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Column: Where To Begin?

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Kenneth B. Lourie

— I realize this admission may sound weird, but having cancer is boring. Don’t get me wrong, I’m lucky to be alive, and quite happy about it, too. But waiting for the other shoe to drop, i.e. some bad cancer news to appear (lab work, scan, advisory from my oncologist), is tiresome because it’s always so worrisome. Since I’ve been told by my oncologist that he “can’t cure me, he can only treat me,” in spite of what above-average and atypical results and life expectancy I’ve experienced diagnosis-to-date (three years and three months, approximately), I don’t, nor have I ever, enjoyed the luxury of time, even though I was diagnosed at a relatively early age: 54 and five months.

As much as I have assimilated this new reality into my current and future plans, its severity is difficult to ignore, despite my best efforts. The “inescapability” of the diagnosis and prognosis wears on me. Though relatively asymptomatic, there are still daily reminders, and recurring responsibilities: appointments, lab work, diagnostic scans, pills, diet, lifestyle changes, etc., which reinforce the facts of my case: though I have now outlived my original “13-month to two-year” prognosis by a substantial amount of time, the percentage of stage IV lung cancer patients who survive beyond five years (from date of diagnosis) is hardly worth mentioning, because it’s extremely discouraging (quite a bit less in fact than those who are fortunate enough to outlive their original diagnosis). And so whatever luxury of time I may have naively felt 39 months ago when first diagnosed, I no longer feel, naively or otherwise. The other shoe has not exactly dropped, nor is it fitting comfortably, if you know what I mean.

And grateful as I am that life goes on, so too do all the associated fears and anxieties. Outliving your prognosis is one thing; managing all the emotions that come with exceeding that prognosis is quite another. It’s impossible – for me, to leave well enough alone. Surviving for as long as I have creates a sort of inevitability; at some point, sooner rather than later presumably, a metaphorical fan is going to be involved and I’ll be in a great deal more trouble than I’ve been in diagnosis-to-date. Understanding and expecting it are the currency I’ve utilized in a never-ending effort to not cash-in my chips prematurely. However, there are certain forces at work here that are likely out of my control, and probably even uncontrollable on my best day, despite my most vigorous efforts and intentions, that are likely greasing the skids on which every day I try to stand and deliver. There’s only so much I can do, though.

Accepting my limitations and not worrying about them makes for a perplexing existence. Giving it to them may be a sign of weakness or submission, but not doing so might be a sign of stupidity. Either way, my goal should be about limiting the stress brought on by all this cancer-related/cancer-driven emotional churning. If only it were that simple.

Of late though, for the first part of year four post-diagnosis, focusing on the future without considering the present – as it relates to my original prognosis, seems irresponsible somehow. I can’t ignore the facts all the time, can I? Cancer is a serious, often times terminal business (don’t I know it) and pretending that life goes merrily along without any wear, especially wear that’s been worn for three-plus years, seems a fool’s errand. But maybe not? Who knows? I certainly don’t. And that’s what really worries me.

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