Friday, February 15, 2008

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0812 - Not available

If someone were to ask me to describe a definitive moment in my life story, the first thing to spring to mind is the day when the gastroenterologist confirmed that I had cancer. Even though I thought I was prepared to hear the diagnosis and considered it a probability, to hear the words delivered so unequivocally and with such consolation in the voice of the doctor was devastating.

The next few days were the worst, as not only I, but my entire family, had to come to terms with what was clearly a life-threatening illness. But as I turned my attention to confirmatory tests and then a treatment protocol, followed by a prolonged period of serious medical interventions, I learned to deal with the implications. Part of dealing with the diagnosis was throwing myself quite literally into research and discovery, trying to find a measure of equilibrium in a time of upset and turmoil, not knowing whether any of the medical procedures would make a big enough difference to give me a significant chance at recovery.

Even after the radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy, the long, slow road to recovery was without guarantees. I came to discover that other aspects of my life - my profession, my career prospects, my opportunities - were seriously curtailed, despite the sympathy of those around me. Just as I began to entertain possibilities of "getting back in the game", I'd find reality pulling me back into the whirlpool of uncertainty and limitation.

But if you have followed me on my description of "my unwanted journey", you will have noticed a sure, albeit gradual, emergence of optimism. That has been accompanied by a corresponding reluctance to describe my life in terms of that momentous diagnosis of cancer.

There is nothing strange or curious in any of this. It's just the way it is.

But I have to pause occasionally as I regain my footing.

I found myself saying "No, I'm not available" this week to a couple of requests for volunteering my time for very good causes. I was asked to spend time helping with events in the region specifically about cancer education. But, despite the fact that I believe in the importance and value of such events, despite my interest in participating and providing support to those whose lives have been interrupted by diagnoses similar to my own, I have to say "I'm not available."

This is hard for me. But I think it's part of recovery. And despite it being hard, having the chance to say no is also exhilarating and liberating. There are other responsibilities and opportunities right now that are more important for me and my family.

I will never turn my back on my struggle with cancer. I will make myself available, on an individual basis, to those who are struggling with a diagnosis of cancer or treatment. But by saying "No" right now, I am also saying "Yes" to life beyond diagnosis and treatment.

My hope is that this makes me not only a lucky man, but a better man.

No comments: