Column: Pins and Needles

Column: Pins and Needles


This column isn’t about acupuncture or knitting, any more than last week’s column was about nausea. They are, however, both about the same thing: the life of a “terminal” cancer patient (and an extremely fortunate one at that), waiting and wondering – and worrying, hoping and praying – never more than now, not having heard the results of my most recent diagnostic scan, results of which can’t come quickly enough and which, in point of fact, don’t come quickly at all. More often than not, given that my oncologist wants to see me in person when he delivers the results – to explain and be available to answer any questions/discuss any strategy, etc. – typically, I don’t learn my fate (to be honest about how I feel), until the Friday nine days after the previous week’s Wednesday scan.

Not that I haven’t been able to live with the anxiety and the eternity (again “live” being the operative word) and get accustomed to the ebb and non-preferred flow; I certainly have, it’s more that the longer I live, the more it seems the veneer of tolerance and relative/comparative calm I’ve exhibited/maintained over these past six years and nearly two months, may be weakening. Not that I’m throwing in the towel (although I am doing laundry as I write), it’s a simple admission I’m making that, as old as I hope to live, this process is getting older, faster. Now whether this sensation matters to my prognosis/future, who’s to say; and I doubt whether my oncologist and/or any medical professionals with whom I interact could enlighten me in any sort of way. I am well aware that the day I received my diagnosis of stage IV, non small cell lung cancer (NSCLC): February 27, 2009, along with its “13 month to two year prognosis,” is the day that any and all guarantees for better-than-average, longer-than-expected quality of life ended. If nothing else – as I had been forewarned by other cancer patients – oncologists, generally speaking, don’t exactly “blow any sunshine up your skirt” (to quote the late, great McLean Stevenson as Lt. Col. Dr. Henry Blake from the classic, long-running television series M*ASH). And at the initial Team Lourie meeting, my oncologist definitely did not. Quite the contrary, I was encouraged, given the rather dire straits in which I now found myself, to “perhaps take that vacation I’ve always dreamed of,” while I could. “What?!,” I exclaimed. No more do I exclaim when I receive medical updates or even what I might call “downdates,” (negative, disappointing, dare I say, bad news). I’ve learned to take it all in stride. Although those strides seem to be getting shorter and less balanced – not a new symptom, just a metaphor. (If “new” symptoms persist for two to three weeks, I am to alert my oncologist.)

Nevertheless, there appears to be little I can do to speed up the flow of information between this doctor and this patient. E-mails do shorten the timeline, but it’s the process/doctor’s preferred method of communicating (heck, for all I know, legal requires face-to-face rather than computer-to-computer) which may ultimately shorten my timeline. I realize this is not my oncologist’s intent (since he’s proud of the success we’ve had together; in fact, he calls me his “third miracle patient”), but unfortunately, the effect may very well be the same. I guess for the time I’m still being, I’m sort of stuck.