Today I was eating a Tootsie Roll, and while chewing it, felt something sharp against my gum. Knowing my candy, sharp I should not feel, so immediately I stopped chewing in hopes of locating the sensation; which I did. It turns out that I broke off the top half of a previously (years ago) installed dental crown. Fortunately, the crown was still in my mouth, so I was able to retrieve it. Upon closer examination of it and the now crown-less tooth, it appears that the crown and the tooth are completely intact (undamaged) and perhaps a simple re-cementing at the dentist’s office awaits, a repair achieved much less expensively than replacing the entire crown. (I can hope, can’t I? After all, I am a cancer patient; hope is what I do.)
As soon as I realized what had happened, I began to remember – and laugh. Approximately 4 months into my initial chemotherapy infusions nearly five years ago in the first quarter of 2009, I shared a dental concern with my oncologist. I had broken off the top half of a tooth and it needed a crown. Concerned that somehow the chemotherapy would affect the crown’s cementing, I had waited until this point to ask my oncologist’s permission to have the repair. I offered to him that since I had one more heavy-duty chemotherapy infusion scheduled (boy was I naive), could I schedule the dental-crown appointment with my dentist now? My oncologist looked up at me as I sat on the examining table and hesitated and then asked: "How long does a dental crown last?" I similarly hesitated and said: "I don’t know. About 10 years, I guess." To which he replied, "Maybe you don’t need a dental crown." Perplexed as to why he was advising me not to seek a medical/dental solution, I thought for a few seconds while I processed his answer: Why did he ask about how long the crown lasts and how come he’s not encouraging me get the crown…Oh, I get it. He doesn’t think I have 10 years. Then I laughed and said I understood. A few weeks later, against my oncologist’s advice, I got the crown. And now five years later, the crown has fallen off. Not only did it not last 10 years, it barely lasted five years. Moreover, I lasted five years, three years longer than the back end of the "13 months to two years" prognosis I was given by this oncologist. Not that I necessarily wanted to prove him wrong and/or get my money’s worth out of this crown, but the fact that I have outlived both my crown and my original terminal prognosis has brought me great joy. Not a sense of self-satisfaction per se, but more a sense of irony. Given the rather grim statistics attached to a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis, the relative significance of a dental crown repair is practically zero. Still, it feels good. (Moreover, my philosophy was and is: given the extreme negative that a terminal cancer diagnosis/prognosis imposes, anything the patient, in this case me, can do to act/live normally, the better/more optimistic I’ll feel to counter the weight of a cancer diagnosis. Giving in to it is not an option.)
So I’ll be calling my dentist this week to schedule a consult/fix. However, considering the fact that February 27, 2014 will be my five-year survival anniversary, an accomplishment that few – less than 5 percent – of stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer patients ever realize, it will give me pause once again as to whether the repair is truly necessary. Now whether it turns out to be a waste of time, energy and money, as my oncologist originally presumed it might be, the repair is necessary for one main reason: peace of mind. It’s my life and I want to live it. The heck with the diagnosis/prognosis.