Nearly nine years into a "13 month to two-year" prognosis, I can hardly believe my good fortune. And though I rarely look a gift-oncologist in the stethoscope, I am happy nonetheless to count my blessings as I continue to look ahead rather than stress behind, and try not think about what was said and when.
At the initial "Team Lourie" meeting with my oncologist, I was told that there was no cure for lung cancer. I could be treated though. As to whether I might live beyond two years, I remember my oncologist responding to our desperate query by saying: "Could you be the one? Sure." Reassuring it wasn't, but hopeful? It sort of was.
As the years have passed and research into lung cancer has grown, an interim step to a cure has evolved: treating lung cancer as a chronic (has opposed to acute/dire) disease, similar to diabetes, as an example. Not as yet curable, but manageable over a longer period of time. A disease with which, I'm fond of saying, one can live. Live beyond the applicable word because, I have to tell you, at the beginning of my treatment, based on what my oncologist had described, living was a long way from what he was anticipating my outcome would be. Nevertheless, I began treatment the following week and the rest is history you regular readers have been privy to since June of '09 when I first published a "cancer" column (as I call them).
February 20, 2018 will be nine years since my internal medicine called me at work with the results of my previous week's biopsy. He said the tumor was malignant. I remember asking him what that meant. (Duh!). He said he'd rather let the oncologist answer any questions and referred me to the doctor, the same doctor with whom I've been a patient all these years. Sure enough, a week later we heard the news: non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV. And I've been up to my whatsis in real or imagined anxiety ever since.
And I'm still present and accounted for as are more and more of us previously-characterized-as-terminal, non-small cell lung cancer "diagnosees." We are not just patients any more. We are survivors, surviving longer than ever before. We are not cured but neither are we dying. Our treatments are modified when the results warrant it and life continues to go on. As much as a cure would be, and continues to be, the goal, life continues, relatively normally, for many of us. It's unlikely however, that we'll ever get out from underneath the weight of our cancer diagnosis. Rather than dying from it though, we're now able to live with it months/years longer than many patients previously diagnosed within the disease.
So what's the next step? Maybe a bigger, bouncier, longer step than before, but more than likely, more of the same, moving forward, one step at a time. To one whose present was hardly a given nine years ago and whose future seemed like a taken - away, being able now to actually live in the present without fearing/forfeiting the future is the opposite scenario many of us lung cancer patients, especially those of as staged as IV, ever imagined. Day by day was the best we could muster.
Now we're mustering months and years and living longer more fulfilling lives. We're not victims anymore nor are we victimized by our circumstances. We're advocating and being advocated for. We don't exactly have lung cancer on the run, but we may have it on the trot. I don't know if I'll live to see a cure but I have lived long enough to have given myself a nickname, one which I'm most proud to have earned.
"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."