Column: A Peculiar Existence

I’m not exactly pretending that I don’t have stage IV lung cancer (non-small cell, to be specific), but ever since my hospital admission on August 2nd, I have been treatment-free; no I.V. chemotherapy, no oral medication, no targeted treatment, no nothing. And during this sabbatical (I use that term loosely; being off chemotherapy has been as much about recovering from surgery and recuperating from my hospital “stay-cation” as it was anything necessarily intended), I have progressed from feeling crappy and being short of breath—while being infused previously, to where I have become relatively asymptomatic, breathing normally and for the nearly eight week treatment-free interval mentioned, have felt mostly OK.

But I’m not OK, really. I have incurable lung cancer, the terminal kind (typically the only kind). I have tumors which have metastasized from somewhere else in my body (though a determination as to exactly from where the tumors originated has never been made) and an inevitable fluid build-up in my lung—characteristic of the underlying diagnosis, which has already put me in the hospital once, and given the presumptive reality of the disease, is likely to do so again in the future, and with a less than favorable outcome, according my oncologist.

However, right now—so far as I know and/or has been diagnostically indicated/confirmed, I am living in relative peace (not sure about tranquility though) and able to manage my life well enough to perform all the activities of my daily living and pretend that this break in my cancer-treatment action is not the least bit problematic and possibly even beneficial in some therapeutic way. At least, that’s what I tell myself as opposed to worrying that each week that passes when I’m not infused with some pharmaceutical creation, shortens my life expectancy somehow by a corresponding amount of time. Heck, where’s the future in that?

Still, the time off between treatment has given me pause—to refresh, so to speak and time to gear up—emotionally and physically, for the next round of treatment outlined in last week’s column. On the one hand, I’m sort of relieved (happy would be a bit too naive of a description of how I feel) to be once again taking medication, understanding and respecting the medical reality of the cancer-centric existence I now live—meaning that wishing and hoping the cancer remains dormant/inactive without any treatment is a bit unrealistic. On the other hand, I am ambivalent about forfeiting the relative calm and above-average quality of life that has characterized these last two months. Characterizations that generally don’t describe a stage IV lung cancer patient’s life in year five post-diagnosis. And though I am exceeding grateful—and incredibly fortunate for the gift of life that I have received, I remain both fearful and appreciative of my status quo. Subject to change, I imagine, and not necessarily for the best, either. Nevertheless, life goes on, and I aim to keep it that way.