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Column: Choosing My Words, Respectively

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Kenneth B. Lourie

It has been brought to my attention by some regular Kenny-column readers – who are friends, too, and whose opinions I value, that my most recent batch of “cancer columns” (as I call them) were not funny; in fact, they were more depressing and negative than anything, and not nearly as uplifting and hopeful as many of my previous columns have been. I didn’t need to reread what I had written/published to understand what they were saying. I know (knew) what I felt and know generally, the tone and undercurrent of what I’ve been discussing these last few weeks: neither fun nor funny. Mortality is like that. My dilemma is, how to not take too seriously or focus too much on a set of circumstances which are very serious and require a great deal of focus to manage. As much as I’d like not to, it seems irresponsible if I don’t. Yet doing so might contribute to a poor quality of life, emotionally speaking, which in turn may exacerbate the underlying problem (stage IV lung cancer) which (A) doesn’t need any exacerbating and (B) doesn’t really benefit from negative thoughts/stress on the “diagnosee,” directly, or on anyone else for that matter.

Let me attempt to clarify (I know. What about all the other columns?). Having “NSCLC” (Non Small Cell Lung Cancer) is depressing, but I am not depressed. Moreover, being diagnosed with an inoperable, terminal disease (at age 54) is pretty negative. Of that I’m positive. What I am also positive about is my willingness to face this disease and its effects honestly and with humor. However, sometimes the circumstances (chemotherapy/treatment, lab and scan results, appointments with my oncologist) just aren’t that funny; like when your tumors grow and the medications available to treat you are dwindling (see column titled “Victim of My Own Circumstances”), and statistically speaking, you’ve outlived most of the patients and protocols with which your oncologist is familiar. It’s/I’m a miracle to be sure, but also cause for concern. There may not be another conventional treatment option – for me, after we’ve exhausted the current oral targeted therapy (a daily pill instead of a daily/weekly infusion) which I began three weeks ago. Then what? So it’s not funny. But it doesn’t mean I’m morbid. I may be a bit somber and introspective, but I’m still relatively pleasant to be around and not nearly so self-absorbed (despite my circumstances) as you might imagine.

Quite frankly, I feel like the honesty with which I’ve shared my cancer experiences may have contributed to my overall, above average/not anticipated pretty good health (all things considered); as has the attempts at humor and lightness with which I’ve tried to touch this third rail of a diagnosis. I’ve tried to take it all in stride. Sometimes, there’s been a bounce in my step; other times the steps have been somewhat staggered (literally and figuratively). And often I’ve made jokes in the face of adversity and tried to find humor where previously very little had existed. Call it a defense mechanism. Call it self-preservation. Just let me be alive to call it something.

The adversity I face now is, I am alive 41 months into a “13-month to two-year prognosis.” As much as I try, it’s difficult to ignore that arithmetic. Yet making light of it – all the time, seems disrespectful somehow. When you’ve outlived your original prognosis, it seems to make sense that if you’re not going to walk quietly, you probably shouldn’t carry a very big stick. There are powers at work here bigger than all of us.

Kenny Lourie is an Advertising Representative for The Potomac Almanac & The Connection Newspapers