Monday 29 July 2013

When I get the news, how will I react?

This past Friday, I asked a colleague how his throat was. Apparently the other week, he had a polyp removed from his vocal cords and he has been talking in a whisper recently. He mentioned he had just been back for a follow-up appointment. I thought this was just normal but he then added, "You know what I mean."

Actually I didn't so I asked. It turns out the polyp had been cancerous. The first visit was to take a biopsy and the second one was to remove the malignant tissue. Even though he was speaking matter-of-factly about this, I asked him if he was freaked out. He had required some time off for the visits and recovery and he told me about speaking with the head of Human Resources and his boss. During his conversation with the head of H.R., he said he lost it. He didn't elaborate and I didn't ask but I'm guessing that "lost it" meant he had either gotten upset or had cried on the phone. I couldn't help thinking of what I would do.

I don't go around every day thinking I'm going to die, but I admit that now at the age of 60, statistically my chances of dying are steadily climbing. Sooner or later, the inevitable is going to happen. My doctor will tell me I have cancer (like my mother) or I'll have a heart attack and be incapacitated (like my dad). How am I going to react?

Am I going to break down? Am I going to freak out? Or am I going to face the inevitable because it's the inevitable and I always knew it was going to happen? Will I be stoic or will I "lose it?"

My mother was diagnosed with cancer in August, 1995. She died the following January. In life, she was a vibrant woman but at death, she weighed a mere 84 pounds (38kg). It was horrible.

My father had a quadruple bypass at the age of 72. Two days short of his 80th birthday in 2004 he had a heart attack. The doctor said the damage to the heart muscle was so extensive, that his pumping capacity had been reduced by 50%. That meant that if he lived, the quality of his life would be severely impacted. He would have difficulty doing something as basic as walking. Mercifully, the remaining 50% of his heart worked for just 48 hours.

Was I upset when my parents died? Yes and no. For a long, long time, I had known my parents would eventually die. I had thought about this often enough that when the time came, it wasn't a surprise. I knew it would happen. It was inevitable and I expected it to happen. The events were more surreal as in saying to myself, "Oh. The moment has finally arrived."

Everybody else in the family was quite busted up about this and I ended up being the one to speak at both my parents' funerals. I was calm and collected. I had psychologically prepared for this. I was prepared for the inevitable.

I've thought about that moment when the doctor gives me the news. It hasn't happened yet, but I have had some "I wonder" health moments. So far those moments have turned out to be nothing but sooner or later, the inevitable is going to happen to me.

My colleague has gotten a clean bill. He has had a scary moment but seems to be okay. However, he is 62 years old and sooner or later, like me, like all of us, he is going to get the news. How will he react? How will any of us react? The inevitable will arrive.


my blog: Barb Tarbox (and my mother): bigger warnings on cigarettes
My mother died in 1996 at the age of 66. She had smoked from the age of 14, a span of 52 years. Her cancer started in her lungs, spread to her brain then ended up in her liver. A vibrant woman in life, she had wasted to a scant 84 pounds (38 kg). She had but 6 months from the first diagnosis to her death.

my blog: I'm 60. Now what?
A friend a few years back referred to us arriving at the age of 60 as entering the fourth quarter. While an interesting football metaphor, I pointed out to him that the fourth quarter is also the last quarter.

my blog: Health: One Year Later, One Year Lost
April 7, 2012, this is the red letter day in my personal annals marking the worst physical injury of my entire life. At the one year anniversary, I am much much better, thank you very much, but I am still trying to climb out of the hole and still have a way to go.


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