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Column: Marking Time

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Kenneth B. Lourie

As much as I don’t want to be ever-mindful of today’s date – relative to when I first learned of my diagnosis, that Thursday three years ago this very week, when my Internal Medicine doctor called me with the results of the biopsy (confirming the malignancy); and of course all that had preceded it and all that has happened since: the miscellaneous tests, scans, doctor’s appointments, the first Team Lourie meeting with my oncologist, my first chemotherapy infusion, my one-year anniversary, two-year anniversary, (surviving the "13-month to two-year" prognosis I was originally given), and now, reaching my three-year anniversary (and in so doing, outliving my initial prognosis by a significant amount of time), I am powerless not to do so. I won’t admit to it depressing me; I mean, I am alive and reasonably well, but it does occupy my mind. And as much as one might want to forget and/or compartmentalize the fact that you have a terminal disease (stage IV lung cancer), your subconscious has other ideas. I don’t know which is more difficult: trying to forget or always remembering.

And yet, as life goes on, it is impossible – for me, to not consider that whatever I’ve done (changes in lifestyle, diet, treatment, etc.) has likely contributed to my survival. That said; if I want/hope to continue to live, don’t I sort of have to pay attention to what’s presumably extended my life this long? I can’t take any of it for granted. I can’t stop doing, thinking, planning, worrying – about any of it. That’s not to say that my entire existence, conversation, thought-process has to be about cancer – and surviving, but how can I view any other subject in as serious a context? When your life depends on it (maybe?), how do you "back-burner" the topic? You don’t. Front and center. Top of mind. First things first. Everything else is secondary. Morning, noon and night.

However, immersing myself in this cancer culture can’t be my only option, can it? Given the demands – both physically and mentally on a cancer patient, especially one who has been characterized as terminal, how can it not? But somehow, life has to be lived, and not just in the cancer club. Nevertheless, living outside the constraints of a cancer-affected philosophy is much easier said than done. I don’t want to use cancer as an excuse, but you have to admit: it’s a heck of an excuse. Nor do I want to be beholden to it – good or bad, but sometimes, that dog has to be fed. It’s somewhere between supply and demand, and the law of the jungle; thinking it, wanting it, hoping for it – doesn’t make it so.

So three years into this battle royal, life goes on. And how fortunate I am. Still it’s difficult to consider my status as quo. Is it because of something I’m doing (or not doing anymore) or is it in spite of something I am doing which I’ve never done before? Am I just lucky or am I good? I’d love to leave well enough alone, but how can I be sure if I am well enough to be left alone. Ergo the problem, the dilemma: is it real or is it my imagination? Granted, I’m alive, but why? (I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but it never seems to be enough.)

Thirty-six months later – almost to the exact day when I received that life-changing call from my doctor, the answers for my continuing survival are still unclear. I’d love some confirmation that what I’m doing is actually working; or alternatively, some sign to direct me down a future path of less resistance that will work better. But I’m afraid I know the answer to that query: there is none. Certainly all that I’ve done and persevered doing has gotten me this far. But how much further will it get me? I wish I knew. If I wasn’t so preoccupied with this cancer business, perhaps I could focus on something else. However, anniversaries such as the one I’m acknowledging this week, often turn that focus – and the "focuser," inside out.

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