The Beatles sang it on their “Revolver” album back in the mid 60s. My wife and I danced to it in the late 70s when we selected it as “first song as husband and wife” – in 1978. And recently we felt it, three years after my stage IV lung cancer diagnosis, as our reaction/assessment to the many similarly diagnosed individuals who’ve shared their lung cancer stories with us. Who knew? All of a sudden – or so it seems, people with whom we thought we had little in common – and even less of a connection, have selflessly offered up their lung cancer experiences, journeys, associations, etc. One-hundred, sixty-thousand deaths per year attributed to lung cancer, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in this country – by far, is reason enough for what initially seemed like a random coincidence but now feels more like an inevitability. Apparently, where there are overwhelming numbers, so too is there an overwhelming capacity for empathy and understanding.
Any lung cancer story I hear is more evidence and reinforcement to boost my own survival. Not that any experiences of what other cancer patients have endured/survived is necessarily related to my survival, still; it beats the alternative, as I like to say. Living is its own reward and surviving lung cancer is exponentially more rewarding than anything else I do. It’s the first thing I think of when I wake in the morning and the last thing I think before I fall asleep at night. And on those many nights when I’m unable to fall asleep, or sleep soundly – or enough, you can be sure the culprit is cancer. Certainly, I have physical challenges related to my diagnosis, but mostly the problem I face is mental: how do you not obsess on the thing that is most likely killing you and one for which you have minimal control or defense? My solution, or rather an attempt at a solution: I try to compartmentalize – and/or pretend, but cancer is insidious and tricky: an enemy of the people if there ever was one.
More specifically, trying to make the best of a bad situation is what I do best. When you’re characterized as “terminal” at age 54 and a half – not even three months after you buried your widowed mother at age 86 – of a disease for which there was no immediate-family history, combined with the fact that you were a lifelong non-smoker (85 percent of lung cancer patients have been smokers), the breaks don’t exactly feel as if they’re going your way. Nevertheless, dwelling on that fact or feeling sorry for myself or “woeing” is me is not reflective of the positive mental attitude that my parents instilled in me. I saw how they lived their lives and more importantly, I observed their dignity and perseverance when their health deteriorated. Somehow, they never made it about them, it was more about others.
Likewise, as I regularly receive communications from and occasionally meet other cancer survivors, I only hope that I am doing for them what they are doing for me. A cancer diagnosis was not exactly what I had anticipated hearing from my Internal Medicine doctor three years ago when he made “the call” to me. However, now that I’ve lived the cancer life for three-plus years and met the people I have and read the many stories sent to me, I feel privileged to be part of such a brave and courageous group. Thanks for reaching out to us. Because of you, we’ve never felt alone.
Kenny Lourie is an Advertising Representative for The Potomac Almanac & The Connection Newspapers.