Is a Cancer Diagnosis a Developmental Milestone?

There's lots of emphasis on developmental milestones for kids and teens. The ability to crawl, those first steps, first words, first sentences and first days of school are all things we both monitor and cherish. With our gross motor skills, fine motor skills, social and emotional competencies intact, we generally move on to talk about the rest of our lives in stages - with midlife often characterized as a "crisis," especially for men.

Midlife needn't be a crisis, so much as it is a point in which most of us do some soul searching and sometimes look for ways to reclaim our fleeting youth and maximize the rest of our time on earth. Those two things can be mutually exclusive, but not always.


Aside from these somewhat fluid 10-15 year blocks of time, there are events along the way that can irrevocably change us - our thinking about certain things, the way we view and relate to others and our ideas about how we want to spend our hours, days, weeks, months and years.


Getting married, having a child, losing a parent are all events that tend to provoke some introspection.


For some, and probably for me, a cancer diagnosis is also one of those events. Yeah, it's jarring. But it's also clarifying and puts everything else into perspective.


You get to see who reaches out, especially when you just put your diagnosis out there like I have. Mostly, friendships tighten, relationships grow, and in my case, the amount of support I've received - sometimes from unexpected places - has made a huge difference.


You also come to understand that even the strongest of us have moments of doubt and worry, but resilience is being able to detour to that place and then come back with renewed hope and gratitude.


You, sometimes for the first time, come to understand your own mortality and think about how how much time you have left and what's left unfinished or undone.


You care a little less about "stuff" and status and popularity.


It sounds trite, but you come to understand that life can be precarious and change with one phone call, text message or email.


You never think for a second that you may die as result of the just-delivered news, but you get clarity about the fact that none of us will live forever and one day we all will wake up and brush our teeth for the very last time.


Some talk about their cancer diagnosis as a "gift" that awakened them, the same way people with AIDS in my support groups during the 1990's talked about their life-changing HIV test results.


For me, prostate cancer isn't a gift. It's not a blessing. But it's not a curse either. It's an opportunity. A chance to help others, to evaluate my life and to revel in the relationships I've built for many years. I can plot my next steps with a deeper appreciation for today and more mindfully ponder what I fully expect will be so many tomorrows.