One of my cancer-patient survivorship goals has been to, whenever possible, not look the part, act the part or live the part. This past week, the eating challenges I endured and the emotional and psychological havoc it wrecked upon me stopped me from “not” doing any of the three: I looked, acted and lived the part. And aside from the unpleasantness (some of which was detailed in last week’s column), looking, feeling and being the way I was, were such negative reinforcers that is has further prevented me from regaining my equilibrium, both emotionally and physically.
Not that I’m ever unaware of my circumstances or not mindful of my mortality/ abbreviated life expectancy, but the less obvious it is, and the less impact the treatment has on me, the more I am able to live like I’m not dying. However, when symptoms manifest themselves and compromise some of my activities of daily living, the more difficult it is for me to delude myself into thinking that my stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer is chronic/treatable rather than “incurable/treatable,” as my oncologist quite clearly characterized it seven and a half years ago.
Believe me, the last thing I need are reminders. The first thing I need are pretenders (which is really just another word for hope). And though I have absolutely nothing to complain about 90 months into a “13-month to two-year prognosis,” my reality is, every day is precious and days lost to side effects are days I can’t afford to lose. Moreover, when you consider the lack of control I experienced over this last week and the associated feelings of helplessness – along with the fear that this not eating was morphing from temporary to permanent, you have a recipe for emotional disaster. And “emotional disaster” does not help yours truly or any other cancer/seriously ill patient fend off the demons and level the playing field. In fact, it tips it in the complete wrong direction. And tipping it in the wrong direction is all it’s cracked up to be.
So much of what I am going through is psychological. I am constantly telling myself (not aloud but in print, I would admit) to persevere, not overreact, balance the bad with the good, forget your prognosis, forget your “terminal” diagnosis, forget the extremely discouraging mortality statistics, believe all the non-Western stuff I’m doing is helping, don’t slack, don’t abuse the privilege of life I’ve been given and finally, be grateful for every day.
Still, five days of not eating seemed to compromise my emotional wherewithal. It’s as if I didn’t have the mental capacity necessary to talk myself out of the dark hole I had fallen into. It was a struggle to be sure and one I’ve experienced many times before, but for some reason, and this is the scary part, this post-chemo week was the worst. Now moving forward, my next chemotherapy infusion is not for four weeks as we’ve extended the interval to five weeks (from four), alternating my future intervals to four weeks, five weeks, four weeks, etc., through my next quarterly scan in mid October. If the results of that next scan continue to be encouraging, I’ll be an extremely happy man. But as I am well aware, there are no guarantees in cancer and success is measured scan to scan. In the interim though, I have to coexist with my reality. It’s not ideal, but “ideal” left the building in February, 2009.