The recently released animated movie “Inside Out” explores the emotions of an 11-year-old named Riley as her family moves from her happy, Midwestern, hockey-loving life to San Francisco. It is a sweet interplay about Riley coming to grips with the family’s big move and changes it has wrought.
The movie was filmed from the perspective of a central control room located in Riley’s head and viewing the world through her eyes as though it is an airport control tower. The control room is staffed by the emotions Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear. Amy Poehler plays the character Joy, while Lewis Black plays Anger.
For those of us who have cancer, we could just as easily add Pollyanna and Negativity to that same control room resident in our minds. At one extreme, Pollyanna is an excessively cheerful, overly optimistic character who seems to find something positive in even the worst of circumstances. The converse is, well, Negativity, where nothing is good or right.
Ever since this particular topic came up as a potential blog, my wife has deliciously watched me get tied into knots. You see, she grew up in a family where they always find a glimmer of hope in the darkest of clouds. In a classic example of opposites attracting, I grew up in a family that is genetically predisposed to looking at the 1/100th of 1 percent of the cup that is empty. In fact, I went to graduate school to learn how to quantify risk. Go figure.
Obviously, getting a cancer diagnosis is not a good thing, and my worry level was pretty high at first. However, after processing the initial shock of being diagnosed, my wife sardonically said that my cancer is about third or fourth in her list of worries given all the other challenges we face. All I have to say is when your wife doesn’t let you complain, you have no choice but to be more positive!
Nonetheless, I confess to being at both of these extremes at one point or another in the nearly four years since receiving my diagnosis with CLL. On the downside, I have learned the hard way that age discrimination in employment is real. As mentioned in several previous blogs, a very special friend recently succumbed to cancer. A few months immediately after being diagnosed, I had a small meltdown when coming to grips with the fact that I have an incurable cancer.
At the other extreme, I have also experienced incredible hope and joy. I am regularly buoyed by the incredible advances in Precision Medicine and new treatment agents including Venetoclax, ibrutinib, and idelalisib. I vividly remember the sweet taste of completing three century bike rides in four weeks, one of which was a personal record (PR). And I will never, EVER forget jumping out of a perfectly good airplane at 12,000 feet with my 18-year-old daughter!
I suspect that many cancer patients simply crave the normalcy they had before their diagnosis and just want to thread the needle between these emotional extremes. Despite being in watch and wait, I get up every day, have a good cup of coffee, go to work, train regularly with my coach, enjoy my family, and generally don’t let CLL define the day.
For somebody who regularly needs a good adrenaline jolt, it is hard to believe that I would say boring is good! For example, just last week, my wife and I went out to dinner with some friends, and we just laughed a lot. These people all had their serious brushes with cancer, but other than in passing we did not talk about it much and just really enjoyed each other’s company.
So in closing, I am playing the hand I have been dealt, not the one I necessarily want. Not sure what else one can do
Please share your story in the comment section about “threading the needle.” It will help others in their battle.
Thank you for reading!
Always hope. Never quit.
– C.J. Chris