One the things that helps most in navigating a life-threatening illness is stories from others on the same journey, and Brokaw's offering was terrific in that aspect. While upbeat, it is not sugar-coated.
What I'm finding—which parallels what Brokaw reports—is that coping with cancer is another life experience, a chance to find out powerful things about yourself, even though you didn't sign up for the exploration. You can fight it, lament it, or roll with it.
o Life gets stripped down to essentials. If you have limited time and/or energy, how will you budget what you have? This question suddenly looms large. While it may always have been there in some capacity, now it is front and center.
o Beyond "why me?" there are richer existential veins to mine. Tom, on the advice of a close friend, was able to shift it subtly to "why not me?" which I adore. There is a lot there. First of all, you need to move beyond self-pity, and make peace with your mortality (which is surely coming, no matter how fast we run). One's life is changed by serious illness (you have to make adjustments to diet and concessions to the limitations of a body now more frail), but you can still be you. All you have to do is sort out what that is, and how to pursue it within your new constraints.
I fully intend to be as vital as possible, for as long as possible. While that's not a change of plans, it is now a concrete plan, not a vague ideal.
In writing the book, Tom ultimately made the choice to share his journey publicly. I have made a similar choice, and it helped me to have this peek behind his private curtain. Not because I am suddenly so wise or heroic, but simply because sharing our stories is the oldest coin in human relations, and, ironically, you don't grow richer by hoarding—only by spending.
o I have written previously about how cancer can become a potential bridge to others who feel isolated by health challenges—something that I sense will, on occasion, be an asset for me as a professional facilitator. But there's more.
For example, I'm finding out a lot about my tolerance for pain, and my motivation to be physically functional. It's one thing to give up rock climbing (which I hardly ever did); it's more urgent making sure I can bathe myself and recapture my agility and stamina in the kitchen—while I can accept a wide range of limitations on my choices, I want to be minimally reliant on others (Susan especially) to meet basic needs. Apropos this dance, it was helpful to read what Brokaw wrote about his debilitating back pain and how difficult it was for him to accept limitations on what had been a freewheeling lifestyle.
While I don't aspire to complete independence (does anyone?), I do want a balance of give and take with Susan, where our relationship can settle into a rhythm that is a more partner:partner than nurse:patient. That's my goal.
o Cancer, unexpectedly, gives me a forum to speak about wrestling with difficult choices, about death, about what it means to live a life well. I like having a chance at that bully pulpit. Like Tom, I'll be sharing about a life that has been full of magic moments, yet not without bumps and missteps along the way.