Although this title invokes the nickname of one of my three male cats – Andrew, to be specific – he is in fact not the point of th is column.
As a diagnosed-as-“terminal” cancer patient (is that better, Rebecca?), I feel I am due some accommodations. However, when offered or given, I am hesitant to accept (not always, though; I’ll be honest).
If my experiences as a cancer patient/ “terminal” “diagnosee” are at all typical, then the following generalization might in fact be true: certain situations and/or feelings that were once tolerated before diagnosis are nearly impossible to tolerate after diagnosis: traffic, waiting in lines, rudeness, compromise, sacrifice, delayed/deferred gratification, to list just a few. Life becomes so much more precious, that wasting some of it – or the perception of wasting some of it – on unpleasant, unrewarding, aggravating, stressful, menial tasks, obligations, duties, etc. becomes almost too much to bear; on a consistent basis, anyway.
Having reread last week’s column a time or two now, I’ve realized that I neglected to update you regular readers – especially those of you who read my most recent pre- and post-scan columns: “Abyssful” Ignorance and Scant Know For Sure Anymore – on the previous week’s scan results. Once again, I have defied the odds – maybe statistics would be a better word?
Not that I live day-to-day or even month-to-month, but I do live – in my head anyway – quarter-to-quarter; that interval representing the usual and customary time between my recurring diagnostic scans. The time when the rubber hits my road.
Hopefully not. But you never know – per last week’s column, until you know. And the preferred pattern seems to be that waiting to be spoken to in person, a week or so post-scan, is the best the process can be; or at least, that’s the process that suits the doctor/HMO.
After six years, four months and two weeks since being diagnosed with stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer (the “terminal” kind), I can say with certainty that I have no sense of what my next CT scan, scheduled for July 15th, will indicate. Previously (multiple scans over multiple years), I’ve felt something in my upper chest/lungs where the largest tumors are located and the subsequent scan showed nothing of consequence.
Being diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer (no, they’re not all “terminal”) is “a heck of a thing,” to extrapolate a bit from Jim Valvano’s memorable 1993 ESPY Awards speech given a few months before he succumbed to his cancer.
Throughout my nearly six and a half years of cancer treatment, starting at the initial Team Lourie meeting on February 27, 2009, when my oncologist suggested I take that vacation I’ve always dreamed of (to which I exclaimed “WHAT!?”), my quality of life has always been important to him.
As Father’s Day approaches, (written Thursday, June 18th) I am reminded of one of my father’s standard lines which characterize his positive attitude on life, for which I am eternally grateful – because I inherited it.
Recently I attended a “Celebration of Life” event, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, created to bring attention to, and educate the public on, cancer. As a long-time cancer survivor, nearly six and a half years now – and one treated by doctors at Kaiser, I was asked, along with a cervical cancer survivor, to sit on a “survivor panel”; to share our cancer experiences, and offer, along with two oncologists and a pulmonologist, our respective insights as “treater” and “treatee.”
Given some post-chemotherapy eating challenges I’ve experienced during the past few months, and the subsequent weight loss which has occurred, my oncologist has prescribed Dronabinol, common brand name: Marinol.
Really, Matthew Weiner; on the penultimate episode of “Mad Men,” Betty Draper/Francis had to be diagnosed with lung cancer with her life expectancy said to be “nine months,” with nothing more than “palliative care” available?
No. That’s not my stomach talking.
“That’s the dream; to have Wi-Fi in the car.” So says one of the focus group participants (“real people, not actors”) in a recent television commercial from Chevrolet. The answer is to a question asked of five adults to identify which car brand: Mercedes, BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, or Toyota, includes “Built-in Wi-Fi” in their product line.
A few years back (OKAY, more than a few years back; I’ll blame the cancer for my time lapse), there was a spin-off from the original Star Trek: Star Trek: The Next Generation captained by Jean-Luc Picard (a.k.a. Patrick Stewart) which itself spawned two other spin-offs: Star Trek Voyager and Deep Space Nine (commanded by Avery Brooks, a.k.a. Captain Sisko).
No. That’s not my stomach talking.
I don’t know which is worse: the extra-special, extra-expensive, dental cleaning (the kind that requires Novocain and involves the actual dentist, not merely the hygienist) that I have scheduled for April 8th – or my next hopefully-not-do-or-die CT Scan, moved up a month from my usual three-month interval because of a suspicious formation seen on my most recent scan back in mid-February.
I wouldn’t say I have symptoms (why would I say that? If I said that, I’d have to admit that cancer is having an effect on me.
I realize money doesn’t buy happiness, although I wouldn’t mind renting it.
It always does, and there always are; especially if you have to work for a living and cancer is a part of that living.
You’ll note there’s no question mark after the “I.”
There’s no denying the emotional fact that the CT Scan results I received and wrote about last week were a bit of a disappointment.
But real-time once again: February 20, 11 hours, approximately, after our regularly-scheduled, post-scan meeting with the oncologist at 10:00 this morning.
I’m not a night owl. More of an early bird, worms notwithstanding. But given the contents of last week’s column, “Scantsy,” I find it difficult to write about anything else while waiting for the results of my CT Scan.
It’s becoming increasingly difficult to characterize the feelings I regularly experience during the final few weeks leading up to my every-three-month CT Scan, and even more so the feelings I experience waiting the following week or so to see my oncologist to discuss the results.
Presumably, maybe even obviously, nearly six years into a “terminal” diagnosis, arrangements for a smooth transition of power should have been made already.
If I were writing this column in Massachusetts – where I was born and mostly educated (K-12), and had a thick Boston accent, that’s how court would likely be pronounced; changing a noun into a verb.
