Column: Excuse Me

Column: Excuse Me


Kenneth B. Lourie

Early on during my indoctrination/assimilation into the cancer-patient world in which I now reside, I remember asking a fellow cancer patient/friend if I could use cancer as an excuse for whatever it was needed excusing (directly or indirectly related), and she said: absolutely, “blame the cancer.” Years later, after a chemotherapy infusion, I saw my oncologist walking through the Infusion Center and asked him if my thinning hair might be a result of this most recent chemotherapy drug (not all chemotherapy results in hair loss). His response was similar to what my friend had advised me in 2009. He said: “You can blame me,” (which of course, I understood to mean, cancer/the treatment of cancer) “for anything.”

Now, I have to tell you, having such an acceptable, ready-made, beyond-reproach kind of excuse such as cancer as the reason for anything you want to do/don’t want to do/can’t do, etc., is incredibly tempting. It’s almost like having a super power, a power which cannot be questioned or compromised in any way. And quite frankly, conjures a wide range of emotions/reactions; from one perspective, it places the cancer patient in a position of strength, and on the other, creates a kind dependence that is hard to resist. My fear has always been that relying on cancer too much as an excuse somehow weakens the immune system and so I have been hesitant to use its power. Can you say slippery slope?

As an example: if “the dog ate my homework” became an acceptable excuse, one would use it as such until it no longer passed muster; and as we all know, eventually it doesn’t pass anything. However, cancer as an excuse – in my experience, will always pass muster and then some. Moreover, the seriousness of it will likely prevent the patient from ever having to answer any show-proof type questions: “Show me your port.” “Name your most recent chemotherapy cocktail.” “How long does a typical infusion last?” As a consequence, the potential for use and abuse is almost overwhelming.

Nevertheless, in spite of the temptation, I have rarely used my disease as an excuse for anything, other than when it was obvious by my appearance – during heavy duty chemotherapy – that I was unavailable, shall we say. It always felt as if I might be manipulating situations if I were to start using “cancer” as an excuse; as believable and understandable an excuse as it was/is. It’s so easy. So unquestioned. No one is going to ask: “Really?” “Are you throwing up that much?” “Are you sure you can’t get out of bed?” Besides, I haven’t wanted to give in to my cancer whereby it begins to control my life more than the regular medical appointments, lab work, diagnostic scans, infusions and the 40+ pills I ingest and restricted diet already do. I’ve wanted to maintain some control and try not to become a victim of my own circumstances. Easier said than done, I assure you.

But I have persevered and survived five years and nearly nine months. Through a combination of good genes, a healthier lifestyle and diet, a variety of non-traditional alternatives/supplements and a bit of blind luck, not to mention a super-positive attitude which I inherited from my father, life goes on. However, if anything goes wrong, I know who/what to blame: “cancer.” It wasn’t anything I said or did. In a way, there’s comfort in having such a good excuse. Unfortunate, certainly, but very convenient.

Kenny Lourie is an Advertising Representative for The Potomac Almanac & The Connection Newspapers.