Uncertainties of Life: Part Four

This is the final post in a series of seven. To read from the beginning click here.

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Part Four: Living in the Reality of the Present

As I indicated in my previous post, I had surgery for prostate cancer in October of 2017. Three months passed and I had the first of the every-three-months blood tests to check the status of my cancer following surgery. The test showed undetectable levels of PSA (prostate specific antigen). We were pleased to get the test results, but the status of my cancer was no different than the day before. We just had the additional bit of information indicating surgery had apparently removed the cancer from my body. Six months, then nine months, then twelve months brought similar test results: undetectable, the word one wants to hear in this situation. Another milestone had been reached. Now I could move on to the every-six-months testing schedule.

I know I’ve written this before, but it bears repeating because it expresses my feelings at each stage since first learning I had cancer: I’m still the same person, wanting to continue doing the same things which are important to me with the same people I love and care about. Nothing feels different on a testing day. The test will either show cancer is present in my body or it won’t; the result of the test will not change who I am. However, the first of the six-month tests in May of 2019 did show different results, as did a follow-up test several weeks later. No longer undetectable, my PSA level had increased, indicating a likely recurrence of my cancer. Even a small increase after surgery is a big deal. Most of the cancer had been surgically removed, but some cancer cells had remained. They were growing again.

Studies indicate treatments at the time of early PSA increases yield more positive results than waiting for the disease to progress. So it was time to have more tests, to consider options, to make decisions, and to take what we determined to be the best actions available. No certainties, no guarantees, no sure idea of what might lie ahead. But then that’s true of every aspect of our lives. We think about what we want to do in our lives, determine the things we would like to have happen, and plan the actions we believe most likely to produce those outcomes. And then we step out into the unknown and do it all again with whatever we find there.

In mid-July I was scheduled to have a special PET scan, a relatively new imaging procedure using radioactive tracers intended to show the location of the cancer cells. My cancer was quite possibly at the site where my prostate had been prior to my surgery—if it had not spread to other areas. That scan and a rescheduled one the following week were both canceled after Carole and I had begun our hour-long drive to Hickory, the closest location where the test is available. The nuclear pharmacy supplying the radioactive tracer for the scan wasn’t able to deliver the required material from its locations in Columbia or Winston-Salem in time for my appointment. We were frustrated by the delays, but the PET scan was finally done on July 30 of 2019.

A week later I was due to have another PSA test and to receive the results from my PET scan. I expected my PSA test would show another increase; the rate of change would indicate the aggressiveness of my recurrent cancer. I anticipated the PET scan results would show whether the cancer cells had moved into other parts of my body. I was eager for the clarification the tests would provide to the uncertainties of the past few months. Not that anything about my cancer would be any different than it was before the tests, but I was anxious to know its current status. I wanted to learn about the next steps to be taken and the timeline ahead so we could get on with other activities in our lives.

My appointment was apparently the last one of the day. My blood was drawn for another PSA test, but because of some miscommunication in the office, the lab machines had already been shut down for the day; my test could not be run until the next day. To add to my frustration, the out-of-town imaging center where my PET scan was done had sent my doctor someone else’s scan report. Again, more waiting. Neither delay would really make any difference. The PET scan results had already been evaluated and the PSA level was already in the tube containing my blood. But the information contained therein had not yet reached my doctor or me. Another period of uncertainty.

So Carole and I went to the car, talked briefly about what had just taken place in the doctor’s office, and took what seemed the best next step—we headed off to a favorite Asian restaurant for dinner. At the end of the meal we got the customary fortune cookies. Given the uncertainties of the day, we were curious to see what our fortunes would say. Carole read her fortune which was one of those suitable for anyone in any life situation. I looked at mine and said, “Mine says: Your fortune today has been delayed or canceled. Please try again some other day.”