Sneezy, Coughy, Phlegmy, Stuffy, Achy. No-Sleepy and Post-Nasal Drippy; and no Doc, which is possibly what led to this column being written.
For one box of 54 petite Belgian waffle cookies in three delicious flavors: milk chocolate, dark chocolate and vanilla; an extravagance to be sure, available during the holidays; this recipient (actually, my wife, Dina, was the recipient) very happy to oblige and indulge.
Thankfully (so far as I know, which isn’t very far), after a five-week interval between infusions, which included two additional weeks of pre-chemotherapy lab work and an out-of-the-ordinary 24-hour urine collection (“creatinine clearance”) to boot – to more accurately measure my kidney function in hopes of meeting a 1.6 threshold – muster was finally passed, and I was subsequently infused without any further adieu.
If I wanted to rationalize the benefit of delaying my heretofore every-three-week chemotherapy infusion from three weeks to four and now on to five, possibly six – and that’s dependent on improved results from a second/maybe even third retest upcoming (this retest a bit more involved than drawing blood) – I would say it’s only fitting that I should have a break/brake; after all, it is the holiday season when all good things; yada, yada, yada. If only it were that simple.
Loosey goosey, I suppose. As much as one might prefer some predictability in their life (certainly a cancer patient would – I know I would), I may be entering a cycle of permanent unpredictability.
This is not a home improvement reference, but this is most definitely a do-it-yourself column.
If I’ve heard it once – from my oncologist – I’ve probably heard it a dozen times over the last nearly-six years.
Apparently, at least in the near term, we’re (meaning my oncologist) not going to fix it. And by fix it, I am referring to my chemotherapy infusion, which will continue to be every three weeks, as it has been for almost six years; save for a year or so when I was able to take pills at home, and on-site infusions were not necessary.
Not exactly “like a frightened turtle” as “similed” on a long-ago Seinfeld episode by Jerry himself; this shrinkage is the good kind, the kind you hope a radiological oncologist characterizes when viewing your CT Scan (computed tomography).
Not exactly “like a frightened turtle” as “similed” on a long-ago Seinfeld episode by Jerry himself; this shrinkage is the good kind, the kind you hope a radiological oncologist characterizes when viewing your CT Scan (computed tomography). Specifically, the exact kind of scan I get every three months to assess and evaluate the tumors, and fluid, in my stage IV, non-small cell cancer-affected lungs.
Unknown at this date – Saturday, November 15. In fact, it will be six days from now until we’ll know the results. As it is always scheduled, a week or so after my quarterly CT Scan, we will have our usual follow-up, face-to-face appointment with my oncologist.
Early on during my indoctrination/assimilation into the cancer-patient world in which I now reside, I remember asking a fellow cancer patient/friend if I could use cancer as an excuse for whatever it was needed excusing (directly or indirectly related), and she said: absolutely, “blame the cancer.”
Instinctively, I am not the most open-to-new-ideas/new-things kind of person. However, an unexpected diagnosis of stage IV, non small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) at age 54 and a half – along with its equally unexpected “13-month to two-year prognosis,” changes a few things.
Not that I’m the least bit worried (actually, I’m the most bit worried), but surviving a terminal cancer diagnosis years beyond one’s original prognosis does present its own unique set of problems.
After re-reading last week’s column: “Not in the Mood,” I began wondering if that column had strayed beyond the boundaries, so to speak, and was too much about me and not enough about my circumstances.
Sometimes, believe it or not, I’m not in the mood to be a terminal cancer patient (duh). Not that the effect is particularly tangible, but the weight of it, as well as the associated waits I’ve occasionally written about, can get awfully heavy.
This column completes the three-week arc which describes what I have endured mostly successfully for approximately five years now: chemotherapy every three weeks – with one year off for good behavior (not really good behavior; the year off was to switch to a twice-daily pill, Tarceva, to be taken at home, since the previous treatment was no longer stemming the tide). It’s been my experience that these anti-cancer drugs don’t exactly work forever.
I realize, given last week’s column: “Post-Chemo Week,” this week’s column about the preceding week (week-of, actually) of chemotherapy might be a bit bass-ackward, but it seemed reasonable to me that if you regular readers had an interest in the week-after, perhaps you’d have a similar interest in the week-before.
For the past year, every three weeks I have been infused with a chemotherapy drug called Alimta, “the last miracle drug,” to quote my oncologist, and a drug with which I hadn’t previously been infused.
And so it goes, every three months or so; a CT Scan, a week or so of waiting, and then a face-to-face appointment with my oncologist to learn/discuss the results. Thankfully, the results continue to be amazing. My doctor has told me that I’m his third miracle; stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer patients generally don’t live beyond two years. I’m in year six.
At present, July 12th, I’m halfway, approximately, between my last CT Scan which showed a previously unseen silver-dollar sized growth in my lower left lung and my next CT Scan scheduled for August 6th, one month earlier than my usual three-month interval in order to make an evaluation sooner rather than later; to determine if this is new growth or nothing more than old growth that is now visible due to the combination of shrinking tumors and dissipating fluid opening up the viewing area, so to speak. Apparently, the chemotherapy drug, Alimta, with which I’ve been infused every three weeks since last September appears to be doing its hoped-for job: shrinkage.
“Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in.” Although this quote is from Michael Corleone from “The Godfather: Part III,” it very much characterizes my daily struggle being a terminal cancer patient; non small cell lung cancer, NSCLC, is like that, almost always. Even though I don’t want to think about the fact that I have cancer, or not let it affect my judgment on life – or perspective; or let it impede my path to a happier existence, more often than not, it does.