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Musings of a Cancer Doctor
Wide-ranging views and perspective from George W. Sledge, Jr., MD
Monday, December 19, 2011
Old Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are worthless, as every sensible human being recognizes. How many of us, having ballooned 10 pounds between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, feebly vow to lose that tire around the waist through diet and exercise?  How many purchase a year’s membership in their local YMCA or join Weight Watchers on January 1, only to find themselves too busy to attend by February or (the more virtuous amongst us) March? We are hypocrites all.

 

Not to mention all those other popular New Year’s resolutions that accompany weight loss: quit drinking, be fiscally responsible, learn a foreign language, and be less grumpy. Bah, humbug! What’s Croatian for “Pour me a drink?  No, make that a double, and put it on my tab. And get me some fries, while you’re at it.”*

 

People have studied New Year’s resolutions—they’ve studied everything else, so why not New Year’s Resolutions—and (thank you, Wikipedia) came up with a range for success of 12-22%. That’s a little better than applying for an RO1, but the average person doesn’t have to deal with an NIH study section while dieting. We are not very good at keeping promises, even to ourselves.

 

When have New Year’s resolutions done us any good, anyway?  I live in Indiana, where the weather in January is surpassed only by February in its awfulness. Cold, snowy, gray, with seasonal affective disorder dragging one’s spirits ever lower: all we Hoosiers ever want to do in January is stay inside and eat a lot so we can develop a protective coat of insulation. Nature conspires against our New Year’s resolutions, and who are we to argue with Mother Nature? Why do you think we all retire to Florida?

 

Those resolutions serve no useful purpose that I can see. They just depress us when we fail, if we haven’t just forgotten them. Why not, then, resolve retrospectively, and forgo the hypocrisy? We’ll all feel better about ourselves, and as self-help gurus assure  us constantly, feeling good about ourselves is the first step to a life where we can all, well, feel good about ourselves, even if we really don’t deserve to. I swear by Oprah this is true.

 

Meeting a forward-looking goal is always problematic. Who can read the future? But Old Year’s Resolutions, arrived at suitably late in December, when there is little fear of contradiction by unexpected events, set one up for success.  And success breeds success, as everyone knows. Just don’t make any New Year’s Resolutions to test that particular hypothesis.

 

And what is more, this year’s Old Year’s Resolutions can be followed by future Old Year’s Resolutions, all equally valid and important, right up until the moment you kick the bucket, after which they won’t matter much any more and can be thrown away by your relatives along with all that other useless clutter you left behind.

 

So, herewith and without any undue ceremony, my first Old Year’s Resolutions:

 

1.   I will lose 20 pounds, starting right after I step down as ASCO President.  I actually did this, after my primary care physician nagged me (I mean, encouraged me) to take a weight loss course at the Y, with the constant support of my lovely wife.  Lightest I have been in 15 years. Thanks for noticing. Starting in June helps, by the way. As does forgoing all those bags of cookies and other sweets, which I miss every day.  Maybe next year I will retrospectively resolve to eat them every day and gain 20 pounds.  We’ll see.

2.   I will not get depressed (well, not too depressed) by the fact that I turned 60 in November, my joints are creaky, my back aches, and all those attractive 20-somethings view me as unnecessarily cluttering the earth and preventing them from getting what they think is rightfully theirs, when they think about me at all.

3.   I will not be driven insane by the inane and oft-malign nattering of the professional political class, talk show pundits, and associated hangers-on who appear bent on destroying the land I love. Particularly when they speak about healthcare.  Instead I will calmly contemplate the prospect of discussing world peace and the end of poverty with Angelina Jolie, preferably while Brad Pitt makes a movie on location in a different continent.

4.   I will reach the end of December 2011 without having been involved in a fatal airplane accident, despite having spent more time in the stratosphere than Amelia Earhart and Chuck Yeager combined. I will not be arrested by the TSA, despite waiting in insecurity lines for what seemed like hundreds of hours while getting increasingly crabby.  And I will not receive any carcinogenic mutations from that new high-tech imaging machine they put in at the Indianapolis airport that reveals the outlines of my newly svelte body to bored TSA employees. I hope.

5.   I will religiously read People magazine (AKA: the Journal of Popular Studies) so that I can remain up with the cultural zeitgeist and better communicate with my patients about what matters to them and the really interesting times we live in. It’s my duty, after all, and…Hey, Angelina’s been nominated for a Golden Globe Award!

6.   I will blog up a storm for Oncology Times, which has graciously allowed me to pontificate to my heart’s content on whatever interests me even if it has nothing whatsoever to do with oncology or medicine [[editor's note: But it does!]].

 

That’s enough for 2011. Happy New Year, and may all your Old Year’s resolutions come true, my good friends.  And if they don’t, you are such a tool! How can you mess up an Old Year’s Resolution?

 

*Translation, per Google Translate, just in case you are ever in Zagreb and are in the mood to break several resolutions at once: “Ulijte mi piti. Ne, učiniti da dvostruko, i staviti ga na moj kartici. I daj mi neki prženi krumpirići, dok ste na to.“

About the Author

George W. Sledge, Jr., MD
GEORGE W. SLEDGE, JR., MD, is Chief of Oncology at Stanford University. His OT writing was recognized with an APEX Award for Publication Excellence in the category of “Regular Departments & Columns.”

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