How Am I Doing?

My wife, Loren, is battling metastatic breast cancer. And almost every conversation I have these days – at work and with friends, at the bar and on the phone – begins with the same question: How is Loren doing?

The answer is, she’s doing okay. She, fortunately, does not have any nausea. Maybe a little heartburn and bone pain, along with a great deal of fatigue, but no nausea. She is maintaining her weight and we are, obviously, hoping for the best.

Most people nod, say they’re happy to hear it, and leave it at that. Some ask for details, and I’m happy to go into the minutiae of treatment and tell them about the good days and the bad, the patterns within the data (we keep track of Loren’s symptoms in a small notebook – how she’s feeling listed on the left side of the page, medications and other countermeasures on the right), and our mostly successful efforts to anticipate and counteract the side effects.

Good friends and family, however, ask the more difficult question: How are you doing?

I’m doing okay, I guess, about as well as can be expected. I’m not overwhelmed anymore – “Just whelmed,” I like to say – and deep down, I have the sense that I’ll make it, no matter what happens. I’m not losing weight, I’m all caught up at work, and I’m not worried about, or anticipating, what might happen next.

But I no longer have far horizons, or at least those I care to look toward, because none of them include Loren anymore. I live up close, in the moment, enjoying the times when Loren has energy and getting things done when she sleeps. It’s a crash course in mindfulness, one that gurus everywhere would be proud of.

But one that’s surprisingly difficult. We weren’t built to always live in the now — we were made to reminisce and daydream as well. And Loren and I do remember our many years together, both the good and the bad, but we don’t look very far ahead anymore. Not much past next summer.

Not because we think she is going to die before then. The statistics look good and she seems to be responding well to her treatment. But nothing is known, nothing is certain, until she gets her next scans: one for the brain in January and one for the rest of her body a month or two after that.

If everything looks good, Loren will switch over to maintenance chemotherapy, which won’t include taxotere, the nastiest one of her chemo drugs. Her hair will grow back, for the most part, and her taste buds will return (with a taste for cheaper wine, we hope). Life will return to normal – or something resembling normal — but every three months or so the docs will take another look and let us know if everything is going to change.

I know. I’m back to telling you about Loren and how she’s doing. Because it’s easier than telling you about myself.

I’m okay, as good as can be expected. And you? How are you doing?

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