Balancing on other tightropes

My last post was about walking on the tightrope, trying to balance between happiness and tragedy. In it, I said that which one I choose is largely up to me to decide and I still feel that this is true.

However, I also realized that I’m balancing on another tightrope, and this one I have less control over. I’m also walking the tightrope between optimism and realism.

There’s no question that optimism is a good thing, maybe especially even when it comes to one’s health. I believe strongly in the mind-body connection and have experienced first hand that optimism can powerfully affect how you feel and can even sometimes affect the severity of disease.

But sometimes all the optimism in the world isn’t as powerful as cancer and that’s a hard pill to swallow.

My husband reminded me tonight that if cancer returns in less than a year, it’s not considered a recurrence–it’s a sign of chemo resistance.

If the cancer cells become resistant to chemo, then treatment obviously won’t work anymore. I guess we’ll find out at his next scans (which may be in a couple months) if his cancer is responding to chemo again or not. I’m not sure if the “chemo resistant” label applies to him or not, since he had no evidence of disease when he stopped chemo but the cancer still came back within less than 6 months.

I hadn’t remembered about that warning from his oncologist that if it returned in less than a year, it was considered “chemo resistant.”

I told him I was scared. He said, “Me too.”

And that’s what feels different about this recurrence compared to the first go-round with his cancer. Our optimism carried us through the first bout with cancer but the recurrence has beaten a lot of that out of us.

That’s where the balance between optimism and realism becomes so difficult to find. You don’t want to let it become full-blown pessimism and assume the worst, but being too positive and optimistic feels pretty naive.

We talked a little bit more about writing his will and the challenges he faces with that, both because he doesn’t have a lot of valuables and most of what he has will just go to me by default. If he’s still here when his car is paid off, or if I choose to pay it off, we don’t know now which one of the kids would need it the most. So it might make the most sense just to let it go to me by default and then let me figure out what to do with it.

I also told him that all I really wanted from him was one last letter to me and each of the kids, telling us how he feels about us. I said that I knew he didn’t want to write them too prematurely but I was afraid that if he waited too long, it might become too late.

To my surprise, he said both that he has a specific timeline for when he’s going to write them (namely, whenever his cancer can no longer be controlled with his current regimen, at which point, he’d be enrolled in a clinical trial) and that he’s already started composing them in his head…much like I’ve been doing with his obituary, unfortunately.

We both walk a very fine line between optimism and realism. We want to be as optimistic as possible, but the reality is that cancer usually wins in the end.

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