Opinion: Column: One Step Forward, Hopefully Not Two Steps Backward

Opinion: Column: One Step Forward, Hopefully Not Two Steps Backward

And so, what happens next? There's calm and then there's an eventual storm. The storm to which I refer is what will happen after the March 2nd meeting with my endocrinologist, when she will assess and determine the next step in my post-thyroidectomy treatment. Presumably, in conjunction with my oncologist, a coordinated plan will be implemented for treating my two cancers. I can't imagine, however, that being treated for two cancers, simultaneously, will be easier than being treated for one. And I doubt, although I don't know, that one medicine will be recommended for the treatment of both my non-small cell lung cancer and my thyroid cancer. We'll know soon enough.

In the interim, I intend to acknowledge and appreciate how easy these next few weeks will be. No appointments with doctors, no diagnostic scans, no procedures, no medicine – and no side effects, and no lab work other than as needed, to measure my calcium and magnesium levels and any other thyroid-related effects. Moreover, I am free to come and go as I please. And it does please me. Because I've earned it. I deserve it and I'm going to bask in it. You think being a cancer patient under constant treatment – for nearly 11 years – is in any way amusing? Hardly. I make fun of it to make light of it. Otherwise, the weight of it would crush me. And even though my father always said I had broad shoulders, I'm always fearful that the next result will be the straw that finally breaks this camel's back. After all, I'm only human.

But for now, February 9, as I sit and write, I am three weeks and one day to my next reckoning. And since it's early days yet to know what life will be like after that March 2nd appointment (radiation and/or chemotherapy possibly), I will try to be blissfully ignorant and not think too much how easy and unencumbered my life is at the present. As a cancer patient, ceding control where you can and securing it where you thought you couldn't are keys to managing expectations and minimizing aggravation. Unfortunately, there is no one key that unlocks all doors. And there are plenty of doors, and plenty of doctors too, and plenty of fear waiting for one of your doctors to walk through any of these doors to deliver the results from your most recent cancer-related whatever.

None of which concerns me right now, or rather it shouldn't. And if there's any port in this storm where I can offload some anxiety and get in a little R&R, literally, figuratively, hypothetically, magically, unexpectedly, I should jump at the chance. I am reminded of a conversation I had with my oncologist years ago when I experienced a similar interval between treatment. The medicine I was on had stopped working, so we needed to start another, another with unknown benefits and side effects. My oncologist suggested that since I felt good, perhaps we should delay the beginning of the next infusion and that I should take that trip I had always dreamed of because I might never feel this good again. I didn't then and I won't now. When I jump, however, I can barely get off the ground.

I haven't exactly been presented, this time, with this kind of do-before-you-die opportunity, but there is an eerie familiarity to my circumstances. And though I've been down this road of trying-to-find out before, I can't be at all certain as to what kind of twists and turns await. The last thing a cancer diagnosis provides is a guarantee. Actually, that's wrong. A cancer diagnosis does provide a guarantee: that there are no guarantees. And so, as I prepare for the next phase of my life, the one that begins 11 years after being diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV, and being given a 13-month to two-year prognosis to boot, I will quote the late, great Satchel Paige: "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you."