That is the percentage of diagnosed lung cancer patients who survive beyond five years, according to The National Cancer Institute’s SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2009, in a graph published in the Feb. 26, 2013 Washington Post’s weekly Health & Science section. As a non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) survivor beginning his fifth year post-diagnosis, charting my prospects in such a cold and impersonal manner is both chilling and arguable. “Chilling” in that facts speak for themselves and are hardly made up of whole cloth, to invoke one of the late Jack Kent Cooke’s more famous quotes. And “arguable” in that charts, statistics, etc., may very well measure the mean, but it sure doesn’t measure the man (this man, anyway). Meaning, from my perspective: sure, the chart is scary as hell, but I’m not sure I’m on it, if you know what I mean? (I know you know what I hope.)
Now whether you believe it or not matters not to me, rather what I believe matters most. And I believe in the individuality of individuals and of the immeasurable characteristics that don’t show up on two-dimensional graphs. Since I live in a three-dimensional world, I’m loath—and quite hesitant—to think that I’m just another terminal patient/number. Now, I don’t dismiss such statistics out of hand, obviously, but nor do I take them to heart to determine how I intend on living my life. Certainly I’m not going to ignore them; I’m not a blockhead. But neither do I expect them to affect my thinking, my judgment, my preparation and my attitude. I still believe anything is possible and I’d like to think—and continue to think: “I’ve lived this long. Certainly I can live a little bit longer” (updated daily).
I have to admit though, that reading articles and seeing charts which offer improving but still extremely discouraging life expectancies, particularly for lung cancer patients (12.3 percent was the previous five-year survival rate, the lowest for all cancers charted in this particular graph) doesn’t exactly make my day—or night, for that matter. Somehow, I have to find a way to disassociate myself from that population despite being immersed in its culture every minute of every day. Which when you consider that I have my oncologist’s phone number programmed on my speed dial and that the chemotherapy-induced neuropathy in my feet offers constant reminders that I’m not in Kansas anymore (if I were in Kansas, I’m sure the neuropathy would be just as bad), the likelihood of my not feeling the effects of my diagnosis, physical, mental or emotional is somewhere between slim and none. Coping is what it’s all about and not taking anything too personally, even though this is all very personal. And though I am keenly aware of my circumstances—as most of you regular readers are—finding a way to not let it define me and/or control me totally is the challenge with which I am most familiar.
As Popeye the Sailor Man so famously said: “I yam what I yam.” And so am I. I’m Kenny-with-cancer. So what else is new?