Opinion: Column: “Canceritis”
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Opinion: Column: “Canceritis”

There are two generic types of cancer: the cancer that you have, and the cancer that has you. And the yin and yang is what defines “canceritis.” The internal struggle between being defined by your disease verses living a life in spite of your disease. The former is easy; you're a victim of an insidious, in some cases, incurable disease that causes myriad problems, shall we say; physically, emotionally and psychologically. The latter is hard. Sometimes, overcoming the former in order to live the latter is much easier said than done. The reason being, primarily, that cancer isn't a killer because symptoms, treatment and side effects are always manageable and overall mental/emotional demands are easily compartmentalized. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the truth is that if the disease, treatment and side effects and/or anxiety/stress about your diagnosis doesn't get you, the total disruption of your life and/or routine will.

Not that you lose free will, but you do lose a fair amount of control. While cancer is in the house, cancer rules the roost. Somehow, even though the disease and all is all about you, you must find a way (navigate) a path forward that enables you to set aside the physical and emotional demands of a terminator-type disease. With many patients, the cancer won't stop until it kills. And for the hundreds of thousands of cancer patients who die every year, wishing, hoping, praying and being compliant to their doctor's instructions, the outcome though hardly guaranteed is not particularly encouraging either. The disease takes its toll and despite all the efforts of the king's men to put Humpty back together again, the ravages of cancer often prevent the patient from ever being whole again.

Sometimes, the damage is already done, as it usually is for non-small lung cancer patients who often are asymptomatic until they're not (as I found out, first hand). Then you're told you have a "terminal" form of stage IV lung cancer which is described as incurable which meant, for me, being told I had 13 months to two years to live.The question I asked myself back in Feb., 2009: What the hell happened to stages I, II and III? This is what cancer can do: travel at warp speed and not leave too many clues. Finding some kind of work-around/plan "B" to deal with the loss of control and helplessness might keep the patient from descending into an emotional rabbit hole from which there's a scant chance of recovery. At this juncture, the cancer is in charge.

This is the challenge: overcoming a disease which, in many instances, is beyond your doctor's/modern medicine's ability to control. Just imagine living with the knowledge that every day you wake up, is a day borrowed against future days when you might not wake up or if you do, might feel so poorly that the point of trying to feel better becomes more of a fool's errand than it does a practical alternative. Cancer is not literally a four-letter word but it's most definitely in its own category: a six-letter word which makes all four-letter words meek by comparison.

Somehow, you must restructure your understanding of your cancerous condition and philosophize: every day you wake up and feel something isn't a day that's lost. It's a day that's found. Making the most of these emotional crumbs is not a guarantee of anything. Rather, it's an attempt to prevent things from getting worse. And as any cancer patient will tell you: it can always be worse. And until it's the worst, try to embrace whatever remains as the best.