, planning for the future is essential for a secure financial future for our kids, but I think if we all lived in the moment a little more, we could all be a hell of a lot happier. I will do that charity work and I will buy that expensive horse - but maybe the cleaner can wait for now.

Angela said...

Give up the diet, come and visit us in Switzerland and eat copious amounts of cheese with us...

Anonymous said...

Your cancer has put a lot of life into perspective, mine included. And although my life doesn't have your health issues, it has another kind of cancer that just doesn't seem to go away. That of infidelity in the marriage. Somehow somewhere I married a man who just can't get it on with me, and although we've gone to hell and back, there's something in him that still wants a sexual rapport with others and not his wife. Somehow, somewhere, this time that I found out, I'm not as upset as other times. A was right, its about how I want to live life. And through your blogs, your honesty, your will and mindset, you've managed to inspire as a person. I'm not crying, angry or melting down. I'm not celebrating either but there is a problem and I"m honest about it. You many read about how you inspire others who have cancer who've replied to your blog, but you also inspire those of us who have other problems. Your relationship with Tony, how he actually gets angry about your cancer, how he cares and loves you. How great your kids are. You have a lot. So as Mel was saying in her blog, we all should take a page out of your book in learning to live a bit more for the moment. Enjoy what you have. I'll enjoy what I have too. Time will tell what I need to do, its not about us, its about me.

Deb said...

Shin, we all know you have to live life to the fullest, that's just you.
I say the letter writing can wait, there's multiple people out there who will be happy to tell Josie and Toby stories about Mummy and all the things she hopes they will get out of life. I make a promise to you to have the kids come holiday with us for a week every year (if Tony approves) so that I can teach the values that I know you find so important.
Start as many projects as you desire, you may see them through, you may not but know that I'll endevour to complete any that are left unfinished.
Take comfort in knowing that there's an army of little helpers that will be there when you need them and to hell with the chores.
We love you for who you are so don't go getting all boring on us now.

Tsui said...

Hi Shin,

There is so much living to do and living to the max is what you're good at and are inspiring all of us with!!! We have absolutely full control over how we live or want to live, cancer notwithstanding, but almost none or little control over how we die or want to die...so let's do what we know we're good at, ya?

Leave the morbid, depressing & pessimistic stuff till the very end...People like us do have the privilege of knowing when the end draws near with all the treatment and care we're getting for this "chronic disease" nowadays. Putting it off, i.e. all the preparing to die to-do list, means you have all the time to enjoy your loved ones, allow them to take up the best part of your energy (after fighting the cancer) and just giving whole-heartedly to the projects you're embarking upon. This means you're going to be living to the hilt while you can, defying every speculation and statistic that absolutely nobody has the final authority on, except God who is sovereign over this matter.

My Dad was to have passed away in 1993 as he was given only 5 years max to live after his quadruple bypass in 1988. He literally stopped living and started preparing for his death in Jan 1993 with individual letters to his wife and 5 children and 5 grandchildren. He is still around almost 20 years since his surgery and has traveled round the world, witnessed the arrival of his great-grandson and God willing, will celebrate the 60th wedding anniversary with my Mum next year.

Shin, I know the stuff that people like us are made of ...and I know God blessed us with these special gifts for a special purpose and we all will know how to live out those purposes if we stay true to ourselves. I guess I will do the living until they give me 3 months left before I start paying attention to all those things on my To-Do-Before -I-Die list.

I hope you do not take offense to my sharing so honestly with you. These are thoughts which I've entertained/rehearsed many times over since I was struck with breast cancer 3 years ago and after having lost numerous relatives, friends and colleagues to Cancer since I was 19. This is a response to your blog but not sure if I'll sound totally unfeeling to your blog community if I posted it....

Prayerfully yours and cheering you on,