No, of course the fortune cookie didn’t contain those words, but it would have been appropriate. Laughing to each other, we drove to Blowing Rock for two hours of the twice-monthly music jam performance (bluegrass, folk, country, gospel, whatever someone wants to sing) we’ve been attending fairly regularly for the past several years. The jam features amazingly talented musicians, both regulars and anyone else who wants to perform, including a young neighbor who started playing instruments at age three and is now incredible on any instrument with strings. The night’s performance was especially lively and entertaining. Our day had certainly not been what we expected, but what a great ending.

The frustrations of the delays, cancellations, and miscommunications seem to all be behind us for the moment. My blood test did show the expected increase in PSA. The PET scan showed my cancer had not spread beyond the original site in my pelvis. We have met with the radiation oncologist and have begun procedures leading to an eight-week-long course of radiation treatment to start shortly. I have already begun hormone therapy intended to stop the growth of my cancer cells. I finally have a sense of the treatment timeline before me.

We know there are still uncertainties ahead in our new adventure. No doubt we will encounter the unexpected many times. It has seemed strange all along the way that something having such a profound effect on my life has had no obvious physical symptoms or effects so far; we know that is subject to change. But I expect to continue living my life pretty much as I have been doing. Ignoring or failing to acknowledge the reality of my cancer will not lessen the undeniability of its presence. But worry won’t help, wishing it away won’t help, calling on the universe to change the realities of the way things work won’t help.

As I wrote more than two years ago when the biopsy first confirmed the presence of my cancer, I don’t really feel much different since cancer has become a part of my life. Many things are part of my life, no one of which defines who I am. All the experiences and actions of my life, the people I have known and loved, the things I have learned and thought and believed, and everything else which has affected my life and influenced the person I have become, those are the things which define me. I have cancer, I have been treated for cancer, and I am living, even though I am still living with cancer. However, I definitely do not think of myself as a ‘cancer survivor,’ the term so frequently attached to people in my situation. Cancer and all the things which go along with it—physical effects minor and major, multiple medical appointments and treatments, concerns of family and friends, uncertainties of all sorts—have now taken a place in my life and sometimes in my daily activities, but they are by no means the predominant part of my life or the most important to me. Very soon cancer will demand even more attention, more time, and more energy. I hope all the most important parts of my life can continue pretty much as they did before I knew I had cancer. I’ll do the best I can to make it so.

Life is good—every moment of it, with cancer or without. Each precious moment is ours to appreciate and enjoy and savor with the greatest mindfulness possible. The cool mountain air flows in through our open windows. The colorful blooms of the flowers are everywhere within my field of vision. The birds are calling and singing in the trees and bringing food to their young ones. The young mother raccoon comes to our deck each afternoon for a bit of food and to peek in our door; now she brings her adorable kits to continue a tradition going back many raccoon generations here at our homeplace. The love of my life sits nearby, sharing the wonder of this place with me every day. Yes, life is indeed very, very good. I couldn’t ask for anything better than what I have.

16 Replies to “Uncertainties of Life: Part Four”

  1. Ron, I am sorry you are having to deal with all this. When I started reading your seven-part series of blog posts, I anticipated it would contain reflections about everyday life events, like many people our age compile in order to pass something on to our children and grandchildren. (And I was impressed that you were creating well-written blog entries when I only saved a bunch of stuff to flashdrives.) What I did not anticipate is what you have revealed in the sixth and seventh posts of the series. I will be thinking about you and Carole this fall as you undergo radiation treatments. And I want to thank you for sharing your life reflections, including those about this aspect of your life journey, with your readers.

    • I appreciate your thoughts, Leslie, and your support for Carole and me during this time. I have been sharing my reflections about ‘everyday life events’ as you expected, it just happens those events now include dealing with cancer. You never know what might turn up when you start reading one of my blog posts. I’m glad I’ve been having the opportunity to share some of my life experiences through my writing. By the way, you are my number one commenter since I started the blog. Thank you very much.

    • Well said my friend. That curse called cancer is all around us at our ages. Please know you and all cancer patients are in my prayers as is my wife. Thank you for sharing your life my ole friend.

