I think it's pretty cool when people say "I never thought I'd live this long..."- and actually mean it. Me, I always thought I would live this long, and then some. I just don't do the things that the people that don't think they're gonna live very long do- not very much, anyway. Not enough to have a serious impact on my life expectancy. I drink, but my alcohol intake is well within the decidedly uncool, physician-recommended range, which actually increases your life expectancy. If anything takes the coolness out of drinking, it is doing it that way.

None of the choices I have made in my life, with regards to health and fitness and diet and temperance, have had anything to do with how long I want to live. They have, however, had to do with how I want to live while I am still alive- big difference there. If I wanted to be thin, let's say, because I thought it would lead to me leading a longer life, that would be one thing. But the reason I have wanted to be healthy is just so, while I am here, my life is a little bit happier. If you told me I was going to drop dead on my seventieth birthday no matter what I do, I would not immediately adopt a pork belly-centric diet. I might indulge a little more, knowing that my serum cholesterol and other such slow killers might not have much of an effect on me, mortality-wise. But I would still do my best to be healthy, knowing that it would probably lead to a better final ten years- leading up to the date of my demise, July 5, 2047.

I guess I never gave it that much thought, but I have always assumed I would live to be an old man. I have this scenario in my head where I, in an old-folks' home, instruct one of my grandchildren to sneak in a fifty year-old bottle of wine from my cellar. Maybe we slip it past the nurse, or maybe we bribe her with a healthy glass, but either way, my grown grandchild and I enjoy a mind-blowing glass of wine on one of my last days on earth. Hopefully the wine is still good, my taste buds still work, and my grandkid does not suffocate me with a pillow just to score what remains of my cellar.

This issue of life expectancy, and our expectation for life after work, should probably factor heavily into how we live now, especially regarding how much money we have to put away so we can actually eat and live in our retirement like we eat and live now. I mean, if we retire at 65 and live until the age of 95, that's a long damn time, which in turn will require a lot of dough, depending on where you want to play shuffleboard, how nubile you like your nurses, and how many cable news stations you want to be able to yell at.

I know that I am not going to die from lymphoma- or if I do, it will be a huge surprise. I regard it as one big inconvenience, but one that I will recover from and go on to pretty much live the way I was planning on living it before: same job, same goals, same family, same hobbies. They don't like to talk about "cure rates" very much, but about 90% of Hodgkins patients survive more than five years, and the disease is considered "cured" then, so there you go.

But there is one difference that has now dawned on me: I may not live nearly as long as I thought I was going to.

Please bear in mind that there is no scientific evidence that I have found that supports this hunch. It is just a gut feeling. But this disease and my reaction to it has made it glaringly obvious that I am not especially healthy and/or strong. It all started with the backhanded compliment the pulmonologist paid me when he met me for the first time- after he'd seen the scan of my chest. It was the medical equivalent of "you're a lot smarter than you look." His candid comment? "Well, you look a lot better than your lungs do."

What? Moi? I had never been told anything like that in my life. Doctors always told me yeah yeah, keep exercising, don't drink too much, use condoms, see you next year. And I liked it like that. I felt healthy, and like I had this whole living thing figured out.

But now I'm not so sure. Like I said before, I am not going to die from lymphoma, and barring some accident I probably won't die for decades and decades. But it has dawned on me that I am not invincible, and I get the feeling that my body might wear out sooner than I always thought it would, which raises a lot of questions.

It's true that none of of knows when we are going to go- it's just a gamble, and we hope for the best. But now that I am questioning my previous assumptions about how long I am going to be around, I realize how much our expectations for the future affect what we do today. Right now.

Just one little example: let's say I think I am going to live until age 90, and I want to retire at age 65- that means I need to have twenty-five years of savings ready to go to support me in my old age. And not only support the lifestyle I currently have, but probably support a lifestyle of medications, nurses, and convalescence (if you want to call that a "lifestyle"). So even if I have a million bucks, that won't afford me much of a luxurious retirement.

But maybe I'm gonna die at 65. Then I obviously won't need a million bucks at 65- I'll just need a box or hefty urn. But if I'm gonna die at 65, do I really want to be working until then? Maybe I'd rather retire at 50 or 55 with less money, considering that I'll only have about ten years to spend and enjoy it.

When I worked at the San Francisco Saloon in Los Angeles, one of our most colorful regulars was a character named Ralph Casillas. He was a round, bald, liberal native east-Angeleno who delighted in discussing news, politics, grammar, as well as prodding our very conservative manager into ideological battles- all the while being lubricated by his favorite poisons: Stoli rocks when it was warm out, and Tullamore Dew, neat, in the fall and winter (keep in mind this was LA, where the winter weather rarely really called for whiskey neat- it was just Ralph's thing). Ralph took perverse pride in his status as a working stiff. He was a lifer at Verizon, which was still GTE when he started there decades ago. He had a favorite line, which he pulled out whenever he was standing at the bar and being treated to some highly-entertaining drama, usually between two waitresses. He'd hold his glass up to me, and with a bemused smile he'd say "you know, I've got booze at home," his point being that he could easily get drunk at his own house, but it's the unique saloon entertainment that keeps him coming back.

