What should I do when the odds jump for a more rapid egress? Does a quicker likelihood of my death push me emotionally or even spiritually where I have not been?
I was diagnosed with glioblastoma (GBM) last December. Median survival for that brain cancer is about 15 months. Median recurrence is about seven months. This week, my eight-month MRI came back with bad news: It looks like a recurrence, with a tumor the size of a big grape.
My doc told me that I’m pretty much on the median. Which means I can’t hold onto any hope from my own data indicating I might push much beyond that.
On the other hand, I still feel pretty good. Aside from fatigue and some challenges coming up with words, I’m not in terrible shape. My doc tells me I should keep that standard for a couple of months, even if I find no treatment to try that beats the odds a bit. And GBM has data indicating that many patients keep a relatively high quality of life until they come close to their egresses.
So no kidding: It could be worse. It can get worse. What should I do now?
Last week, my wife and I visited Florida for six days. It was partly me being a tourist, but more important was what my wife had been considering. Once I’m gone, might she want to head back to her East Coast roots to an active senior community?
My native New York wife not only felt connected to the culture back east, even after three decades in Texas, but she also liked thinking about the possibility of a mostly Jewish community.
I grew up in Florida and had a pretty good sense that the factors she held high could be found in some of the state. She decided to start in the Tampa area on the Gulf and then spent some time on the East Coast. My priority was to make sure she had the time to feel the flavor of the regions we visited. She succeeded. She will need to decide for herself once I’m gone, we agreed from the get-go. But she’s in far better shape to make that decision.
I had a bit of my own open set of priorities. I was born in Miami. And while I’ve lived in Texas for most of my adult life, I still felt an emotional attachment to where I grew up.
While we were in Florida, I swam in the ocean a couple of times. I ate seafood that had been swimming not long before cooking. And I wandered through some parks and shopping locations with a sense of coastal Florida. Not the busy and sophisticated Miami area but some less busy places; in particular, Palm Beach and Broward counties. Summer isn’t the most popular time for tourists, but I’d loved Florida summers when I was a kid and felt it last week.
And I found myself profoundly depressed during the trip. My internal identity was set without logic or language. When I spent time feeding my identity — listening to the waves! Eating great bagels! Watching others walk by! — I painfully missed that I’d not visited in so many years. That I’d not lived there for so many decades.
My wife and I have traveled a few times since the cancer diagnosis to places that made me feel cheerful about a small adventure. But this trip? I decided I would not return to south Florida unless I won the lottery and moved back ASAP.
That Florida visit was the week before the most recent MRI. And the newest news has me tangled up and challenged. Right now, I’m planning to see if I can boost my odds for a longer life, checking with a couple of the nation’s top hospitals that have some early or experimental treatments aimed at GBM.
Do I qualify? Do the treatments seem worth the possible downsides on my quality of life? That’s a decision I need to work on over the next couple of weeks.
But I am mortal. All of us are mortal. I was raised Jewish, studied lots of faiths as a religion-focused journalist, and have very few beliefs in what various religions say about what comes next. I do like some of the considerable vagueness in Jewish tradition.
Yes, Jewish traditional theology is focused on God. And on human souls. And on there being something that lasts beyond life. But unlike some other faiths, Jewish tradition includes lots of shrugs. What’s there that we will experience in the world to come? Jews have some hopes but not much certainty.
I find that a bit comforting, even now. I hope, I hope, I hope something of me will learn something I can’t know now, once I get through the egress. But who knows?
And now? I want to try to keep doing what I find worth doing for as long as I can. Maybe nudging my family, my friends, the world in directions that will make stuff a little better even after I’m gone. And I really do want to search my bucket list for the months or weeks my brain keeps working well enough.
Even writing a few more of these columns. Inshallah.
This article originally appeared in Religion News Service.