A breast cancer survivor shares her experiences with the BRCA gene.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bypassing the Mid-Life Crisis

Cancer survivors have a different way of viewing things. I see it in daily interactions at work, with friends...even with strangers who cross my path.

This realization came back to me recently with my husband. Gary had an incredible assignment overseas, which crumbled at the last minute due to circumstances beyond his control. Devastated about the sudden turn of events, it was the last straw for Gary. The international assignment had potential to catapult him from the frustrating reality of his daily life to an over-the-top experience.

You could say that Gary is in the midst of a mid-life crisis, which I see many of my friends -- both male and female -- battling these days. But, I have to admit: I simply can't relate. Since I've had cancer and have lived with the threat of an early death hanging over my head for 7 years, I've skipped over the mid-life crisis phase and moved directly to "glad to be alive" on the Monopoly board. Gary, on the other hand, has gone directly to jail...do not pass Go; do not collect $200.

While Gary is mourning the loss of an adventure and struggles to find joy in the everyday, I'm drinking in every second of life. In fact, I can't seem to get enough.

Last weekend, we went to the Georgia coast to visit my older brother's family and my aunt & uncle before my next surgery. The first night, we took a walk through a stretch of marsh on Jekyll Island to reach a stretch of beach that was deserted except for pelicans and seagulls socializing along the water's edge. I wanted to linger for a while, soaking in the sea smells and sounds. Gary seemed impatient and antsy...ready to head back and start making dinner.

The next morning, we rode bikes along a path, which transported us into scrubby wilderness depicting the land of Marjorie Kinnon Rawlings--of palm trees and palmettos and pines lining a road strewn with decaying leaves and pinestraw. Live oaks dripping with Spanish moss hovered over us, while hawks circled the sky and alligators studied us with their beady eyes projecting from a pond.

I was euphoric. Gary was sweating. He shared my enthusiasm for our bike ride for about 5 minutes before he was ready to go back to air-conditioning.

That's when I realized we're in different places in our lives at this point. It's not that my attitude is better. He is rightly grieving all the change--and loss--in his life, while I'm celebrating every moment gained--because I'm unsure of what's ahead for me.

And, I realize, that during this time of our unique & distinct fears and frustrations over what we face separately, we need to extend extra compassion toward one another...trying to understand life through each others' eyes...their worries and concerns -- not dismissing them as silly or shallow.

However, for my part, I'm glad to have skipped over the mid-life crisis phase...it's the least compensation I should get for being catapulted into menopause.

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