Closing In On -30-

This story is the initial posting of a new blog entitled “Closing in on -30-” The “-30-” is a old newspaper device indicating the end of a story. And this blog is an attempt to see things through the fresh perspective of having a limited time left to live.

“Two years.”

He said it without any hesitation, no ahems or “I’m sorry to tell you….”
The doctor sat on a stool in his office at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in his long white lab coat and didn’t blink. There was nothing apologetic in his comments or body language.

He has been treating me for advanced prostate cancer for about eight years. It was inevitably a losing battle, and recently there had been an acceleration in the disease. I reminded him that about a year earlier he had estimated my life span to be between three and six years. I was 64 at the time.

Now, a year later, I reminded him of that bleak calculation and asked if he had revised that estimate, which would mean between two and five years.

“Two years,” he said quickly. “Definitely not five. Two years.” He then added as if to dismiss any further discussion, “Three years would be pushing it.”

He talked about what next, possibly another clinical trial, or a radioactive shot of radium once a month, or….

But I was thinking of other things. I wasn’t afraid of my death sentence, although that might change in 23 months. And it still seemed a long way off.

What I was worried about was telling my two adult kids. I dreaded telling my kids. The hormone therapy I’ve been on for the last few years makes me cry at commercials. Tears while telling them would give the impression that I was scared or filled with self pity. I would be ashamed of such behavior. Not necessarily the crying, but the pity.

I kept the doctor’s prognosis to myself for awhile as I came to terms with it. I told my wife the next day and we worked out a protocol for telling our children.

But I still kept to myself my concern about what to do with those two years, how to avoid making them a glum funereal affair for those around me.

That’s a hard one to figure out. But I realized that the most important thing for me would be to make them laugh (leave ’em laughing as they say), especially my wife. She had gotten far too much of my grumpiness and far too little of my humor over the years. And now I had two years to make it up to her.

And it would be important for my kids to see that I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself, not living in fear or anger. They needed to know that they — along with my wife, my career and my friends — had given me a life that was richer than most. They needed to know that I wanted to revel in seeing them have adventures. I am already feeling bad that I am dying on them, casting a shadow on their lives. What a burden it would be for me to know that I crippled their decisions on how far to stray from home or what goals to attempt.

Now to work out the details how to do this.