Living la Vida Loco With Metastatic Cancer
BY Christine Garrott
PUBLISHED September 07, 2016
Editor’s Note: This piece was submitted by a contributing writer and does not represent the views of CURE Media Group.
I have to admit that my life as a metavivor seems crazy, even to me. Ever since having received my metastatic breast cancer diagnosis in March of 2014, I seem to be bent on filling my time with as much activity as I absolutely can. Although I have always tended to be that way, spending pretty much every minute of my life "doing stuff,” it now seems more compelling than ever not to have empty spaces in my planner. I chose to give up a high-paying career, knowing that the 24/7 stress was definitely not good for what I'm going through, but now I'm holding down FOUR little part-time jobs...I often joke with friends and my care providers that I simply don't have time for this stupid cancer. Well, OK, maybe I can squeeze in some time between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m. on alternate Thursdays.
One thing I will say, however, is that for the first time in my adult life, I am actually doing things that I find immense joy in, and I deeply regret wasting so much of my life on a career that was never a good fit for me to begin with.
It's truly a shame that it took being diagnosed with a terminal disease to finally figure it out. The biggest challenge for me, these days, is trying to understand the process by which my priorities are changing, and accepting those changes gracefully. Nope, I'm hanging on to some of these things with every fingernail I've got. I have been a Sweet Adeline chorus member for over 16 years, during most of which it has been a huge part of my soul. Suddenly, I'm having difficulty caring about it, and I'm spending a lot of time (too much time, actually) trying to figure out why. One of my caregivers told me that it's part of the natural process that many patients go through that brings changes in focus from internally-based to externally-based priorities. That makes some sense, actually. Singing with SA has always been something I've done more or less solely for me - the ultimate feel-good rush, the sense of personal achievement, etcetera. Nowadays, I'm much more inclined to reach out to others; I do a lot of teaching of various things and mentoring of other breast cancer patients.
So, I'm trying to make peace with all this. I hope I get better at it, because more changes are to come, and I need to prepare myself for that. I believe that I've embraced the paradigm of doing as much as I can while I can. Although my bone metastases are widespread, I am not yet truly debilitated. I know I am enjoying a period of grace, one that I pray will last a long, long time, but I also know that I'm not in control of the overall journey, and I will have to accept each change as it comes with as much dignity as I can muster up. One of the pieces of advice I have gotten over time is that I should spend some time building my legacy. That's a pretty tall order for anyone, but I have felt particularly challenged because I do not have children, which would be the perfect place to start.
I've spent a lot of time thinking about that. What impact can I make, and at what level? What do I want to be remembered for? I am attempting to respond to that in multiple ways: I teach meditative art to help others better cope with stress, and I practice it regularly myself. I mentor other breast cancer patients by sharing my experiences in an effort to ease their way. I teach water aerobics to enable and encourage those who would otherwise find it difficult to exercise due to physical challenges...and the list goes on. None of these things are huge, showy efforts, but I touch lives in a positive way, and that's about the best legacy I can imagine. In keeping myself fully engaged in such a wide array of things, I can avoid spending a lot of time in angst over the rhino in the room. I know it's there, and I also know it's going to take me down someday, but for right now, I'm too busy living La Vida Loco to worry about it.
Sorry, Rhino, you're just going to have to wait.