I turned 60 this month. My father died at age 56 from kidney cancer. I always said I wanted to make it through my 50’s. I have. Barely. 59 was a very rugged year. That same kidney cancer came and visited me. But here I am at 60. My mother is still going strong at 82. I have a grandfather that lived to 95 and a grandmother that lived to 99. The genes for old age are also in my family. But whatever way you cut it, the reality is I am in the last third of my life.
Up until the last year, I had been one of the lucky ones. Sure, I had a few medical scares when the test results came back, and you thought, oh no, what is that? But more testing, and then discovering it was nothing. I was fine. No broken bones. No chronic diseases other than having to take a daily pill for my thyroid. I rarely took an ibuprofen or an antacid. The worst I dealt with was a once or twice a year bad cold that sometimes turned into a sinus infection and some mild seasonal allergies. I exercise, eat lots of fruits and vegetables and don’t smoke. All a recipe for a long life to be sure. I read all those articles about aging well, and I have been doing those things for the past 10 years! My expectation was to live to 95, active, strong and healthy.
Yesterday I went to the doctor. It was my 5th doctor visit since the beginning of January. Sigh. My ENT doctor basically said I have to learn to live with the tinnitus that I hear in my head 24/7. My thyroid medicine is still off and so one more adjustment and probably that is what is causing the heart palpitations (for which I underwent a stressecho test and am wearing a heart monitor…but luckily the heart seems to be just fine) and then yesterday, my kidney function was down, the lowest it has been post-surgery, after it had improved 6 weeks ago. And my blood pressure, well, still erratic. Everybody keeps telling me you only need one kidney to live, but that one kidney has to work well for that to be true!
So here is the thing: everything about this is changing my image of myself as strong and healthy, and gets me wondering what kind of old age am I going to have. I always knew I did not have forever. But turning 60 and dealing with these health challenges heightens that sense of knowing my future is limited. And what I am most struggling with is that I do not want to sign up for a life of medical management. But all that is out of my control. I cannot will my kidney to perk up. There are things I can do to avoid damaging my kidney. But there is not much I can do to improve its functioning. That will or will not happen on its own. My doctor says if it stays stable as this level of moderately diminished functioning, I can live fine. So I wait for 6 weeks and the next round of blood tests to see which way it will go.
That is my life these days. Living in 6 week intervals to the next blood draw. And from 6 month scans to the next 6 months scans to see if the cancer has returned. That makes mortality a whole lot more present when every 6 weeks and 6 months you are looking for signs of it! So my daily practice is seeking to stay in the land of the living. I know this sounds dramatic, but it works for me: I will say to myself, well, you are not dying today, so how do you want to live? I can spend all my time worrying about the what if’s, or I can focus on the what is true right now. Right now, I am here. Right now, I have the strength and capacity to do everything I want to do. So do it now. I cannot live fully when I am always waiting for that other shoe to drop or for everything to somehow be resolved before I get on with life, which is where I have been.
So I am flipping my mindset. I am letting go thinking about forever. Instead of seeing that 6 week and 6 month interval as a time of anxiety waiting for what life might hold, I am embracing the gift of living in these shorter time frames. I am teaching myself not to think about the tests ahead, but rather the life I want to live in these 6 weeks, and how can I best live it fully, so that whatever comes in the next 6 weeks or 6 months or 6 years, I have no regrets. For a planner who wants to have everything in her life figured out, this is a new adventure. But that is one of my invitations for this year: to explore new paths! So here we go.
Cindy, what are you doing with the next 6 weeks of your one wild and precious life? I am going to Hawaii! It is one of the bucket list places I want to visit and thanks to the generosity of my brother and sister-in-law, I get to go next week. And once there I have every intention of leaving behind doctors and tests until the next 6 week blood draw, and celebrating that I made it to 60 and here’s hoping for thirty more! But whatever life brings, I will remind myself as a I bask in the warm weather and sunshine, I am still alive today, so stay in the land of the living.