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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Commentator Leroy Sievers had a particularly unpleasant round of cancer treatments not long ago. That got him thinking about pain, both real and perceived.

LEROY SIEVERS: People who have lost a limb say that sometimes they can still feel it. They feel phantom pain from an arm or a leg that's no longer there. Clearly, the brain, or at least some part of it, didn't get the message.

As a cancer patient, I've lost little bits of my body: some pieces have been cut out, some burned, frozen, radiated or poisoned with drugs. We hope most of the tissue that was killed was tumor cells.

And I have a form of phantom pain, too. I have a phantom future. I've always been a fan of tortured metaphors but let me explain. The day before I was diagnosed, almost two years ago, my future was wide open. Okay, I was getting older, a little too old to start a whole new career. I have a mortgage and obligations, so I couldn't just grab a backpack and head out on the road. But you know what I mean. There was still plenty of life out there to be lived. I had options.

A day later, all that changed. My future was cut off. I had serious cancer.

In those first few weeks I was told I had six months left, then 12, then 20. None of those prognoses really matter except to scare the heck out of you. But they had one thing in common - they curtailed my life. My death, whenever it came, was most likely going to be much sooner than I expected. The unlimited horizon I considered my future, that was gone.

It's funny, I still think it's all out there. I think about jobs and career paths, things I want to do, things I have to get done. I plan ahead. And then of course I'm reminded of the reality of my life.

My death from cancer doesn't appear imminent but I know I won't be able to do some of the things I want to. For one thing, my body has been pretty beat up. I'm just not physically up to it.

When I find myself thinking two or three or even more years ahead, am I being silly feeling the phantom pain of a future that's no longer there? I don't think so. The alternative would seem to be just giving up, telling yourself you have no future, so why even bother to dream? That really is the road to an early death.

On the other hand, I need to be honest with myself: Cancer has stolen at least some of my future. Of course, a lot of people didn't expect me to live this long. Who knows how much time I really have left. I'd hate to find myself two or three years down the road with no plan for the future at all. So, I guess I'll just keep planning and dreaming. People who have those phantom pains say they feel like the real thing, so my phantom future might as well feel real to me too.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Leroy Sievers blogs and podcast about his experiences with cancer at npr.org/mycancer.

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