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Column: Back On The Juice…

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Kenneth B. Lourie

The chemotherapy juice, that is. Going forward now, every three weeks until I’ve completed six infusions, finishing sometime around mid May barring any foreseen – and previously experienced blips (meaning delays): levels, counts, readings, etc., that would compel my oncologist to stop åhe treatment and await results of a retest. If past is at all prologue, inevitably, one of the required pre-chemotherapy blood and urine labs will indicate that my body needs a little "R and R:" recuperation and regeneration of something or other that the chemotherapy destroyed on its way to attacking and hopefully shrinking the tumors. As a result, I will be off schedule to allow my body to settle back to reasonably abnormal (given the severity of the treatment, "normal" is hardly in play anymore). However, it’s a process – of fits and starts – one with which I’m familiar so I’m not too concerned about it. Otherwise, I’ll be reclining in a Barcalounger at The Infusion Center watching the I.V. drip its cancer-fighting poison into my arm.

However, since this six-time infusion is a repeat performance, I wonder if "reasonably normal" is somehow more problematic the second time around. My oncologist agreed with our decision to re-start because he said/recommended it by saying: "Since it worked so well the first time, we’ll probably just do the same thing." "Worked so well" means the tumors shrank and my body tolerated the treatment (not a guarantee, however; one time, I witnessed another chemotherapy patient have a seizure because his body couldn’t handle the drug with which he was being infused so they had to stop his treatment). So I’m not taking anything for granted. Nor am I particularly eager or excited. I am however, cautiously optimistic that once again I can survive the ordeal, and make no mistake about it, chemotherapy can be an ordeal.

Certainly knowing what to expect is a big help. Originally, the anxiety of all the treatments, all the appointments, all the pills and all the potential side effects; not to mention the emotional disruptions an out-of-the-blue terminal diagnosis can cause, created a sense of foreboding and negativity that took a little (make that a lot) of time and effort to navigate. But we did, and as we prepare to climb this emotional and physical (not literal) mountain once again, the experience we gained from the initial treatment three years ago has led to significantly less stress for this round (round two).

As with round one, there are no guarantees. I will be "CT-Scanned" in mid February – after two infusions, to assess the effect of the first two chemotherapy treatments. No doubt, waiting for those results will be stressful. However, I’m not sure if indications after only two infusions are significant – good or bad, it’s simply prudent at that juncture. Still, we will be hanging on the oncologist’s every word, every inflection on every syllable, when he tells us the results – trying to interpret and discern the true meaning of his doctor-speak. Having endured this process many times over the past three years certainly will help us now. However, given the seriousness and life-changing (you’ll note I didn’t say "life-ending") nature of the conversation, there’s only so much one can do to prepare. It’s really more about bracing yourself. It’s a difficult and emotional moment, almost akin to an out-of-body experience, if there is such a thing.

And after three years of being treated for, and living with, a terminal diagnosis (stage IV lung cancer; there is no stage V), I sort of recognize the various crossroads when I approach them. All you can do is whatever you need to do to get through it. At that moment, there are no rules; it’s just instinct and self-preservation. Be true to yourself. It’s your life (or death, to be honest); go live it, in health and especially in sickness.

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