Living in the Present: Cancer Demands It


Cancer means all kind of losses and demands that we live in the present.

This was one of those weeks when every conversation I had seemed to be about cancer.

The husband of a good friend is a walking miracle, having survived metastatic melanoma because of a new drug. My friend and I were having lunch and when we talked about his situation she said he didn’t even know how lucky he was to be diagnosed when there was the first new drug to treat melanoma. It played havoc with his intestines, creating holes that required an ostomy for a few months. But he is well and getting ready to resume his life.

In another situation, I learned that a friend from church lost her husband to lymphoma. He had been through two years of treatment but couldn’t beat it. They had only been married a year.

Another friend just lost her best friend of 32 years, a woman of 44 who had been like her sister.

The losses of cancer are significant — body parts, security, job, friends, perhaps a partner. Mostly the cancer diagnosis brings with it a loss of the world as we know it. And for each of my friends it changes their perception of who they are and where the future will take them.

Planning for this or that. Deciding on a family. Making decisions on career because of where it will take us — either alone or with a mate.

With cancer comes, “Now what?”

How do you save for a future you don’t know will ever happen?

How do you shift focus now that the family you had planned will never be?

How do you begin thinking in months instead of years —not know if you have years?

For each of my friends who experienced cancer comes an awareness about time. Some made concrete decisions based on “don’t wait.” They bought video cameras they couldn’t afford to make memories for children too young to remember them. They took the kids to Disneyland now instead of next year. They decided not to spend $5,000 on dental work until they had more of a sense they might be around to enjoy it.

Thinking in the present is a gift that we could all benefit from.

The first time I read Joseph Campbell’s book The Power of Myths, I was struck by one line.

This is it.”

Living in the future is what many of us do. “When this happens, I’ll be happy” kind of logic.

Campbell says think about living now — in this moment.

Cancer demands it.

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