by William Ramshaw
As only five percent of people diagnosed with pancreatic cancer see five years, I remain puzzled as to why I survived. Don’t get me wrong; I am joyous about it and all that. But with my survival comes a responsibility to do something with this gift of days I have been given.
For me, it has taken some time – well a lot of time – to get beyond the soaking fear we all go through courtesy of our diagnosis and treatments. Even today, every medical appointment is blanketed in a deep fear something is coming undone.
So, what am I doing with my extra days?
I live in the present. On the surface, this sounds easy enough. But being a guy and, to put it bluntly, a Type-A over-the-top achiever, this is difficult for me. Every day I remind myself, “Be present.” It’s so easy for me to race ahead to the next mountain to be climbed that I am not present in the present.
I let worry, worry about itself. There is nothing I can do to change the course of my pancreatic cancer. I once asked my oncologist about the course of it. All she could do was stammer some platitude about how it is impossible to predict. Fortunately, my general doctor was much less platitudinous. He told me directly, “If you’ve completed your bucket list, do it over again.”
I offer hope to those around me through my writing. So many of us remember the fluorescent-lit exam room or dank hospital bed where we got our news. Our hope evaporated into thin air. Depression, along with its hopeless family, visited us. Thoughts of This isn’t fair, I have so much future in front of me, or worse suffocated us. For me, I didn’t think I would be there for any of my three daughters’ big days. (Two are now married. Yes!) Like so many, I knew nothing about cancer or its awful treatments. I have had to learn on my own with little aid. Now, if I can come alongside and be a guide for someone else facing it, count me in.
It’s so easy for me to race ahead to the next mountain to be climbed that I am not present in the present.
I stay physically fit. To ease my stress, especially around my six-month oncology follow-ups, I get to the gym as often as I can. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a gym rat, even though I am sure many research rats paid the ultimate price for me. Put simply, the gym helps me slow down and breathe. It centers me. How can I help others if I am a stressful mess?
Finally, I work to maintain a sense of something beyond myself. For me, my spirituality is essential. Life gets pretty small when we believe the here and now is all there is. I believe there is more. Much more.
Six years – 2,190 days and counting. I am determined to make every day count. What are you doing with your gift of days?
William Ramshaw resides in the expansive Pacific Northwest. He is a six-year survivor of pancreatic cancer. He has written a memoir, Gut Punched! Facing Pancreatic Cancer.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2020.