Cancer Changes Things

Plenty of people will tell you that serious illness gives you a new perspective on life. What they don’t tell you, however, is that new perspective is kind of annoying, especially to your coworkers and friends.

I’ve learned this lesson ever since my wife, Loren, was diagnosed late last year with metastatic breast cancer. After the initial shock and disbelief, we settled into a routine of constant doctor’s visits and MRI’s, infusions and injections and other frightening and expensive scans with acronyms I struggle to keep straight and understand.

We also developed a new attitude, one that reminds us that most things in life, really, aren’t all that important. What really matters is time. Time together on a daily basis to enjoy each other’s company. Time together on weekends and other days when Loren is feeling good to enjoy the things we, well, enjoy. Time to eat good food and drink good wine, preferably at the vineyard. Time to enjoy good times with good friends. And sunshine. Plenty of sunshine.

Beyond that, it’s all just details, really.

I’ve never been one who lives to work. I work for pay, like most of us do, because I wasn’t born into money and my parents didn’t set me up with a fancy trust fund.

But my attitude toward work is surprisingly pleasant and upbeat these days, so much so that one of my colleagues recently called me Professor Pollyanna — right after I said, “Sure, let’s give it a shot” when somebody suggested we try something new.

Just the other day, I was chatting with two other colleagues, gearing up for a good old-fashioned complaint session. (I’m very good at complaining about my job.) But then they asked me about Loren, and I told them she is doing OK, handling the chemo well and looking forward to moving onto immunotherapy.

“I don’t know how you cope with a sick wife and a stressful job,” one of them said.

“Yeah,” the other one said, “everything is so crazy and difficult around here.”

“Work’s not stressful,” I said. “It’s actually kind of a pleasant distraction.”

My colleagues looked betrayed. I paused and tried to think of something to say.

“Cancer changes things,” I said. “Sometimes in unexpected ways.”

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