As Jackie Gleason would say as he segued from his monologue into the sketch comedy that followed on his Saturday night entertainment hour on CBS. So too does my entertainment – or lack thereof, continue. Six weeks or so after my treatment for thyroid cancer (three pills a day) began, per doctor's orders, we have put a halt to the proceedings. Due to increasing values in my bi-weekly lab work (monitored exactly for this purpose), specifically my kidney and liver functions, I am standing down and standing by. We will retest this coming Thursday and then wait for further instructions (smaller dose, intermittent dose, no dose?). In addition, some of the side effects that I am experiencing (fatigue, shortness of breath, a little depression/a little malaise) also encouraged my oncologist to pause the treatment. Hopefully, it's the pause that refreshes as Bud Collins the long time tennis commentator for NBC once said to describe female tennis star, Amanda Paz.
The lab work is the first line of defense and indicator, along with side effects as to what might be going on inside. A scan would be useful as well but due to the radiation exposure, the doctors try to keep its use to an absolute minimum. And since I'm not scheduled to be scanned for another month (every two months), my status is best determined by how I feel and what the lab work shows. In the interim, I will ride the roller coaster of emotions and fear and try to enjoy the reduction in the side effects (which I can do. I'm good that way). I just have to hope that the values in my next lab work go back down or I may very well go off the rails and onto some other ride that might not be so manageable.
All that remains is "all that remains." Nothing in my life/cancer routine is likely to change much. Again, what I've been told is that what I have is incurable: stage IV papillary thyroid cancer, the kind that doesn't respond to radio iodine therapy, so every minute of every day will be spent hoping, praying, wondering and waiting to see if the end is near or thankfully not near at all, like a mirage, almost. Just another day in my cancer conundrum. As Tom Branson said on an episode during the final season of Downton Abbey about something completely unrelated: "What a palaver!" But that's really what being a cancer patient is all about: Confusion, lack of clarity, few guarantees and changes in your attitude along with your latitude if Jimmy Buffet were writing this column. If my wife were, it would be about going with the flow. However, since I'm writing it, it's about changes, constant change; sometimes more of the same, something completely different. and being prepared, always, to go up and down and all around and everything in between. It's highs, it's lows and it's all-overs, too. It may not sound like a great way to make a living, but I can assure you, it sure beats the alternative.
As my mother used to say: "enjoy poor health," especially since isn't seeming likely I'll be changing horses anytime soon. But I can do it, I'm a Red Sox fan. I've lived with disappointment and determination my whole life – and thankfully, I've lived to see some World Championships, too. The goal is to try and keep moving forward and remain positive. Like my old friend Ray used to say: "my attitude is my blood type: B+." What's another blip on the cancer radar? I've been on it so long now, since Feb., 2009, that it would be abnormal not to appear. And since the experts have been telling me that it's unlikely I won't be off the grid until there's either a new grid or a new drug, I am happy to take a break in the short term if it helps in the long term. Because the goal is to finish, not to falter.