The fortnight or so from you-know-where has finally ended and I am here to write that my warranty has been extended for another two months. The CT scan showed no tumor growth or movement. The "promise" of immunotherapy so far is keeping its "promise" – keeping the tumors stable.
Throughout my extremely fortunate cancer experience, I have felt reasonably well and manifested few symptoms/side effects; at least the kind of symptoms/side effects: shortness of breath, coughing, expectorating blood, mind-numbing neuropathy and headaches, among others, about which my oncologist regularly inquires.
Generally speaking then, my health status has always been about the tale of the tape – to invoke a boxing reference – meaning the diagnostic scans: brain MRI, CT scan of the neck/lower abdomen, PET scan and the initial X-Ray which started the whole adventure, to determine my fitness for duty, so to speak.
It is not until my oncologist shares/summarizes the radiologist's findings – and occasionally shows us the actual computer images themselves, that yours truly/Team Lourie knows where we stand.
And, where we stand typically is where we are sitting, in a cramped exam room, face to face with the man who holds my life in the palm of his hand – or more specifically, in the words that he chooses and the gesture/body language he exhibits. It's not exactly "Bath Fitter," but "the reveal" is imminent.
It never gets easy, but it does get easier to endure this kind of potentially life-altering/life-ending moment. Though the familiarity of it hasn't dulled the pain, it has enabled us to balance the pros and cons, up and downs and all-arounds, as we anticipate the words we are about to hear.
During most of these post-scan visits, we've exhaled in relief, but we have had our share of disappointment.
On one occasion, back in late July 2013, I was hospitalized for a week when my lungs accumulated 4.5 liters of fluid, among more significant internal problems (lung collapsing).
Externally, I was unable to speak more than a few words before needing to regroup. As a matter of humorous fact, when my long-time oncology nurse, Ron, saw me that infusion day, he thought I "was a goner," since my oxygen level was so low.
Within a few hours, I was a "goner" in an ambulance to Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland, where I was eventually admitted. Two days later, a thoracic surgeon operated, and a day or two after that, my lung amazingly reinflated.
As a result, in my head and in my gut, (though I'm no Jethro Gibbs from NCIS), when I show up for my infusions and for my post-scan appointments, there's always a part of me that thinks I might not be spending that evening in my own bed.
When you're a cancer patient/survivor, and this kind of whisking off, not to Buffalo, but instead to the local hospital affiliated with your HMO, has happened once, it's only a matter of time (it's impossible not to believe it's inevitable when you've been staged a IV) before it will happen again. I'm not being negative, I'm just saying.
As we sit and wait at home for my oncologist to email us the scan results, or whether we sit and wait in the on-site exam room, I wouldn't say our respective lives pass before us, but I will certainly admit to the total unpleasantness of it.
That being said, we're the lucky ones. There are nearly 160,000 lung cancer patients who succumb to this terrible disease every year who aren't nearly so lucky.
So when I hear the words "stable" from my oncologist, I am humbled as much as I am relieved, that I have lived to fight another eight weeks until my next scan is scheduled and my next fortnight is fought.
And that's how I live my life: in increments. Increments which I'm grateful to have. It may not be ideal, but it's a living, and it sure beats a dying.