Watch and wait

Watch and Wait, Part 2: The Waiting Game

Submitted by admin on Mon, 10/03/2016 - 08:20
Carol Krucoff is a former Washington Post writer and editor, yoga teacher at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, N.C., and author of "Yoga Sparks: 108 Easy Practices for Stress Relief in a Minute or Less." Visit her website healingmoves.com

This is part two of the two-part series Watch and Wait: The Waiting Game. Read the previous instalment.

In February 2014, I had the morning-long outpatient procedure, which involved being given a mild sedative and having a head frame attached to my skull, then lying very still, similar to what you do while having an MRI. I left the hospital in the afternoon with gauze wrapped around my head, feeling just a little unsteady, and rested the next few days. By the following week, I felt fine, and I was back to teaching yoga.

MRI and hearing tests were done six months and then one year later showed that my hearing and the tumour were stable. Thankfully, I have felt no ill effects from the procedure, although I have been told that effects of radiation may emerge years later.

It could take at least two years after the radiosurgery to learn whether my tumour has stopped growing. After that, further scans are recommended at two, four and eight years. So I will be watching and waiting for some time. And I am not alone.

The boom in life expectancy - from about 47 years in 1900 to about 78 in 2012 - has resulted in an unprecedented "silver tsunami" of older adults, and technological advances mean an increased likelihood of finding some abnormality during those extra decades of life. While humans have always been aware of our mortality, we have never been able to see the approaching train that may take us out so clearly.

For me, this unsettling knowledge presents a spiritual opportunity. Like the ancient yogis who were taught to imagine death sitting on their shoulder, having a heightened awareness of impermanence can serve to make the present moment that much sweeter.

And in my case, watchful waiting involves more than my little brain tumour. As with the old joke "What do you always look for but hope never to find?" (Answer: a run in your stocking), I'm continually monitoring a variety of conditions. I have regular echocardiograms to check my prosthetic bovine aortic heart valve. (I acquired this valve during open-heart surgery in 2008 to replace a congenitally abnormal valve that had become dangerously narrow and created an aneurysm that needed repair.) I have twice-yearly examinations by a retina specialist for a potentially precancerous "eye freckle" called a choroidal nevus. A dermatologist checks multiple moles on my skin once or twice a year, and every five to 10 years I have a colonoscopy to check for polyps since there's a family history of colon cancer.

That said, I'm grateful to feel quite well, thank you. I walk my dog several miles every morning, practice yoga daily and teach yoga classes. My friends marvel at how such a healthy person can have such a long list of medical problems, and they often compliment me on my bravery.

The truth is, I've been terrified facing brain radiation, open-heart surgery, and other challenges, and I have had some dark moments. But I'm grateful to have wonderful family and friends to support me, and I don't want to weigh them or myself down with prolonged upset. Life is too short to waste precious time wallowing in worry.

And I've learned that courage isn't the absence of fear - it's being afraid, but doing what you need to do anyway.