‘Don’t be a patient’

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.



7 thoughts on “‘Don’t be a patient’

  1. zenzalei Tuesday, November 03, 2015 / 8:34 pm MDT

    Funny, but I didn’t get that impression at all. Maybe it’s because you’ve maintained your other blog and drop by my LJ, and and when we drop a line, we also talk about other things. Granted, I’m not there with you every day, but I didn’t pick up any sense of what you describe.

    • PiedType Tuesday, November 03, 2015 / 9:56 pm MDT

      Well, I have to have a little talk with myself every once in a while. But I suppose the blog(s) are my ongoing interest. They just don’t get me out and about like I think I should be doing. I need to work on that when I get a little stronger.

  2. Jim Wheeler Wednesday, November 04, 2015 / 8:51 am MDT

    You offer a good analysis, PT. I’ve been retired for a good spell too and I also notice that I’m happiest when I have a “project” to work on. Some of those:

    Organizing old photos
    Blog posts
    Re-balancing and tracking retirement investments
    Home repairs and winterizing
    Doing our son’s grocery shopping for him
    Planning travel

    We used to visit my sister once a month at her group home nearby, a 70 mile round trip, but she passed away last December. We would take her to lunch, usually for pizza. It would break the routine and the car trip was an occasion for conversation that somehow wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. Mollie and I both miss that. A trip without a purpose is not the same somehow.

    • PiedType Wednesday, November 04, 2015 / 11:43 am MDT

      I’m sure a deficit in strength and energy is killing my motivation for a lot things and am hopeful all that will gradually return to normal. I do get impatient sometimes, waiting to feel really good again, and for now I tend to bypass anything that requires a lot of physical effort or mental focus. It feels like the illness is stealing valuable time from whatever my remaining allocation might be, and it makes me angry and frustrated.

      I envy your having Mollie to share plans and travels. In recent years I’ve become hesitant to strike out on solo road trips, not sure of my stamina, less confident of my ability to handle new situations, etc. Having someone to share the driving and enjoy the trip would make a big difference, I think. Of course, I’d have to overcome my tendency to return to favorite, familiar places and instead head for some of the many interesting places I’ve never seen.

  3. philosophermouseofthehedge Wednesday, November 04, 2015 / 4:09 pm MDT

    That label may be the worst part. People look at you differently. You look at yourself differently. (My husband would rather people not know, so few were told. Which makes some things easier – some not.
    During treatment it seems like the person is very much like a loaf of bread at Subway moving down the line with no control what so ever. Normal feelings of being powerless considering all the whirl of movement swirling around you. One day at a time is a lot right now. Daydreaming allowed – and reading up on stuff nearby you may have overlooked in travels before. Little bits take a lot of effort (which is so discouraging)

    • PiedType Wednesday, November 04, 2015 / 4:20 pm MDT

      Yes, it’s kind of hard to hide the patient thing when you’re wearing caps indoors. And a bare shaved head is a real head-turner. Lucky men; they can get away with that look. Women can’t.

      Love the Subway analogy. Very appropriate. Some days they really pile it on, everything they’ve got. Other days it’s barely a squirt of mayo and a slice of salami. And lately they seem to think toasted is the way to go.

"You don’t have to say everything to say something." ~Beth Moore

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