This image is from a photo taken by Elliott Erwitt in 1963. I find it gently amusing as well as totally apropos: I’m feeling a bit lost. I had spent the last eighteen months as a poster child for the miracles of modern medicine. The idea for my blog was a logical segue: perhaps I could use my own good fortune to encourage others to have their cancers tested for mutations, and more importantly, to be hopeful. It has been a role I’ve embraced, and in the process I have discovered my inner cheerleader. I’ve even felt a little personally pumped up–maybe this is what it was like to be not just a bench warmer (story of my youth) but rather a bit of a star (damn, I’m good at cancer!)
Well now. Seems I’ve misplaced a bit of my mojo. Unfettered joy has become guarded optimism. I’m still adjusting. The evening before the race in Providence there was a spaghetti dinner and I had been asked to speak. I was precluded as well as introduced by the ever wise and gracious Dr. Alice Shaw. When it was my moment behind the podium, I looked out at all those faces and really didn’t know what to say. I kind of felt like the bad news at the good news party. I came away with the realization that I need to refine my schtick in a way that both embraces realism and hopefulness, because frankly, I’m not comfortable with any other approach.
So here goes. I have advanced, stage IV, or terminal lung cancer. They all mean the same thing. By definition, I have a very serious illness. That is not, however, how I view myself. Just the other day, at a routine colonoscopy in honor of my fiftieth birthday, I filled out a questionnaire in regard to my health. As I was about to pencil in the circle next to very good, I reconsidered and marked good. Aside from the lung cancer, I really do have excellent health. I certainly don’t look like a sick person. That is due in large part to the fact that my lung cancer, although not curable, is currently being managed. Even now, as the cancer becomes resistant, the amount of disease in my lungs is considerably less than it was prior to starting the clinical trial for the targeted therapy that brought me back to this state of health. At it’s apex, I had perhaps a 72% resolution of disease. Now, that number is more like 67 and 3/4%. In the annals of cancer treatment, yet very impressive.
Perhaps I represent what advanced but managed lung cancer can look and feel like. As I get in line for another miracle, it’s not so very different from running a marathon. I’m prepared both physically and mentally to go the distance, but when it gets tough, when I’m tempted to quit, I will think of all of those ahead of and behind me on this course and I will hear the shouts of encouragement from the sidelines. I will know that I’m not alone, and I will keep going. Because just over the finish line is the prize I so covet. Life, sweet life; another morning.