I've been working as an advertising representative for Connection Newspapers since February 1997. I responded to an ad in the newspaper, of course. The edition for which I am primarily responsible is the Potomac Almanac, although I can place ads in any of our other 14 newspapers. In addition, I have written a weekly, award-winning, column going on nearly 14 years, as of December 2011.
"Thoughtful humor and insightful commentary" and "Everything in general about nothing in particular" are two characterizations with which I am most comfortable.
Born in Brookline, Mass., I remain a loyal Boston sports fan, committed (or rather should be) and loyal member of Red Sox Nation. To set foot on the hallowed grounds of Fenway Park would be an experience I'd spend the rest of my life cherishing. I remember exactly where I was when Carlton Fisk hit his game-winning home run in game six of the 1975 World Series.
So has said my longtime oncology nurse, Ron, who has tended to me since June, 2009. Originally, I had been assigned to a different oncology nurse, Holly, with whom I developed an immediate rapport. She cared for me from the beginning, early March 2009, when I began my every-three-week chemotherapy infusion through June, when she transferred from the Infusion Center to a different unit (oncology does take a toll). Initially, after Holly’s departure, Jane, another nurse in the unit, took me on as a patient. However, and this is where the details get sketchy, within a subsequent infusion or two, I was told one day upon my arrival at the Infusion Center, that Ron, still another oncology nurse, who I had certainly seen there previously but with whom I had minimal interaction, would be taking over for Jane – who was not transferring out – and henceforth would be my new oncology nurse. Apparently, I had been traded. For another patient? For future considerations? For a lunch-to-be-paid later? To this day, nearly five years later, I’ve never been able to uncover the truth. I got along fine with Jane; I’m a very low-maintenance patient/ person; I don’t think I did anything to precipitate such a decision. Nevertheless, a deal (my word) had been struck.
…my Certified Holistic Health Coach, Rebecca Nenner, that is. (Visit www.healthcoachdiva.com for information leading to a healthier lifestyle.) More than a coach, Rebecca is my friend – and has been for many years. A former co-worker at the Connection Newspapers, Rebecca is as passionate about health and fitness as I am about the Boston Red Sox. She has been my guiding hand now for over five years, most especially when I was first diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer back in February, 2009. Although there are no whistles involved in her coaching, there are phone calls, e-mails, YouTube videos, Webinars and miscellaneous other advisories regularly landing in my in box. To say Rebecca has saved my life might be an overstatement, given that I am being treated by an oncologist; however, she has given me an alternate perspective on what I can do to help my body survive my treatment and live like I have a present and a future, a gift if ever there was one.
I felt a bit of a dope this week when, after reading last week’s column, "Whew!", multiple friends called to inquire specifically as to the "Tony-the-Tiger Great" news I wrote that I received from my oncologist, and I couldn’t answer them in any detail: shrinkage, less fluid, "partial stable remission"? Nothing. And though I tried to get my oncologist to explain to me exactly what was so encouraging about this most recent CT Scan – compared to the one I took three months ago (as opposed to the one I had nine months ago which was mistakenly compared to this most recent scan and resulted in the "Some better, some worse. I’ll explain more on Friday" e-mail I received from my doctor and talked about in "Whew!") – I was rebuffed. Rebuffed in the best possible way: being told instead how great I was doing, how great my lab results were (for this most recent pre-chemotherapy) and how I could live a long time like this (presumably continuing to be infused with Alimta) – it was almost disconcerting; especially when you consider the original e-mail assessment we received and our less-than-positive interpretation of it. Moreover, the oncologist’s exuberance and smiling countenance, along with his offer of a congratulatory handshake led me away from the missing facts and immediately into these new-found feelings.
Originally, this column was to be a discussion about the communication process between my doctor and this patient. Specifically, the time lag between when tests are performed/completed and when those results are communicated to the doctor who in turn – per this patient’s request, e-mails them to me. In the olden days, results were most likely offered up in person; in the post-olden days, more likely a phone call was made; presently, at least in my experience, results most likely will be e-mailed. I imagine an enduring problem for the patient – during all three "days," has been the time waiting for test results and hearing about them from your doctor. Excruciating is one of the most accurate characterizations of that delay, combined with an unhealthy dose of helplessness. Eventually, if you live long enough, you sort of become accustomed to the process and learn to roll with the punches, both figuratively and literally. Nevertheless, the patience and experience you learn can’t totally stop the rampant speculation that keeps you up at night and sleepy during the day.
