Opinion: Column: A False Sense of Security

As previously referred to in a recent column, even though I am hardly cancer-free, nonetheless I am cancer interruptus for the next four weeks. That means I have no cancer-related activities: no lab work, no scans, no infusions, no injections, no appointments, no video visits, no interaction whatsoever. Other than taking my daily thyroid cancer pill (the side effects of which are marginal at worst), with which I ingest another 50-plus pills (supplements and so forth), I am, to quote my late father, "unencumbered" by my less-than-ideal circumstances. I wouldn't say I'm actually on vacation, but I'm certainly willing to say, there's a definite break in the action. It's not exactly a "staycation;" nevertheless, it is a positive occasion, and one with which I can live.

Not that being diagnosed with "terminal" (originally) cancer and/or still undergoing active treatment is ever fun; tolerable is as grandiose a description as I'll accept. However, four weeks without any involvement with my oncologist and endocrinologist or with any health care-related staff, puts a real bounce in my step; my neuropathy notwithstanding. Though I have difficulty walking and especially running, I am, for the next four weeks anyway, on easy street, figuratively speaking. The psychological wear and tear us cancer patients (especially the ones characterized as "terminal") endure is ever present, and any excuse/opportunity to let one's mind wander to a place other than your presumptive demise, is a mental trip very much worth taking.

Oddly enough, a month of not having anything to do with my cancer team/healthcare facility is hardly the norm. Usually, there's more than enough cancer-related activities to keep me preoccupied. In its own unique way, the nothingness is kind of challenging. I keep looking over my shoulder, almost literally, as the great Satchel Page once said ("to see if anybody's gaining on me"), and flipping the pages on my appointment book to see if I've whiffed somehow on some of my usual and customary obligations. I mean: it is so rare to be so disconnected when you've been diagnosed with a "terminal" disease. As you might imagine, cancer treatment is very hands-on. Not much is left to chance. Moreover, cancer is very unpredictable and insidious. Often it is in control, despite the oncologist's best effort. To be thrown into this cancer-centric world after mostly standing still, healthwise, for 54 and a half years, is a fate not worse than death, but one, depending on the type of cancer you have, which could very well lead to a premature death.

After decades of neglect, the last 15 or so years has seen a huge increase in funding for lung cancer research, which in turn has led to more than a dozen new drugs – and an entire new class of drugs: immunotherapy, for the treatment of lung cancer. The result has been increased survivability and quality of life for those of us so diagnosed. And very directly, I have been the beneficiary of some of these drugs: Avastin, Alimta and Tarceva having been my life extenders. Where despair once dominated the initial prognosis, now there is hope. It's not so much a cure as it is a way to make cancer a chronic disease, one which requires a lifetime of monitoring, like diabetes, as an example; but it's potentially for a lifetime, not for a life with very little time.

At this immediate juncture, I am being treated, but still living my life – outside, and rarely ever in a medical facility. Not having to endure the ongoing exposure and reminder that I have cancer and a shortened life expectancy to boot, enables me not only to breathe easier, but also allows me to take an occasional deep breath as well. A deep breath which doesn't lead to a coughing fit, a fit which for us lung cancer patients is never a good sign.

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