And so it goes, every three months or so; a CT Scan, a week or so of waiting, and then a face-to-face appointment with my oncologist to learn/discuss the results. Thankfully, the results continue to be amazing. My doctor has told me that I’m his third miracle; stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer patients generally don’t live beyond two years. I’m in year six. And though this CT cycle never gets easy, it does get familiar, and with that familiarity comes a certain predictability that creates its own peculiar sort of calm (it probably helps that I’ve been asymptomatic most of the time). Still, from the initial diagnosis/prognosis (“cancer,” “13 months to two years”) given to me in late February, 2009, I’ve been characterized as “terminal.” As my oncologist said to me at that very first Team Lourie meeting: “I can treat you but I can’t cure you.” Unsettling and surreal doesn’t begin to describe my/our reaction to his words. However, five and a half years later, I’ve become accustomed to the precarious and indeterminate nature of my future.
It’s somewhere (and I’m happy to be anywhere, rather than you know where) between a rock and hard place. Nevertheless, receiving encouraging CT Scan results (“diminution,” “stable, “no change”) feels like a reprieve on the one hand and a reward for good behavior on the other. Certainly nothing is guaranteed going forward, other than my eventual demise that is, but since nothing else is new, no problem. And though I’m not exactly counting deceased chickens before they’ve hatched (or after for that matter), I am assessing and considering the unexpected survival of a terminal patient (yours truly) who has far outlived his original prognosis. Ergo my ongoing dilemma: Am I closer to the end of my life or simply further from the beginning?
As much as I don’t want to focus (you’ll note I didn’t say obsess) on my disease and my presumptive, abbreviated life expectancy, given the change in my lifestyle as well as my daily anti-cancer routine (pills, smoothies, alkaline water, apple cider vinegar, etc.), the best I can do is compartmentalize. Put it in the vault, to invoke a Seinfeld reference. And usually, I can manage it. However, “vaulting” it gets a bit more challenging and complicated – and more difficult to ignore/pretend/deny when you’re rolling in and out of a CT Scan and being told to “hold your breath,” and “breathe out” as the tomography scans your lungs looking for potential trouble.
In spite of it all, my life is going on. My next scan is in three months. For the next two and a half months, I can sort of relax and bask in the glow of these most recent results. A few weeks before the next scan, anxiety will return, however, as the cancer reasserts its figurative control and starts to break down my emotional barriers. It’s inevitable but it’s nothing I haven’t experienced before. No complaints though, just observations and admissions. I may be compromised, but I’m still living and breathing – and lucky as hell.