To life, to life, l'chaim. L'chaim, l'chaim, to life. Life has a way of confusing us, Blessing and bruising us. Drink, l'chaim, to life! God would like us to be joyful, Even when our hearts lie panting on the floor. (song lyrics from Fiddler on the Roof written by Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock)
“”But I have to go to a meeting,” I said.
This was my reply when I got home one Friday about noon and was told my doctor’s office wanted me to call.
“She said it was URGENT!”, I was told. The university departments I usually work for like to schedule mandatory staff meetings on the last afternoon of the week (a habit that has always annoyed me, as it delays the start of a well-earned weekend), but “urgent” means “urgent.” So I called.
“You need to go to this specialist now,” the lady at my general practitioner’s office said. I replied with a query. “Now?”
“NOW!”, she answered.
My recollection is that I didn’t even know the name of the specialist or what medical specialty they practiced in. I just had a location to drive to in a nearby town.
As I traveled to this office, a thought came to my mind. “Wow, I might see Jesus soon.” I wasn’t worried. Maybe I was just in denial, beginning the stages of grief.
As I pulled into the parking lot of the doctor’s office I read the sign: Blue Ridge Cancer Care. I knew then I was in trouble.
The doctor, a younger guy (than me anyway), told me that my blood test indicated an abnormal white blood cell count. After being stuck in my hip bone, I learned that my blood contained about 10 times the normal number of white blood cells.
I had leukemia.
That was the bad news. The good news was that it was the chronic form, not acute. My doctor told me it was treatable and he set me up on a to take a drug called Gleevec (the product name for Imatinib), used to kill cancer cells.
This all happened 6 years ago. I was told by my diagnosing doctor that the science was getting better all the time and that I could expect to live a normal life. He was correct.
In fact, I read today from a study published in 2015 that the five year survival rate for patients with my form of leukemia is 63%. That is double what it was in the 90s when Gleevec was first developed.
He also told me that with the continued advances in the development of leukemia drugs that there was a good chance I would grow old.
As a result, I don’t even think about my disease that much on a daily basis. This mentality has a good and a bad side. The positive impact is that I don’t indulge in self pity or worry about the fact that I have leukemia. The bad side is that I sometimes ignore my illness to my detriment.
Specifically, I am not as diligent about taking or arranging to get my medicine as I should be. The reality is, sometimes I forget.
Once I filled out a form that asked me how often I took my medicine. My response produced ire from my oncologist, and rightfully so. This man had literally saved my life and even written off my bill at one time. I don’t blame him at all.
Since that episode I have tried to take my pill daily as prescribed and fight to keep supplied. It hasn’t always been easy.
For one, the leukemia diagnosis has not been the only “reversal” I have experienced this decade. I have had several of them. (The doc was right when he said I would lead a normal life. Aren’t changes of fortune “normal” for most of us?)
One of my obstacles has been periods of unemployment. During these times it has taken effort to find someone who would take care of the cost of my drug.
It’s not cheap! I once was denied a refill at the local hospital pharmacy. During our discussion I learned that the cost my pills was $14,000 a month.
The Affordable Care Act in the United States (commonly known as Obamacare) also threw a monkey wrench in a trial I was on with a pharmaceutical company. They stopped the trial and referred me to my insurer or state Medicaid. At the time this happened, I was unemployed.
Because of these roadblocks there have been periods I have gone without my Gleevec.
If it were not for the doctors and their staffs I would have been overrun by the government. As it is, they have saved my bacon on numerous occasions so that I continue to receive my pills.
In fact, even this week coverage was denied as “not medically necessary” by my state Medicaid. (I would LOL if I wasn’t SMH.) But the financial navigator at my oncology office appealed and sent me a glowing Email yesterday telling me that the denial had been reversed.
I guess the reason I thought of all this today is because it is my birthday and it got me realizing that I am grateful for another year of life.
With some of the serious adversity I have faced in addition to the leukemia, being able to be thankful for life is a gift. But it is also a choice.
There was a time in recent years when I literally had to decide I was going to positively live the rest of my life and not succumb to evil circumstances and depression.
Thus, I have been more responsible about my health. I have been exercising and seeking to eat a good diet lately. I want to lose about 30 or 40 pounds. I walk my fool head off on the greenways around here.
Making sure I have a healthy body, as much as it depends on me, is definitely a priority these days. But the old adage “if you have your health you have everything” is not quite accurate.
It is very true that without an efficient body life is hard. But a cancerous spirit makes it even more difficult. To put it positively, the Bible says there is great gain in godliness with contentment. This comes from a healthy spirit.
Therefore, after quite a bit of neglect I have begun to turn my attention to my spiritual well being in addition to my physical health.Part of this focus has been to ask God what my purpose is for the time I have left.
To learn this, I am reading inspiring stories of men like Teddy Roosevelt and former New York Jets football player Dennis Byrd to motivate me. These men gave of themselved despite their personal problems.
I even am taking a free course on motivation from a New York Times bestselling author. Furthermore, I have made plans to revive a habit from my youth-Scripture memory.
Another traditional saying notes that the only certainties in life are death and taxes. So I know that just like everyone else I will pass on into eternity some time. In the interim, knowing that there has to be a reason God has spared my life for now, I intend to find out what it is.
So, To Life!