Opinion: Column: Risking a Reward

Opinion: Column: Risking a Reward

In my 11-plus years as a lung cancer "diagnosee," I've done a pretty good job of facing the facts and acting/planning accordingly. I've accepted my reality and somehow managed to live so long beyond the original "13-month to two-year" prognosis I was given by my oncologist that he has introduced me to some of his students as his "third miracle." Unfortunately, this characterization is not the end of the story.

In retrospect, dealing with/being treated for one type of cancer (non small cell lung cancer) seemed easy enough. Soon, I'll be getting treated for two types of cancer: papillary thyroid cancer stage 2, in addition to my pre-existing stage 4 lung cancer. And since the treatments are not identical and cannot occur simultaneously, I'll be receiving treatment for my thyroid cancer first and deferring treatment for my lung cancer until at least mid April. That's when I have my next scheduled appointment with my oncologist, when no doubt we'll discuss strategy and all treating me forward.

In the interim, to address the thyroid cancer, I will be spending a night at the Washington Hospital Center. This will occur after I receive a dose of radioisotopes, a type of nuclear medicine designed to target and kill any remaining thyroid cancer in my body wherever it might be located. What happens after my "overnight" and subsequent follow-up appointment with my endocrinologist has yet to be discussed. What little I know is that I'll need a pre- and post-procedure CT scans and that upon release from the hospital, I'll need to be quarantined for a few days (away from children and pets primarily).

Hoping my body responds as anticipated, I'll presume there will be some kind of maintenance-type of treatment for my thyroid cancer which will likely be combined with the restart of my lung cancer treatment. But I don't really know. But what I really do know is that doctors, generally speaking, don't want to consider scenarios about what might happen if such and such or so and so happens, or not. Though I'm sure there's a reasonable expectation of something or other happening, my experience has been that doctors divulging what might happen (treatment/procedure etc.) next, since there are so many variables/results yet to be considered, is unlikely. Though I will still ask my fair share of questions about my future, ultimately, all I can do is wait and see.

Ordinarily, as in how I've managed since my diagnosis, being uncertain about the next medical step has been no problem. I realize that answer would likely be somewhere between a house of cards and definite maybe anyway, always depending. Now add to the mix of uncertainty, the coronavirus that has "pandemicked" the country. As a result of its spread, will I be prevented/rescheduled because the hospitals are overwhelmed? After all, I am the poster child for possible victims: male, over 60, weakened immune system with a severe underlying medical condition. I'm the exact person they don't want to see at the hospital. Yet, if I don't go/receive approval to go, I doubt I'll get any better at home without treatment. In my case, I don't believe leaving well enough alone is going to work very well.

Still, my choices feel almost counterintuitive. I have to risk my life (leave my home) in order to possibly save my life (cancer treatment) away from home. I can't do one without the other. To receive treatment, I'll have to expose myself, potentially, to the exact complication that my lung cancer diagnosis makes me most susceptible to: breathing issues. However, if I don't/can't, I'll be worse off than if I hadn't. Nor do I feel as if I can wait until the virus is more under control. Control which seems unlikely in the near term. And in every term (short, medium or long), the cancer is not going to wait. I sure hope I won't have to either.