by Harvey Gould
I was 55 years old, a partner in a San Francisco law firm, married to the love of my life, working hard, playing hard and loving every minute of it. I had annual checkups, ate (comparatively) healthy, never had any serious medical issues and my wife and I rode horses for exercise.
I’m Jewish. My wife is Irish Catholic. She introduced me to Ireland, first by us going there on a horseback riding trip in 1988. We returned 14 times for extended stays over a 20-year span. After traveling throughout the country, our routine became to rent our favorite cottage in a small village. Over time, we were accepted by the villagers as one of them. In Irish terms, they bestowed on us the honored moniker of “fierce locals.”
Life was good. No, life was just about perfect.
Then one day I was hospitalized for overnight monitoring for a possible cardiac event. After discharge, my blood counts remained abnormal, and I couldn’t shake a relentless exhaustion and severe night sweats. After multiple tests came back negative, my internist sent me to a hematologist. More tests ensued, and he told me that I had myelofibrosis, a rare and terminal blood cancer.
And that I had three to five years to live.
After initial bouts of depression and mentally planning my own funeral (not that I’m a drama queen or anything), ultimately I came to terms with the fact that I had a choice:
- I could choose Door 1, through which I could hide in a cave with a “Pity Me” sign at the entrance, retreat deeper and deeper into the darkness and wait for death to take me by the hand, or
- I could choose Door 2, which would allow my senses, never so focused as by the verdict of a terminal disease, to shout that I now had a reason like never before to be thankful for every day that I could see, smell, hear, taste and touch.
I chose Door 2 and began to marvel at the gift of life, which up till then, I admit, I’d taken for granted.
Some people believe that with serious diseases come blessings. Count me as one of the believers. Don’t get me wrong: It’s not that I recommend terminal illness as a prescription for my family and friends, but I do say that it can give you a renewed appreciation about the gift of life.
I’m asked frequently, “Do you think attitude matters when dealing with a terminal disease?”
My answer is that while attitude won’t cure you, when you are surrounded by those who love you and who want you to stay alive as long as possible, you gain the strength to fight - through transfusion dependency, the ravages of chemo, surgeries and more.
And here I am, 12 years later, still fighting the fight and happy to be ruining medical statistics about my mortality.