If I’ve heard it once – from my oncologist – I’ve probably heard it a dozen times over the last nearly-six years. In fact, at the very first Team Lourie meeting with him on February 27, 2009, after the initial examination, followed by a review of my previous doctor’s (emergency medicine, pulmonary and thoracic) appointments and diagnostic procedures completed (two X-Rays, one CT Scan and one P.E.T. Scan), he gave us my diagnosis: “stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer,” and my prognosis: “13 months to two years.” After the shock wore off, he told us in no uncertain terms that he could “treat me but he couldn’t cure me,” and he was hardly enthusiastic or encouraging about any of what he had said. However, he perked up slightly when he suggested to me that “perhaps you should take that trip you’ve always dreamed of;” his first attempt at helping me find some quality in my life. Considering the context in which it was said, the suggestion fell on deaf ears and I started chemotherapy the very next week.
This concern about my life, this awareness of my life-expectancy-challenged reality has been an ongoing and recurring theme during the regular discussions Team Lourie has had with my oncologist. Whether I was feeling bad during heavy-duty chemotherapy (“we can stop or take a break anytime if it’s too much?” he would ask) or feeling good (“since you’re feeling so good, maybe we should stop for a while; enjoy your good quality of life”), the quality of my life away from the Infusion Center has always been a consideration. And given what he knew and I didn’t, perhaps I should have listened, but I didn’t.
Not that I ever felt that he had, or was, giving up on me; or that he was imposing his perspective on me/us; it was more like he was fulfilling his legal/fiduciary-type responsibility/moral obligation to educate me about choices, realities even. These conversations about life/living and death were/are always the most difficult for me. The figurative weight of it all almost becomes literal. There’s nothing really that prepares you for the process. I keep thinking that someone with more experience, who’s lived longer and seen more of life than I have, should be advising me. Ultimately though, decisions concerning life and death, the most personal of all decisions, really fall to the patient.
Now whether taking control and being responsible for one’s own cancer fight does keep the cancer at bay, no one really knows. But after being “diseased” at such at an unexpected and early age, 54 and a half, it feels good sometimes to exert some control. At this point in my survival, living is likely more about quality than it is quantity – or so I’ve been told, repeatedly, in a good and honest way. Nevertheless, I’m not ready to give up on the latter while embracing the former.
Kenny Lourie is an Advertising Representative for The Potomac Almanac & The Connection Newspapers.