      • Thanks for your comment, Al, and for thinking of us as we are dealing with my cancer. Yes, cancer is all around us, and unfortunately not only in people in our age group. I appreciate that you and other old friends from North Charleston are reading the thoughts I am sharing about my life. Thanks again.

  2. Thank you for sharing your observations and insights. It’s interesting how as a child you see the adults in your life in a certain role and then as you grow, if you’re fortunate, you get to recognize them as people with their own hopes, dreams, disappointments, goals. I appreciate your willingness to share. Thinking of you & Carole as you continue on this journey. 💗

    • I was happy to see your comment, Lisa, and to know that you have been reading the things I’m sharing in my blog. One of my primary goals in starting to write in the blog was to let my family members know more about my life experiences. As you wrote, we all have our own hopes, dreams, disappointments, and goals, but often those people closest to us don’t know those details of our lives. I surely wish I knew more about those aspects of the lives of our ancestors who have gone before us. Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your comments.

  3. I have experienced some of this — the initial diagnosis, treatment, good PSA results. I am a year and a half after hormone therapy and both rafioactive seeds and IMRT. And I, too, do not like using the term “cancer survivor.”

    I’ve got you on my prayer list, Friend.

    • Thanks, Rick, for your comment and for keeping us in your thoughts. We know that you have been through this experience yourself and know the many uncertainties it brings. Even when everything goes well, it’s still a lot to deal with. We will also have you and Debbie (and all the dogs of course) in our thoughts, hoping for your continued positive results.

  4. You and Carole are so wise and I continue to learn so much from you both. I’m glad I was finally able to sit down and read some of your blog. I love reading it. I am wishing you well and thinking of you. I love you.
    -Rachel

    • I’m so happy that you have been reading and enjoying my blog posts, Rachel. As I wrote in an earlier reply, letting family members know more about my life experiences was one of my main reasons for writing. We appreciate your kind comment about our wisdom; since we’ve been telling you we are wise during your entire life, it’s good to know you got the message. Seriously, we are honored if we have helped you along the way. Thanks for thinking of us as we continue dealing with this new experience. We love you, too.

  5. Thanks, Ron, for sharing your thoughts on what’s going on in your life. Even though it’s not easy to read about all that you’re dealing with, I really appreciate your wise, honest reflections. Thinking often of you & Carole. 💕 Meredith

    • Meredith, thanks so much for reading my blog posts. It’s always satisfying to hear from family and friends who indicate they appreciate what I have written. We also thank you for your thoughts, especially during this time in our lives.

  6. Ron,
    I have finally finished all 7 segments of your post. I appreciate your outlook on the totality of our journey called life. You have given me a new perspective to consider as my own journey continues. Although not facing any medical situations presently, I am certainly facing the unknowns of life. Thanks for sharing yours – you have much to be proud of and much to look forward to encountering. It is wonderful that you have Carole by your side. It was nice to meet her at the April reunion. Please keep us posted on your continuing journey.

    • Eddie,
      Thank you so much for reading all of my posts and for sharing your thoughts and your comment.We all face the uncertainties of life daily and must each find our own way of dealing with them. I certainly wish you well in your consideration of this wonderful life we have and your thoughtful approach toward living it as meaningfully as possible.
      I totally agree with your observation that it is wonderful to have Carole with me each day and especially during this time.The love and support of others is one of the greatest treasures of life.
      I will be staying in touch.

  7. Ron, Ive always known that you were someone special though way back then, your specialness in my mind was because you were so handsome, talented, and smart. You’re still special and give Jim and me a rare glimpse into the wholeness of your life. Thank you for sharing, and my thoughts will continue to be with you and Carole often as you meet the next challenges and blessings of life. So glad we are friends.

    • Yet again, Jan, thanks for reading my posts and for your comments. Sharing more of my thoughts and experiences has always been one of my primary goals in writing in this blog. It has been especially gratifying when family and friends have followed my writing and have responded positively. Carole and I welcome your caring thoughts and look forward to our continuing friendship with you and Jim. It’s good to be connected in this way.

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