I so wish I had not faced pancreatic cancer in 2013. I had the full meal deal — surgery, chemo and radiation. Weeks in the hospital followed by more weeks in the hospital to correct problems with my Whipple Procedure, a barbaric surgery to cut out my pancreatic tumor. Nonetheless, I am grateful to still be here.
Any cancer diagnosis is scary. A pancreatic cancer one is bloodcurdling. Most know, but some may not, this type of cancer is a coldblooded killer in that only five percent of those diagnosed see five years. Most are lucky to see two.
So, what have I learned in this?
Maintain perspective. My cancer is only a small part of who I am. It is easy for me to see it as a Godzilla-type monster ripping my world apart. When I see my cancer like this, I give it a win it doesn’t deserve.
Don’t yield to the terror. When I allow my cancer to dominate my thoughts it chews me up. Sunny days are blackened by the terror of it. My life goes flat. Joy drains out of me.
Look around. No matter how bleak my situation seems if I look around, I see those who are in a far bloodier battle. During my six-month oncology follow-ups (which by the way always terrify me) I see so many souls just beginning their cancer journeys. Sometimes kids too young to understand what is happening to them. My heart breaks for them. I see other souls nearing the end of their journeys, broken but still human, washed out but still alive. I am devastated. I use this to remind me that no matter how bad my situation may seem, there are others facing far worse.
Stay out there. I have found it too easy to curl up inside myself rather than engage in life. After all, I’m dying, don’t I get a hall pass? But hey, so is everyone else. Just because I can name my “Proverbial Bus” doesn’t mean I am any more likely to get taken out by it than someone who is killed in a sad head-on collision. All our days are numbered. Death plays no favorites.
Stay physically active. Other than cancer, one of the other big killers are strokes often brought on by our pitiful food habits and lack of exercise. Why should I give my cancer any help in taking me out? Although not a gym rat, I get to the gym when I can. I stay active. And I use a fitness tracker to help keep me honest. Even a few steps each day matters.
Look forward not back. Having lost my mother-in-law after a long battle with breast cancer, I know how painful the empty chair at the kitchen table can be.
This is not to mention losing several close friends to a garden variety of other cancers. My heart has ached for each of them and those who loved them. But I try not to allow this to control my thoughts, but rather to motivate me to live the life they wanted so much to live.
I hope for the future. No one is quite sure why but for some people facing their end, telegraphed by a dreaded cancer diagnosis, they are able to keep living for the future. For me it has been to be there for my three daughters’ big days, their weddings. When I think of them walking alone without me, I am flooded with sadness.
There is more after this. I found I can experience my life as “Dot” or what is here and now as all there is. Or I can experience my life as a “Line” meaning my life has a continuum of possibilities. Just because I cannot prove there is more after this, doesn’t mean there is nothing. Many traditions acknowledge this is in some form as do I.
Now six years later, still cancer free, I am still learning.
William Ramshaw resides in the expansive Pacific Northwest. He is a six-year survivor of pancreatic cancer and has written a memoir Gut Punched! Facing Pancreatic Cancer.