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Votes

A Fluid Situation

I don’t mean to be the least bit paranoid, but I suppose that’s because, as a stage IV non-small cell lung cancer “diagnosee,” I’m already the most bit paranoid. A terminal diagnosis of incurable cancer has a way of doing that to you (at least to me it has). Not to blame cancer totally for my behavior, but can you think of a more deserving and appropriate cause of this effect than the “leading cancer killer in both men and women in the United States.” In fact, according to the American Lung Association, “Lung cancer causes more deaths than the next three most common cancers combined (colon, breast and prostate).”

So call me crazy (at least you can still call me – and I will answer, because I am STILL ALIVE). However, as a four-years-plus cancer survivor, if I’ve learned anything during my treatment, it is that symptoms manifest themselves – at their discretion, and presumably their appearance means something (as opposed to nothing which would of course be my preference). Ergo, an increase in the fluid in my lungs is nothing to sneeze at; that’s because I’ve been too busy coughing (just kidding). But what does the existence of this fluid mean? Hopefully nothing, but it could mean something; something problematic.

An outpatient procedure: a needle aspiration of my lungs, will provide the answer. Although learning that answer comes with risks: aside from analyzing the fluid for active cancer cells, there’s a possibility of a collapsed lung followed by a week-long stay in the hospital due to the penetration of the lung. And it could be all for nothing. It could simply be, as it is in 40 percent of the cases, a side effect of the targeted treatment tarceva pill I have taken every day without interruption going on nine months now. Unfortunately, we’re dealing with 100 percent of it, and the other 60 percent could contain cancer cells, which opens up a whole host of “unpleasantries,” none of which have as yet been discussed. Aspirate and learn my fate or sit tight and be willing to wait. It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but that is my question. Made easier – to me, in that I don’t have any compelling/indicating-type symptoms: no shortness of breath, no persistent cough, no weightiness in my chest, to confirm this potential life-changer. Is the cancer spreading, or is the tarceva doing what tarceva does: harmlessly side-effecting while saving my life my life, but leaving behind this “fluidy” residue? Do I even want to know or can I continue to keep on living believing that it’s nothing because it’s not something? (For this cancer patient, ambiguity is a way of life.)

This is another one of those mental moments, one of the many emotional crossroads that cancer/terminal patients face. It’s not exactly “The Price Is Right” where what’s behind Door #2: “A New Car!” – or a tube of toothpaste (as but one of many examples) could make your public humiliation worthwhile – or not. For cancer/terminal patients however, these decisions could make your life worth living again, or it could make it worse. Where’s that studio audience when you need them?

If I delay the procedure, will what I don’t know now hurt me more than what I do know later? I don’t know. Right now, I feel fine. Can’t I just keep on pretending? I don’t want to look for trouble. Besides, trouble has already found me. I don’t need or want any more. Until I’m told otherwise, that is.