Not to state the obvious (which I readily admit I do), but to be given a terminal diagnosis: stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer, along with a rather disappointing prognosis: "13 months to two years" is a challenging set of extremely unexpected (given my immediate family’s medical history) circumstances. I don’t want to say that I live under a dark cloud – because I don’t like the negative implication or reaction it conjures, but I definitely feel as if I have a metaphorical sword of Damocles hanging over my head; which I only refer to as an-out-of-context Three Stooges reference wherein a non-Stooge was innocently standing under a pie which Moe had thrown to the ceiling and there it stuck, hanging precariously over the character’s head. Now I still don’t know the proper historical context of the sword of Damocles, I only know the Three Stooges version, but there was some imminent danger involved (not death, mind you), but rather a falling pie which ultimately landed flush on the character’s face as she looked up to make further inquiries.
Nevertheless, pie issues/references notwithstanding, having seen my oncologist today while being infused and receiving a big smile/ "you’re going great"/thumbs-up set of gestures/reactions while reclining in my Barcalounger with a chemotherapy I.V. dripping medicine into my right arm, is the kind of super-positive feedback with which I can live. Along with my every-three-week pre-chemotherapy lab work and my every-three-month CT Scan followed by my every-three-month face-to-face appointment with my oncologist, this is how I roll. Worrying about upcoming tests, waiting anxiously for results, trying not to anticipate good, bad or indifferent; living day to day and trying to appreciate my good fortune and the unexpected above-average quality of life with which I’ve been blessed – for a terminal cancer patient, that is.
Ergo, the title of this column: "Until Further Notice." Whenever I’m asked by those in my know how I’m doing, I typically respond: "I’m doing fine, until further notice." And "further notice" is my way of lightening the emotional load under which I live and thankfully still breathe; any port in a storm, you might say. Moreover, even though there’s relative calm right now, given my diagnosis/prognosis, there’s likely to be some inevitable unpleasantness down the road – as I’m semi-fond of saying/joking. And as many changes as I’ve already made to diet and lifestyle since I was diagnosed, I don’t suppose I’ll know what turns I’ve taken until my oncologist advises me after my miscellaneous test results have been analyzed. As much as I’m doing internally, I still feel as if the news will come externally. As a result, I feel pressure every day; self-assessing, analyzing, introspecting; it’s a constant battle of mind over what may or not matter yet. And of course, I can never forget the pie.
The great Satchel Page joked to not look back because you never know who’s chasing you. And though I’m certainly mindful of death and what’s chasing me (figuratively speaking), ignoring certain facts as they were presented to me by my oncologist is much easier said than done. When I first learned about my medical situation/diagnosis/prognosis, it certainly sounded like a death sentence; now, five years later, it has evolved into more of a life sentence. And though it’s unlikely I’ll ever make parole, it is life nonetheless, and though there are some days when it’s not very pretty, these are days I didn’t anticipate having. And so far, there’s been no pie or sword to diminish them – all things considered.