The Ultimate Detour in Life

Before retiring, I followed the advice to make sure I had a transitional plan of what I was going to do with this new chapter of my life. They say people are more successful in retirement if they know what they will be doing and they should re-evaluate their purpose.

I re-evaluated and had an awesome plan. I was going teach Qigong ancient Chinese exercise classes 3 – 4 times a week. My purpose was clear – to help others to find fulfillment and tranquility in their lives.Eventually when my grandson becomes old enough to attend kindergarten, I was planning to meet his bus after school and indulge myself in non-stop play with him till my daughter would get home from work.

As for my son’s children, I envisioned the times I would watch these grandchildren participate in school activities, music, or sports of their choice, graduate from high school, enter college, maybe form a life-partnership with someone they loved.

I would keep my house nice and tidy rather than in a constant state of disarray from my frequent comings and goings. I planned to do all that. Then, I heard those infamous unexpected words that struck me like a lightning bolt that ripped apart my heart and soul, “you have cancer”.

That created the first of many detours in my life plan and was as jarring as driving into an unseen deep pothole. Staying with these automotive metaphors, I must say I now needed a new alignment on what I thought was a perfectly planned life. I cried enough to empty my water pump and then I cried some more. As I watched the visions I had of my future life slowly vanish from my mind’s eye, my radiator overheated and then went bone dry from racking sobs.

My daily planned routine changed from teaching classes to scheduling who I could get to drive me to chemotherapy that week. Relaxing in bed to watch a favorite show or movie in the evening shifted instead to sequestering in the bathroom for the relentless gastrointestinal side effects of treatments.

I gained extra time on my hands because I didn’t have to fuss over my hair style after I sadly watched all of it fall out after my third chemotherapy treatment.

As treatments, surgery, and cancer progressed, more detours popped up in expected and totally surprising ways. Things I had always taken for granted were now unattainable no matter how many U-turns I made.

Despite being told that my life would never be the same after being diagnosed with cancer, I thought, “what do they know”. Defiantly, I made long term goals. Lots of them. I worked, struggled, exercised and I was going to be the same person I was before cancer invaded my body and prove they were all wrong.

When I thought I reached the perfect plateau to resume former life plans, I received more unwelcome, unexpected news and new symptoms that caused many setbacks. They said, “The cancer has mutated. It is rare and more aggressive. It has now metastasized and will likely continue to spread.”

Afterwards, I felt something devastating on my body. I found another lump – it is already starting to spread.

Each cancer related diagnosis or prognosis creates a new detour route ahead and more uncharted paths to attempt to navigate. It reminds me of the old GPS systems where if you took a wrong turn an annoying voice kept shouting, “recalculating, recalculating”. Cancer and recalculating are synonymous.

Because of the constant unpredictable change of the direction of this new generation of aggressive cancers, I feel long term goals become frustrating and unattainable. I am now slowly starting a new route of setting smaller, realistic, attainable short-term goals. I am hoping this will ease the pain of cancelling or eliminating long term plans and dreams yet again.

The reality can be for some of us that energy once spent lovingly looking into how much we can do in the future with our family and friends will change to the biggest sudden detour of all. End-of-life planning. A detour that we thought was maybe way down the highway of life and not something to think about right now.

I just entered that lane this week. Cancer merged me into that on-ramp, and I am not ready or prepared for this. For now, my short-term goal is to get all my important papers together. In one way, it is not such a bad thing because I feel it gives me a sense of control – which is something else cancer took away from me. Today, I am taking it back.

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