Peggy Cumming, is a wife, mother, grandmother of 6, sister, niece, cousin and friend, as well as a teacher – retired after 34 years in the classroom – and an athlete. This is her last blog, a year on from her diagnosis of lung cancer.
My last CMAJ blog was written and posted in April, 2015, when I was anxiously waiting the results from a CT scan of my lungs, following surgical and oncology treatment for non-smokers’ lung cancer. I’m overjoyed and relieved to write that the CT scan shows that my lungs are clear, that there is no evidence of disease. Now, I am emotionally free to get on with my life, to try to overcome the residual side effects of chemotherapy, and to regain some of the strength and fitness that I have lost.
I wish it were just that easy! As happened thirty years ago, following treatment for breast cancer, I now find myself asking, “Why me?’ not the unanswerable Why Me? that one asks when first diagnosed, but the Why Me? that follows successful treatment. ‘Why have I been given the gift of survival?’ Thirty years ago, at the tender, egocentric age of 41, I wondered if the universe wanted to keep me, to achieve significant things. Was I supposed to do immense charitable works like Mama Theresa? Was I supposed to discover important cures like Madame Curie? Was mankind supposed to be better off because I was in the world?
Then, as the days following treatment turned to weeks and months, my lofty thoughts were lost in the ordinary reality of packing lunches for my kids, marking papers for my students and walking the dog. Months rolled on to years, my mind rarely shining a light on the universe’s purpose for me, and my life returned to the ordinariness of reality.
But here I am again! Thirty years later and the same Why Me? From the 71 year old position of experience, I also bring to mind the wisdom of my dying friend, Mary: “You can honour my life by living Your Best Life”. So now I have two questions: Why me? and What is My Best Life?
The questions seem to be connected, but not easily or clearly answered. My younger self would have immediately thought that My Best Life was to have many adventures, but my present self is more expansive and more focused on relationships with people.
With my friends and family, I want to be fully present and energetically engaged, playful and attentive. I want to sense their needs, and offer small services whenever I can. I want to be tolerant, compassionate, understanding and supportive whenever there is illness, hardship or difficulty. I want to be connected with my friends, laugh, share, and involved in fun and activities with them. In small ways, I want to use my good health to make the lives of my loved ones easier and happier, because I have been given the gift of health, and am able to do so.
I know that these are selfish desires, because, in return, I receive great pleasure out of being helpful and supportive. If “Why me?” can be answered with: “To bring small joys and shared laughter to my friends and loved ones” then, surely, that is My Best Life. I believe that bringing joy is indeed significant, not in the larger sense of the universe, but in the small microcosm of family and community. My Best Life is also filled with daily gratitude; gratitude that I am still here and still with a life to live, My Best Life.
Now I have come full circle in a calendar year, from my first CMAJ blog in September 2014, to this, my last CMAJ blog, in September 2015. My blogs painted my journey of lung cancer, through diagnosis, surgery, treatment and on-going recovery. From here, I move forward, into the ordinariness of daily life, and with every expectation of future good health. The rhythms of my upcoming days will be focused on family, friends, exercise, nutrition, and heightened gratitude for the second chance to live My Best Life, in fulfillment of Why Me?