Whatever I thought was only happening in my head – or not, or was really happening physically – or not, is the muddled description of the thoughts and emotions that this cancer survivor/cancer patient-still-receiving-treatment feels every time I make a 24/7 self assessment (which is often). An assessment that seems to have a mind of its own, and one which is mostly beyond my control to prevent/manage its ugly head from rearing whenever it pleases. As much as I pretend, as much as I deny, as much as I compartmentalize, any and every thing that happens to me happens in the context of having cancer. Any misstep, physically or emotionally, real or imagined always brings me back to the elephant in every room in every house; in fact, that metaphorical elephant is in every closet, every drawer, on every television channel and radio station; home or on the road; everywhere; especially and of course predominantly, in my head, and originally in my lungs and mediastinum, where it still remains, “stable,” for the moment.
Whatever strategy I have employed in an attempt to manipulate my circumstances, to prevent cancer from getting the best of me emotionally, always suffers a setback after a visit to my oncologist. As much as I’ve tried to make light of these appointments over the last three years, having heart-to-heart, life-and-death conversations with YOUR cancer doctor, one who has already told you that he “can’t cure you, that he can only treat you,” is unsettling at best and downright depressing and mind-numbing at worst. Facing one’s own mortality at age 57 conjures two quotes from Curly Howard of The Three Stooges, a famous one and a funny one: “I’m a victim of soycumstance,” and “I’m too young to die, too handsome; well, too young, anyway.”
Laughing in the face of adversity has been an ongoing and overriding pursuit of mine since being diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in February, 2009. Not that my circumstances are anything to laugh about but, oddly enough, crying about them or “woeing” is me about them is a bit of a tired pursuit – for me. Sure I’ve cried and been curious why a lifelong non-smoker with no immediate family history of cancer could be diagnosed with a terminal disease at age 54, a mere eight weeks after burying my widowed mother. Nevertheless, life goes on, and it has, as I’ve now outlived my original prognosis by years, causing my oncologist to say to me at the end of my most recent appointment (and the one I may be overreacting to in this column): “It’s been a privilege treating you.” Words, as I say, “to live by.”
Where I’m going in this column is a place I’ve never been: a new phase in my treatment, with new medications, new side effects, new consequences and new worries; all of which are unknown and unfamiliar to me. Presumably all of the above are simply more of the same – only different, if you know what I mean – (things I can handle, just calling them different things) meaning my concerns are more in my head than they are in my body. But I really won’t know until I’ve lived it. For the moment, I can only anticipate it. Knowing what I knew is much preferred to not knowing what’s new. And what lies ahead is definitely new. I can’t say anymore: “been there and done that” – I can only say that I’m glad – and privileged, to still be doing anything.
Kenny Lourie is an Advertising Representative for The Potomac Almanac & The Connection Newspapers