Opinion: Column: And So It Begins

Opinion: Column: And So It Begins

The six-week schedule/treatment for my stage II papillary thyroid cancer began on Thursday, April 23 with an hour-long telephone appointment with one of the doctors from the Nuclear Medicine department. He was confirming, clarifying and preparing yours truly for the arduous task at hand: a commitment to a month-long, low iodine diet beginning April 27 (no salt, no sugar, no dairy, no normal-type bread and a bunch of other less-impactful nos) and 15 on-site hospital-related visits (in lab, in doctor's office and in scan area) followed by an overnight in late May, when I receive my final treatment. After which, for the following week, I am to be quarantined at home (unsafe for children, pregnant woman and pets) with miscellaneous other quarantine-associated behaviors/advisories (changing bed sheets every other day, using one bathroom exclusively, flushing toilets twice, using plastic silverware and paper plates, among others) with the fun and games ending June 5th when the quarantine period ends. Then I can resume my normal/familiar routine for the treatment of my underlying/pre-existing stage IV non small cell lung cancer. Treatment for which will likely begin again in mid July after I've had a CT scan to assess the damage/success of my thyroid cancer treatment.

By then, it will have been about six months that I've actually had any current treatment/medicine for my lung cancer. Once given a clean bill of health (so far as the thyroid cancer is concerned), I'll likely restart my bi-weekly treatments for my non-small cell lung cancer (which, as my oncologist said, he could treat but never cure). Treatment which began in early March, 2009 and has continued for nearly 11 years. Pending the results of that July CT scan, my life will likely return to abnormal. Still, it's way too early to speculate on life going forward. Six months (dating back to my last treatment in January, 2020) is an eternity in the cancer world (heck, six days is an eternity).

And aside from the obvious, that planning for or even predicting scenarios two to three months hence, it has never been my oncologist's style. Then consider, as he said during our most recent phone appointment (April 17), that he's no longer certain if the tumors in my lungs are non small cell lung cancer, papillary thyroid cancer which has moved and/or, wait for it, that my lung cancer tumors have gone into remission. Can you quote the late Phil Rizzuto: "Holy cow!"

None of which will be known until a week or so after my July CT scan. And not that wondering/waiting isn't already the hardest part, but before I will have learned the status of my tumors, I will have been in and out of hospitals being treated for thyroid cancer right smack in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic when I'm supposed to do the exact opposite: isolate at home and stay away from hospitals. I couldn't be looking for more trouble if I planned it. Nevertheless, I just hope the old adage applies: "Time flies when you're having fun." (And I suppose I should add: flies safely.)

I don't really feel the fun? Maybe it's the needles you feel, or the fear/anxiety associated with being in and out of hospitals multiple times in a comparatively short period of time? Or maybe you feel the worry and difficulty I'll have maintaining a low iodine diet for 31 or so days, and the hunger pains and chocolate withdrawal I'll experience during that month. I'd like to think that the time/treatment will pass quickly, but I'm guessing that the demands of the diet will slow me down to a crawl and that the experience will be an extremely challenging transition/return to normal. (Particularly so for me, since food has always been the bane of my existence.)

But so what? My health status, which originally had been a terminal one: "13 months to two years," has improved dramatically. I'm still likely to die from cancer, but instead of the two years maximum I had anticipated (been "prognosed"), I am now living and breathing two months into year 12, post-diagnosis. And depending upon what is interpreted from my upcoming CT scan, I may yet have a bit more life to live.