The Center for Disease Control defines aging in place as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.” A lovely, simple notion with a growing fan base working to insure services and community spirit are there to allow such aging in place to happen. Everyone benefits. I, though, define aging in place as waking up every night at 4 a.m. wracked by joints and muscles crying out for attention. There is no position that offers solace. I am in my early fifties. I used to look younger than my age, used to be in the top fitness level for my age, but now I am aging rapidly in place, courtesy of living on chemo.
My last ct scan documented the necrosis nibbling away at my bones, most notably my hips. Chemo apparently interrupts the blood flow leading to bone loss. What I know is that I bend to pick things up as if I am imitating an old, old, old person. If I sit too long, I rise at an attention-attracting slowness, pulling myself up and then lurching stiffly the first ten steps until I start loosening up to resemble someone younger than 80. I cross the street with care knowing that I have but one speed; there is no spurt capability to rev me out of the path of an unexpected car. I used to be known for a different one speed. I zipped as if I saw a fire that needed to be contained. A favorite childhood photo shows me as a determined toddler, using speed, hands engaged, forward leaning, eyes focused, as I jettisoned my toy baby carriage to whatever captured my attention. I was always on a mission.
Ironically, as I return to chemo next week after a 55-day break from all treatment, I anticipate some lessening of joint discomfort. The cytoxan (one ingredient is mustard gas) is used in a pill form to treat arthritis. When I started it back in early June it miraculously cleared up my walking woes – I went from a woman needing a cane to a woman moving through life with relative ease. Perhaps that will happen again!? While I hope for some respite, I know that same recipe of cytoxan and avistan will further the cumulative damage to my body in its effort to keep cancer at bay. And, of course, the nausea will be back.
I need to accept this body under siege as my own. I have been fast forwarded through an aging process courtesy of treatments. I look older but mainly I feel significantly older than my years now. The ct scans show that it is not an imagined feeling. The wear and tear is real. While I resent this, my form of acceptance has me seeking out the humor in it. There is much irony to be found.
I, who fret not getting to live through old age, am having it delivered to me. It seems that really, middle age is what I may not experience. My entry into cancer world was an entry into senior world, cancer being a disease that disproportionately impacts older people. I am ‘retired’ despite my current age being labeled as “peak earning years” – another joke as I downsize text messaging out of my phone plan to save a few dollars. I join the daytime tai chi classes filled entirely with elders. Almost everywhere I go I am the youngest, often by far. My mother and I now face the same issues – burial plans, sleep time discomfort and movement challenges. But she is in her eighties. She is chronologically suited to this aging in place.
An early on cancer pal, Val, since deceased at the age of 44, died looking so young and angelic – her wasting body resembling some innocent 10 year old. She was a filmmaker and poet who loved to get people’s stories out of them. She loved elders – the wisdom and whatever else attracted her. I never fully understood. She told me her biggest regret was not getting to live those senior years. Her plan was to interview them to gain access to the experience. I never asked her how she dealt with her own aging in place – frankly, her treatment arc may not have given her that experience. She went more from exuberance to frontline treatment to long remission then to 18 months of active wasting away. My trajectory is more steadfast decline.
So much of life’s journey seems to be about taming the ego. I am middle aged but feel much older. It sucks but really, why care? If I let go of my ego (Don’t I look good for my age?) I can enjoy the sublime truths of being multi-age, nimble once, swerving towards dowdy now and voluntarily raising my hand for any treatment option that keeps me on this planet albeit feeble and slow moving. The same day as I drafted this I watched an older woman in her late 70s perhaps even early 80s, quite attractive, move swiftly from curb to the middle of a busy street where she then adopted a more sedate pace. I admired her. That is who I intended to be; instead I stick to my new one speed. But in that speed I bike wherever I need to go, I accumulate 12,000 steps daily per my pedometer’s tracking with 30 minutes of these steps taking place on a trampoline as I jog in place with weights in my hands hoping to rebuild some bone. I am not what I expected at this age or any age but with my new mantra of ‘slow and steady’ I get where I want to be and I have gained skills in leaving my ego aside. Perhaps, I am a more evolved person at this sedate pace, as if I care.
I like your idea of being “multi-age,” Marcy. Profound and well-put. You really need to write that memoir –your writing is so beautiful and self-reflexive about the challenges you’ve faced these last few years.
Thank YOU, dear Arlene. That means a lot! xo
This post is so poignant – I read these at work and have to make it look like I am not weeping. You are brave and wise and I hope you get plenty of laughs each day. That is sometimes the only thing that makes life bearable. Hang in there, Sister!
Have no doubt that I find life plenty funny! Xo
I’m going through a hard few days with my own stage iv disease, Marcy. Thank you for encouraging me today.
I am sending you warm thoughts for these hardships to pass quickly. Xoxo
Wait just a minute. I’m feeling like what you describe, only at 63, not 83, so hold your horses, you’re not up there in the 80’s yet, maybe early 60’s, and you look darned good for early 50’s, or you did two weeks ago. Go ahead and speak your own truth, but I have to weigh in with some of my own, if I can stand up from my chair and hobble over to the computer before tomorrow…
Anyway, love your humor and your courage, Marcy, and let me know where to advance order your book…
Ha Ha, the things I must do to get you to pay attention to me!!!!
Ah, dear, dear Marcy, I am touched by your struggle with aging. May I share something? When I was 21 I fell rock climbing sustaining a moderately severe head injury. Since that day I have had pain and struggled with learning challenges. Time/date/calendars/numbers and letters are often a confusing mess to me. I understand how hard it is to at be the wrong age; old when I should have ben young and carefree, old when you should be middle aged, full of pain when you planned on being vibrant and so on. The Buddha teaches us to be in the moment, letting go of the past and projections to the future. It helps. Life is hard and I’m so sorry you are suffering. Love, Cecelia
My dear friend,
They say with age comes wisdom. Yet your wisdom and beauty have been ever present. Thanks for your wonderful words.
Thank you! How is your own tested body holding up? Xox
I am always thinking of you. You are a remarkable person!
Louise in Forest Grove
Oh, you have described me perfectly. Our paths with this disease are close to parallel. Your writings are so relatable for me. You are so right about how significant taming the ego is as part of living with cancer. I still go to the gym for weights and cardio and play tennis. After, though, I move like my 87 year old mom! I confess that some days I ask myself why I keep pushing so hard. Heaven help me on long road trips when I finally have to get out of the car and walk HA!
Thanks for this lovely post.
It is so hard to differentiate what is regular aging,what is being so active and what is the treatment beat-up. How is your own treatment going? Xo
I love the photo of wee Marcy rushing headlong into the world, hands outstretched! Your personality well-developed even as a toddler!
Aging! I counter my vanity with each new aging discovery by thanking the powers I am still around to complain. I am wanting to see you really old — in very many years hence.
hello marcy, my name is hope and i would like to share a writting by t. mcdermitt. would you share your email? i do not have a web-site,i do however print/distribute,free,a portable card called:daily survival kit for serious illness.it was written by:t.mcdermitt in 1989,picked up by a large pharm company and distributed world-wide until 2003. since 2004 ,a printer friend prints it in lots of 5,000 and i send them out. i deeply appeciate your blog and the support offered and given back. thank you for your time.respectfully,hope// ps.i found you via susan gubar’s writting in the nytimes. i would also like to send her an email but have located an address.
Marcy@rop.org – I look forward to reading it!
I am not very far into your blog or journey…..
I am humbled by what I’ve read so far.
What a lovely comment. It’s never easy but what we do and that is not always so bad. Xo