Column: A Level That’s Anything But

Column: A Level That’s Anything But


Kenneth B. Lourie

This is not a home improvement reference, but this is most definitely a do-it-yourself column. And though friends, family and all the medical professionals at The Infusion Center, and of course the Oncology staff, have been wonderfully supportive and encouraging throughout my nearly-six-year ordeal, at the end of the day – heck, at the beginning of the day, every day – the patient has to figure a way to navigate through this characterized-as-terminal minefield. More often than not, this has been my greatest challenge: keeping my spirits up and my attitude positive when there are only three people present and accounted for: me, myself and I.

Dealing with unexpected results – both good and especially bad, from lab work, diagnostic scans and/or in-person appointments/physical examinations/assessments – and the effect all of it has on the patient’s presumptive life expectancy, are emotional hurdles I regularly endure. Moreover, interpreting any of these results, better left for the professionals, rarely prevents us amateurs (patients) from wishfully-thinking, denying or freaking out entirely. After all, your life is at stake and since there are no guarantees or 100-percent predictable outcomes in the treatment of stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer – other than it’s not curable, according to my oncologist – anticipating the worst while praying for the best becomes your 24/7 reality.

This reality is never more apparent to me, since I’m relatively asymptomatic, than when I complete my every-three-week, pre-chemotherapy lab work. That’s when (other than my quarterly CT Scan), the tale of my tape, so to speak, is updated. If certain measurements are too high: creatinine, bilirubin, potassium – then no chemo for me. If certain other measurements are too low: white and red blood cells counts, oxygen, also potassium; then again, no chemo for me. The real anxiety, new anxiety – for me, is what levels show up on the inevitable retest (the first order of business is to confirm the abnormality with additional lab work). Typically, at least historically, my retests, taken a week later (sometimes even a day later), have always returned to normal, and accordingly, chemotherapy has proceeded as usual. This week, however, something different has occurred. This is the first time that my creatinine levels were too high on consecutive three-week intervals. If my next retest does not return to level (as the previous one did), and chemotherapy is put off an additional week again, that too will be a first and cause – in my head anyway, for new concern. This would be a complication/result that in the previous six years has never happened.

Should I be worried? And whether or not I should be, can I even control my feelings and somehow patiently (no pun intended) wait for new results from the retest without coming apart at the seams? If I could, I would; but given this column’s subject, apparently I can’t. Wish me luck; hopefully, I won’t need it.

Kenny Lourie is an Advertising Representative for The Potomac Almanac & The Connection Newspapers.