I don’t know which is worse: the extra-special, extra-expensive, dental cleaning (the kind that requires Novocain and involves the actual dentist, not merely the hygienist) that I have scheduled for April 8th – or my next hopefully-not-do-or-die CT Scan, moved up a month from my usual three-month interval because of a suspicious formation seen on my most recent scan back in mid-February. Either way, the next two Wednesdays following by the fortnight Friday, April 24th appointment with my oncologist – to discuss the scan results from the 15th, should be noteworthy in the life of this cancer patient.
To think that my cancer-affected life is going to just roll along with nary a blip in assessment, treatment, protocol, scheduling, availability, etc., is both totally unrealistic and wishful thinking of the highest naiveté. And if anything can be said about yours truly, it is that I am well aware of, and reasonably well adjusted to, the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune with which I have been forced to live, live being the applicable word, these last-six-going-on-seven years.
Given that symptoms I’ve felt previously – or not felt previously – have, on varying occasions, been positive and negative, feeling or not feeling has never been a sure-fire indicator of anything. As an example, one time I felt a pain in my chest/lungs (where I know the biggest tumor is located); it turned out to be scar tissue growing over a shrinking tumor, a good result. Another time, the same pain/same area indicated the tumor was growing, a bad thing. In general, feeling something has sometimes meant nothing and feeling nothing has sometimes meant something – and vice versa. I wouldn’t say I was damned if I did and damned if I didn’t, but I would say – with apologies to Oliver Hardy: It’s a damned fine mess in which I find myself so regularly entangled. And apparently, from what I understand, the only thing likely to change in the future is nothing. And as fortunate as I am, compared to so many others who have succumbed to this terrible disease, being present and discussing even a problematic future – six years post-diagnosis – is as good as it gets for a patient originally diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer: stage IV, non small cell lung cancer. Still, it doesn’t (and I mean never) minimize the stress.
Somehow, managing this process/experience has to include a methodology for managing expectations and minimizing that stress. Moreover, anything one can do to lighten the load emotionally, and build in some positive reinforcement and words-to-the-maybe-not-so wise, goes a long way toward accomplishing some level of relative peace and perhaps even a little quiet.
Of course, the process is Imperfect – with a capital “I.” There are always bad days; you just want your share of good ones, too. Acknowledging what you can’t control and being grateful for what you can helps to compartmentalize and find that balance between living in the present and dying in the future. Some days, doing “normal” things – like visiting the dentist, seem to help. Other days, it feels pointless. Oddly enough, it all sort of mirrors my symptom history: it matters, it matters not. I just hope that on April 24th, the matters don’t hit the fan.
Kenny Lourie is an Advertising Representative for The Potomac Almanac & The Connection Newspapers.