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Keeping Things in Perspective

Posted 7/18/2016

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  Cancer changes our perspective in so many ways. The obvious one is that cancer reminds us what is important: life and love and friends and family. We may make different decisions about how to spend our time and energy; we may end some negative relationships and truly focus on the good ones. We may reconsider our professional lives and change or re-design them. We may spend money a little more easily or we may tighten our belts because of the high costs that accompany our treatments.

  Another perspective change is what is truly a problem. All of a sudden, sitting in traffic or dealing with a broken dishwasher, while still annoying, is not a real problem. As an aside: I sometimes tell my new patients that they will know that they are mostly back to normal when those things again seem to be big difficulties. Don't know if that is good or bad.

  Our perspective on problems can easily spill over to judgment about friends' complaints. I remember getting in mild (fortunately) trouble with my boss during my chemotherapy in 1993 when I made a snarky comment about some minor political issue. I well remember a patient, home recovering from a bone marrow transplant, who told me that she lost her temper with a friend who was carrying on about not being able to afford the car that she really wanted.

  One of the only positive things about cancer is that it does teach us what we can do. We learn that we can tolerate way more than we would have expected. We grumble, of course, but we are brave.

  And then there is this wonderful essay by Susan Gubar about moving. We all acknowledge that moving is a giant job and a giant stress, but we also know that it is a problem with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Once it's done, it's done. Not so with cancer.

Keeping a Move to a New House in Perspective


“Was that the right thing to do?” I ask my husband, who is trying to sleep. “For goodness sakes,” Don says, getting out of bed. We must leave for my monthly cancer blood test at 8 a.m. tomorrow.

Don pulls out the tray, puts it in the sink, and props up a little stick in the freezer, pushing up the ice maker’s metal wand in an attempt to stop the leak. Might work, might not… I’ll stay awake to see whether the deluge stops. When an unexpected disaster arises, I diminish its significance by comparing it to the worst of my cancer treatments a few years ago. I can do this because my current condition remains stable with an experimental drug.

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