While we’re exchanging pleasantries here, in semi real time – although this column will not be most read until March 6th (I need to submit it on Monday, March 3rd as we go to press on Tuesday, March 5th), I feel the obligation, given how last week’s column ended, to update you on the results from my February 26th CT Scan. Presumably, by the title you all have determined that as of this writing, Saturday, March 1st, I have not heard back from my oncologist. Typically, I would have already heard from him, electronically. But so far, not a peep, electronic or otherwise and believe me, I’ve been checking, as you might imagine.
I made it. It’s five years after receiving a terminal diagnosis on February 27, 2009 from my oncologist: stage IV non-small cell lung cancer, accompanied by a "13-month to two-year" prognosis. Let’s be honest, medical professionals don’t toss around the word "terminal" because you’re going to be treated at an airport. Presumably, they know their facts and figures as well as the patient’s present condition, confirmed by a variety of diagnostic results from X-Rays, CT Scans, P.E.T. Scans, lab work and of course the ever-popular biopsy, so their diagnosis/prognosis is a bit more than an educated guess. Nevertheless, there are exceptions to every rule and until proven otherwise, I was not about to succumb to their statistics. Still, based on the best medical knowledge available at the time, this patient (yours truly) was given a limited life expectancy and encouraged to take the vacation I had always dreamed of – for obvious you’re-life-is-now-shorter-than-you-ever-imagined-type reasons, and yet, five years hence, here I am.
Not to state the obvious (which I readily admit I do), but to be given a terminal diagnosis: stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer, along with a rather disappointing prognosis: "13 months to two years" is a challenging set of extremely unexpected (given my immediate family’s medical history) circumstances. I don’t want to say that I live under a dark cloud – because I don’t like the negative implication or reaction it conjures, but I definitely feel as if I have a metaphorical sword of Damocles hanging over my head; which I only refer to as an-out-of-context Three Stooges reference wherein a non-Stooge was innocently standing under a pie which Moe had thrown to the ceiling and there it stuck, hanging precariously over the character’s head. Now I still don’t know the proper historical context of the sword of Damocles, I only know the Three Stooges version, but there was some imminent danger involved (not death, mind you), but rather a falling pie which ultimately landed flush on the character’s face as she looked up to make further inquiries. Nevertheless, pie issues/references notwithstanding, having seen my oncologist today while being infused and receiving a big smile/ "you’re going great"/thumbs-up set of gestures/reactions while reclining in my Barcalounger with a chemotherapy I.V. dripping medicine into my right arm, is the kind of super-positive feedback with which I can live. Along with my every-three-week pre-chemotherapy lab work and my every-three-month CT Scan followed by my every-three-month face-to-face appointment with my oncologist, this is how I roll. Worrying about upcoming tests, waiting anxiously for results, trying not to anticipate good, bad or indifferent; living day to day and trying to appreciate my good fortune and the unexpected above-average quality of life with which I’ve been blessed – for a terminal cancer patient, that is.
Not that I minded it in the least (in fact, I appreciated it in the most), but I received my first senior discount the other day. I was fast-fooding at my local Roy Rogers restaurant when the unexpected kindness occurred. Considering that I’m not at the age yet when such discounts are typically available, I certainly did not (do not) presume that my appearance somehow reflects an age which I am not. In truth, I don’t believe it does. So even though I didn’t ask for the age-related discount, I was offered/given it nonetheless. As the cashier tallied my bill, she then spoke the price and adjusted it downward 10 percent for my surprise "senior" discount. On hearing the lower price and the reason for it, I immediately responded: "Oh, you’re giving senior discounts to people over 40?" To which she replied, while looking me directly in the eye: "No. Over 30." Laughing at her quick-thinking quip, I thanked her again for the discount and commended her on her excellent answer/customer service.
Today I was eating a Tootsie Roll, and while chewing it, felt something sharp against my gum. Knowing my candy, sharp I should not feel, so immediately I stopped chewing in hopes of locating the sensation; which I did. It turns out that I broke off the top half of a previously (years ago) installed dental crown. Fortunately, the crown was still in my mouth, so I was able to retrieve it. Upon closer examination of it and the now crown-less tooth, it appears that the crown and the tooth are completely intact (undamaged) and perhaps a simple re-cementing at the dentist’s office awaits, a repair achieved much less expensively than replacing the entire crown. (I can hope, can’t I? After all, I am a cancer patient; hope is what I do.)
Since March 6, 2009, nearly five years now, save for nine months when I was taking an oral chemotherapy medication at home, every three weeks I have been infused with some sort of chemotherapy drug. In that time, I have certainly become familiar and fairly well-known to the various staff at The Infusion Center. What follows is the most recent exchange with the receptionist in Oncology, as best as I can recall it.