Opinion: Column: In Effect, a Trade

Opinion: Column: In Effect, a Trade

Incurable but treatable non small cell lung cancer, stage IV for incurable but treatable papillary thyroid cancer stage IV. And though it may have taken a while to get re-diagnosed: nearly 11 years, the eagle, as they say, apparently has landed. Nevertheless, I'm glad to still be here. Let me amend that. After being given my first "terminal" diagnosis in late February, 2009, with an accompanying "13 month to two year" prognosis, I am glad to be anywhere. Still, it would have been preferred had I received the thyroid cancer diagnosis originally. If that had been the case, I might no longer be a cancer patient with an incurable form of papillary thyroid cancer. If I remember correctly, generally speaking, papillary thyroid cancer is called "the friendly cancer" because it's so curable. Not for me, and not now.

But "alas poor Yorick," papillary thyroid cancer was not my original diagnosis. As such, I have been treated and lived as a non small cell lung cancer stage IV patient whose life expectancy was shortening by the hour.

However, since I was being treated for lung cancer exclusively, my underlying/real cancer was left untreated – for 11 years. And sure enough, after 10 years or so, the thyroid cancer finally manifested itself with the appearance of my "adam's apple" tumor, as I called it. Left untreated for 11 years, it morphed, if that's even the right word, into a rare form of papillary cancer, the "terminal" kind. The thyroidectomy I had in late Jan. 2020 confirmed it once and for all.

And by "terminal" I mean, there is only one drug presently recommended, Lenvima, for my cancer, and its projected effectiveness is three years, give or take. So far the side effects have been fairly minimal and my first two quarterly CT scans since I began this regimen have shown tumor shrinkage. Very encouraging. However, as they say in the mutual fund business: "Past performance is not an indicator of future results." Therefore, though this trade was officially confirmed in the first quarter of this year, I still live and breathe – with somewhat shorter breath, from one CT scan result to the next. I may think I know how I feel, but not until I receive the results from the oncologist, electronically, will I truly know. This is when the rubber officially hits the road. The diagnostic scan results outweigh any feelings I may have on the subject. As it so happens, my next scan is scheduled for Jan. 13. I should have the results before the weekend. A timetable I've experienced many times since Feb. 20, 2009, the date of my original diagnosis.

The trade, unfortunately, did not change this cycle. Nor has the situation of there being one drug available left to treat my cancer. I can remember more than once when my oncologist told me the drug he was prescribing was the last one he had confidence in to treat my lung cancer. Now, the drug I'm taking is also the last best choice available. Different from lung cancer drugs, when the drugs worked until they didn't, the thyroid cancer drug I'm taking has a three-year-ish effectiveness limit. After which, as we say in Boston, "it will be Katie bar the door." At the moment, there aren't any additional drugs to recommend. Given what I anticipated my life expectancy to be, considering the age to which both my parents lived, I would say my thyroid cancer is "terminal".

But that's a rabbit hole I'm not going down. Three years may not be a normal life expectancy (that would age me to 69), but it's ample time, I hope, for the cancer researchers to do their work. And I expect there will be some kind of progress even though the type of papillary thyroid cancer I have is not particularly common. Regardless, I will continue my routine of miscellaneous pills (upwards of 60 per day), alkaline water, lab work, scans, treatment and living my life on semi borrowed time. Granted, it's not ideal, but it's a life with which I'm extremely familiar. I have been there and I will continue to do that.