I made it. It’s five years after receiving a terminal diagnosis on February 27, 2009 from my oncologist: stage IV non-small cell lung cancer, accompanied by a "13-month to two-year" prognosis. Let’s be honest, medical professionals don’t toss around the word "terminal" because you’re going to be treated at an airport. Presumably, they know their facts and figures as well as the patient’s present condition, confirmed by a variety of diagnostic results from X-Rays, CT Scans, P.E.T. Scans, lab work and of course the ever-popular biopsy, so their diagnosis/prognosis is a bit more than an educated guess. Nevertheless, there are exceptions to every rule and until proven otherwise, I was not about to succumb to their statistics. Still, based on the best medical knowledge available at the time, this patient (yours truly) was given a limited life expectancy and encouraged to take the vacation I had always dreamed of – for obvious you’re-life-is-now-shorter-than-you-ever-imagined-type reasons, and yet, five years hence, here I am.
I have to admit, surviving, at least from my perspective, is indeed all it’s cracked up to be. Aside from beating the alternatives, it has been, for me, empowering in a way. Not that I think I wrote the book on what one need do to fend off the ravages of this insidious disease – though I have made my share of changes and accommodations, but I have persevered. And for those closest to me who knew me when (pre-diagnosis), I have switched and fought – I have occasionally looked back. And even though I never was a smoker and rarely exposed to second-hand smoke, I may very well have been a victim of some of my own circumstances. Although I didn’t/don’t drink much or consume drugs to any extreme degree, my eating habits may have contributed to a weakened immune system which in some way kick-started the cancer cells in my body (which we all have, by the way); and if you believe any of the like-minded literature coming out of Johns Hopkins and other respected medical institutions: we all may very well be what we eat – or don’t eat. And apparently, there may be consequences – both good and unfortunately, bad.
For the past nearly five years (beginning in June, 2009), I have chronicled my life as a cancer patient. Every week, save for a few non-cancer columns as we call them, I have written about cancer and the range of emotions I’ve experienced. I don’t think I’ve not shared one emotion with you that I’ve felt. Not that it was ever important that it was me doing the talking, because it wasn’t/isn’t, it’s simply that I had a forum/space and the support of my publisher and editor to unburden myself in this very public way. And since writing with such honesty came easy to me (I had been writing non-cancer columns in the Connection since December 1999), having such a juicy and compelling subject on which to write was not particularly challenging to me. Moreover, given the incredibly appreciative and super-positive feedback I have received from readers over the years, I have felt encouraged to continue.
Some weeks however, especially after chemotherapy, the words don’t exactly flow, but for now, life is going on. I have another CT Scan on the day this column publishes, 2/26/2014. Within a day or two, my oncologist will e-mail the results to me. Within a day or two after that, I will likely write my next column. I hope the news is good. It might not be though. When you’ve so far outlived your original prognosis as I have, it’s hard not to think you’re borrowing time – and as most of us will readily admit, paybacks are hell.