Three Little Words

(I wrote the following a little more than two years ago, knowing it wasn’t yet time to post it. Now the time has come. It may be a little disjointed since it was more or less stream of consciousness. I thought it better to leave it as it was, only adding an update.)

Three little words. Thirteen letters. Words that will dramatically change your life.

You hope not to hear them. But you have that feeling in your gut. You wait for them.

He has your fate in his hands. Why is he keeping you waiting? Doesn’t he know you’re anxious?

Finally, you hear the light tap on the door before it opens and he walks in.

And there they are. Those three little words. Laid bare.

“You have cancer.”

You’re different now.

Except that you aren’t. The truth was already there. The cancer was already there. You are the same today as you were yesterday. Your fate wasn’t in the doctor’s hands. What he said didn’t change a single fact. It just changed what you know.

Today you know a thing you didn’t know yesterday, or even a moment ago. You suspected it. Maybe you feared it. But you didn’t know it. Yet, it was there.

You have cancer.

You had it yesterday.

You had it last week.

Nothing is different today except that you know it. And you’ll know it tomorrow. And the day after that. And the next day. Forever.

If you hadn’t made that appointment, you wouldn’t know it today, either. But you’d still have it. Nothing can change that truth.

* * * * *

For the few weeks we were waiting for the biopsy and then the results, we made a conscious decision: we weren’t going to worry about it. It either was or wasn’t. Nothing we could do, say, think, or get worked up about would change a thing. We could hope for the best and prepare for the worst, but nothing would change what was. We went on about our daily lives.

And now we know. The question now is what to do about it. Here’s what.

Get informed. Listen to the doc. Take notes; review them. Ask questions. Read the literature. Research.
Get a second opinion or consultation, if we want. (We didn’t. It was pretty straightforward.)
Make a treatment decision.
Tell the family.
Make plans.
Do what it takes: schedule surgery, get radiation, take meds—whatever the regimen is.

But most of all, meanwhile and forever, live life.

You can’t change what is, but you can decide to continue doing what matters. You can make the best of what you have. Cancer may change you. It may not. It may shorten your life or it may not. So may or may not any number of other things. With or without a cancer diagnosis, your decision should be the same: live whatever life you have the best you can. On your own terms.

I’ve heard it said everyone will get cancer if they live long enough. Some people get it sooner, but eventually, if something else doesn’t do you in first, it will be cancer. It is part of life itself. At a certain point, your body starts to turn on you. Metabolism slows. Bones get brittle. Joints creak. Age spots and wrinkles appear. Hair thins. Minds become less elastic, less quick. And maybe your cells get all out of whack. It is all part of the end. The end starts at the beginning.

We won’t forget those three words, those thirteen letters. Certainly not that one, loaded, six letter word. We’ll do what it takes. But we won’t stop living. Tonight we’ll sleep snuggled together (maybe a little closer). Tomorrow we’ll get up, dress, make and eat breakfast, check e-mail, harvest vegetables, mow the grass. We’ll plan our upcoming trip. We’ll laugh.

Cancer is now a part of us. But cancer will not define us. Cancer will not control us.

P.S. The cancer diagnosis was not for my body. It was for his. But it somehow feels the same. At least for me. He agrees, but there’s surely a difference when it’s actually your body. Nonetheless, from the first moment we heard the three word pronouncement, both of us have thought in terms of “we.” The surgery, the treatment, the decisions, the life we lead—they’re ours together. And we aim to make the best of it.

Update: The diagnosis was prostate cancer. For eighteen months after the surgery, there was no evidence any cancer cells remained. Then, just like that, it was back. (If you’re so inclined, you can read Ron’s version of this story and journey here and here.)

The very good news is there is no indication that it has spread beyond the prostate bed, and a combination of hormone and radiation therapy seems like a winning strategy. For now, we’re waiting for the radiation oncologist and his team to complete mapping a therapy plan so radiation treatments can begin.

Off and on, I’ll likely use this blog space to share more thoughts and experiences about how we’re navigating this new territory in our lives. Stay tuned.

13 thoughts on “Three Little Words

  1. Pingback: Everyone Knows Someone – Living on the Diagonal

  2. Carole – This is so beautifully written, as is Ron’s (I’ve read them all twice). I am so touched by it. Most importantly, I am sorry you are going through this…sorry you had to hear those words. Glad to hear it is limited in location and no metastasis. You know we’ve only met once and multiple emails/Facebook but I feel friendship and kinship with you. I love you both. I am sending that love & light to you both. Tell Ron I’m “in solidarity” with him. Our feelings and beliefs about the cancer journey are very similar. Again, as a person coping with this disease, I was VERY touched by your real and beautiful blog on this. Please know that I am with YOU in spirit as you deal with this as a soulmate/caregiver. It’s just as scary if not more for the spouse that is as connected as you two are. Take care of yourself too! Lyn

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    • Hi Lyn, I just read this to Ron and we are both deeply touched by your words. You know where we’re coming from more than almost anyone. Thank you for being so attentive and for your deep friendship and solidarity. I discovered as I was reading aloud to Ron (a completely unrelated story but tinged with sweet sadness) that my emotions are more complicated and are running much closer to the surface than I’d realized, so, yes, I’m making a concerted effort to be good to myself. I know how important that is for both Ron and me.Thank you, dear friend.We love you, too1

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  3. My cousin told me yesterday, it’s her new normal. She does what she can, she lives while she is here. I hope your love lives a very long life feeling wonderful and strong. I am sorry that you two are going through this and I send lots of love.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This journey of life certainly is “interesting” and I’m sorry that you will have more to add to the original story. Your love and support for each other are great gifts during these challenging times. I love you both.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Jan. One of my favorite movie quotes (from Elizabethtown) goes something like, “If it wasn’t this, it would be something else.” There’s always something–we never know what–and our job is to figure out how to roll with it. We love you, too.

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  5. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about getting the diagnosis, and for sharing what has taken place since then. You are right about there being a lot of shared decisions. My cancer was only stage zero, but I chose to have a mastectomy because I didn’t want to have radiation that close to my heart. Then we went to Disney World three weeks and three days after my surgery because we didn’t want to disappoint a 5-year-old!

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