Column: Back on Track

Column: Back on Track

Having reread last week’s column a time or two now, I’ve realized that I neglected to update you regular readers – especially those of you who read my most recent pre- and post-scan columns: “Abyssful” Ignorance and Scant Know For Sure Anymore – on the previous week’s scan results. Once again, I have defied the odds – maybe statistics would be a better word? Nevertheless, my tumors remain stable, as do I, and I remain amazingly lucky as well. As to the reasons why I continue to “thrive,” perhaps it’s due to the marketing campaign of the HMO that is responsible for my care.

Certainly I’m living proof that all is not lost when lost is where you seem to be. Six and a half years ago at my diagnostic ground-zero: 2/27/09, my oncologist offered little hope. Though he was honest and direct in his presentation of the facts, statistics, treatment, etc., he was not particularly encouraging. To invoke a quote from Lt. Col. Henry Blake from a long-ago M*ASH episode: my oncologist didn’t exactly “blow any sunshine up my skirt.” It was quite the opposite, in fact. When we questioned him further about my chances of living beyond two years or even beyond five years (two time frames he cited), he did acquiesce and agree that sure, it’s possible I could be the one (almost literally) that could survive beyond the rather grim prognosis of “13 months to two years” that I was given.

Not that I doubted him, but when you’re a lifelong non-smoker, asymptomatic with no immediate family history of cancer; being told at age 54 and half that you have late-stage lung cancer and have maybe two years to live, is not simply a hard pill to swallow, it’s an impossible pill to swallow and yet swallowing now becomes the least of your problems, especially considering that heavy-duty chemotherapy was scheduled to begin in six days. That’s when you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore, and when your hair falls out a few weeks later and you start to look ashen gray in the face and hollow in the eyes – and feel even worse than you look, it’s easy to start believing the extremely discouraging news given to you by your oncologist.

But somehow you must – not believe, because believing can be very disheartening. And “disheartening” leads to and creates negativity, and negativity is almost as harmful as the chemotherapy itself. Cancer may have a mind of its own (figuratively speaking), but so do you, and using it to “laugh, think and cry” as Jim Valvano encouraged (“a full day” as he called it) in his ESPY speech in 1993 while accepting the first-ever Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award, is perhaps what makes one stronger – or possibly strong enough, emotionally. And given the ravaging effects of chemotherapy, you’re going to need that emotional strength to compensate for the physical weakness you’re likely to experience during your treatment. Cancer is difficult enough on its own; you don’t need to make it any worse.