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Living With Cancer: A Year in the Clear

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Photo credit: Justin Allbritten: Eloise, Harlan, Jennifer, Tristan -- July 2014

"The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for." -- Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

In my day-to-day life I don't often dwell on the exact state of my cancer, but as my quarterly CT scan approaches I do get a little anxious. Will this be the test that tells me my lung cancer has spread again? Or will I have a reprieve for another few months? My body feels normal, but how can I know what normal is anymore? Nothing about this past year and a half since my diagnosis has been normal.

Arriving at the Radiology waiting room early I have plenty of time to ingest the contrast liquid that will illuminate my insides and expose suspicious masses. I drink one large cup of the revolting concoction every 15 minutes for an hour. Its texture is like mucus, and the "berry flavor" label is a cruel marketing deception. Its inflamed crimson color looks more like toxic waste than the juice of any berry I have ever encountered.

I look around the waiting room at the shaky and frightened old people in their wheelchairs, the sad families huddling together, and stoic individuals who seem almost bored, inured to the experience by having been here too many times. As though observing from a great distance I think, "Geez, what a lot of sick people!" I often forget that I am one of them.

The test is familiar now. I greet the technicians by name. In the exam room I climb onto the CT machine and easily squiggle into place. I remind the nurse that my veins are damaged from chemo as she worriedly searches for a place to insert the I.V., and I chat casually as it takes her two, three, four punctures to find a good vein. The machine starts to whirr. I hold my breath. I don't swallow. My body passes back and forth through the donut-hole scanner a few times and then it's over.

We get the results the next morning and the news is good. Much the same as the last several CT scans, the cancer shows no growth. In fact, the primary tumor in my lung is even a little bit diminished.

So I now have been one year in the clear.

Since I'm doing well, my oncologist suggests that going forward we do the CT scans every six months instead of every three months. Each test puts radiation into my body, which can have its own deleterious effects. The fewer scans the better, but of course not so infrequently that we miss something malignant that should be blasted away.

Once it seemed likely that I probably wouldn't die this year, I had to start thinking about the future in a new light, beyond three-month increments. The word "future" is still somewhat nebulous for me, but at least now I can revert to my lazy ways of putting off to tomorrow the things I had previously put off to today.

As long as I have cancer in my body, and as long as I live with the punishing side effects of the oral chemotherapy drug I take every day, I am unable to work. But leisure looming large presents its own conundrum. I can't exist in perpetual intermission. The next act has to start some time.

I asked myself three questions I believe fundamental to achieving purpose and contentment in my life:

• How can I put to best use my skills and experiences?
• What can I do that has meaningful impact for others?
• How can I get free stays at nice spas?

By combining these three priorities I discovered the perfect occupation: Speaking at spas and resorts!

In August I will lead a "Fear Less" retreat at the Mii amo spa in Sedona, Arizona, and I will be a guest speaker at the Rancho La Puerto spa in Tecate, Mexico, speaking on a variety of subjects over the course of a week.

Resorting to resorts is not my last resort, but rather my first choice. This will allow me to pursue productive and rewarding activities, but within the parameters of what my health allows. Setting my own slow and flexible pace, I'll be able to spend my time in healthy, nurturing environments. I'll be able help other people deal with adversity. And I'll be able to have a massage every day!

This column originally appeared on For more by Jennifer Glass, click here. "Like" Jennifer's Facebook page here. See her video, A Photo a Day: One Year with Cancer.

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