Time to Live
by Melinda Taranto-Garnis, LICSW
I met a man named Michael recently. His oncologist had asked me to give him a call. Michael had just been diagnosed with smoldering (or asymptomatic) multiple myeloma. When I called him, I could hear him moving around and closing a door before he launched into a list of concerns. Michael felt this diagnosis was a wake-up call, and he wanted to take full advantage of it. I was stunned by his openness about his feelings and his fears. Michael, like many others diagnosed with cancer, was learning that life can change on us in a moment. I offered to meet with him, and he accepted the offer and came to my office.
Michael had just turned 50 years old and was married with three children. When Michael was given the news about this disease, he was told that there was no cure and no treatment he could receive at present. For the time being, there was nothing to do but wait. He was wild with anxiety. He worried about his children. Would he live to see them grow up? Would they remember him? Should he start making videos for each of them? Should he make them a daddy bear at Build-a-Bear Workshop? Should he complete the planned remodeling of his home, or should he save the money for college funds down the road?
Michael decided he would stay focused on today, and he would start doing what really mattered to him – spending time with the people he loved.
He had many questions and many sleepless nights. He talked with his wife and his priest but felt he needed more information before he started sharing the news with family and friends.
Slowly, as he learned more about this disease and recovered from the initial shock, Michael decided he would take life in five-year increments. He wouldn’t worry now about what might happen years down the road. He would stay focused on today, and he would start doing what really mattered to him – spending time with the people he loved. That meant taking that trip to Disney World with the kids, spending a week in Colorado with his brother, and taking his wife on a couple of romantic getaways.
Sure, he was concerned about the college fund, but he was more focused on his relationships. That’s where he wanted to be intentional. That’s how Michael decided he would fight this disease, by making memories with the people he loved. He’d also exercise to lose some weight and do everything he could do to stay healthy. In a situation that had seemed totally out of control, Michael was now taking control of what he could. He was taking control of his response to this bit of chaos thrown into his life.
Michael ended our talk with a statement that honors the human spirit. He said, “It’s time to live!” In the face of this diagnosis, Michael was focused on life. In the face of all his fears of dying, Michael’s focus was on living and making memories.
When diagnosed with cancer, it’s easy to forget that we do have choices. Even in bad times, we still have choices – choices about how we will cope, what we will set as the priorities in our life, and where we will focus our energies. Michael’s example urges us to choose life over fear, and hope over despair. He urges us to remember that for today, it’s time to live.
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Melinda Taranto-Garnis is an oncology social worker at the Reno Center for Medical Oncology at Winchester Hospital in Winchester, MA.
This article was originally published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2012.