As I sit and attempt to write next week's column, I do so on Saturday, October 27. Aside from being my close friend, Cheryl's, birthday, and the day before my brother, Richard's, birthday, it is a date (the 27th), to invoke our 32nd President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, that "will live in infamy." It is the date that Team Lourie, such as it is: my wife, Dina; my brother, Richard; and yours truly, met my oncologist for the first time to learn what my previous week's "malignant" biopsy actually meant. What it meant was that I was officially a cancer patient. Specifically, a stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer patient, and one given a "13-month to two-year" prognosis to boot, at age 54 and a half. Not a guarantee, mind you, but definitely a kick in the stomach. Not literally of course, but hearing such terrible, unexpected news, it certainly took our breath away.
After we all regained our composure, we tried to sort out what we had just heard and ask some intelligent questions (quite a challenge at that moment, I have to admit). It was difficult because this subject, cancer was a subject with which Team Lourie had zero personal experience, having had no immediate family history other than my mother's very treatable skin cancer. As such, in talking with the oncologist, we were all at a disadvantage. In addition to never having met, neither did we know exactly what we were to be discussing until we sat in the doctor's office. Talk about ill-prepared (pun intended). Throw in the shock value of what we were hearing - for the first time (akin to that of a neutron bomb since we were still standing; seated actually), we were very nearly blown away and having difficulty processing what we were hearing: "13 months to two years," out of the blue, basically. We might have understood "the macro," to steal one of my brother's favorite expressions, but we were having a little trouble grasping "the micro:" meaning me. Certainly, we were clear that my life going forward was going to be different, but we had no idea, really, what we were all in for, collectively. Though a sort of handbook called "The Five Questions" was provided to us, it was hardly a GPS that guided you step by step. At that point, you stumble and stammer and don't exactly know what to ask next.
Nowadays, a new professional certification has evolved called a "nurse navigator." This person is assigned to help you maneuver through the cancer/twilight zone of tests, treatments and appointments that you have just entered: labs, scans, infusion schedule, oncology appointments plus miscellaneous other secondary-type activities/appointments/procedures: aroma therapist, acupuncturist, nutritionist, pulmonologist, nephrologist, internal medicine doctor, thoracic surgeon, ophthalmologist, urologist, dermatologist, psychologist, pharmacist and a few others "chemo-brain," a recently confirmed side effect of chemotherapy, has likely caused me to forget. It's no wonder new cancer patients begin to melt down even before the first beam of radiation has been focused and/or the first dose of chemotherapy has bee infused.
And not that I need reminding, but the 27th does seem to focus a "confinement beam" (Star Trek) of sorts on what I've been doing and why and how much longer I'm likely to be doing it. And that of course is the rub, because in the cancer business, there are very few guarantees, any of which is constantly rubbing you in various directions. Directions which cause you to ebb and flow and bob and weave and try to hang on for dear life. Because so far as most of us know, this life is pretty dear and we kind of think we want to hang on to it for awhile.
And I'm one of the lucky ones—a survivor, that is. Many of my fellow "diagnosees" have not been nearly as fortunate as I have been. Ten years, come next February 20, 2019, the anniversary of the actual date when my Internal Medicine doctor called me to tell me the results of the previous week's biopsy. I remember where I was and what I was doing when I received that call. That I'll never forget. That was my December 7, 1941.
"This column is my life as one of the fortunate few, a lung cancer anomaly: a stage IV lung cancer patient who has outlived his doctor’s original prognosis; and I’m glad to share it. It seems to help me cope writing about it. Perhaps it will help you relate reading about it."