I don’t mind being alive, really I don’t. Occasionally though, I receive well-intended inquiries – electronic and otherwise, from people (who know my cancer story) who are sort of wondering if perhaps I’m not. When people haven’t heard from me in a while – and this is a category of people with whom I don’t have regular/recurring interactions, but rather a group of people who reach out and attempt to touch me (figuratively speaking) every three or four months or so – there is a presumption on their part that my silence (so far as they know) is not in fact golden, but rather ominous, as in the cancer might have won and yours truly didn’t. And when I respond, their pleasure/relief at my not having succumbed to the disease is quite positive, generally speaking. Their honesty and joy in learning that I’m still alive is both rewarding and gratifying. Rewarding in that they care and gratifying in that I must be doing something right which enables me to sustain myself through a very difficult set of medical circumstances: stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer, the terminal kind (is there any other kind?).
Statistically speaking, stage IV (there is no stage V) non-small cell lung cancer patients, according to various studies by The American Cancer Society, The National Cancer Institute, N.I.H. are not long-term survivors (the understatement of the year). Those of us who survive five years should have a parade, but very few would be alive to attend. February 27th, 2014 will be my five-year anniversary. Lucky doesn’t begin to accurately describe my feelings. Amazing begins to scratch the surface.
Obviously, I understand the underlying concern of those individuals who don’t hear from me and can’t help but wonder (presume even; let’s be realistic) that I’ve joined the ranks of the undesirables: those who have died and not left a forwarding address. In a peculiar way, these queries are my most favorites. They reinforce to me everything I’ve done right and minimize anything I’ve done wrong. They make me proud of who I am and how long I’ve survived with a "terminal" disease. And the longer I continue to receive them, the longer I will have survived. What’s better than that? (That’s a rhetorical question). Nothing is better than that!
Still, there are many ongoing challenges I face every day. Perhaps as alluded to in the previous paragraph, grasping at straws (figuratively) is one of my enduring pursuits: attempting to find solace, comfort, understanding, support and an indescribable number of non-quantifiable emotions which build me up and make me feel whole again despite being splintered into a million figurative pieces when unexpectedly diagnosed with an inoperable, incurable, terminal disease at age 54 and a half. After having never suffered a broken bone in my entire life or even spent a single night in a hospital (and only one visit to the E.R.), here I was, in the prime of my middle age, being told in effect that my life (certainly as I knew and understood it) was over. If I was in college, I would have put that in my pipe and smoked it. However, as a mid-fifties-aged adult, recently orphaned, I was left to ordinary devices, which had never been so thoroughly tested.
Presently, five years after the fact, the tests still left to be taken mostly involve well-meaning friends and acquaintances wanting to know my status. A little awkward? Sure. A lot of care and concern? Absolutely! Inquiries I can live without? Not a chance.