For most of my adult life I have answered the question "Occupation?" with one word: journalist. I still do, but now I am tempted to add a phrase.
Three years ago, at age 73, I learned that I had an incurable cancer called multiple myeloma. At the time the statistical life span for patients with the disease was five years.
That number has not changed, but I have. After three years of chemotherapy, a spinal operation that cost me three inches of height, monthly infusions of bone supplements and drugs to prevent respiratory infection, I am now almost as close to 80 as I was to 70 at the time of the diagnosis. I have lived 60 percent of those five years.
The cancer is in remission, and I take the word of my medical team that I am doing well and should beat the standard life expectancy. I still lead a busy professional and personal life. Biking, swimming, fly-fishing and bird hunting remain active interests — but in a new context.
Even in remission, cancer alters a patient's perception of what's normal. Morning, noon and night, asleep and awake, malignant cells are determined to alter or end your life. Combating cancer is a full-time job that, in my case, requires 24 pills a day, including one that runs $500 a dose. For me, bone damage brought persistent back pain and unwelcome muscle deterioration.
Constant fatigue is a common signature of cancer patients, which separates them from healthy friends and family members. It is also what brings cancer patients together.