I’m looking at this whole cancer diagnosis as an opportunity to be “our finest hour”, at least in the Apollo 13/Battle of Britain sense. It has certainly been Jing’s finest hour; she is a saint. As part of that “finest hour” mentality, this diagnosis/trial is an opportunity to make some improvements, and hopefully be better on the other side of this nightmare. To that end, I offer the following specific aims:
1. Learn to play Bach on the guitar. Like most adolescent males, I went through a brief phase where I made some half-assed efforts to learn guitar in high school and college. Besides bits and pieces of “stairway to heaven”, there wasn’t much success to speak of. Then, in graduate school, I wrecked my hands from pipetting too much, and I had to give up either the guitar or science. I had always assumed that at some point, I wouldn’t have to pipette for a living anymore, and I could go back to learning guitar. Now’s the time – can’t procrastinate anymore. Besides, my neuropsych evaluation shows deficits in focus/attention and multi-tasking abilities, which is especially troubling since these were my greatest cognitive strengths before the cancer and surgery. What better way to rehabilitate fine motor coordination and divided attention issues than by learning some intricate, difficult piece of music? Two birds with one stone.
2. Take care of my health properly. Before all this, I was like most people in the sense that I assumed at some point, maintaining my health would become a full-time occupation, but not until my autumn years. Most people, I believe, realize that they are not eating especially well and certainly not exercising enough or effectively, and they tell themselves that at some point they’ll get their acts together. I can’t procrastinate on this one anymore, either. At the very least, we are meeting with medical oncology and radiation oncology tomorrow to hear what the options are for chemo-radiation moving forward. So far, the surgeon seems confident he got the whole tumor, and he’s recommending a wait-and-see approach. But there’s no getting around the fact that we may need to explore those options eventually (God forbid). And, if we do, I need to be in prime physical and mental condition. So, I am resolved to make staying healthy my full time occupation.
3. Never pass up an opportunity for aesthetic or sensual pleasures. It is cliche to say that the little things make up life, but in this case, the cliche is actually true. Aesthetic: making a point to visit the Missouri Botanical Gardens twice a week instead of once a week. This is just my favorite place in St. Louis, and one of my favorite places in the world. Note well that a biweekly stroll through MOBOT is consistent with item #2 above. Sensual: saying YES to the mint OREO shake at Smash Burger more often than before cancer/surgery. Note well the tension between this sub-aim and item #2 above.
4. Be far LESS disciplined about spending money. I flatter myself that I’ve made a ton of progress on this one in the last three weeks. I bought my darling wife a lovely opal pendant to thank her for sitting next to me through all the ICU crap and boring rehab stuff. I bought myself a Wii to play balance games and to improve the core muscle groups and coordination I lost in the surgery. I bought myself a Fender Amplifier I had always wanted but could never justify buying, given my lackluster commitment to the guitar. I bought my older daughters the super fancy Frozen Lego set, to apologize for all the stuff I missed while I was away in the hospital. I bought a case of Amancaya 2011 (previously my favorite wine in the whole world) to thank the surgical team for being such consummate professionals.
5. Don’t worry about stupid shit anymore. I haven’t come up with anything scarier than a brain tumor, despite having a mind keenly focused on the subject matter and all the time in the world to explore the different angles. So, with that as a background, does it really matter that an internal UMSL grant I wrote was rejected with the committee making the argument that they couldn’t fund a course when it wasn’t certain it would be offered again. This, despite it already being on the schedule for 2016, and my Chair’s letter specifically saying this course was planned to be a major part of our Department’s PhD curricula in the years moving forward. It’s really liberating to disengage yourself from stupid, petty worries.
6. Not going to get depressed by birthdays anymore. For obvious reasons, it’s a good thing to be a year older.