Saturday, February 13, 2016

Cancer is a full-time job

One of the things I’ve learned about having cancer is how much time it takes!

For instance:

·   Cancer treatment itself: so far I’ve had only chemotherapy, which basically consumes a day for each infusion. But some weeks we’ve had as many as three trips into New York City to Sloan-Kettering, all of them necessary, the others being for visits to doctors and for tests.

·   Related medications: there are medicines I take at home for the chemotherapy and cancer side-effects, and sometimes there are medicines for the anti-side-effect medicines’ side-effects, and there are herbal supplements and probiotics; all of these have to be taken when they should be taken.

·   Record-keeping: what medicines did I take and when; what symptoms did I feel and when? My wife Teresa keeps notes, and it’s clear that without them I’d be losing details of what’s going on that might be important. She also keeps notes of what the doctors tell us; I rely on my memory, and while doing that may help me interact with the doctors it also means I forget some details.

·   Exercise: everyone should exercise, because it will improve and prolong your life, but when you have cancer those words have extra punch.

·   Sleep: you need it. So does everybody else, but cancer patients need it more.

·   Mental disciplines, such as meditation or visualization or affirmation: I’m just learning about these in the context of cancer, but they seem promising enough that I want to spend some time on them each day.

·   Research: we’re not physicians but we nevertheless have medical choices to make. And those choices may include not only options in Western medicine, but also in other bodies of knowledge, such as Chinese medicine. Teresa reads much more widely about my disease than I do, but we’re both doing some of this.

·   Diet: Basically cancer requires you to eat healthy. That’s not as easy as it sounds, at least if your habits until your diagnosis weren’t perfect. So, for instance, I’m supposed to have more “cruciferous vegetables” – most of which I usually dislike (e.g. Brussels sprouts). Sweet fruits, which I like, are somewhat discouraged. Sugar in any context is discouraged too. Cold drinks are also problematic; it’s better to drink liquid that’s at room temperature or warmer. Processed meats like hot dogs are out; salad items that are hard to wash are out unless you trust the washing process; soft fried eggs are also out. Alcohol is completely out, though caffeine is still permitted (but I’ve had contradictory advice from Sloan-Kettering physicians about coffee). And this isn’t all. Fortunately for me, Teresa works hard to make healthy meals and energy shakes, and as a result I’ve actually gained weight during chemotherapy.

·   Staying connected with family and friends: I’ve come to understand how important this is, perhaps more clearly than I ever did before.

How does all this fit with the regular work on the job that a cancer patient may still be doing, and that he or she needs to do, both to avoid becoming just a patient and to earn a living (and perhaps the employer-provided health insurance that pays for the cost of treatment)? There must be a lot of answers to that question. For me, the answer really is that Teresa and I are doing the cancer job together. Because we are job-sharing that job, I still have time to be a law professor. And she still has time for her work too, though that hasn’t been simple either.

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