Getting To Know The New Me

Take the best that exists and make it better. If it doesn’t exist, create it.
— Sir Henry Royce

It is Friday, July 21, 2006...day one of my recovery from two abdominal surgeries on July 11th and the Whipple surgery on July 14th.  I thought I would be confined to a bed, as movement of any kind was a monumental effort.  I experienced a lack of appetite for the first time in my life, sleep eluded me and boredom was this ominous cloud that hung over me.  I was restless, feeling drab, insufferably exhausted and in unbearable pain.  How could just walking to the next room take everything out of me?

I felt such sadness. There was a sense of loss from the me that I knew for the last 55 years.  Cancer was such a foreboding word and pancreatic cancer – well, I could not wrap my head around this.  

I was committed to a sustained effort to get back in shape and lead a normal life.  I had absolutely no idea what lay ahead; I was not that inquisitive.  This attitude is not for everyone, but a healthy amount of denial was the protective layer that got me through each day.  I pride myself on being informed, thorough, and proactive but this was unlike anything I had experienced before.  Now, 11 years later, when I coach patients, my advice is to grasp the concept that this disease is unlike a job, relationship, or any activity that you have undertaken thus far.  In our lives, for the most part, we have been successful in obtaining the answers required to get the solution we want.  This is not always possible with pancreatic cancer.  That is why it is critical for patients to seek out the best, experienced medical team. Do your homework, use your voice and listen to your instincts.  Through the years, I have witnessed a heightened awareness of pancreatic cancer with a greater understanding of the disease and more resources available, but we have a long way to go to overcome the 5-year survival rate of 9%.

I believe we are all comprised of jewels – many hidden, but they are there for the taking!  I really needed to find a buried treasure inside this body which was racked with pain, barely 95 pounds, and void of any energy. I could not bare the thought of the next eight weeks consisting of this mundane existence - what would occupy each hour of the day and night?  Other than an occasional cold or flu, I have never had this kind of down time and I was petrified of the boredom and inactivity.  Just like in the hospital, I could not focus on reading, something I am passionate about.  It was impossible to find anything compelling on TV and a film was just noise coming from the screen.

What I was experiencing bore absolutely no resemblance to a life I had known.  I wanted to believe I was in control of my fate, and this required some creative thinking driven by curiosity and not fear!  Something sheltered inside me – that buried treasure - was longing to be discovered.  As in the above quote, if this was the best that existed, I was determined to recreate it.  I was trying to figure out how to hit the refresh button.

I needed a project and I believed some form of activity would help alleviate the boredom and the needless attention I gave to watching the clock! The stillness was intolerable. Every part of my body hurt, so walking or shuffling was the most I could tolerate with regard to exercise.  My neighborhood of Westwood is considered a college town with the UCLA campus its prominent feature. In picturesque Westwood Village, there are historic motion picture theaters, restaurants, shopping, UCLA Medical Center, the Geffen Playhouse and Hammer Museum.  Bordering this is Little Holmby, which is a safe, family friendly neighborhood with tree-lined sidewalks, lush green lawns and beautifully manicured gardens with roses cascading over the white picket fences.

I embarked on daily walks, morning and afternoon, discovering for the first time the charming personality that these pleasant neighborhoods conveyed. The sidewalks are very walkable and my daily outings brought a new appreciation for this quaint and picturesque area.  For so many years, while race walking or running these streets, I failed to take in the beauty and peacefulness.  Listening to a book on tape and completing my designated route to maximize my exercise for that day was usually the main focus.  My first gift (one of many)...slowing down and appreciating the beauty around me.

This is the gift – to have the wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy.
— Abraham Maslow
 Holmby Park, Los Angeles, CA

Holmby Park, Los Angeles, CA