As someone living with cancer, it is hard to refrain from contemplating time. I frequently wonder about how much time I have left on this planet and whether my disease will shortchange some of the time to which I would have otherwise been entitled.
Of course, I think all of us ponder these questions from time to time, regardless of whether we possess a nefarious illness such as cancer. I believe these thoughts really start building in one’s late twenties, as the 30th anniversary of one’s birth draws near. This is in part due to the fact that after attaining the age of 21, when one can legally buy just about anything that it is legal to buy, there is no real upside left to continuing to celebrate birthdays. Even if one has friends that lavish expensive gifts on the birthday celebrant, it really only puts pressure on that person to return the favor in kind when these overly generous gift givers celebrate their success of avoiding death for yet another year. And while I am on the topic of birthday celebrations, I think we have it backwards when it comes to these fetes. Rather than giving presents to the person whose birthday it is, would it not make more sense for the birthday boy or gal to give presents to his or her party attendees? After all, the only thing the birthday celebrant did was manage to stay alive for another year, which should be reward enough in and of itself. And it is quite possible that she or he would not have achieved these extra 365 (or 366) days of breathing without the support of these friends and loved ones. In that sense, I think the giving of goodie bags at the end of kids’ birthday parties actually makes sense. We can learn from our children. Plus the cakes they have are often much cooler.
But once we have attained the age of 21, about the only thing left to “accomplish” age-wise is being able to rent a car upon turning 25. Yet how often do most of us rent cars? And even if we do, is it that exciting? Sure, it’s gotten a bit better now that one can pick out “any car on the lot” but it is still not nearly the thrill of using one’s legitimate ID to buy beer for the first time. About the only other milestone that comes is the collection of social security benefits, but that is so far down the road that no one looks forward to that who is not already acquiesced in the realization that the majority of his days are behind them. Plus, for those my age and younger, it’s a fair question as to whether social security will even exist when we retire. If it doesn’t, not only will countless Americans not have a dependable source of regular income, we will no longer have a set of random digits, hyphens included, to identify ourselves for virtually every purpose under the sun and which lend themselves to being pilfered for fraudulent uses.
I think I first realized that I was getting older when I was listening to the radio one day. I tuned in during the middle of a song that had been one of my favorites as a teenager. After the song concluded, the DJ referred to the song as a “classic.” A classic? How could this be? I remember vividly when this song first was introduced to the listening public (and, given my age, had its video premier on MTV). That’s not a classic. A classic is a song that was already old when I first heard it as a tween or teenager. But then I did the math, and I realized the disc jockey was correct – thirty years since its inception does make one a classic. (This point was reinforced recently when Will, age 9, told me he likes playing classical music on the piano. I thought he would mention Mozart or Clementi, but he went on to state, “You know, songs like “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Mon dieu.)
Perhaps the next reminder of my aging physical plant was my 40th birthday party. I did not do anything crazy like shots – I don’t do those anymore (another sign of aging but one I prefer to view as just common sense) – just had several beers. And no food. It literally took me three days to recover completely from this experience. Twenty years earlier I would have been unphased at all and even 10 years previously I would have felt okay by the next morning.
Similarly, my body now takes more time to recover from any kind of abuse, including exercise which is really intentionally self-inflicted abuse. The problem with that when one has cancer is that I never know if something is merely slow to heal or there is a more sinister cancer component at work. For example, I have a recurring pain under my right arm. It could just be a pulled muscle that is slow to heal (in part because it is constantly being irritated when walking the dog – I am a right-handed leash holder; how I wish I were ambidextrous). But since it is near a rather unsavory part of the human anatomy – in this case an armpit – there are lymph nodes in the vicinity. So I worry if the pain may not be muscular at all but my white blood cells congregating again to plot their next attempted coup of the nation-state of Jeff. And because my friends are also aging, I hear about their bodily woes as well. Although I definitely do not want them to suffer, selfishly it makes me feel less alone that I am not the only one whose elbow pops or hip regularly is angry. In fact, it has gotten to the point that I can no longer keep track of all of the ailments of my friends. And I don’t even have that many friends. I now have to keep a book on each of my friends so I know what she or he is suffering through. It takes a lot of effort to keep this updated as we continue to age. That’s what happens when you become classics.