Four months ago, on February 27, doctors removed a large tumor from my colon, along with a fair chunk of the surrounding abdominal tissue. The tumor had broken out, but they didn’t know how far the cancer had spread. Last Friday, June 27, four months to the day afterward—a different set of doctors took out two smaller tumors, one on each lung. The doctors also took out two even smaller growths that were too small to show up on films. But these other growths turn out to have been benign. So far as anyone now knows, my lungs are cancer-free.
It’s possible the news will turn out to be less positive. Once it breaks free of the organ where it finds its first home, cancer is like the proverbial bad penny: it tends to keep popping up. Eventually, metastasized cancers like mine usually kill their patients. Eventually, but not always—and not always soon.
That’s why cancer patients think differently about time than most other people.
I remember a time when I just assumed I’d be around for my kids’ college graduations, marriages, the birth of grandchildren. In my past life, I often lived in the past and in the future—regretting regrets and being anxious about times yet to come. I’m more present-minded now; I live not in months, years, or even days—but in moments. You’ve heard the old line—“well, that’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back.” That line is used only by those who don’t feel the loss of an hour or an afternoon acutely. That used to be me, but not any more, because I don’t know how many afternoons I have left. God grant that the number is large, and filled with great moments.
Like this one: I’m lying in a hospital bed, looking out on a lovely view of the Charles River near Back Bay. Seeing that view makes me smile, and makes me feel more alive—as much so as any positive medical event. Medical news comes and goes, and swings from good to bad on a regular basis. But a smile-making view lasts a long, long time.