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Column: A Life Worth Living, Still

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Kenneth B. Lourie

It might be my age (as in getting older), or it might be the fact that I have cancer (you think?), but my brain and the related physical and mental tasks it coordinates are not exactly working at peak efficiency. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly “Forrest, Forrest Gump,” but plans are not easily made and when they are made, not so easily or successfully carried out. Whether it’s a drive to an unfamiliar destination, time spent with semi-unsuspecting (about me) acquaintances, or overnighting away from home (and out of my routine: alkaline water, pills, asparagus, baking soda, apple cider vinegar, etc.) as a few examples, what once seemed like ordinary and manageable acts of everyday-type life now present previously unfamiliar hurdles. Talk about making something out of nothing. Everything is something, even if it’s nothing. And that’s a change – for the worse.

Unfortunately, knowing this – and accepting it, hasn’t lessened the burden and inevitability of living with it. I’m always relieved when whatever, wherever, however, we (meaning me) finish what we’re doing: get to where we’re going/solve the problem we’re needing to solve/arrange the schedule we’re attempting to arrange, and complete our miscellaneous activities. I can then settle back into what’s familiar and relatively uncomplicated. If I’ve been there and am accustomed to doing it, it gets done, without much ado. However, if I haven’t been there – literally and figuratively, getting there – and back, becomes increasingly more difficult. I don’t necessarily want to blame this behavior on my age or my underlying problem (“NSCLC”), but at least if I blame it on something that makes sense – to me, I can live with the consequences of this preferred inaction. And the more I understand the reasons for certain “inaction,” the less stress I’ll feel. And the less stress I feel, the better off I’ll be; as a cancer patient, first, and as a reasonably intelligent adult second (no comments from the peanut gallery, please).

I guess what I’m trying to do is what Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer were competing to do years ago on a particularly memorable “Seinfeld” episode: master my own domain; trying to control the uncontrollable. However, if any set of circumstances is likely uncontrollable, it is the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual effects one experiences after receiving a terminal diagnosis. You’re either ready for its demands or you’re not. It’s not like – at least for me, there was really any preparation or expectation that your life – as you knew it, was over. I suppose there’s a handbook somewhere. (Maybe there’s even some training or a class – Cancer 101, you can attend.) And though I can certainly appreciate the benefit and power of the written – and read word, a terminal diagnosis with a “13-month to two-year” prognosis requires – in my opinion, a more personal touch, one with a one-to-one/face-to-face-type connection. When the diagnosis is stage IV-serious, it’s best to leave nothing to chance and/or misinterpretation. As much as you – as the patient/”diagnosee” think you’re hearing and/or reading what’s being said or handed to you concerning the facts of your case, the shock of what you’re learning will not only cloud your judgment, but rewire your brain, emotionally speaking. It’s hardly another day at the office. In fact, it’s like no other day you’ve ever had at your office or any other office. The assimilation – or rather the attempted assimilation of your diagnosis, prognosis, treatment options, schedule of diagnostic scans and doctor appointments, best and worst case scenarios, will forever change the way you process information and plan your future.

What I’m finding out is, the longer I survive, it’s the emotions I feel about having cancer more than the facts of having cancer that are causing me the most problems. One I can live with, the other is living with me. And it’s not of my own choosing, either.

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