A man running with an awareness ribbon in the sky above him

Hitting 60 While Coping With Blood Cancer

My heart feels like it’s going to beat out of my chest, as sweat drips into my eyes. My breath is laboring as I head down the last hill and turn into the driveway, I smile relieved. Two miles! I made it! What a way to begin my “over the hill” birthday!

So what possessed me to attempt this feat on my 60th birthday...besides of lack common sense? What kind of crazy person celebrates their birthday by going running? Wouldn’t a “normal” 60-year-old celebrate by having an extra piece of cake or by taking a nice afternoon nap?

Making it to sixty is a big event. Even more so when you have cancer. Therefore, I wanted to do something memorable.

Not one, but two cancers

In 2016, I was diagnosed with not one, but two types of cancer. First was a rare blood cancer called polycythemia vera (PV), followed by invasive ductal carcinoma or breast cancer.

When I first received these dual diagnoses, I wasn’t sure I was going to still be alive at 60. For the first time, I was faced with my own mortality. Up until then I really thought living to 100 was a reasonable goal. I lived a healthy life, ran every day, and ate nutritiously. I envisioned being that 85-year-old lady running who triumphantly completes a 5K race with dozens cheering her on.

How long will I live?

The breast cancer initially was concerning but since I caught it early and by all appearances, it hadn’t spread outside the tumor margin or into the lymph nodes, I wasn’t too worried it would directly impact my life expectancy, at least not dramatically.

However, the PV was a different story. My bone marrow overproducing red blood cells is the cause of PV. Having excess red blood cells makes my blood thick. Thick blood increases the risk of heart attack, blood clots, or stroke. There is also a small chance of the PV morphing into a more invasive form of blood cancer like myelofibrosis or certain leukemias.

So many unknowns with

There are so many unknowns with polycythemia vera.

One of the first questions I had was rather a morbid one, how much time do I have left? I remember meeting one of the oncologists shortly after I was diagnosed. My stress level was at an all-time high when he pulled out this chart and said the average life expectancy for someone with PV was 17 years. I, at the time, was 54. My first thought was, I’m only going to live until my 70s? That is not what I had in mind.

He went on further to explain that this information had been compiled a number of years ago and was just an average. He emphasized it didn’t account for many factors like age of onset if the patient was on any medication, the overall health of the individual, prior circulatory issues, or medical history. Hearing that provided some comfort. Still, from then on, I decided I wasn’t going to allow a number on a chart to dictate my life.

Still hoping to live to 100

I don’t know if I’ll make it to 100 or be running in my 80s as I planned, but now that I’ve made it into my 60s, I feel confident I’m going to be around quite a while longer.

As far as how I plan to celebrate the rest of the day? That nap is starting to sound good.

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