Carpe Diem or Crappy Diem

Ever since I got diagnosed with Metastatic Breast Cancer, I hear this phrase a lot, “Well no one really knows how long they have to live!” True, no one does. I don’t either. I just nod in agreement.

“You are right, no one knows.”

Sometimes, it is to be nice, sometimes to be polite.

I tell myself, “Others are trying to be supportive; they don’t really know what to say”.

In their private space, they probably worry about me knowing what everyone knows about metastatic breast cancer, the harsh fact that it kills.

They know too, very well in their hearts, having lived longer lives, having saved for retirement that the odds of me getting old and seeing my grand kids are much lower than say a woman without cancer at my age. That is the reality.

Yes, no one knows, but how many really do think of dying every day?

My typical day involves hearing about someone’s disease progressing, someone getting whole brain radiation, or someone passing on with the same illness I have. I have two choices, either pretend, that “they” were not “me”, and I will be different or realize that “this could be me” and spend each day mindfully.

I go back and forth between those two thoughts. There are days that are good and full of temporary hope and there are days that haunt me for what I may have to give up and leave.

We all live lives focused on the future. Everyone conducts themselves in a way as if they have many years ahead of them. People killing themselves with stress to make money so they have “enough” for retirement as their today slips away quickly but since they are not terminally ill, they have the luxury of dreaming of a glorious retirement. There are people who are manipulating others to their advantage, because they think they are forever. Others wasting their days because they have many years ahead. Many others that are living good lives but they don’t think of death and dying. They don’t live in the fear of recurrences every day. They don’t live in the fear of “when will my treatment stop working?”  and “when will the other shoe fall?”

If all the healthy people became preoccupied with death and dying, there will be lots of work for psychiatrists because there will be a surge of panic and anxiety disorders. Thinking about death and dying is considered morbid  by the society in those who don’t have terminal illnesses and they are regarded as “negative people”.

 The reality is that those that are healthy do not live life in full view of death and dying. They may sometimes get a moment or two where they reflect about how unpredictable life is but then they return to their bliss of not having to deal with it every day.

Those with metastasis cannot turn it off, the thoughts that it’s looming and nearby persists. It’s not about losing hope, it’s their reality, and it’s my reality.
Reality determined by odds, life expectancy and mortality rates related to the illness I have, not grabbed out of thin air.

I wish for long survival but I can’t deny what is happening in my body right now. It sleeps with me and it wakes up with me every day.

Last week, a friend of mine was urging my class mates to buy life time membership to an association, I doubt anyone else besides me did the math of whether I will break even or not if I buy the life time membership. Yearly membership is 90 dollars; life time is 500 dollars, which meant I needed to live 6 years to profit from the lifetime offer. Will I? Who knows? But in my situation, would you?

Or a month ago when a lovely makeup artist was trying to sell me eyebrow powder and said, “This will last you at least three years”, I smiled. I wondered if I will outlast the eyebrow powder.

We all live lives with focus on the future…save for retirement, get better APR because it is beneficial in the long term, buy a house- don’t rent because it saves money for the future, invest in such and such, for the future. We all take for granted thoughts of “when my kids are in college, I will such and such..”

“Someday” is a popular thought for people, “someday, I will__________________” fill your favorite thought. For me and many other, the luxury of “someday” has truly disappeared. Our someday is today.

No one, even the ones who tell me to live in the moment is truly living in the moment. That is life; you have to maintain perspective for the future. That’s how the world functions cumulatively, for a better tomorrow.

So next time, before you say to a cancer survivor, “life is not guaranteed for anyone”, do think of all the things you did that day towards preserving your future and simultaneously reflect on all the changes you aspire to make in your life based on the knowledge that your tomorrow isn’t guaranteed either?

May I dare to say, that it would be emotionally exhausting to think that in a month you might be no more, and live every day as if the day is your last day? How long can anyone without a terminal illness willingly do that?

Thinking about the end isn’t putting life on hold but reflecting to make it more meaningful. My life isn’t on hold either, its moving forward and yes,  I might outlive some of you, but people bet money in a gamble , only when the odds of winning are high, my odds are very low in this gamble, you know that and I know that.

