Not "to the east side" and not "to a deluxe apartment in the sky," but if fictional New York City cleaning business icon George Jefferson had been diagnosed with lung cancer as I was, I would bet he'd be happy making progress: the feeling of moving forward. And that's exactly what I feel now. With the "news" of last week's column, progress/movement is at hand. With two CT scans in the last three months, and some tumors "progressing" – and then not, while a previously insignificant tumor burst (not literally) onto the scene, I am happy now to be onward and hopefully upward as I infuse every three weeks during the next quarter ahead of an early January 2019 scan. The future is now and I'm grateful to have choices as I navigate the road ahead.
Having a plan matters. Though I am still waiting and seeing, and evaluating after that next scan, I do feel as if I'm back on track. I know what my next three months will be about (about three months) and I'm clear what my schedule will be (subject to change due to lab results, an altogether normal/expected blip): urine, lab, infusion, post-chemo week of difficulty eating and physical and psychological challenges, followed by two weeks of relative normalcy, then infusion again and rinse and repeat every three weeks until early January 2019. Twelve weeks in total. Through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. I won't say it will be pretty, but it will be predictable, and hopefully on a path to a positive result. (Remember, I'm a lifelong member of Red Sox Nation, so hope always springs eternal.)
This column is certainly not meant to minimize the possible discouraging results of my January scan but I see no advantage in anticipating and/or overreacting to unknown results and/or dire consequences months ahead of actual facts not yet in evidence. This is what being diagnosed with cancer is all about: a series of ups and downs and all-arounds; and the sooner the patient assimilates this unpredictable variability into their algorithm for living with the disease, the more manageable their lives will be. Moreover, "If you," to quote Rudyard Kipling, "can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs," it will likely contribute to the preferred calm that every cancer patient diagnosed as "terminal" needs to feel every second of every day (and night, too) as they struggle to deal with the internal demons brought about by this terrible affliction. As my friend Lynne, a cancer survivor herself, said to me when I was first diagnosed: "This will be the most difficult thing you'll ever have to do." Of course, she was right. It's been beyond my wildest nightmares.
Being stuck in a pattern with no clear direction does not help. For the past three months, I have been so entangled. Now I am not. Now I am on a path of less resistance, and what resistance there is – to disappoint "The Borg" – is not futile. It is all part of an agreed-upon pursuit of truth and hopefully justice – for me, anyhow. I haven't exactly abused the privilege of living (although while attending college in the seventies, occasionally there may have been the odd self-destructive-type behavior common to the times, none of which concerned my oncologist in the least, by the way) and given my parents' long cancer-free lives, I would have expected better then a stage IV, non-small lung cancer diagnosis at age 54 and a half. But here I am, still, nearly 10 years post-diagnosis. (There aren't that many of us, unfortunately.)
And though I am definitely not happy about my cancer circumstances, I can be positive about the negative. And what I am most positive about is that at least for the next quarter anyway, I know what I'm doing and why. I certainly can't say what I'll be feeling after my next scan; hopefully elation and relief, but in the interim, life will go on as per usual, and for a cancer patient/survivor, life going on is as good as it gets; almost as if I "finally got a piece of the pie."