Opinion: Column: It's Not As If My Life Depends On It

Opinion: Column: It's Not As If My Life Depends On It

Being totally honest with my oncologist, that is. I mean, it's not as if being diagnosed with non small cell lung cancer, stage IV isn't a "terminal" disease.

Oh wait, it is.

As my oncologist said to me at the initial Team Lourie meeting: "I can treat you, but I can't cure you."

Huh? Followed fairly soon after by the equally distressing prognosis: "13 months to two years." Wait. WHAT!? (As Curly Howard of The Three Stooges said years ago while looking into a mirror: "I'm too young to die, too handsome, well, too young anyway.")

That prognosis – as you regular readers know – is old news, as I recently passed my 10-year anniversary; my oncologist's "third miracle," as he characterizes me. And as life goes on, so too do the studies and research and clinical trials.

As much progress as has been realized, still there are few guarantees for lung cancer patients. Although, there are many more of us living beyond the years our respective oncologists initially gave us (our wildest dreams, I often say).

Living as a cancer patient/survivor, especially one still undergoing treatment, requires regular sit-downs with one's oncologist to discuss and/or assess lab work, results from diagnostic scans and side effects – or as I refer to them: "straight-on effects." At these sit-downs, the oncologist will sit down behind his computer and review my past and inquire about the present, typing away as I respond.

The questions are all too familiar.

My answers, maybe familiar as well. Because if they're not, they may catch the attention of the doctor. And if they do catch his attention, he likely will probe further into their occurrence; their frequency, their location, their pain, their intensity, etc. And in so doing, he may learn things that could possibly alter/maybe even stop your treatment.

The doctor may become so worried about the symptoms you're describing, he may focus on the symptom, not the cause. And that's my fear in being honest: he may stop the treatment. I realize it might be counter-intuitive, but cancer scares the hell out of me. As a direct consequence, dishonesty sometimes becomes one's best policy.

Granted, being dishonest, or rather not totally forthcoming, with the person entrusted in extending your life, doesn't exactly win one the patient-of-the-year award. But when that same one is diagnosed with a "terminal" disease at age 54 and a half, there's a certain amount of clear thinking that quickly dissipates.

And if that same one is "ambulanced" to the hospital (in August 2013) for a week long stay in SICU (surgical intensive care), the fear of God is officially invoked, which further clouds your judgment.

If you live long enough, your judgment improves, but so too does your chance of dying. As I find myself saying: "I just can't keep on living with this thing, can I? I mean, I was diagnosed with a ‘terminal’ disease. They don't call it ‘terminal’ for nothing." But here I am, 10 years post-diagnosis, and living the dream, so to speak.

So how do I answer the doctor's questions, when doing so honestly might lead to a gruesome outcome: hospitalization, and then, well, you know.

Let me be clear then about my answers. Maybe I'm not so certain about the "straight-on" effects? Maybe, they're not that bad, and continuing the treatment will moderate the effects somehow, while continuing to keep the cancer in its current place – without growing or moving?

I don't mean to understate my condition, but neither do I want to overrate it. Perhaps this mental anguish I'm describing makes no sense. But that's what cancer seems to do.

Nevertheless, I realize being honest with one's doctors is kind of important. Still, I may be too afraid of the consequences to be so inclined.