Opinion: Column: My Own Sort of Groundhog Day

Opinion: Column: My Own Sort of Groundhog Day

As it happens every year around this time, the monthly calendar turns to February, and I am reminded of the goings on in my life Jan. 1 through Feb. 27, 2009.

I was not, as yet, in the throes of having been diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV, but I was in pursuit of finding the cause of the shortness of breath and stinging pain in my side that first manifested on Jan. 1, 2009.

Cancer was the last word I expected to hear in late February after a biopsy confirmed the finding. Until I received that call from my primary care physician on Thursday, Feb. 20, advising me that the tissue biopsy was indeed malignant, I had been, since that New Year's Day visit to the Emergency Room, in a diagnostic dalliance to determine what had caused an otherwise healthy 54-and-half-year-old man, to present with such symptoms.

The Emergency Room doctor was perplexed as the chest X-Ray I had taken that day was inconclusive. In addition, I offered no pertinent medical history to account for the symptoms I was experiencing.

Eventually I was released and it was suggested that I return in a week, have another chest X-Ray then and see a pulmonary doctor. And so I did. After reviewing both X-Rays, and examining me, the pulmonologist was equally perplexed. I was healthy by all appearances and I had no family history of anything.

Out of curiosity – or bewilderment – the doctor told me to get a CT scan, which I did, approximately two weeks later, at the earliest available time. Within a day of having been CT-scanned, I was called by the pulmonologist and advised to schedule an appointment with a thoracic surgeon, a specialty with which I was totally unfamiliar.

Two weeks or so later, at the first available time, I saw the surgeon. Equally befuddled, by his own admission, after reviewing my two X-Rays and recent CT scan, he equivocated on the next step: ordering a P.E.T. scan, which he did not – until a few days later when he changed his mind and told me to make the arrangements; which of course I did, and again, it was approximately two weeks later that an appointment was available.

After receiving the results, the thoracic surgeon called me. He said, among other things: "Your scan lit up like a Christmas tree."

Not good as I later learned.

And so, a surgical biopsy was scheduled, upon availability, about two weeks later, which presumably would determine the cause of my original discomfort and confirm what all this diagnostic back and forth had been about.

Within a few days of my procedure, I received a phone call at work from my internal medicine doctor. He asked if I wanted to come to his office to discuss the results. I said "No, just tell me," figuring that a request to see him in his office meant bad news.

Sure enough, it was.

He told me that the sample was malignant. Stunned by the news, I remember asking: "What does that mean?" He might have mentioned cancer, I can't recall. He instead deferred and referred me to an oncologist, actually making the appointment for me for the following Thursday, only a week later.

Nearly two months had passed since the original Jan. 1 visit to the E.R.

Finally on Feb. 27, I was going to find out what's been going on – from an oncologist. And sure enough, on that following Thursday, my new-best-friend-to-be lowered the boom: "Lung cancer."

My prognosis, he said: "13 months to two years." Moreover, he advised: He "could treat me," but he "couldn't cure me." In simple terms, he told me I was "terminal."

Not that I don't already think about having cancer every minute of every day, but especially so at this time of the year. This is when my world, as I knew it, came crashing down. Over and over, I review the days and weeks leading up to that first appointment with my oncologist and the impact the diagnosis has had on my life.

Granted, it's nothing to laugh about, but given that I've survived so long, it's certainly something to be grateful about.