When I was a teacher, I worked with my students a lot on setting SMART goals. They are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. I was good at SMART Goals. I knew how to set them. I had them while writing my Master’s thesis, training for my first marathon, canning and freezing berries and vegetables to last the whole winter, and helping my students get their work done. I was goal-oriented and it worked because my goals and the steps I had to take to achieve them were mostly within my control to complete. Check the box and proceed.
But my brain cancer diagnosis came with a new, really big goal: LIVE, and absolutely no instructions or any useful acronym for where or how to start to work toward achieving it. I don’t like to credit cancer with anything, so I’ll thank my husband--the athlete--for teaching me this one. He told me, no one gets to the Olympics or the World Championships by setting that big race as their daily training goal but instead by setting goals for what is directly in front of you, for that day’s training session. You get through today’s training and tomorrow you get through tomorrow’s, day by day, session by session. In my case, appointment by appointment, treatment by treatment, discussion and decision by discussion and decision.
So while this seemed smarter, It was still too new, too scary, and too unfamiliar for me to even imagine how there could be any way of breaking my goal into bearable steps that gave me a sense of progress and hope rather than more reminders of how hard it all was. But over the last 19 months, I’ve learned that learning how to live with brain cancer and to fight it the best that I can is really exactly the same as any other smart goal. It is day by day, step by step, training session by training session.
So, while I wish it involved more written lists with checkboxes, color codes, and acronyms, I thank my husband for reminding me whenever I need it to just take it one day at a time, bit by bit, bump by bump. Truth be told, at the start I could have never imagined or written the list of daily steps I have had to take, So, just as well, I am learning to take them as they come.
It is only in retrospect that I am able to break my BIG goal down into these little steps from the last year and a half.
GOAL: (basic and unoriginal as it is, it is mine to work for, every single day): I WILL LIVE MY BEST LIFE FOR A LONG LONG LONG TIME.
Step 1: Recover from a successful 11 hour Brain Surgery
Sit down for the first time in an neuro-oncology waiting room, stand up and walk into the neurosurgeons office. Sit down, breathe. Listen, look, and breathe. Stand up and go home. Check
Talk to Luke and Eva about brain tumor and surgery. Check
Show up at the hospital for brain surgery. Check
Wake up from brain surgery!!! Check
Rest today. Check
Walk down the driveway and walk back up. Check
Walk today. Check
Rest today. Check
Jog 1 mile. Check
Have staples removed. Check
Step 2: Get used to life with a lot more doctors appointments.
Have first post-op MRI. Check
Go to office visit after first post-op MRI scan. Check (repeat every 12, 8 or 6 weeks)
Go to weekly Mindfulness Stress Reduction class. Check
Mediate daily. Almost a check (this is a hard one)
Step 3: Gain 20 pounds in 2.5 months
Eat 2,600 calories every day until radiation starts. Check
Weigh myself once a week and have it read more, not less, and not the same as last week. Check
Go grocery shopping by myself. (it wasn’t easy, and only now a little bit funny how hard it was, but I did it!) Check.
Step 4: Complete 6 weeks of Proton Beam Therapy
Sit down in proton beam center waiting room. Check
Stand up and walk into meet with radiology oncologist. Check.
Fight insurance company to approve proton beam therapy as “medically necessary” (really?!?!). Check.
Get scanned and fitted for custom fitted face mask. Check
Wake up, lift weights, complete one day of PBT treatment. Check
Wake up, lift weights, and complete second day of PBT treatment with smile. Repeat each day for 6 weeks.
PBT done, ring bell.
Hug my amazing team of doctors, nurses, and technicians for being with me every step of the way. Check
Step 5: Complete 6 cycles of PCV Chemotherapy (9 - 12 months)
Get port placed in chest. Check
Explain port to Luke and Eva again at bedtime snuggle. Check.
Decide with Doctor that “destroy” is the right word for our cycle start high five “Destroy the Fucker”
Swallow first chemo pill. Smile. Check
Eat 2 breakfasts every day, repeat daily. Check
Get first infusion. Smile. Check
Swallow first of next 28 pills. Smile. Check
Create and drink daily calorie-dense protein shake. Check
Get next infusion. Smile. Check
Cycle 1, done. Check.
…. and repeat each step five more times one day, one pill or treatment at a time, blood test by blood test.
Step 6: Next…
I’ve got two more chemo cycles to go and I intend to complete them all. But it’s not too early to start planning for my next steps.
A) Register me and my bestie for the half marathon version of the full marathon we ran two years ago. She’s a keeper so I’ll not stand her up even if it means getting out of bed early for a blustery cold morning run in the freezing rain. Check
B) Create website to Raise awareness and money for research for Oligo at Massachusetts General Hospital….
C) Establish dedicated fund for Oligodendroglioma research at Massachusetts General Hospital “Meg Dostal Fund for Oligodendroglioma research.
I’m only getting started!