Cindy Gregorson on faith and life

Posts tagged ‘health’

Giving Up Forever

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.

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I.Have.Cancer

I.Have.Cancer. Those three words keep bouncing around in my head. Yes. They removed the kidney with the tumor. Yes. The tumor was completely contained within the kidney. No evidence of spreading elsewhere in my body. But still, I have cancer. The surgical pathological report confirms it. Renal cell carcinoma, clear cell type, WHO/ISUP grade 2, pT1bNO. All those words and numbers means cancer. Everyone tells me how lucky I am. That we found it at all. That we got it early. That it was contained. That you can live just fine with one kidney. All that is true, and I am so grateful for how quickly we were able to move once the cancer was identified. Two weeks from ultrasound to surgery. But still. I have cancer and my life will never be the same.

So what I am wondering these days is how does one live in a way that cancer does not loom larger than any other part of my life. I may have cancer, but I also have health. I breathe. I walk. I sleep. I read. I laugh. I have life. I have family. I have my mind and spirit. There is much that I have. So what do I let define my life? At the same time, I cannot and do not want to deny that I have cancer. Are there things I can do to help my body be as healthy as possible and for the cancer not to return? I have been reading a lot on that one. Diet is major it seems. Nutrients and herbal supplements. Meditation and exercise. Supportive people in your life. Tending to cancer could be a full time job! My favorite idea I have come across is trusting your intuition. We know what is right for our body and soul. What that means for me right now: sleep. I go to bed when I am tired and wake up when I am ready. I take naps. Walks. There is something about moving your body, and breathing deeply while you do it. It is harder to do it outside in the winter, but in nature is better. I guess I need to buy some snow pants. Eating simply and what tastes good. I am not being rigid yet about the whole no sugar thing, but I am listening to my body and seeking to eat what is says it is hungry for. Fruits and vegetables mostly, and a little of the other stuff. Less and less chemicals. Although club crackers are pretty soothing to the stomach right now! And being patient with myself. I have a lot to process. Three weeks ago, my life did not have the words cancer attached. I was thinking about what retirement might look like and how I wanted to live the last third of my life, but not really pondering mortality.

I had spent the last ten years getting healthy. I lost 60 pounds. I became an active exerciser. I reversed my pre-diabetes. I was doing everything I thought I was supposed to be doing so I could live a long and healthy life. And still I got cancer. I have been a pastor too long and seen too much, not to know bad things happen and there is no rhyme or reason. None of us are exempt. But I am just a bit miffed. I do all the right things, and others eat like there is no tomorrow and never get off the couch, and I am the one with cancer. But I can’t go there. Getting angry, being sorry for myself, feeling like a victim, that is letting cancer take over my life.

What I want more than anything is to learn to trust my body again. That this body that has carried me for the past 59 years, is the same body that will support me into the future. That I don’t obsess over every little, pain or incident wondering if that cancer returning or my body betraying me. And believe me that is easy to do when you have weird things going in your body like tinnitus 24/7 for weeks on end now. But I also need to remember that the person who the week before her diagnosis was on a treadmill and running is the same person I am today. And she is still strong and capable and yes, healthy.

The morning of my surgery, I named the tumor. I called her Bessie. My dad always called our car, Bessie. C’mon Bessie he would say when the car was struggling to climb a hill. I thanked my kidney that worked long and hard for 59 years to keep me healthy. I said I was sorry it was going to have to be sacrificed but Bessie was keeping it from doing what it needed to do. And then I named my remaining kidney. I called it Angel. My mom said I have angels watching over me. It seemed an appropriate name and reminder to me. My Angel kidney needs to do the work for two, and I need to do my best to take care of her so she can do her job. Lots of water. Must drink more water. We are in this together.

I have cancer. And I have life. Both are true. We are in this together.