Column: Philosophically Speaking

Column: Philosophically Speaking

Recently I attended a “Celebration of Life” event, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, created to bring attention to, and educate the public on, cancer. As a long-time cancer survivor, nearly six and a half years now – and one treated by doctors at Kaiser, I was asked, along with a cervical cancer survivor, to sit on a “survivor panel”; to share our cancer experiences, and offer, along with two oncologists and a pulmonologist, our respective insights as “treater” and “treatee.”

As you regular readers know, my story, based on the available statistical indicators at the time, is a miracle. Lung cancer is a killer, almost always. Survivors who live beyond two years are rare enough; beyond five years, rarer still. However, given the evolution of the research and new drugs brought to market, there are more lung cancer survivors than ever before. And the more survivors I meet, the more empowered I become regarding my own life expectancy. Which, if a cancer patient thinks too much about, the shorter – in my opinion, it will be. As a practical consideration though, how do you not focus on the most important thing in your life; that thing being your lung cancer diagnosis. A diagnosis your oncologist has advised you will likely result in a rather disappointing prognosis. But somehow, from my perspective anyhow, that’s exactly what patients/survivors have to do; agree and proceed, sort of.

Moreover, how does one make light of something (your “terminal” disease/“13-month to two-year prognosis”) which is incredibly heavy? And how does one not get depressed about something (again, your diagnosis) which is terribly depressing? And finally, how does one stay positive and find humor/balance, when cancer is the definition of negative and imbalance, and is, as the old expression says: “Funny as a heart attack”? It all seems and feels counter-intuitive. It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode when, out of desperation, George decided to act opposite to his instincts: “My name is George. I’m unemployed and I live with my parents;” which resulted in his meeting an attractive woman at the diner and getting his Assistant-to-the-Traveling-Secretary job with the New York Yankees. Yet somehow, following this path of least resistance has worked – for me. Inexplicable. Random? Lucky? Misguided? Inadvisable? Rhyme or reason? If I think too much about it, I’m afraid I’ll weaken the nation. All I know is: since it ain’t broke, I’m not looking to fix it.

Certainly there have been struggles: I’m not going to pretend otherwise. Still, living is its own reward, and having survived now way beyond my initial prognosis, I’d like to think that I’m further from the beginning than I am closer to the end. But who knows, really? And what good comes from asking myself that question anyway? I can’t get an answer, obviously; and of course, any guarantees are long gone. Somehow I have to continue to trick myself into not caring: the opposite of all my instincts. It worked for George and so far, it’s worked for me. Now, if I can only leave well enough alone. That would truly be a miracle.