On Turning 80

I now have a habit of posting every five years about “turning” a certain age.  On October 4, I will turn 80.

I never thought I would reach 80.

When I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2014, my life expectancy was four years. I began chemotherapy and after three years was declared to be in remission. I was chemo-free for several years. In 2021, the cancer roared back and I began chemo again.

A few months ago I was once again declared to be in remission, but now I will need to have monthly chemo for the rest of my life. My doctor made it clear that while this chemo-cocktail will inevitably fail, there are others we can try – until they all fail. Because one of the components (Revlemid) of my current chemo-cocktail caused  terrible  mental confusion and as well as  multiple falls, the doctor reluctantly eliminated it. He is amazed that I am in remission without it. However, he share that most new treatments also contain Revlimid. I told him that I wouldn’t take it. He  agreed and said he would start researching others that are Revlemid free.

So part of beginning my 80’s is facing the increasing reality of imminent death.

October 5, the day after my birthday is the 2nd anniversary of my husband’s death.  Life without him has been very different. He was ill for several years and I was his caregiver.  The first year after his death I felt quite useless; so much of my time had been spent meeting his many needs. Recently, as I face another anniversary, I have been experiencing moments of real struggle with grief.

When I shared my unusual bouts of sobbing, my friend Barb, a retired hospice nurse, reminded me that “grief is so random.” She suggested that anniversaries are likely to provoke times when even beautiful memories (in this case hearing the song “My Girl” which Fred used to sing to me) are cause for grief.  I am finding the truth of this as I am reminded that music (especially by the Temptations) was one of the things that brought us together.

My post “On Turning 75” has a list of many things I had learned. Re-reading it just now brings back so many memories. My 80th birthday finds me facing the difficulties of living alone and independently – and without a car. I am recognizing that all my life I was involved with helping others. As I approach my 80’s, I am learning how to ask for help and accept it graciously and without guilt.  This has been harder than I ever dreamed it would be; I didn’t realize how much of my self-esteem was built by being a helper.

God has found many ways to teach me the lesson of receiving and  understanding that I still can be  a helper, just in very different ways. A statement I have always loved by Anne Lamott  helps on this journey: “Lighthouses don’t go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.” And another thought helps me accept that I can receive the help of others without being upset that I need it:  “If something comes toward us with grace and can pass through us with grace, we can trust it as the voice of God.”  I am blessed to remember that I can be the conduit of God’s grace.

My other issue as I turn 80 is accepting the fact that the Revlimid did permanent damage to my brain. I have the normal forgetfulness that comes at this age and that all my friends complain about, but this is something different. I can be in the middle of a conversation and totally go blank about what I was talking about.  No one else cares, but I am totally embarrassed and disappointed because I couldn’t share what was important to me at the time. Going “blank” affects everything in my day. Sometimes I can laugh when I can’t remember what my last thought; other times it is totally frustrating and frightening. (It also complicates writing a blog!)

My goal as I turn 80 is to continue to learn to accept who I am, flaws and all, knowing that God will continue to grace me with his love and total acceptance.

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