The 20-Year-Plan

(cross posted from Coffee and Chemo)
Something has been bothering me for a while now.
A few weeks ago (or maybe it was a few months ago), during one of my meetings with my oncologist to discuss switching to Taxol, I casually asked if this change is going to “interfere with my 20-year-plan.”
My doctor immediately became serious.  “Who gave you that number?” he queried, adding “I did not give you that number.”
“I know,” I responded, reassuringly.
I completely made up that number.  It is a random number, representing my intention to live with this cancer-thing for a long time. 
But then, I got worried.
“Why,” I challenged, joking, “is it too short?”  Then, I added, verbalized my fear, “Or is it too long?” 

But my oncologist would not play that game.

“I do not do numbers,” he declared, quite seriously, “You know that.”

I do.  But the Pandora’s Box was open.  Perhaps I was just living in my own little fantasy world.

So, today, I got up my courage and asked, “Am I deluding myself?”

Now, though this conversation has been plaguing me for months, it was not immediately obvious to my oncologist that I was referring to his comment about my 20-year-plan.  So, I reminded him of our conversation and, a little bolder now, repeated my question.  “Am I deluding myself?”

“It’s a bit of a long shot,” began my oncologist. (ouch)  I imagine my face fell a bit. “I am not telling you something you do not know;” he continued, leaning forward in his chair, eyes locked on mine, “you are familiar with the statistics.  But you also know that I do not make predictions.” (yeah, I know)

He cited a patient of his who has been living with metastatic breast cancer for 23 years. (He did not give me any details, of course)

“It is reasonable,” he continued, a bit softer, “to plan for the future.”

And, though it is unusual for him to give his opinion about what I should do, he added, “I think it is right to live your life that way.”

I wish I could remember exactly what else he said, because he gave me a rare compliment about how I am handling living with cancer exceptionally well.  It was really nice.

Then he asked me if I knew I had 18 months left to live, would I do anything different?

I said I would get things in order.  To which he responded, quite sternly, “you should do that anyway, and it has nothing to do with cancer.” 

Then he continued, “my guess is that if you knew that you had only a year and a half left to live, you would accelerate your lifestyle, not slow it down.”

I conceded that his assessment was accurate.  But still, I persisted. “I talk with my children about the future, even about the long-term future.”

I wanted him to understand that it was important to me not to be deluding myself, and also not to be deluding my family.

He got it. 

“Planning for the future is the best thing you can do for both you and your children.” 

He wanted to make sure that I got it too.

I got it.


9 Responses to The 20-Year-Plan

  1. serendipity hopeful says:

    You just carry on doing your numbers. There are still many things science cannot explain. Work with your body and mind.

  2. Lisa Doornik says:

    Thank you. That was so well written. No one tells me numbers and I don’t think I want to know them. I have a 50 year plan and I’m sticking to it. So should you!

  3. lorri steer says:

    dang girlfriend, THAT was powerful! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Laurie says:

    I have a great big lump in my throat. I identify so strongly with this post. RivkA, this is just beautiful and so powerful. Thank you.

  5. bcjenster says:

    Oh RivkA. I love your 20 year plan and I LOVE your attitude. Twenty years from now when we’re still typing here we’ll be saying, “remember when…”

  6. jennifer says:

    I think that the mind is a very powerful tool that you have learned to use well!!! I think that everyday is a blessing !!! Having a 20 year plan is amazing, I haven’t even thought of that yet!! Now I will.

  7. Thank you all for your kind words of support!

    By the way, it’s a regenerating 20-year-plan. It never gets shorter. In five years, it will still be the 20-year-plan.

    I plan on living until 120!

  8. imstell says:

    RivkA – You are braver than I, my dear. I think it’s important that we all carry on every day as if we have forever until that day we’re told there is nothing left to do. So… carry on for the next 20 or so.

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