On multiple occasions throughout my nearly five years of being treated for stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer, my oncologist has given me opportunities to stop and/or take a break from my treatment, or to consider alternatives to the normal protocols – for the expressed (literally) purpose of sustaining/enhancing the unexpected, above-average quality of life I have mostly experienced during my nearly non-stop, every three-week chemotherapy infusions which began in early March, 2009. The goal being to enable me to enjoy my life and not be subjected to/beaten down by the ravaging and debilitating effects of chemotherapy.
As many of you probably know, chemotherapy is hardly a cure for what cancer ails you; in many cases, it is the last line of a faltering defense against the indefensible: a terminal prognosis. When your oncologist characterizes you as "terminal," and gives you "13 months to two years" to live, the presumptions, the logic, the understanding is that whatever treatment you endure is not likely to save your life. Stage IV means inoperable, incurable (though "treatable"); words which are not used indiscriminately. They are used, as is the "stage," to define a set of medical conditions that are extremely serious and based on the most current and best-known medical knowledge available at the time, and are not likely to result in a happy ending. As I’ve said previously, "being called ‘terminal’ is all it’s cracked up to be."
In spite of everything – all the discouraging words, all the chemotherapy, all the varying lab work (good and bad) and miscellaneous results from CT Scans, MRIs and the occasional bone scan and X-Ray – I have managed to outlive the original prognosis offered by my oncologist. My body has held up to the rigors of chemotherapy (I’ve never been a candidate for radiation as my tumors are too numerous and too spread out for the targeting strategy to benefit me, if I understand the process clearly) amazingly well. Still, there are limits of effectiveness. Your body can only take so much before it begins to work against you.
Nevertheless, when offered a respite from treatment and given an opportunity to live life to the fullest and enjoy what time I have remaining – not hooked up to an I.V. – I have always opted to continue treatment. Regardless of the oncologist’s motivation in suggesting these breaks (though they are discussions we have together; it’s hardly unilateral, one way or the other), it’s always felt to me as if I were giving up and/or giving in. Diagnosis-to-date/treatment-to-date, it’s never appealed to me. In retrospect, I imagine I was being naive to think that my overall very manageable quality of life as a lung cancer patient/survivor would/will continue, so why stop now when the worst-case scenario seems to be have been/is a bit overstated? I don’t know if that’s hubris on my part, stupidity or wishful thinking (certainly that), but my feeling is that if I think I’m going to die, I probably will (sooner rather than later is what I mean). And not that this whole strategy of mine has been about trying to out-think cancer by being positive and optimistic; hardly. But I will admit this: given my current alive-and-reasonably-well status, I wouldn’t say it’s worked against me.