Jennifer Goodman Linn You Fearless

April 26th – “Who Knows Where the Path Leads?”

Since my cancer relapsed in mid-February, there is one question that has repeatedly been asked of Dave and me....and it the question that really drives me crazy. The question is asked in a number of different ways but it comes down to asking how much longer I will need to go through treatment:
  • “So, how many more rounds of chemo will you have?”
  • “How much longer until you think you’ll have surgery?”
  • “When do the doctors think you’ll be done?”

And my answer is always the same: “I DON’T KNOW AND STOP ASKING ME THAT QUESTION!” It reminds me of an episode of The Smurfs (remember them?) when Papa Smurf was taking one of the baby smurfs somewhere and every 2 seconds the baby asked “how much father Papa Smurf?” By the 10th time, Papa Smurf exploded and said “We’ll get there when we get there!” Well, that is how I feel.

I don’t mean to get so angry. It is a completely rational and appropriate question to ask. Like Dave and me, most of our friends are over-achieving, type-A people who like to have a handle on things. We set a goal and we achieve it. It is hard to live life without control of a situation or a path that outlines how one will get to a specific goal. But unfortunately, in the case of my treatment, we all must live with a certain amount of ambiguity and uncertainty.

Even my Dr’s who are the best in the world don’t know how much longer I will be dealing with this. I get a CT scan every 6 weeks and we look at the results. Every 6 weeks we create a new plan. So, as far as I know, I could have surgery in 3 weeks, 3 months or 3 years. I need to be prepared for anything. And believe me, that is not easy. I think I get angry when people ask me the question because believe me, I wish I knew the answer!

I also think that the question is fundamentally flawed. Asking someone “how much longer?” implies that the current situation is uncomfortable or not good and you want to move beyond it. The truth is, Dave and I are going to be living with this for the rest of our lives. When I finish chemotherapy, I will have surgery. When I finish surgery, I most likely will have more chemotherapy. When I finish more chemotherapy, I will be getting check-ups every 3 months and hope the cancer doesn’t come back. If I can make it through 3-5 years of cancer-free checkups, I need to live with the reality that, for the rest of my life, there is a 10-20% chance the cancer will come back.

Because Dave and I need to live with this reality for the rest of our lives, there is no such thing as “how much longer?” It implies and ending that in our minds doesn’t exist. Many people would say “Oh, what a horrible way to have to live life…never feeling like you are in the clear”. But, Dave and I look at it differently…we accept it. Every day is a new day and we live it to the fullest. We accept my cancer as a chronic illness that doesn’t necessarily have an end…and we adjust.

So please don’t ask me “how much longer” any more. The answer is “for the rest of our lives”. Let’s accept this and truly appreciate every day that we all have together.