After 11 years and almost exactly six months since being diagnosed with stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer, the party is apparently over. Now we're on to the after-party: stage IV, papillary thyroid cancer, the more aggressive version, the one that doesn't respond to the radioiodine therapy/nuclear medicine treatment that yours truly recently completed. What seems to be semi clear, at least according to my endocrinologist, is that I never had non-small lung cancer, but rather a very slow growing thyroid cancer. So slow in fact that it wasn't until approximately two years ago, nine years or so after my initial diagnosis, that the mass began to take shape in my neck; my "Adam's Apple tumor" as I called it, as some of you regular readers may recall. In effect, I was thryroid-cancer-treatment-free for nine years until it presented.
And it was during these years that I became my oncologist's' "third miracle" a lung cancer patient who didn't succumb to his disease. Originally given a "13 month to two year" prognosis by my oncologist, I was not expected to live. I can still recall when my oncologist responded to Team Lourie's question about what percentage of lung cancer patients live beyond two years: Less than two percent. Could you be the one? Sure." I didn't realize then that his comments were to be taken literally. Yet here I am, a testament to modern medicine or perhaps an anomaly of random proportions. Throughout these years, my oncologist would often bring his students in to see the "amazing Mr. Lourie" ("Kreskin" has nothing on me.) I wasn't exactly the Energizer Bunny, but neither was I/am I chopped liver.
But today's phone call with my endocrinologist changes my story/narrative and puts an end to my previous stature. No longer will I be someone who survived lung cancer, rather I'll be someone who survived "the friendly cancer," as papillary thyroid cancer is anecdotally described. And not that I'll take any of it personally, but I will have to make it part of my resume, if you know what I mean? So I'm not special or lucky or blessed. It simply may be that I was misdiagnosed and survived in spite of my oncologist's efforts to do no harm, even if he was treating a non-existent cancer.
Though from what I heard today, I am hardly out of the woods. In fact, it appears as if I'm in real danger. The type of papillary thyroid cancer that is confirmed that I now have, the type that doesn't respond to radioiodine therapy, has been characterized as "aggressive" and "incurable." Treatable of course, but with a list of potential side effects that is hardly endearing to me and doesn't exactly bring joie to my vivre. Quite the opposite, if you'll allow me an honest expression of my apprehension treating forward. That being said, right now, those effects are on paper, they're not yet on my person. And until that happens, I will proceed with caution but remain cautiously optimistic. As my oncologist answered in reply to our general question about which cancer is better to have, non-small cell lung or papillary thyroid? "Thyroid cancer is better," he said. That's something, I suppose. And even though I can't take it to the bank and invest it in my future, I'd like to think that I'll be able to take it – in pill form as it happens. After all, who has more experience living with the ups and downs and all-arounds – and the side effects that cancer treatment can produce, than yours truly? The patient who survived stage IV non-small cell lung cancer for 11 and 1/2 years only to find out that it may have been untreated thyroid cancer all along.
On balance, I suppose it's a good thing that we finally got a more definitive diagnosis. I just hope we haven't totally missed the party, because I'm not at all certain that I'll be able to attend next year.