Opinion: Column: Still Waiting for “Canswers”

Opinion: Column: Still Waiting for “Canswers”

As I half expected, with my oncologist out on vacation this week, he and the endocrinologist didn't speak. As a result, after sitting in the examining chair, the first question the doctor asks is "So you have thyroid cancer?" I snickered and said something like "Hopefully," before I began to elaborate. Though she had access to my medical records, I can't say she was prepped and ready for our appointment. As she listened to my story, I could she see was simultaneously trying to review my medical history on her computer. In fact, as I hemmed and hawed in response to some of her medical questions, I kept saying/pointing to her computer for her to get the proper answer.

Nevertheless, eventually we were able to move forward in the determination of exactly what kind of cancer I have: thyroid cancer or lung cancer – or both (it's possible, she said). To that end result, the doctor performed a biopsy on my "Adam's Apple" tumor, as I call it. The biopsy I had two weeks prior was from a lymph node, the results from which caused my oncologist to call me with his "exciting news." Apparently, those results were not enough for the endocrinologist (who had never seen me before) to make a definitive judgment, so in her office, that day, this second biopsy was performed. Fine with me, since a second biopsy from a different tumor is absolutely moving the ball forward, as it is so often said these days; I just hope it leads to a touchdown instead of another possible fumble.

For the last nearly 11 years, I've been diagnosed with non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV. Now after two biopsies, not so much. Right now, the assessment of my cancer status is somewhere between a definite maybe and a confirmed I don't know.

Will I now know – in another week's time (when the results of this most recent biopsy are confirmed) – whether my non-small cell lung cancer is actually thyroid cancer, or will there be additional biopsies, additional diagnostic scans, injections of isotopes, etc., to make a once-and-for-all confirmation of what the heck is going on (or has been going on) in my body? If so, it's been a long time coming. I first went to the Emergency Room Jan. 1, 2009 so it's sort of an anniversary of sorts as I write this column. I'd just as soon we get it right this time, if in fact it was ever wrong.

I have a few questions, some of which were answered by the endocrinologist. Yes, I can have two types of cancer. Could my lung cancer have changed to become thyroid cancer? No. And the underlying curiosity/question: During this cancer life that I have lived, I have been told – and seen multiple times on discharge-type paperwork I've received – that I have "metastatic cancer," meaning that the cancer has moved. Moreover, when one considers the staging aspect, my cancer was stage IV. Stage IV means, among "relevancies," (like inoperable) that the cancer has moved from its "primary" location. I remember asking my oncologist where did my lung cancer come from (I'm a lifelong non-smoker with no cancer history in my immediate family). His answer, if I recall correctly (and I may not, due to "chemo brain," a confirmed side effect of chemotherapy), was that he didn't know, and if I further recall correctly, he wasn't particularly interested in finding out, and accordingly no additional tests were ordered. Perhaps we misunderstand the need to know now or misunderstood the answers we were given then (Feb., 2009). But as of this past Friday, Team Lourie is sort of wondering, as was the endocrinologist.

As of this moment, our focus is on hearing back from the endocrinologist. Until then, we'll try to move forward. What's done is done and we'll hear back when we hear back. I have what I have (and have had what I've had), and right now, all we can do is wait.

That being said, we are having a little difficulty restraining ourselves. We can't get past the fact that my oncologist called us in the first place; and in the last place, if he wasn't so sure, why call us and get our collective hope sky-high? Why go out on such a presumptive limb? In spite of that call, somehow, we have to internalize and compartmentalize and try to synthesize fact from fiction. So far, it's proving extremely difficult.