Never heard of Stage Five Cancer? That’s not surprising. I made it up!
When you hear a diagnosis of Stage Four cancer and are told it is terminal, it seems like The End, right there and then. But in most cases it isn’t. So I decided we need a new name for this place I live in.
We all know intellectually we are going to die sometime, but hearing it from a doctor, seeing a chart that shows your body filled with cancer cells, and learning your immune system has failed you, is a reality check like no other.
Once you settle down, you find out that they often have ways of keeping the cancer in check for quite a long time. This time feels like a reprieve from death row.
This time is precious, joyful, grievous, hopeful. In many ways, you can live an ordinary life in Stage Five. The only difference is that you are truly conscious of the inevitability your death. At times you can even befriend it.
Stage Five can be a place of equanimity. It takes practice to maintain the balance. It isn’t there naturally, at least not for me. (See”Meditating as Fast as I Can”)
In the 2.5 years since the “terminal” diagnosis, I’ve learned about many treatments that slow the cancer down. And new ones keep coming along.
My wonderful oncologist says, “As long as the cancer doesn’t grow, you stay alive.” We do not try to get rid of it now, just keep it from growing.
It helps to have a healing team you trust, a medical team that listens, and a doctor on the cutting edge of cancer research.
Despite all that, sometimes the cancer grows, and you try something else. Then it stops growing.
It grows again, moves somewhere else, and you try another strategy. Each physical shift requires emotional and mental shifts as well. You do get used to it.
I’ve found recurrent themes:
-gratitude for the care and expertise of my medical and healing team that’s given me this extra time
-gratitude for friends and family who have had to shift from seeing me as the healthy, invincible super-person of endless energy and competency to someone who needs to talk about cancer and chemo, takes naps and asks for help
-reflecting on what is most important each day, each moment, and then doing my best to do that
-planning for the end of this life
-releasing my grip on expectations
-admitting that I still hope for a permanent remission (don’t dare say cure) no matter what I am being told
-balancing a realistic optimism for doing joyful activities each day while not denying the
reality of this diagnosis and the need for extra self-care
-allowing pain, fear, grief and sadness to arise, and feeling those emotions fully so I can move on.
Stage Five then, is living.
Living with death and life right here all the time. Living with a conscious choice to be in the present moment with optimism and joy more often than thinking about the future with fear and sorrow.
When you think about it, I am no different than everyone else. Once we recognize the inevitability of death of this body, and choose to live fully, we could call that Stage 5 too.
Welcome. I hope you’ll enjoy life with me.