Say that three times quickly. Heck, say it one time slowly. And then welcome to my whirled: the world of cancer treatment and survival. A "whirled" in which, eight years and nearly eight months post diagnosis, I continue to live, breathe, and write.
Occasionally it happens, as it is happening now, that some of the most excruciating demands of being a cancer patient occur simultaneously—or a reasonable facsimile there of. For me that means 24-hour urine collection, pre-chemotherapy lab work, chemotherapy infusion, CT scan and then the appointment with my oncologist to discuss all the results; occurring over 13 days—with intermittent days off for good behavior.
Typically—meaning every minute, every hour, every day, every week, etc., maybe not every second—I am thinking about cancer; though I wouldn't say I'm preoccupied (others might). And of course, it's certainly understandable and reasonable to do so when every day over a fortnight, you are waiting, as we say in the sales world, "for the other shoe to drop." Having endured this cycle over the last eight and a half years with varying regularity, I can honestly say that whatever symptoms have manifested themselves—or not—have never provided any consistent assurance that my life/life expectancy had not changed for the worse. It's not until the appointment with my oncologist occurs, or sooner if he emails me the scan results, that I learn the facts of my case. All of that being said, as my friend Frank has often said to me: "You're in pretty good shape for the shape you're in." Don't I know it.
However, yes there's always a "however" in the cancer-patient-surviving-against-all-odds "whirled," there are no guarantees. In fact, there are only two guarantees: death and taxes. The former is way too close for comfort and the latter, I'm already taxed to the hilt, emotionally. Somehow, I have to get through because "the alternative is gloomy" to quote Dr. Mobley, the doctor in Miles City who treated Augustus McCray in the epic miniseries, "Lonesome Dove." And so I try not to be gloomy.
However, there's that word again, circumstances/schedules randomly bring down the weight—and wait—of my "whirled." These 13 days can never pass quickly enough. But that presumes a good result, which one would want to know as soon as possible. But what of a bad result, leading to an exponential increase in anxiety—and fear, ultimately leading to a treatment unknown. That I might not want to know so soon. Not that not knowing serves any point or helps coordinate the next treatment plan, I'm more afraid of hearing something I haven't heard much of since February 2009. To quote my late mother quoting somebody: "No one gets out of this life alive."
That of course is the point of this column, and the effect of having all this cancer stuff happen at the same time. I can take it, generally; as my late father used to say: "KB, I have confidence in you. You have broad shoulders." Nevertheless, I worry about the figurative straw breaking my emotional back. Cancer can do that. It did it to my mother-in-law, Peggy, where over a few days the situation went from bad to worse to finally, the worst.
Somehow, I have to compartmentalize all this negative energy and focus on the positive. And that positive turns out to be an early email from my oncologist basically saying that my lung cancer remains stable. Now we can go to my appointment on Monday "unencumbered," to once gain quote my late father. The pressure is semi off. Talk about relief. Now maybe I can relax and try not to think about my next infusion, my next scan and my next appointment with the oncologist. There's no harm in trying, right?
"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."