The most recent near-having-to-think-about-death experience I wrote about last week ("Barbosoul") was quite a shock to my system.
In spite of all the ups and downs and all-arounds I've experienced over the past 10 and a half not-fun-filled cancer years, I had never gone emotionally to the place I went to last week. Certainly I've thought about death and dying before: heck, I'm a cancer patient having been given a "terminal" diagnosis.
Nevertheless, I had never really put two and two together to equal four. It had always equaled three and a half, if you know what I mean. (Maybe you don't. Sometimes I'm not sure what I mean.) But last week's column was different. I went there.
It's not as if I haven't experienced pain before. I have. Most notably in the area of my lungs (the mediastinum) where my non-small-cell-lung-cancer-stage-IV tumors take up primary residence. Sometimes, the pain I felt was that of the tumors growing. Other times, the pain was that of scar tissue which had grown over tumors.
Any of which I would never know until my oncologist discussed with Team Lourie the radiologist's report from the preceding CT scan. Moreover, these assessments were never given with any kind of arithmetical-type certainty. Still, if it could have been worse, I was happy and if it could have been better, I was hopeful. Never too high and never too low.
As you regular readers know, I roll with the punches, wherever they land.
For the past week, those punches (pain) were in the identical (so far as I knew) place where my non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV symptoms first manifested in late December 2008. As such, I was rolling like I had never rolled before – and without any kind of mat to soften the fall.
Aside from experiencing headaches/pain in my head (which I haven't), which might indicate progression (in 30 percent of lung cancer patients the cancer moves to the brain), a recurrence in the same area as 10 and a half years ago likewise scares out the daylights living inside of me.
And, just like when a little knowledge in the wrong hands can be a dangerous thing, so too does zero knowledge in the right hands (mine) become a dangerous thing. Why else would I be experiencing pain in my left side by my rib cage if it wasn't the cancer, only worse? But that wasn't the case.
As those of you who read to the end of last week's column know, I have survived to fight another day, or I should say, fight another two months, because that's when my next CT scan is scheduled. At present, that's my cycle: bi-weekly immunotherapy followed by bi-monthly scans of my neck down to my lower abdomen, followed by an office visit with my oncologist to discuss the findings and plan for the immediate future.
Might that be palliative care? Apparently, if the inference/suggestion made by my oncologist in our last face-to-face meeting had any basis in fact. I suppose that's the problem with inferences/suggestions made in the medical “whirled.”
I'm sure there are facts and figures and years of research supporting recommendations upon which one's treatments/protocols are based. Moreover, they're unlikely "made up of whole cloth," to quote the late Washington Redskins' owner Jack Kent Cooke commenting on some football rumor I can't remember.
Nevertheless, it's not exactly a straight line from the oncologist's mouth to the patient's estate planner. It's more like a roller coaster – without the safety bar (I wish it were more like the merry-go round, but it's not.). Often times, it's more like whack-a-mole.
Now that the pain and discomfort has subsided, I feel like I've dodged a bullet. It reminds me of my elementary school gym classes when we played a game called "Bombardment" where dodge balls were thrown across the gym from one half of the class at the other. As random as it was, it was only a matter of time until you couldn't dodge any more, and then you were out.
I realize that was only a game and this is life, but cancer has a way of intertwining fact and fiction with the past, present and future whether you like it or not.