|Living three quarters of a century–which I will have accomplished next February (the 10th) seems like a daunting achievement. I have recently wondered how many male North Americans there are who have even managed to do so.
It turns out quite a few. But there is no statistical breakout just for the three quarters of a century mark. According to the 2019 (latest) Profile of Older Americans, a study from the Administration for Community Living (a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), there are 15.4 million men between the ages of 75-85 still alive.
This represents a figure 20 times larger than in 1900 (when 771,369 were alive). Incidentally, one third of the baby boom generation is now 65 or older. It is (and I am) a long way from Woodstock (the famous music festival I attended as a news photographer),..
You might say I almost didn’t make it to age 75. Diagnosed with bladder cancer about two years ago (which I still really don’t unequivocally know how it got me since I’ve been a health purist all my life) I underwent three surgeries, chemotherapy, and immunotherapies which, as I write, have made me cancer free so far.
Had I NOT pursued all this, thanks to a loving wife, I’d likely still be alive but WITHOUT a bladder, and much less ambulatory. (Wearing an ostomy bag or surgically implanted “neo bladder” never seemed at all desirable to me).
Cancer is, of course, one of those diseases that can afflict many parts of the body, although bladder cancer is relatively rare. (Yet 80,000 people overall get it every year). Men get it 3x as often as women because of bad habits like smoking, drinking and exposure to toxic chemicals in, say, a factory. I never did any of that.
I have done a study that also implicates municipal water. See https://medium.com/journal-of-journeys/water-water-everywhere-and-the-drops-you-drink-may-make-you-sick-or-far-worse-6af99df1f2c8.
And cancer, while treatable depending on where it is in the body, is perhaps the greatest threat healthwise to older people compared with, say, heart disease, diabetes, stroke and dementia (and I might add being in a war) which can truly be life and lifestyle destroying. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal revealed that cancer is so insidious and scary that there is probably no one of any age who isn’t threatened with it today–although science is advancing rapidly with various treatments. See: https://www.wsj.com/articles/will-we-all-soon-live-in-cancerland-11639757322.
Thankfully, I can still play tennis, ride a bicycle, swim, walk the dog, hike in general and, yes, have sex (fairly regularly) after all my journeys on various gurneys. I write a column for my local daily newspaper called Active Over 50 and cover these subjects and more. Yes, I am a survivor and feel like it even though I am trying mightily not to dwell on my recent maladies.
I really am very fortunate but of course wouldn’t wish the cancer diagnosis I got—or ANY cancer diagnosis–on anyone. The older you get the less able your body becomes to fight off various toxins, infections and the hazards of daily life–such as falls (both my wife and I have landed on concrete on the tennis courts–luckily with no broken bones). Yet you don’t want to stop living. Life is inherently risky–that’s just a given.
Yet maybe you are thinking at this point that if you want to live to a ripe old age it might be safer just to stay home away from bad weather, bad drivers, toxic air, etc. etc. Had I done so, however, I couldn’t have felt good about myself over the years. I’m by no means highly accomplished (and famous–in my own neighborhood, or elsewhere). But fame and accomplishment, while satisfying, won’t get you to a ripe old age any more than just being the average Joe or Josephine.. (Those things could delude you, while more likely they will elude you!)
Just being a good person to all should merit a long life if the good Lord will allow it.
At my age I do really recognize the value of family in an older person’s life. When I was younger and more striving certain obligations of family life might have been ignored–except at Christmas and birthdays, of course. Now they are increasingly the Main Course of our day to day lives that keep us older folks “relevant”.
Fortunately, sons and daughters still rely on me/us, grandchildren admire our persistence in the face of obvious decline (hopefully not decrepitude), and at some point we will, of course, lavish rather unimaginable treasures on them when we do die. (Hopefully, they are not wishing to speed up the process).
Very few of us live to 100 so I think I have to be satisfied with three quarters of a century. I don’t want to die but there is nothing I can do to prevent it–just delay it while it’s still possible. There’s no point in living beyond one’s biological capabilities. I haven’t yet, which in some ways seems rather remarkable in itself.
If you have a reason to get up every day–and most days I certainly do–that should be enough to keep you going toward three quarters of a century or possibly beyond.
But then that’s it. Humans aren’t giant sequoia trees, bowhead whales or greenland sharks (the latter two clocked with lifespans at over 200 years). There is no immortality–on earth, at least. I really doubt there’s any at all except in the minds of those still alive to remember you.
Something to think about.