Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Lucky Ones

Perspective on life is a fascinating subject... there are people who seem to get incredibly upset about the all but unavoidable things in life like flat tires or traffic, who literally cry over spilled milk. I've long said that I take cancer like a poker game and you play the odds. People don't get to decide many of the cards life handles us but being conscious about choices as you get older is something that I just can't accept as destiny. Some of it is wiring, there is probably no way to downplay that some of our fatness or skinniness, our personality, our iq etc are programmed... I don't believe in the mythologies of you can do anything you set your mind to (perhaps because I have a damaged mind) but I do believe that you can choose how to approach it and do it better. And if I have to choose between someone who aims high and fails it's better than someone who aims low and succeeds. Or as my grandpa used to say, it's good to aim for the stars and land on the barn roof. And some of the people with some of the worst cards dealt with  in this poker game of life are some of the best reminders.

One of the groups I help organize and have helped raise money for is the young and strong adult survivor club. It's for people 18-39 who have gotten cancer. Cancer childhood rates have improved for obvious reasons cause kids are the best part part of somehow both the present and the future, older adults ones have survived because well that's where the money is and money does make much of the world go round. For over two decades young adult ones have become static. But psychologically, it's tough because everyone else is looking for college or a spouse and settling into their careers and all of a sudden you're dealing with a ridiculous number of appointments and a range of prognosis. So last weekend when I went to the most recent gathering, I was just amazed and humbled to be standing among the crowd of a phrase where a few different people referred to themselves as, 'the lucky ones."

There were two who were brought by their parents. One has a prognosis of 6 to 12 months from diagnosis and once she had heard I was a psychology major wanted me to psychoanalyze her, whatever that means. And she was fascinating and positive with some quirks about hair and make up that perhaps just from being male I'll never quite understand. But as she talked about how her job was her baby, how she had gone from working heavily to being unable to work and living with her parents, she said something that was very memorable. She is in month 7 of that 6-12 month prognosis and was glad to be one of the lucky ones that gotten that far. Not, hey I have a rare cancer that will cut my life shorter than most people but despite the fact that I have it... I'll outlive a fair share of the few people who have it.

There was a young man whose also got a brain tumor who lived with his parents and has dealt with it for years, whose dad was asking one of the navigators about some things going on. There was a girl with a brain tumor who had to have some things wired/piped (what's the right word here?) so that some of the excess fluid from her brain is being drained into her stomach to decrease some issues. There were people who  had to live with things attached exterior to their bodies for reasons that well I'll not go into too much detail but let's say that's part of why we have these types of groups so that you can share it and have people have sympathy and understanding more than grossed outness. There were those who were bald and proud, those who covered it up, those who worked harder than others at covering up the scars if they were anywhere obvious. But more than once from these survivors, some which won't have that term for much longer realistically speaking, they were glad to be the lucky ones.

There are times when I realized where I'm tempted to whine more about some of the things that have gone badly in my life. (Generally, I'm a positive guy, but when the crossguard recently asked how I was and I gave my pat answer "Oh I'm always good," Kiana corrected me and said "you're usually good not always" and the crossguard with a smile responded, "from the mouth of babes.") But certainly during those times I try to remember and share the attitude of some of the people here. 

Perhaps it's naive idealism or hopeless romanticism of the old quote that “You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.” But I think the simple act of choosing joy makes you one of the lucky ones. I'm converting more and more from hopeless romantic to hopeful romantic and choosing like these folks do to believe that despite unpredictable circumstances, I am one of the lucky ones.


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