Every morning, at the very least, I look into the bathroom mirror to brush my teeth and shave my stubble. And there, right below my Adam's apple, in plain sight, is the tumor we're attempting to stabilize, and in a perfect scenario: shrink.
As I've said many times before during my 10 years of treatment: "I can live with ‘stable,’” and/or "Stable is my new favorite word." But the only way I find out if my lung cancer tumors are stable/have shrunk/grown is when my oncologist tells me/I read the radiologist's report.
During this quarterly interval between scans, I'm like Sergeant Schultz from "Hogan's Heroes": "I see nothing." The tumors in my lungs are "like weeds," (meaning they're everywhere), said my oncologist at the initial Team Lourie meeting in response to one of my wife, Dina's, questions about whether surgery was an option; "no" was that answer. But obviously, I can't see them, and what feelings I've experienced in my mediastinum have likely been scar tissue forming (according to my oncologist) and not indicative of too much too often.
So, I've learned to not overreact to any discomfort I might experience. It might mean something or it might mean nothing. I've been to both places already.
However, the "Adam's apple" tumor is front and center. When I brush my teeth, I see it. When I shave I have to nearly shave over it. It's impossible to miss. It's not exactly a goiter but it's more than a lump.
It's not painful, but it's completely opposite to the tumors in my lungs; they're out of sight and because of that, occasionally out of mind. The "Adam's apple" tumor is totally in sight and because of that, is always on my mind. It's how I start my day and how I finish my evening. And in the hours between, I'm touching my throat to feel what I can feel and hope what I can hope. The effect is I'm reinforcing a negative every time I touch the tumor.
If I can't see the tumor (like the ones in my lungs), and I can't touch the tumors (like I can the "Adam's apple" tumor), I can delude myself more easily into not thinking/remembering I even have cancer; and more importantly, not thinking that I'm "terminal" as my oncologist characterized me all those years ago when he gave me a "13 month to two year" prognosis – on Feb. 27, 2009. Then I can pretend to live life as if the Sword of Damocles is not hanging over my head.
But, being able to touch the very thing that might be shortening my life makes it more real than it's ever been. And it's that reality that is making Kenny a very dull boy (no comments from the peanut gallery, please?).
I'll know something definitive on March 18, five days after my March 13 CT scan, the first scan I will have had since I began the immunotherapy. That's when we'll have our usual post-scan appointment with my oncologist to learn results and discuss alternatives, if necessary.
Surgery, as we've inquired about previously, is out of the question. Therefore, we'll either continue to do what we've been doing, or start doing something we've never done before (you have to keep the cancer guessing).
On my most recent appointment, when asked by yours truly, my oncologist said we have lots of non-surgical options should change be warranted. (There was a time in the past when I asked my oncologist a similar question and he was not nearly so encouraging. In fact, he was downright discouraging when he told me that the drug he was giving me at the time was the last drug he had for me.) Having been dangling previously at a near end, I'm sure you can appreciate how a patient knowing there are other choices available, should a drug fail to stop the growth, is very reassuring.
Nevertheless, facing off with this tumor every day and being able to touch it morning, noon and night, presents a real problem: how do I avoid thinking I have cancer?
It's always been my goal to try and assimilate the facts and hope not to be overwhelmed by the feelings. But how do I think it's nothing when it's obviously something?
I mean, it wouldn't be there if it was just minding its own business, would it?