Hopefully will keep the cancer at bay. (I’d say “away,” but let’s be realistic, three and a half years past a NSCLC diagnosis, there is no way, generally speaking, that stage IV lung cancer disappears into the ether; it’s classified as stage IV for a reason.
Now that I can taste food again, or rather have food taste like normal again, my attitude is much improved.
It has been brought to my attention by some regular Kenny-column readers – who are friends, too, and whose opinions I value, that my most recent batch of “cancer columns” (as I call them) were not funny; in fact, they were more depressing and negative than anything, and not nearly as uplifting and hopeful as many of my previous columns have been.
It might be my age (as in getting older), or it might be the fact that I have cancer (you think?), but my brain and the related physical and mental tasks it coordinates are not exactly working at peak efficiency.
If only it were as easy to actually live it as it is to write it. As much as I believe what I write, it’s still difficult to ignore certain facts (“the underlying diagnosis,” as I often refer to my diagnosis) and the feelings associated with it.
Outliving one’s prognosis leads to all sorts of twists and turns and treatment conundrums: the longer one lives, the fewer the treatment options.
It was June ’09 when I published my first column in the Connection Newspapers about being diagnosed with cancer. It was actually a column detailing the diagnostic steps I had taken during the first few months of the year attempting to identify the pain I had initially felt under my right-side rib cage in late December.
Recently, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was forced to buy a new car (in this instance, “new” means different, not a current model year). Estimated repairs at 137,000 miles that could have escalated into the unknown – and unaffordable – thousands compelled me to fish so I wouldn’t have my bait cut (and I don’t even like to fish).
I realize this admission may sound weird, but having cancer is boring. Don’t get me wrong, I’m lucky to be alive, and quite happy about it, too. But waiting for the other shoe to drop, i.e. some bad cancer news to appear (lab work, scan, advisory from my oncologist), is tiresome because it’s always so worrisome.
I last celebrated my father’s day six years ago, in 2006. Six months later, in early December, he finally succumbed to that which had been ailing him: old age for sure, the effects of two strokes for certain and the realization that it was, as we like to say in our family: “Enough already.”
I’m not going to beat myself up too badly; after all, I do have terminal cancer. However, I am disappointed in my behavior of late, especially as it relates to my status as a still-active (thank God!) cancer patient/survivor undergoing treatment.
If only it were that simple. And as much I’d like to turn the cancer switch off, finding that switch has proven to be extremely challenging.
Though my column has appeared in the newspaper as usual the last few weeks, I haven’t felt much like writing. Typically, I’m weeks ahead with my column inventory, having regularly found the time and inclination to put pen to paper and provide the prose you regular readers have come to expect.
Whatever I thought was only happening in my head – or not, or was really happening physically – or not, is the muddled description of the thoughts and emotions that this cancer survivor/cancer patient-still-receiving-treatment feels every time I make a 24/7 self assessment (which is often).
Mostly. All things considered, and as a stage IV (terminal) lung cancer patient, it’s impossible – for me, to not consider all things.
As our Publisher and fellow cancer survivor, Mary Kimm, e-mailed back to me last week: “Who knew ‘stable’ could be so exciting?”
Having recently upgraded my cell phone, I have finally, due to its larger keys and simplified data-entry process, learned how to enter “contacts” and their phone numbers as well as select some of these key contacts for speed-dialing.
As a veteran of the chemo wars, I should have been better prepared mentally for the food/taste challenges often caused by the infusion of such cancer-fighting chemicals, but I wasn’t.
A male patient sitting directly across from me being infused with his unique chemotherapy cocktail, a bit too far for a conversation, but certainly close enough for a knowing/empathetic glance.
So here I go again; heavy-duty chemotherapy for the first time in nearly three years. As such, I thought I’d try and write another column while actually sitting in the Barcalounger at The Infusion Center (as I did three years ago: “Chemo-Cocktailing at the Depot” was that column’s title) and see what my pen has to say.
In the last few months, out of the blue, I have received electronic correspondence from each of my three oldest childhood friends (none of whom have remained adulthood friends, though all three remain of interest to me) commenting on my cancer diagnosis; each having stumbled across one of my cancer columns online, presumably after initiating a Google-type search for yours truly.
The Beatles sang it on their “Revolver” album back in the mid 60s. My wife and I danced to it in the late 70s when we selected it as “first song as husband and wife” – in 1978. And recently we felt it, three years after my stage IV lung cancer diagnosis, as our reaction/assessment to the many similarly diagnosed individuals who’ve shared their lung cancer stories with us. Who knew?
There’s five words e-mailed from my oncologist that I can live with (Duh!). Certainly better than the previous nine words e-mailed eight weeks ago regarding my then current CT Scan: “Scan results show progression. We’ll talk more on Friday.”
Well there’s five seconds that fellow super-market-shopper won’t have back anytime soon. The question, the curiosity is: will she have nightmares and/or live to regret staring at me so intently that I think I may have seen the whites of her eyes – and it wasn’t even remotely dark?
I suppose, as a cancer patient, there’s a presumption/understanding that not giving into cancer and its potential ravages is an ongoing battle – to the death, if you will. And I imagine, on many levels, some truer than others, it is. War is indeed waged – so to speak, in hopes of defeating this horrible disease (enemy).
As much as I don’t want to be ever-mindful of today’s date – relative to when I first learned of my diagnosis, that Thursday three years ago this very week, when my Internal Medicine doctor called me with the results of the biopsy (confirming the malignancy); and of course all that had preceded it and all that has happened since.
But not sickness. Not health, either, as last week’s column ended. At least that’s the way I characterize my having stage IV lung cancer. And I don’t know if I’m splitting hairs here, since I’ve never worked in a salon, although I do get my hair cut regularly; but I have been accused of speaking double-talk.
There’s a word – in a medical context, anyway, that you don’t hear every day. And if you’re a stage IV lung cancer survivor – like me, 35 months post-diagnosis, it’s hardly the word you ever want to hear – or see – describing the most recent CT Scan of your lungs (Mediastinum) where your malignant tumors have been in "partial stable remission" going on two-plus years now. "Progression" means growth. Growth means the relative calm under which you’ve existed for the last few years is officially over.
Skipping my monthly targeted treatment (Avastin) because my kidneys are under stress might be a good thing. It might mean my body doesn’t need (it certainly doesn’t want) to be infused.
And a lot of good it’s doing me. I may be able to do what I want, but I don’t really have a clue as to what it is I want to do – or can do.
Obviously I find comfort in writing. Obviously I have some need to put down on paper that which is in my head. In fact, evidence suggests that cancer patients who write about their feelings have some kind of improved quality of life and/or longer life expectancy.
The meaning being: the anxiety one feels waiting for, and awaiting the results of, a diagnostic scan.
How does one not become consumed with something that is all-consuming? Moreover, how does that same one take certain information in stride that potentially is anything but stride-worthy?