The year is 2014. I am 66 years old. Sixty-six.
This past weekend marked 15 years since my cancer surgery. Fifteen years. 1999 – 2014. Fifteen years. In another 15 years, I will (stars aligned) be 81 years old. Eighty-one. 2014 – 2029. Fifteen years.
The year is 2029. I am 81 years old. Eighty-one.
1999 – 2014. What an amazing fifteen years these have been!
In 1999 our oldest, Brent, was a single guy living in Kalamazoo, our son, Derek, was a senior in high school, and Logan, our daughter, was in the 10th grade at Saline High School. Hillary, my wife and life partner for the past 27 years, was busy running a household, and being a speech pathologist for a local school system. As for me, I was continuing my journey across the country as a health promotion educator, lecturing on the importance of primary prevention, personal health responsibility, early disease detection, and early intervention. Life was good. All as it should be.
Full speed ahead!
Then, everything changed. In April, I made a chance discovery that men, too, can develop breast cancer. A deeper, self-discovery, showed that while the lifetime odds of a man developing breast cancer is extremely low (1 in 1,000), my odds were no odds at all. May 28, 1999, Dr. Manny Marcus says, “Michael, you have cancer.”
“Cancer.” The word is so horrific that it has become a metaphor for anything that is ugly, insidious, all consuming, and deadly. But, hey, I used to think; it’s only a metaphor, not the real thing. You know, hyperbole, an exaggeration for effect. Not the actual thing; not the pathology, the disease, the kitchen table whisper that killed my father. And then someone says the word in the same sentence as “you.” “I’m sorry, what did you say? Cancer? Me? I have cancer?” Both the question and the head-nod response seem to echo as if whispered loudly in a hollow tube placed too close to my ear. The volume is fine, but surely I misunderstood. “I’m sorry, what did you say?” I begin to float. Time is just a word that rhymes with dime, and the echo grows louder. …
That summer of 1999, after the surgery for “Breast (Right) Invasive Ductal Carcinoma,” after the meds, after the pain, after the cards and loving wishes, I look in the mirror and there it is. A diagonal line, about 8 inches, it stretches from my right armpit to my sternum. The scar. It’s always there along with the creeping, leaping thought that I might die, soon. But, “No,” says, Dr. Marcus, “Your margins are clean, your chances of living a long and healthy life are looking good.” Okay, that’s great, of course, but I ask myself, “What does that mean? I’m gong to live. I’m going to live? I’m going to live! But, what does that mean? Life is not the same. Living is not the same. So, what does life, living, mean…now?” I direct my answer to the scar, “I don’t know; I’m not sure. Different, I do know that. Better? I hope so. More finely tuned? I know so!”
Full speed ahead!
Fast-forward. It’s fifteen years later, 2014. Brent is 38-years-old, working in the healthcare field and looking forward to being a father someday in the near future. Derek, 33, a teacher, just finished his MA degree in School Administration, and is expecting a baby brother for daughter, Allegra, any day now. Logan, 31, a successful businesswoman, is enjoying watching her beautiful little boy, Christian, grow by leaps and bounds. All happily married and living responsible, full, lives. Hillary continues to be the loving connective tissue that holds us together and keeps us centered.
Of course, they are, and have always been, much more than a paragraph, but that book is for another time.
As for me, I took the advice from the man in the mirror. After my surgery, I became certified in technical climbing at the Alaskan Mountaineering School, trekked to the base camp of Mount Everest, climbed to the summit of Mt Kala Patar in Nepal, and hiked across the Davidson Glacier in Alaska. In addition, I reached the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa in 2006. In July of 2011 I trekked over the Salcantay Mountain Pass in the Peruvian Andes on my way to Machu Pichu. This coming November, I am scheduled to board the National Geographic ship, Endeavor, for a photo and hiking Expedition in the Galapagos Islands. Why? Well, in part because I moved out of the Village of Someday. You know the place; it’s where we put off living life because of the Toos. Too old, too poor, too busy, too out of shape. Now, as I look in the mirror and see the eight inch diagonal line that stretches from my right armpit to my sternum, the line that’s always there—the scar—I often smile with the realization that the only “Too” I know for sure is the fact that life is too short.
Full speed ahead!
2014 – 2029. What an amazing fifteen years these will be!
So, I want another fifteen years just like the last fifteen years. I want love, adventure, and freeze-frame moments. I want more hugs from grandkids. I want beautiful life-embraces from and with Hillary. I want to face challenges as opportunities. I want adversity to be a springboard to discovery. I want to experience minimal pain from aging and to enjoy maximum quality of life. I want to progressively and consistently achieve measurably higher levels of physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual awareness by living a life of integrity, curiosity, authenticity, compassion, and dedication to the collective needs of all beings. AND, I want to combine these last fifteen years with my total thirty-five years in the field of health and wellness to help others do likewise.
Full speed ahead!
To this end, I have secured the Internet domain, www.seniorwellness.us where I will layout and chronicle my personal healthy-aging, observations, tips, roadmap, and journey. We will launch this site in July. It will be organic and personal, as well as a generic map for healthy-aging that is informed, coached, and coaxed, but not directed by the rearview mirror. For those who wish to take this journey with me, there will be bumps and, no doubt, a few minor fender-benders along the path, but there will also be the beauty and exhilaration that comes from living a mature life of responsibility, accountability, independence, and healthy uncertainty. I encourage you to stay tuned. As a former university professor and lecturer, I know how to take notes. I have done so over the past several decades, I will continue to do so, and I am anxious to share…
– Michael H. Samuelson
Photo taken by Ian Lauder, a brilliant photographer, during our mountain adventure in the high Andes of Peru in 2011