Once cancer enters our lives, the aging process takes on a whole new meaning. While it's true that each passing year marks another triumph of survivorship, it's also true that the remnants of our cancer journeys can be felt deep in aging bones.
One often hears survivors of serious illnesses say that they would not let their illnesses define them. While the sentiment expressed can be emotionally uplifting, the reality is that our illnesses do define us in the same way that we are shaped by all of our experiences. The good news is that while our cancer diagnoses are handed to us, we have the ultimate hand in molding our new selves through our thoughts, attitudes and actions.
It would be unrealistic to suggest that one is ever completely free of the shadow of cancer – after all, shadows are the direct result of light. Likewise, it's unwise to ignore the impact that both the history and possible return of cancer has on our life's course. For those of us who have been impacted by such challenges, learning to live somewhere between the cold reality of illness and the warm glow of a life lived in spite of limitations is what's called for. We learn to push on through chronic pains, degenerative symptoms and the battle with side effects that last much longer than actual treatment protocols. Ideally, we learn that living well is a side-effect free antidote to becoming grumpy old men and women.
Taking cancer and aging head-on does not mean we do battle with them, since we understand this only puts us at war with ourselves. Nor do we surrender to a life half lived, feeling cheated by the salt in the wound of a life-altering illness happening during our "golden years." Ironically, as we begin to come to terms with the failings of the physical body, many of us become acutely aware of the energizing spirit which has been ever-present and, in many cases, the very force that pulled us through life's most challenging moments.
Read “On Cancer and Aging, Part 1.”