In the summer of 2020, I was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue and lymph nodes. In October I had surgery, removing more than half of my tongue and taking nerves from my arm to reconstruct a new tongue. From November 2020 through January 2021, I endured 33 targeted radiation treatments. I feel very different after this painful reordering of my life. What have I learned?
- Resilience is an attitude. To battle unwellness the mind is a powerful tool. However, at some point the specter of dying concentrates the mind and compels a question: are you strong enough to keep battling, or do you surrender now for the easing to occur, naturally, a fitting end to a life that has lasted more than many predicted a long time ago?
- Quality of life is an individual thing. Each person decides what makes his/her life enjoyable. Having lost the ability to swallow foods that require chewing, having lost the ability to taste, I recognize now that satisfaction from eating is gone. So, what’s left? Interacting with friends, literature, making music, walks in nature, swims in the ocean, crafting a poem that captures exactly what I aim to express. Is it enough? Only time will tell.
- What about love? Saint John of the Cross (The Roman Catholic Church’s “Mystical Doctor”) said: “In the twilight of life, God will not judge us on our earthly possessions and human successes, but on how well we have loved.” It was not given to me to have a long-term loving relationship with a partner. But I have experienced love in my life, both in giving and receiving. The message of the saint is that life demands that in each encounter with another person, whether a random someone in line behind you at the supermarket or a friend suddenly convulsed with the death of a child or a parent or a wife or husband, we must strive to make it a loving encounter characterized by kindness and compassion. There is no room for ego or petty small-minded concerns that may arise from anger or envy.
I would not wish what I have had to endure on anyone. It has been horrible in so many ways, not the least the pain from the radiation treatments and the subsequent lymphedema which continues to expand without solution. I relied on a feeding tube from December 2020 through June 2021. But I am still here. I don’t know for how long or how many chapters remain for me. But I appreciate all of the kind words and loving attention I have received from my many loving and loyal friends as I take another breath, sleep another night, and hope to wake up again to a new day tomorrow. We live in the NOW because tomorrow is promised to no one. Make the most of your today.