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Column: Full Circle

I hope it’s not a wrap though. I’d like to continue rolling along just like I rolled into college in late August, 1972, matriculating to the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland. Oddly/coincidentally enough, there have been and continue to be some recent occurrences in my life that hearken back to yesteryear, the olden days of the early 1970s, when I freshmen-oriented myself to a major university for the first time.

Most significant of these coincidences – for lack of a better word – I am taking tests again. And though they are not identical to the many multiple-guess exams I took that first year in college with 500 or so of my closest fellow freshmen, sitting through those entry-level/100-numbered, core-type classes – until we “majored,” being graded on a curve with scores posted on a computer printout on a wall adjacent to one of the two entrances/exits to one of the main lecture halls on campus; the anticipation of that grade and the contemplation of my future then is eerily familiar now as I prepare for my next CT Scan and the follow-up e-mail from my oncologist. Though I am no longer graded on a curve, I will be living on the edge nonetheless, awaiting those results. And yes, my future, you might say, depends on it.

Having taken a dozen or so of these scans since my cancer diagnosis, I have become accustomed to the waiting. Having previously experienced various symptoms before these scans with equal parts confidence and anxiety, with subsequent results sometimes being better, sometimes being worse than expected, my self-assessments now are identical to the assessments of those standardized-type multiple choice exams I #2-penciled my way through in college. More often than not, if I felt I scored well on the test, I didn’t; and if I thought I did poorly, amazingly (sometimes), I did surprisingly well. After awhile, it became clear that I didn’t know what I was talking about and should merely await the results, just like now.

With respect to my CT Scans – and occasional MRIs, being relatively asymptomatic at the beginning of this process and mostly so throughout my four-plus years of being treated for non-small cell stage IV lung cancer, whatever symptoms I felt didn’t seem to necessarily relate to the underlying problem. Once the pain/the weight in my chest was the tumors themselves (bad); another the time, the same pain (at least to me it was the same), was scar tissue growing over tumors that had shrunk (good). I wasn’t so much betwixt and between as I was clueless. Unlike during college, however, it is not my future that I am considering, it is my present.

So yes. I’ve learned. When asked about an upcoming scan (or one just completed), I am hardly forthcoming. I am honest. I will know what I feel when my oncologist tells me. It’s a multiple guess any other way, sort of like those early taste-taking years in college. What has gone around has indeed come around, 40 years later.

And on a much lighter note, relating my present cancer life to my past college life is the opening in my neighborhood of one of my favorite college-era fast food restaurants appearing locally – not five minutes from my house – after a who-knows-why, decades-long absence: Roy Rogers Restaurant. And just as I would drown my test-score predicting sorrows back then at the former Route 1 location across from what was once Lums Restaurant, so too do I now drive-thru to their window and order my usual large roast beef sandwich. I realize its not a cure for cancer, nor is it an attempt to relive the past; it’s simply an opportunity to gain some peace of mind when I need it most. I just hope that what is new again represents a beginning, not an end.