In spite of mostly-successfully not being preoccupied with my condition/circumstances/disease, when a lung cancer survivor dies, even one with whom I’ve had minimal contact; one whom I could barely call an acquaintance, the link in the chain that makes all of us lung cancer patients/survivors stronger is most definitely effected.
Not that every lung cancer patient’s diagnosis is identical; be it the staging (1 – 4), the type (non-small, small, etc.), the molecular profiling (ALK, EGFR, KRAS, HER2, etc.), the treatment or whether they were smokers or not, one cancer survivor’s death is not necessarily related to another’s. Like most things in life, more information is needed. Nevertheless, it doesn’t minimize the loss. When one survivor dies, we all die, a little bit. Recently, a prominent figure in the lung cancer world, Jerome Sorkin, a nine-plus year lung cancer survivor died. I did not know him, though I knew of him. I passed him once while walking in a hallway at The Key Bridge Marriott after attending the annual LUNGevity Foundation conference held every year in late April. We were both leaving but heading in opposite directions. He saw me and said “Love your column.” I replied “Thanks,” and that was the extent of our interaction.
In general, and in the lung cancer world in particular, typically one wants to hear positive news/be around positive people. Otherwise, maintaining your emotional equilibrium and your living/dying existence is simply too damn difficult. The razor thin line on which all of us lung cancer survivors teeter-totter cannot tolerate too much interference. Who knows exactly what news – personally or publicly, will cause one’s cancer do what it so often does: inflict more damage followed by an inevitable decline.
This does not imply/encourage that cancer patients should or could quite frankly, live in an emotional bubble where only positive feedback and life-affirming words are allowed in. As my deceased father would have said: “The idea has merit.” The reality is however, that such an option is impractical and unrealistic (except on Seinfeld; see “Bubble Boy“). Still, it doesn’t diminish the fact that cancer survivors need to be “infused with positivity,” as I like to say. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggest that a good attitude and a positive environment affects a cancer patient’s prognosis and enhances their lives.
Not only do I joke about having cancer, I want to be around others who joke as well and who can go with my flow and not bring me back to my reality. I spend enough time there on my own; I don’t need any help returning. Nor do I do well when I hear bad news; specifically, the death of a fellow lung cancer survivor. Intellectually, I understand that lung cancer survivors are all different, live different lives, have different motivations, etc. Nevertheless, I feel for Jerome Sorkin, I feel for his family and friends and I feel for LUNGevity where Mr. Sorkin was Vice Chairman of LUNGevity’s Board of Directors. I don’t want any lung cancer survivors to die before their presumptive time. I want lung cancer to, at the very least, become a chronic/treatable disease (like diabetes) where one can live their life to a relatively normal expectancy; and if I were to dream really big, I want lung cancer and all cancers of course, to be curable/reversible.
Until these days arrive, all of us patients live on the edge. Just as I am strengthened by stories of resolve, I am weakened by stories of fellow survivors succumbing to their disease. Right now I am weakened.