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Column: Refillable. Rechargeable. Reusable.

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Kenneth B. Lourie

More like replaceable. Obviously, I want to remain positive and believe that today is not a good day to die (Worf from “Star Trek: Next Generation”) and that there will be many more tomorrows to live for and days beyond that to plan for. However, having a terminal disease has a tendency to darken up those rose-colored glasses. At some point in my compartmentalization of cancer, its harsh reality has to rear its ugly head. Stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer – to invoke a famous Bette Davis quote, “is not for sissies.” As much as one tries to live life as if they were cancer-free, unfortunately there will be physical and/or mental/emotional manifestations that will consciously – and subconsciously “two-by-four” you back to your reality. Generally speaking, it’s not unmanageable – for me, but nor is it how I anticipated my middle age would transition: precariously.

Having been healthy my entire life, having never witnessed cancer in my immediate family, having seen both my parents live well into their 80s and having never smoked cigarettes – not once – cancer was one of, if not the furthest thing from my what-am-I-going-to-die-from mind. Yet here I am, age 58 almost, three and one-half years into a “13-month to two-year prognosis,” alive and reasonably well, all things considered (and you regular readers know how I like to consider “all things”). So, this column isn’t complaining about anything, it is merely observing and commenting on some of the uncontrollable peculiarities which seem to accompany a late-stage cancer diagnosis.

As much as I understand – and appreciate – the importance of money-back guarantees and warranties and zero-percent interest over extended periods of time, and of sacrificing today for tomorrow; putting off tomorrow for today, not planning beyond a certain point/date, not committing to time and place somewhere in the future permeates my sense of proportion. How do I care about something – in the future, that I once took for granted in the present that now, ever since my diagnosis/prognosis, might be beyond my reach? Yet, if I don’t attempt to reach for it, I’ll likely never get there. Though nothing is promised, presuming that the effort is fruitless and doomed to failure is likely the quickest way to realize that disappointment. For me, controlling that expectation and preventing its manipulation of my thoughts has been the most challenging aspect of my diagnosis. If I don’t live like I have a future, I likely won’t have one.

But planning – and living – for the future, a future which is no longer guaranteed (to the extent such things are guaranteed) may cause one to sacrifice precious moments in the present that might never happen again. On the one hand; what am I waiting for? I have cancer. On the other, what am I living for? I have cancer. Rhetorical questions some of the time, questions that need answers most of the time.

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