Column: Accommodate or Exacerbate

Column: Accommodate or Exacerbate

As a diagnosed-as-“terminal” cancer patient (is that better, Rebecca?), I feel I am due some accommodations. However, when offered or given, I am hesitant to accept (not always, though; I’ll be honest). I don’t want to weaken my resolve or stoke the internal fires that burn inside many of us cancer patients: Why me? Why now? When am I going to die? Is there something I did/didn’t do that caused the cancer? Am I being a compliant patient? Or am I being stubborn and stupid and rationalizing my behavior way too much? Am I one of the 17 percent of non-small cell lung cancer patients to survive beyond five years for a reason, or am I akin to a blind squirrel who sometimes finds an acorn? Am I closer to the end of my life or merely further from the beginning? Yet sometimes I do feel as if I’m entitled. Let an able-bodied person not undergoing chemotherapy every three weeks do the heavy lifting, literally and figuratively. It’s not my job to prove myself up to the task any more than dying while trying is somehow beneficial. I don’t want to be remembered fondly for pushing myself to an early grave. I’d rather be alive and pulling myself forward to a longer life. Until I know otherwise, I’d prefer to see how the movie ends rather than walk out early and read my obituary in the paper. As Curly Howard of The Three Stooges once said in an episode, while admiring himself in the mirror: “I’m too young to die, too handsome; well, too young anyway.”

And given that I’ll be 61 in September, and both my parents lived into their mid to late 80s, with minimal health problems – AND NO HISTORY OF CANCER, I feel succumbing now to my disease would be inappropriate somehow – and rather disappointing. Not that I feel any twinges or tweaks of late that have given me pause to refresh my thinking and constant self-assessing/self-evaluating, but let’s be realistic here: mortality matters, no more than after you receive the kind of “13 month to two year” prognosis that I did back in early ‘09. And just like Radar said to Captain Pierce (in a M*ASH episode) about the nickname “Stinky” tending to stick with a fella, so too does a diagnosis of inoperable/metastasized stage IV non-small cell lung cancer stick with you. As much as you want to shake free of its hold (you’ll note I didn’t say grip), it’s sort of an itch you can’t really scratch – or scratch enough so that you forget it.

Constant reminders you don’t need, so you try – at least I do, to live my life as normally as possible. However, as a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy, there are many challenges, and unless certain compromises or acceptances to reality are accepted, you’ll never make it the movie to even buy the ticket. But giving in to the disease doesn’t seem prudent either. Most of all though, I want to remain alive. Pushing, pulling, overdoing it, “underdoing” it; when to stop, when to go? Is accepting help a sign of weakness or a sign of maturity? Unfortunately, there’s no handbook. There’s only your own life’s experiences, your own instincts and your own wishes/preferences concerning how you want to live the rest your life under the most difficult of circumstances. Even more complicated: days are different. Some days, I want help. Other days, I don’t. I wish there were some regularity/predictability to it, but there isn’t. There’s only the ups-and-downs-and-all-arounds all us terminal patients have to accept and maybe even understand. It’s not perfect. But I’ll take alive and perplexed over dead and buried any time.