Ralph and his wife Sandy would dine and drink, and take interesting trips now and then, but it was no secret that Ralph was X-ing out the days until his retirement; he'd always talk about going to Spain, lounging around, reading, and basically doing all the things that we look forward to doing when we retire. He was so enthusiastic about it that I think I looked forward to his retirement as much as he did.

I think you may know where this is going. Ralph retired, and it was not long after that that I got the call: Ralph was dead at 59. I was sad for his wife, but also sad for all the things that he looked forward to doing and would never be able to do; all the experiences he had saved up for retirement that would now go unfulfilled.

But it's just a gamble, right? If we spend all of our money during our working days, doing the things we don't want to put off until retirement, then we might be stuck with no money, relying on social security and living out our golden years fretting about whether our monthly check will cover our overhead. And if we delay all of our pleasures and squirrel away every dime we can for retirement, we doom ourselves to an austere existence during our working years, which may very well turn out to be worth it- if we make it to retirement and beyond (which is likely, but still a pretty significant "if").

So obviously there is a balance to be struck there, with regard to the hard practicalities of saving for retirement vs. spending it all right now. I mean, you don't want to be destitute in your older years, but you don't want to forgo all your earthly pleasures until then.

But what of the other things that we want to do in our later years? The businesses we want to start, the books we want to write, the time we want to donate. Can we really afford to put these things off, not knowing whether we will be around at all to see them through, or even to start them? I really do wonder.

I tasted wine this week with a winery owner who is 37- just one year older than me. He went to Berkeley, then got into the commercial real estate business, where he did pretty well. Right when he got out of college, one of his friends turned him on to the pleasures of wine, and his enthusiasm for it grew and grew from there. He decided that making wine was what he wanted to do- and after he retired after a long career in real estate, that is what he would do. However, his satisfaction in his chosen career was low, though he worked for a great firm. This reality made him realize that he should not just go out and look for another job; he already was in the best possible situation for someone in his field. If he was in a terrible office with a dictator boss, he figured, then maybe a change of venue would be the tonic he needed. But since his venue was rosy, he surmised that he did not belong in that field at all. So he ditched the real estate business and his winery was born.

An inspiring tale to be sure, although one wonders what kind of situation- familial, financial- allows a 24-year-old to ditch his nascent lucrative career for the wine world. At the risk of sounding like a crotchety naysayer, we can't all just run off and start our own wineries, can we?

Probably not. But we can choose how we apply ourselves to the hours when we are not slaving away at whatever toil keeps the lights on and the fridge full. We can write our books, give our time, paint our pictures, start our businesses, and do the things that we imagine ourselves doing in our blissful retirement- but we can do them now. We can do them instead of watching tv, reading celebrity gossip, and checking up on people we care nothing about on Facebook. It is too easy to be lulled in this world- lulled into easy entertainment, lulled into consuming too much, lulled into thinking we'll do what we were meant to do- but we'll just to it tomorrow. And one of the reasons we believe we will do it tomorrow is that there has always been a tomorrow there waiting for us- for every last one of us that is alive to read this right now, tomorrows have never been denied.

I know I have plenty of tomorrows ahead of me, but this illness has made me realize that every life-saving cycle of chemotherapy, dose of radiation, pill and scan, may be ticking off some of the tomorrows I have always assumed would be there for me. This is not a sad fact, but an inspiring one, as it makes me want to do, in a way that the abstract thought of a far-off death never has. I guess I always figured I would have forever to do everything I want to do, and that still is true. But only now am I realizing that forever may not be as long as I thought.

OK, enough loopy philosophy. This was a big week for me, medically, although it turned out to be a bit anticlimactic- which is good, I guess. I had a PET scan on Monday, which turned out to be squeaky-clean. No surprises there, as I have been in remission, technically, since January's scan showed the same result. So on one hand, I am cured, and that's reason to celebrate.

On the other hand, we're still going ahead with radiation treatment, which will zap all of the formerly active areas of my body, meaning my upper chest and some of my neck. There are side effects, of course- some of them long-lasting. But the doctors feel it's best to go ahead and do it instead of risking a relapse and wishing that we had. I am on board with that, though the radiation may fry a little part of my lungs- for good.

So that will begin at the start of June and last about 3 1/2 weeks. And then I'll be done- for real done.

I saw my infectious diseases doctor yesterday, re: my aspergillosis (a.k.a. Pete's Forgotten Disease). That seems to have disappeared, so I am now off of voriconazole, the pill I have been taking three of every day since early December. That's like 500 pills. I took them for so long that I forgot what the side-effects were, but hopefully now they will lift and I will be pleasantly surprised at how good I feel.

Quick apology to chemotherapy, from me. It turns out that skin sensitivity to sunlight is an effect of the voriconazole and not of any of the four chemotherapy drugs, so I was wrong to blame ABVD for my face's purplish-tan hue. It was the voriconazole. Sorry, chemo- my bad.

So now I am off of all prescription drugs, except for the blood thinner that is presumably chipping away at the blood clot in my arm. I have to take that until the start of July, and then I am done, and Walgreen's can find a new regular.