As a stage IV non-small cell lung cancer diagnosee/patient/survivor/anomaly, living long--whether prospering or not, is not the simple and presumptive proposition I had anticipated. No more do I anticipate living the same number of years and in the same relative good health that my parents (both deceased), experienced well into their 80s. Now, my life revolves around my oncologist and the CT Scans and lab work that precede our recurring appointments.
Contrary to last week’s column, if I do pay for it now (things I can’t afford), then I’ll be so in debt later that I may end up saying “bye” anyway--from the stress of it. And if that were to happen; dying with a smile on my face, so to speak, would I be truly better off now anticipating that later was not going to be my problem? Do I want to be a modern day version of George Raft, the American actor from the 1930s and 40s best known for his portrayals of mobsters, who said about his Hollywood money: “I must have gone through $10 million during my career. Part of the loot went for gambling, part for horses and part for women. The rest I spent foolishly.”
Meaning: If I’m terminal, why deprive myself because of cost? If, in fact, I’m only living once – as the old saying goes, and somewhat less of a life than I had anticipated, shouldn’t I, at the very least, “Pull my pants down and slide on the ice,” as prescribed by Dr. Sidney Freedman in an episode of M*A*S*H, way back when?
This reference is not about pounds, per se. It is about the two largest tumors in my lungs, inoperable in that they are located between the two halves which make up the whole lung.
On the one hand, I want to take note every month on the 27th as yet one more notch on my living-with-cancer belt. On the other hand, maybe I don’t need a belt to be notching but rather a life to be living. Perhaps it’s time, nearly 44 months post-diagnosis – at press time, to stop counting backwards and try more living forwards.
It was my father all right – in a dream. Standing five feet away, approximately, in a well-lit, local convenience store with which I am extremely familiar. This was no case of mistaken identity. Besides, he was wearing those blue, terrycloth shorts of his that my mother always hated. So yes, I called out to him, surprised as I was to see him, locally as it were.
In my opinion. It’s what I think. It’s what I feel. It’s what I think I feel. It may not be something I know, but it’s certainly something that I hope I know. And if it’s not exactly something that I know, then I hope it’s something I believe.
Given how I feel now, three-plus years later, and considering the results of this most recent scan, the future may simply be what it is: not now, but later. At least, that’s the way I see it, subjectively speaking. (Now whether “subjectively speaking” is just a euphemism for “unrealistic” is likely a topic for a “future” column.)
Not literally, of course. Nor am I the coach or the general manager. But I do feel like an owner, in that there are people that I invest in – again not literally, but definitely emotionally.
More like replaceable. Obviously, I want to remain positive and believe that today is not a good day to die (Worf from “Star Trek: Next Generation”) and that there will be many more tomorrows to live for and days beyond that to plan for. However, having a terminal disease has a tendency to darken up those rose-colored glasses.
Recently, for the first time in nearly two years, I took a trip without having my car. Significant to me in that not “having my car” meant not being able to transport/have all my cancer things.
Making the best of a bad situation, that’s how I roll (I’m a Red Sox fan after all). Some days are easier than others, some symptoms/treatments/results are better than others. And some columns make more sense than others. But that’s cancer for you: an equal opportunity “screwer-upper.”
Having/being diagnosed with cancer/a terminal disease is neither fun nor funny; however, unless I find some humor or wishful thinking in how I approach this situation, I don’t suppose I’ll be approaching it much longer. To me, it’s always been mind over matter, and even though these matters are rather serious, I still don’t mind.
Having been there and done that now for three and a half years certainly helps. And however familiar it may be and/or has become, it doesn’t exactly help to pass the time or affect the results, unfortunately. Cancer sucks! That much is clear. Now and in the future.
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?