Part of Stage IV cancer life is actively thinking through the memories you are generating for your kids - memories they will have for the rest of their lives.
What memories do I want my kids to have of me whether I die in 2017 or 2037? I want them to know I fought my hardest to be here for them. I want them to know that I tried my hardest to make the world a better place than it would have been without me. Those are my memory goals on the big level but important family memories are also based on the more simple day-to-day level.
When I think back to my childhood, an area my memories always congregate to is summers. Carefree summer days, playing outside until sunset, swimming almost daily, taking family vacations... At least until I started summer jobs, this time off from school was as close to childhood utopia as it got. These are memories I cherish from my childhood. As a parent now, I want my kids to also have the most carefree summer memories as possible.
Unfortunately chemotherapy and carefree are polar opposites. Chemo is rough, not only on the patient but also importantly on the entire family as well. I hoped to have this summer off from chemo but whether or not that would be possible would be based upon the incredible impact of "one little number": my monthly colorectal cancer CEA blood tumor marker test.
My CEA test came back good this week! This meant that I can stay off chemo for at least another month, and this break allows my immune system to be as healthy as possible as we work on my personalized immunotherapy research this summer. Coupled with a clean melanoma checkup (1 ½ years out from diagnosis!) – it was a very good week indeed to help set up my kids for the most carefree summer possible!
Kids live in the moment – their thoughts of me on treatment will recede quickly and be replaced by thoughts & memories I want them to focus on: having summertime fun. We'll be kicking off summer this week with a solstice party, at least for that evening in the waning light of the year's latest sunset, thoughts of cancer will recede from even the adults' minds as summertime fun takes control.
I know that no matter what my melanoma and CEA test results could have been this week... I would have generated good memories with the kids this summer regardless of doing chemo or not. Thousands of Stage IV survivors are doing this successfully as I type this post. That being said, it still feels good to have a summer vacation from chemo... Chemo is rough on both me and the entire family. After 6 months on it, we were ready for a break...
And for that opportunity I am very thankful. No matter what your situation, enjoy making some good memories the next couple of months. That is what summers are for.
Dr. Tom Marsilje is a 20-year oncology drug discovery scientist with "currently incurable" stage IV colon cancer. He also writes a personal blog on life at the intersection of being both a cancer patient and researcher "Adventures in Living Terminally Optimistic," a science column for Fight Colorectal Cancer "The Currently Incurable Scientist", and posts science and advocacy updates to Twitter @CurrentIncurSci. This guest column appears on Diagnosis: Cancer through our partnership with Inspire, an Arlington, Va., company with condition-specific online support communities for over 800,000 patients and caregivers.