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Column: Writing On!

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Kenneth B. Lourie

— It was June ’09 when I published my first column in the Connection Newspapers about being diagnosed with cancer. It was actually a column detailing the diagnostic steps I had taken during the first few months of the year attempting to identify the pain I had initially felt under my right-side rib cage in late December. Once that pain migrated from one side to the other, accompanied by difficulty inhaling and bending, my wife and I decided that a trip to the Emergency Room was warranted. I wasn’t in any distress, and it certainly wasn’t an emergency; nevertheless, it did seem the sensible thing to do.

During this diagnostic process (which took about two months), I continued to write and publish my regular weekly column as usual (not at all about cancer). Privately, however, I had been writing about this evolving situation ever since it began in the Emergency Room in December. Given all that the diagnostic process had involved, and the range of emotions I had experienced, I had ample feelings on which to write, eventually accumulating more than a handful of columns I have come to characterize as my “cancer columns.” These columns remained unpublished until June. My feeling had been that once I published a column about such serious matters, how could I ever again fill my space with the mundane minutiae that had characterized much of its content the previous 10 years, award-winning though some of them had been, as voted on by members of the MDDC Press Association (Maryland/Delaware/D.C.) and the VPA (Virginia Press Association)? Besides, chemotherapy was set to begin in early March, so I just decided to simplify my life and submitted for publication more of the non-cancer columns which I had written during less complicated days. After all, as you regular readers know, if I can write about anything, I can write about my life, its relative interest notwithstanding; so I had a stack of unpublished columns ready to carry me for a few months until I felt better or different and decided to go public with my diagnosis, which eventually I did.

After I published that first column in June: “Dying to Find Out, Sort Of,” I just continued with the “cancer columns.” It seemed easy enough and I did have a bit of a story to tell/share. Although I had no idea or intention of using my space to chronicle the journey per se, of a terminal cancer patient attempting to survive the emotional, physical and spiritual toll such a diagnosis (stage IV lung cancer) and prognosis (“13-months to two years”) can have, apparently, that’s exactly what I’ve done. All I knew then was that writing about my experiences provided me a much-needed outlet. And for all I know now, writing so openly about my life as a cancer patient may have in fact extended that life; I have survived way beyond my oncologist’s initial prognosis.

And as I have continued to survive, I have continued to write about having cancer. Once I started (published that first column), I couldn’t stop (again, it was my life, so…). Three years later, nearly 150 columns have been published. Occasionally, I’ll get off the cancer train (if only it were that easy) and write a non-cancer column, but when your life is consumed by something (as much as I wish it weren’t and as hard as I try to prevent it), it’s sort of difficult to ignore. Writing helps, for me. Part catharsis, part selfish, part greater good, but mostly because it brings me pleasure. And when your diagnosis is terminal, sometimes pleasure is hard to find.

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