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Column: Life in the Cancer Lane

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Kenneth B. Lourie

Not to look a reasonably good result from my anti-cancer oral medication in the mouth, but however good I feel, however asymptomatic I am (other than the dry skin and pimply rash on my face), the results from my next CT Scan in early September will tell me how I should really feel. If the tumors (one in particular) have not grown or moved – or have even shrunk, I will feel Tony-the-Tiger “Great!” If on the contrary, the tumors have grown again, as they had in June – after my two previous chemotherapy infusions, then whatever I think I feel now will be replaced by what I don’t want to think about ever: the presumably inevitable, now-what?

“Now what” as in “what next,” has rarely been a discussion I’ve had with my oncologist, the scenario question as I refer to it. Whenever I would ask the perfectly logical question – to me, about what we might do if so and so happens or if such and such occurs (medically speaking relating to the cancer, that is) my doctor would always defer, and advise patience and caution, not wanting to get too far ahead of where we were but rather wait until we got there – considering that “there” is hardly a straight line. As difficult as it was for me to not always have clear options and strategies outlined for the future, what did become clear to me was that trying to anticipate such outcomes and plan treatment protocols accordingly, was not something my oncologist was comfortable doing, given the variability and unpredictability of how my body (cancer) would respond to whatever we had been doing. In a professional way, sort of, it was kind of a waste of his time to discuss treatment for eventualities which had not yet manifested themselves. The plan/his thinking was – as I soon learned, preempt what we could, treat what we knew, and wait for results to know what, or what not to do, next.

Presuming facts not yet in evidence and/or reactions not yet diagnosed/confirmed was natural for me – as a salesman. For an oncologist however, it would be unethical almost, to tell me things which are not yet true but might be or might not be, depending on… And so I’ve come to accept that (for awhile, I continued to ask except-type scenario/what if questions). Eventually, I grew comfortable with these perimeters and knew that waiting – and hoping – and wondering, was going to be the currency with which I was going to pay my emotional dues. Once having assimilated these dos and don’ts into my understanding and expectations, the planning of my present and future life became less stressful, oddly enough. Once I knew the limitations of our conversations projecting medically (into a very uncertain future), I could work it into my head and better manage the emotional roller coaster which had/has become my life. Oh sure, we had general discussions about treatment options, and there was a road map of sorts, but specifically visiting and discussing scenarios A, B and C either in person or electronically was rarely how our time together has been spent.

If I hadn’t learned to sit tight and wait for results – and then discuss those results and future treatment options, I might have driven myself and all those around me crazy. Now I’m waiting again – until September. Having been there and done that now for three and a half years certainly helps. And however familiar it may be and/or has become, it doesn’t exactly help to pass the time or affect the results, unfortunately. Cancer sucks! That much is clear. Now and in the future.

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