No, I didn’t get the flu. If I had, you would have heard about it because it would have been the worst flu ever, my suffering greater than anyone else’s. I would be overheard moaning. “Kim,” I would say, “do you think your cancer is bad? Well, I have the flu.” Or: “At first I was afraid that I would die. Then I was afraid that I would not die.” No, I’m not very good at being sick.
And no, Kim did not have the flu either. When her fever was spiking and her coughing nearly continuous, we went to the doc to be tested. The conclusion was that Kim had some sort of virus with flu-like symptoms. We considered going to the E.R. when her fever hit 102, but we feared the germs in the Waiting Room, and her fever dropped shortly after that, so we decided to ride it out. We’ve been riding out Kim’s illness for over three weeks, now, with slow improvements but continued fatigue, coughing, etc.
Kim’s struggles with her non-flu have put her cancer in perspective.
Kim’s oncologist told us that although there is no cure for stage 4 cancer, we can do a lot to “manage” the disease. “Manage?” Here’s what Merriam-Webster says as the primary definition of the term:
To handle or direct with a degree of skill: such as
· to make and keep compliant (“can’t manage their child”)
· to treat with care (“managed his resources carefully”)
· to exercise executive, administrative, and supervisory direction of (“manage a business”)
To this point she has been managing her cancer more effectively than she was able to manage her non-flu, which pretty much knocked her on her ass despite all the water and NyQuil. It will be good to have the non-flu gone so that all she is struggling with is cancer, which she has been “managing” with the help of her chemo drugs, various supplements, and her own spirit and determination.
I’m thinking of the examples suggested in the definition above. Managing cancer is a lot like managing a child – a very difficult child who needs to be treated with a combination of firmness and, occasionally, a deliberate ignoring of misbehavior. And there is also the managing of resources – treating Kim’s time and energy with care. Managing resources does not mean all saving and no spending. It’s spending wisely on commitments both to creative and joyful projects such as her photography or building our cottage, and to her sustaining and life-affirming connections with family and friends.
And the exercise of executive, administrative, and supervisory direction of her illness is an important part of Kim’s disease management. She keeps meticulous records of her meds and her appointments, adjusting them as needed. As I write this she is looking over the results of her last round of blood tests. If cancer, at its core, is an uncontrolled proliferation of cells, then Kim fights back by exerting as much control as she can: managing her illness.
The goal, of course, is to die healthy. Lots of ways to define “healthy,” and I think most definitions apply to us.