Years ago as I was leaving my allergist’s office, newly diagnosed as allergic to most things airborne and clutching several new prescriptions, he cautioned, “Don’t be a patient.” He meant I should guard against letting my diagnosis become the new me and letting it change the way I lived my life.
It was good advice, and after a few weeks or months of stressing about my allergies, I fell back into my old routine of work and family. After all, there’s little you can do to completely isolate yourself from every bit of mold, pollen, dander, and dust that hangs in the air. You just deal with the problems as they arise, and move on.
Recently, however, I’ve come to realize that since the day my cancer was diagnosed last April, I’ve been a cancer patient. Understandably the diagnosis was an immediate, overriding concern with innumerable questions and considerations demanding attention. But even during the periods when treatments and side effects weren’t looming every minute, I’ve let my diagnosis consume my life, my daily schedule, and all my energies.
It was an easy trap to fall into. I was already living with zero responsibilities to anyone or anything else, enjoying every bit of my leisure. Fat and lazy and extremely self-indulgent. Unlike so many cancer patients, especially those several decades younger, I’ve had the luxury of not having to get to work and keep a job, or maintain and care for a family. Or both. Frankly, based on my own experience, I don’t see how those people manage it. Either youth grants them energy I no longer have, or I’m just not as motivated as they are.
I love my life of leisure but at the same time envy their energy and determination to move, to keep living their lives and maintaining their interests and not letting cancer become the focus of everything. Me, I just sit here like a bump on a log, willing servant to whatever schedules and treatments my doctors impose. I’d be better off, I think, if I had at least one pressing outside interest, a purpose or calling that would drive me to think about something other than my next appointment, my next treatment, my next pill. But truth be told, I’ve had no such interest for quite a while, and now seems a very unlikely time to develop one — not while I’m having to drive to the cancer center every day for treatment.
Maybe, when I get past these daily commitments, when I start having days or weeks to myself with no doctor appointments, when I’ve regained some strength and energy, I’ll find that once again my interests extend beyond just getting through the day. I hope so. Because it’s obvious that since April, I’ve been nothing more than a patient. And I’ve really hated that.
Besides, I’m a realist (or try to be), and with cancer as with life, there are no guarantees. There’s always the possibility that there won’t be time, sometime in the future, to start living again as a person and not a patient.