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Column: Airing on the Side of Caution

As a non-small cell lung cancer survivor, stage IV, 52 months post -diagnosis, I am no longer living within the margins, I am living outside of them. Therefore, since trouble has already found me, I am officially not looking for trouble anymore. To that end (“end,” wrong choice of words; let’s use “point” instead), to that point, I am an exceptionally compliant patient. I take my pills as directed. Complete my regular and recurring lab work as instructed. Am on time to my diagnostic scans. Arrive early for my medical appointments. Have proper identification in hand – when asked, and other than stubbornly and stupidly neglecting to mail a fecal sample in the self-addressed, postage paid envelope provided for such tasks, have been an extremely cooperative and accommodating patient. My reward? Living is the best reward; and for a characterized-as-terminal, late-stage lung cancer patient, living is so much better than dying – so far as we know anyway. (And since there are no guarantees about what happens when we die, I’d just as soon wait my turn and put off finding out with certainty for as long as possible.)

In addition to my exemplary patient behavior/attendance, I have also made numerous changes to my diet – and to a lesser degree, lifestyle, to likewise give myself every opportunity to “Arrive Alive,” (and not just in Maryland) and see how this life actually is lived. I’d just as soon get my year’s worth, and by my calculation, 58 years (how old I am at this writing), just doesn’t cut it when you consider the average life expectancy for a male age 58 is 79 years, give or take (I’d rather give), according to various “actuarially-driven” sites available online. I don’t think I’m asking too much. I’m not asking for a pony or long life; just a typical life. Unfortunately “typical” might be more statistical than realistic – at least for someone with an incurable disease, which was how my oncologist originally described my lung cancer diagnosis.

Respecting the facts and the statistics AND the “terminalness” of my diagnosis; presuming that bad things don’t/won’t happen to good people didn’t seem a prudent course of inaction and hardly a convincing rationalization that meant somehow I would survive. Cancer is an equal-opportunity and indiscriminate destroyer of lives. Thinking (hoping, really) that luck would somehow keep me alive in this fight seemed naive at best and delusional at worst. Proactive and persistent participation in my own care and ongoing survival seemed the only logical approach.

Death happens by itself. Life is about doing everything you reasonably can to prevent that inevitability. The journey is certainly one fraught with danger. Emotional and physical challenges are the norm and surviving them requires a type of vim and vigor not in great supply. Cancer will not go down – or be held in abeyance, without a serious fight. For me, it’s not about winning, and it’s definitely not about whining, it’s simply about getting my share; and dying at age 58 is not what I consider “getting my share.”

If I want to live longer and prosper, I have to treat cancer respectfully, but as nothing more than an inconvenience. And even though I may have received a bit of a bad break (considering my family history; no cancer, normal life expectancy), woe is not me. My life is in my hands and I’m responsible for it. I may not have the margin for error that I once did, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t room to maneuver.