Saturday, December 18, 2010

An Uncommon Man

The year is almost over, and I can't think of a better time to post my last blog entry of the year. My last post was about six months ago, and since I can't think of a better topic than the one I was writing about back then, I'll just continue with that topic today.

A while ago, I wrote on my Facebook profile that I had just been diagnosed with two more medical conditions, bringing the total up to four. I mentioned that they began with the letters A, B, C, and D, but I didn't I didn't spell out exactly what they were, so I'll do that now.

A. I keep forgetting about this one, so if I'm not thinking I'll sometimes say it's amnesia, but it's actually anemia, which I was diagnosed with in late June. My count was about half of what it's supposed to be, which meant I was pale and tired all the time. I thought I was pale because I'm a white guy who spends too much time indoors, and I thought I was tired all the time because I was waking up early to go to my physical therapy appointments for my bad back. But I ended up getting a blood transfusion, and my color and energy level eventually got back to normal.

B. This is an old condition, something I've had for about 20 years. I've got a few herniated discs in my lower back, and most of the time they don't bother me, but when they do it's sometimes so debilitating that I can't walk, or sit, or lie down, or do anything else. I don't know if there's a medical term for this condition, so I just call it a bad back.

C. This one's easy. When you think of a medical condition that begins with the letter C, what do you think of? Cystinosis? Conjunctivitis? Chondroblastoma? Chicken Pox? Maybe you do, but chances are you think of cancer instead. I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2005, and if you know a little about pancreatic cancer, you know that it can be extremely aggressive, but if you know a little more about pancreatic cancer you know that there are two kinds: the aggressive adenocarcinoma (which Patrick Swayze died of not too long ago), and the much less common, much less aggressive islet cell tumor (which Steve Jobs has). As I mentioned once before, I happen to have the less aggressive type, but that's pretty much all Steve Jobs and I have in common, as far as I can tell, other than the fact that we're both male humans of roughly the same age. For example, I'm not a billionaire, I don't wear black t-shirts, I'm not an egotistical despot, and I don't own any Apple products. Of course, there's always a chance that we could have a lot more in common than either of us knows about. For example, we might have the same blood type, or maybe we both enjoy solving crossword puzzles. But getting back to the topic at hand, one of the anti-cancer drugs I was taking has a side-effect of anemia. For various reasons, I'm not taking that drug anymore, and I no longer have anemia. Maybe that's just a coincidence.

D. On the day I found out I had anemia, I also learned that I have diabetes -- type 1 diabetes, to be specific. I don't know if you know this, but you get type 1 diabetes when your pancreas is no longer able to produce insulin, and my poor little cancer-stricken pancreas can no longer cut the mustard in that regard. So I'm pretty sure I got diabetes as a result of having pancreatic cancer. Anyway, it turns out that all that weight I lost was due to my untreated diabetes.

The interesting thing (to me, at least) is that type 1 diabetes is much less common than type 2, just as islet cell tumors are much less common than adenocarcinomas. For what it's worth, I also have a very rare blood type. This is all medically insignificant, of course -- I'm only mentioning it to illustrate that where cancer, diabetes, and blood type are concerned, I am anything but common.

Okay, that's enough of that because, believe it or not, I don't really like talking about my medical health. It sort of feels like I'm violating my own privacy. But here's the thing about cancer and other incurable diseases: People are always saying stupid things like "live life to the fullest" and "live each day as if it were your last." Fortunately, nobody's ever said those things to me, but they're still pretty common sentiments. If you don't believe me, look them up on Google. I did, and here's what I got:

"Live life to the fullest." 2.6 million hits
"Live each day as if it were your last." 62.4 thousand hits
"Live each day to the fullest." 1.79 million hits

I didn't check any of the other linguistic variations on this particular theme, except for this one:
"Living life to the fullest." 306 thousand hits

So it's a popular notion, as well as a romantic one, but the reason I think it's stupid is that, unless I completely misunderstand it, it's just a meaningless platitude. I don't think you should live each day as though it were your last, unless you inhabit some weird sort of artificial reality such as the ones depicted in bad movies. If I thought each day was my last, I'd never do my laundry or clean my house or shop for groceries. And I certainly wouldn't pay any bills. I probably wouldn't even write this blog, and then what condition would the world be in?

But as I said, maybe I don't really understand this idea of living life to the fullest. Maybe you have a different understanding. If you do, you should leave a comment for this post. And if you agree with me, maybe you should also leave a comment, just to let me know I'm not alone. And if you don't have an opinion, or you have an opinion but you're not sure what it is, you should probably still consider leaving me a comment.

I invite all comments, but I know I'm just wasting my breath, because I realize that very few people actually read this blog, and those that do aren't generally inclined toward commenting on my brilliant posts. But today I generously extend the offer anyway, in the spirit of the holiday season.

But to continue with the theme of this post, instead of living life to the fullest, I think you should just take care of the things that need taking care of, and the rest of the time just enjoy yourself. If you're lucky, you'll enjoy taking care of all the things that need taking care of. If not, that's okay too.

Enjoyment is sort of a nebulous concept, of course. We all know what it means, but in practical terms, it means different things to different people, since we don't all enjoy doing the same things. So just decide what it means to you, and then do it.

But you don't have to enjoy yourself to the fullest, just do whatever you want. For example, sometimes I like to do crossword puzzles, sometimes I like to stay up late watching bad movies on cable, and sometimes I like to read the idiotic comments that people post to articles they've read online.

But while we're still on the subject of meaningless expressions, another one I don't really like is "Happy New Year." It's okay as long as you say it to someone during the first week or so of the new year, but it doesn't make sense when you say it during the last few weeks of the old year, which is when you hear it a lot.

You could argue that it's short for "Have a happy new year," but that doesn't make a lot of sense either, since the new year is only new for about a week. So when you say "Have a happy new year," you're telling someone to enjoy the upcoming year, but only while it's still new, which, as I said before, is only for about a week.

So what you should say at the end of every year is, "Have a happy next year," which this year is good all throughout 2011. Or better yet, you should tell people what I'm about to tell you: Have a happy next year, but don't bother trying to live it to the fullest because it won't make you any happier. Just do what needs to be done, and the rest of the time enjoy yourselves.