That’s how life is played, based on odds. There are miracles, the odds of which are rare, which is precisely why they are considered miracles.

Today is my miracle. I live on, despite what is inside of me.

Everyone has two choices, Carpe diem or Crappy diem. Make it a good one!


19 thoughts on “Carpe Diem or Crappy Diem

  1. Uzma,
    Thanks for this post and your blog in general. I am a 41 yr old family physician, diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer almost 3 months ago. I have a 3 yr old daughter whose happiness is everything to me. Every day I try and come to terms with this new reality that the diagnosis brings and make the most of every day. It’s hard when few people understand what that means for us.
    I recently didn’t renew my annual membership to my state medical association. I figure, life is short, and why spend my money for that? You have to prioritize, right?

  2. Thanks Uzma,..wishing you more Carpe than Crappy. I selfishly want you, your spirit,and your observations to be part of this world as long as I am here. Love and blessings to you.

  3. This is the most inspirational thing I have read in a long time. Thank you for this. So much I want to say, but you have left me speechless at my wasted day ( days/months really, dwelling on my burnout and lack of who I used to be before I lost my soul somewhere in my job.) this may be the thing that it nights the fire in me again, or it might just be the tiny first step toward getting there. Thank you. And as above, I wish you more Carpe than Crappy.

  4. This is a very honest piece. Thank you. I can 100% relate.

    Thanks again. I look forward to reading more from you!

  5. I was just wondering what it would be like…to know you may die soon while still being here. Beautiful piece, thank you for sharing. With love, NSK

  6. This is an incredible post. I’m not stage 4 but I think about what my future is going to be and what I will be around to see and what I will miss, daily.
    I get that people don’t know what to say to you but to tell you things like, “You never know what can happen,” or “You could get hit by a bus,” is so insensitive. We all know that anything can happen at any time. We all know that some people have it better than us and some have it worse. But that doesn’t help. Nothing helps, really. Listening does. Being open does.
    Thank you for writing this!

  7. Thank you! Stage 3c on your same timetable. Your words resonate on so many levels. It is so hard and yet still beautiful.

  8. Uzma, you are a light of truth. joy, and beauty that’s come into my life through FB, for which I am truly grateful. Your willingness as a medical professional to lay bare your cancer experience is a gift to many people. Certainly also your perspective as a mother with young children resonates for many more.

    I am a Stage II breast cancer survivor of 8 years. When I was diagnosed, I reflected many times on my mom’s journey with the proverbial death sentence over her head. She had a rare genetic disorder that lead to COPD. At diagnosis, she was told that the statistics showed a 5 to 10 year life expectancy. She was 43. My youngest brother was only 14.

    Through medical treatment and advances, plus a huge dose of stubbornness, denial, and grit, that amazing woman LIVED for 24 years. Even toting oxygen along, she journeyed to Hawaii many times, visited multiple National parks, played with two young grandchildren, and worked in a new career.

    There’s so much more I can say about my first role model. As I wipe the tears away, I will confess that 15 years after her death, it’s hard for me to consider reading her journals for trepidation of what pain I may fund there about her struggles with her terminal illness.

    Before it got to a critical state, there were many years of being in the chronic stage. And she rung out so much quality living, despite doctor visits, med’s, and breathing treatments. She also had to give up her budding teaching career, since being around sick kids could have hastened her own death with her compromised immune system.

    She found a new career, and adapted to her changed circumstances.

    Maybe someday your kids will share a similar story about their mom with others. 😆 I see my mother’s personality qualities in you. Best wishes!

  9. Thank you for your honest sharing of your thoughts and feelings. I can so relate having been dx with lymphoma a year ago and not really knowing my prognosis since new treatments and drugs are coming out all the time. But I wonder about the very same things as you described. And you are right….people have no idea what to say. Even my husband says, ” Oh you are going to be OK”. I am thankful I am doing well and responded to treatment. But the doubt and uncertainty remain EVERY day.

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