“How Many Good Years Do You Have Left?”
By Victor Westgate

Recently, I had a health scare that prompted a life review. The reader’s condensed version is this: a positive Cologuard test, subsequent colonoscopy where a mass in my colon larger than a golf ball was found, major abdominal surgery for its removal and pathology report confirming that the colon mass was benign. What I left out from my brief summary was the fear and uncertainty I felt when the gastroenterologist who performed the colonoscopy initially used the C word, after looking at the mass with his camera.

I discovered that my wife and I process information differently, which is to be expected. As a retired holistic chiropractor who knows a lot about nutrition, she went into overdrive, buying a new juicer, forbade me to drink wine again, and gave me more information than I was comfortable with. She studied from a surgical book how the surgery would be performed including color photos of my colon and the partial removal that would occur. Needless to say, I preferred to close my eyes and ears about information that made her more comfortable than myself.

After the initial shock, since I had zero health problems in my life before this diagnosis, I sat with the information and began to ask myself questions, which I am continually asking myself as I write this. If you are really honest, after reaching a certain age, I am sure you review your life calendar and ask “How long do I have to live?” I just turned 69 years old recently and maybe I have 20-25 “good years” left. Do you have a number count on the days you might have left on this earth plane?

This experience of facing my mortality is not a theoretical question but rather a substantive one resulting in confirming what I already know, but now must make every sincere effort to say or do. I believe we are in this life to experience:

  1. Purpose  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The purpose of life is not to be happy but rather be purposeful.” I believe it is important to ask yourself periodically, “Am I living a purposeful life?”
  2. Generativity “Am I extending myself to those around me, such as family, friends and community and am I helping the world with keeping my carbon footprint small, being a part of the solution rather than only addressing my personal needs?” Giving back can be intertwined with purpose and as a retired high school history teacher I plan to focus on the youth in my community, but now outside the classroom.
  3. Joy Finding out what makes “your boat float” is the key to life. It helps you jump out of bed every morning. Concentrate on one or two simple things that create joy in your life. I love walking my dog by the beach or the woods daily and this is where I practice being in the moment, which I equate with joy. I also want to review the list of questions my son gave me and write responses so he can carry a part of me with him, even after I part from the world.

In my situation, the removal of the mass in my colon, the pathology report stating it was benign and that I am making a quick recovery from the surgery have given me cause for celebration and extreme gratitude. I know that I have been given more time to experience purpose, generativity and joy!


About the Author

Victor Westgate, a high school educator of 34 years, along with his wife Dr. Lisa Cowley, a holistic chiropractor and nutritional counselor of 25 years, are authors of Pack Lightly: Making Sense of the Second Half of Your Life. You can learn more at: www.joyinaging.com.


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