January 2, 2013

A New Year's Resolution for All of Us: Live 2013 As Though You Have a Progressive Disease (or Two)

When I first started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings 35 years ago, one of the things I had trouble with (in addition to the God talk) was members introducing themselves by saying, "I'm Jane, a grateful recovering alcoholic." I'd think, "What nonsense!"

Within a few months, I was introducing myself the same way. My alcoholism had certainly given me lots of trouble (like being kicked out of Cornell Law School in March of my last year) but it had brought me to the fellowship of AA and a set of principles for living that turned me in a new and positive direction. I am a grateful recovering alcoholic!

I have a similar view now about my prostate cancer and my Parkinson's disease. Of course, these differ from my alcoholism. While, one day at a time, I can be a recovering alcoholic, I'll never, barring some miraculous medical breakthrough, be recovering from my cancer or PD.

Nevertheless, I am grateful for what has accompanied both diseases.
My Prostate Cancer Gratitude
I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the fall of 1994. I had turned 65 in May of that year and planned to retire at the end of December. The diagnosis was a prime factor in my decision to take my defined benefit pension -- a common, hefty corporate benefit rarely available to workers today -- in a lump sum, not the monthly payments most retirees choose.

That decision, and the serendipity of its timing at the start of the dot-com stock market gains, resulted in my having much more money each year than if I had selected the more common monthly payment. So, my prostate cancer enhanced my retirement in that regard.

Several options are available to men diagnosed with prostate cancer. I opted for the radical prostatectomy, surgical removal of the prostate, in early January, 1995. Three months later, PSA tests showed that some cancer cells remained. Fortunately my prostate cancer thus far seems to be the slow-growing variety. Today, 18 years later, I'm still marking time with "watchful waiting" to see if further treatment is needed.

Yes, I had to deal with incontinence and impotence after the operation, but exercises and pills helped greatly. Other than that, the slow growing cancer hasn't affected my life at all. (Saying "other than that" with reference to incontinence and impotence is somewhat like asking Mrs. Lincoln, "Other than that, how did you enjoy the play?")

Having this cancer diagnosis has enriched my retirement years more than just financially. When I was growing up, my family wasn't poor, but money was always in short supply. Without the cancer diagnosis, I know I would have been much more conservative about spending money in my retirement, worrying if I'd have enough money to carry me through, should I live to be 100.

My Parkinson's Disease Gratitude
I viewed my September 2009 Parkinson's diagnosis very differently from the cancer. PD threatened to sharply reduce the quality of my life as the disease progressed. On the other hand, while the slow growth in the prostate cancer continues, my life moves ahead fundamentally unchanged.

I know Parkinson's is a highly idiosyncratic disease whenever I look around the room at my PD support group meetings. Our moderator has had PD for 25 years and is not seriously handicapped at all. Others in the group were diagnosed much more recently and are much further down the disability road.

So far so good with my own Parkinson's. But I see signs of what's ahead, compelling me to get the most out of the relatively good health I currently enjoy.

The primary ingredient to getting the most out of my remaining days, I've come to realize, is family and friends. Fortunately, I've been blessed with both.

The importance of sharing with others is the most universal theme I hear at PD support group meetings.

So, I'm grateful that my progressive diseases have reinforced and underscored this message.

Remember -- we all have a progressive disease. It's called aging.


lee woo said...

Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution long after the excitement of the moment has passed. See the link below for more info.


Leslie Lim said...

This is really interesting and knowledgeable. Thanks for sharing. I really appreciate it a lot. Please do more blogs in the future. Thank you and God bless to the blogger!