My baby brother Blake turned twenty-six yesterday (June 12). And then today I realized that June 12 also marks the completion of yet another six-month chunk of survival since my cancer diagnosis. As of yesterday I have survived eighteen months with a cancer that has a median survival range of 9-12 months. I am four months past the ominous fourteen-month mark, which represented the "significantly improved" average survival resulting from the temozolomide clinical trial. I am a few months away from reaching the point where the statistical survival curve tends to stop its sharp drop and flattens out for a while. And I am officially halfway to reaching the "long-term GBM survivor" milestone of three years.
I could still get struck by lightning today (it's severe weather season in North Texas). I could still die from infection, with my immune system in the tank. Or I could die of shame if I keep evolving toward a Howard Hughes germophobe lifestyle. Traffic, unchewed food, aneurysm during Friday's belt test -- you name it -- I have no guarantees. Nobody does. That's why today is the "precious present". That's why I could joke with the nurses in the chemo infusion room this morning. That's why being with my family is always so fun. (Even when my daughter loaded her diaper, pulled it off, and said, "I'm stinky!" -- and thank goodness Daddy was able to take care of it. ) That's why this evening's karate class was exhilirating despite an intense workout. ("Just be grateful that you can do this stuff...and thank goodness for dietary supplements and Purell hand sanitizer, because the place looks nice but smells like feet.")
And just because I've managed to hang on this long doesn't mean that I get to shed the sense of urgency to get things done. I still have lots of work to do. I still have things to put in order. Things to teach my kids. I still wake up early with a to-do list racing through what's left of my head. No sense in procrastinating the things that should be done now, because none of us knows what's around the corner for us -- good or bad.
Of course, maybe the to-do list is helping to keep me alive. My brother Jim told me about a man who outlived his prognosis because he was in the middle of a divorce and didn't want to die until it was finalized (if they were still married when he died, she would get everything). I've heard of many noble reasons to live ("my daughter is getting married next year, and I want to be there," "I'm staying alive to see my son graduate from college," etc.), so it was kind of funny to hear of a case where someone's motivation was spite. My primary motivation is to be with my family--because I like them so much. I want to raise the children who were given to me to raise. I'd also like to serve a church mission with my husband after the kids are grown. And I want to write more books. And, okay, I'd like to earn my black belt, too, and sing Messiah again. And grow really old.
But to be completely honest...when mortality rears its head at me from time to time, those motivators cross my mind only briefly. I will still go on, long afer my body wastes away. Somehow I know that my family will be okay. (Plus I would haunt them anyway, to make sure they were!) And someday we will be reunited and enjoy the blessings of being sealed together for time and eternity. My talents also get to come with me, hopefully to be put to good use. (Maybe I'll get a chance to sing under Handel's direction.)
My bedroom closet, my office, and other household chaos are what actually rise up as motivators, because they are scarier than death itself. The very idea of languishing on my death bed, surrounded by relatives and friends who are tripping over piles of junk to see me, is beyond horrifying. Leaving my poor husband to sort through all this stuff would be awful. If spite can keep someone alive longer, surely chaos screaming for order will buy me a few more months. It puts me in kind of a funny dilemma, though. ("Do I get this all finished and lose a reason to live, or do I keep things a mess and stress out about leaving it that way?")
Of course, I can't ignore the overwhelming number of prayers that have been -- and continue to be -- offered on my behalf. I'm sure those have more "staying power" than worrying about a messy closet. The tremendous faith exercised by so many, and the good will and pleasure of the Lord, have put these other factors (medical technology, favorable conditions, motivation, and a craving for antioxidants) together and blessed them for my benefit. And they will continue to do so for as long as is needful--so keep them coming! Let's try for eighteen years, instead of months!