Seldom Wrong But This Time I’m Write

Because of the change in some of our publication deadlines for December, I have had to write multiple columns weeks in advance, somewhat unusual for me. Typically, I write my column five days before publication, so time-wise, I’m fairly current and emotionally present as well. Writing ahead, as December dead-lines (it’s nothing new. I’ve been managing to accommodate these deadlines for years) is still a bit off-putting. Though I want to think ahead and live like I have a future; as a cancer patient, it’s difficult not to live in the present. Thinking, feeling, projecting ahead, seems presumptuous almost.

This is not to imply that I have to somehow presume a future and write about cancer subjects — or not, which have not yet happened. Hardly. My columns are rarely time-sensitive or date-specific. Still, my columns are generally better written when I’m writing from current feelings, facts, circumstances, etc. And though many of the feelings, facts and circumstances relating to my condition don’t exactly change on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis (thank God!), surprisingly, my reaction to them sometimes does. Moreover, writing multiple columns at one time also forces me to pile onto myself emotionally the effects of my disease. Which, if you must know, I’d rather not do. In fact, if there’s any way I can not think about my situation, that’s a ‘way’ I’d like to be.

Not that I moan and groan or woe is me about my age 54-and-half-terminal-diagnosis, as those who know me or have regularly read my columns likewise know; but sometimes I’d prefer not to have my hand forced. And even though reading or hearing about other people who have been diagnosed with lung cancer, or who have succumbed to its ravages, doesn’t bother me — too much, really (I’ve matured); occasionally, I’d rather be blissfully ignorant.

Although I readily admit that being ignorant too long concerning my disease is hardly penny-wise but it is most definitely pound-foolish. The trick is, somehow not getting consumed by one’s circumstances and maintaining an optimistic point of view. And since I’m a funny guy (though not really fun), I am able to humor myself — and others, so these less-than-ideal circumstances under which I attempt to thrive are not overwhelming, except when forced to confront my demons and focus on myself when newspaper deadlines are advanced and jumbled and I’m having to write four columns in two weeks instead of writing one column in one week.

Though it’s not exactly trouble, it is to quote Jerry Seinfeld from a long-ago Seinfeld episode, “something.” ‘Something’ I could likely live without, but ‘something’ unfortunately I must live with, every December. But I’m a “big boy,” as my father used to tell me, with “broad shoulders” (figuratively speaking to my ability to handle the load), so I’ll manage. In fact, in another paragraph, I will have completed the task and the presumptive weight of it will be off my ‘broad shoulders.’

Now I can relax a little bit, exactly what one (especially this one with cancer) needs. Between the holidays and advanced deadlines, the column-writing and the ad-selling; I’m living and learning with my ever-evolving circumstances (further from the beginning or closer to the end; I never know).

Nevertheless, I am extremely happy to have been there and finished doing it yet again. I hope to see you all back here next year. Happy Holidays!

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I Have Ca, Ca, Ca, Cancer

Here I am thinking, believing, writing that I’m Mr. Well-Adjusted cancer patient and all it took was one conversation in a restaurant the other night at the Connection Christmas party to prove that I’m not. It was a casual, festive atmosphere with everybody enjoying food and drink. I was sitting in a booth with my wife, Dina, my co-worker, David, and his mother Sherry, who I had never met before, who was in-town visiting her sons and planning a drive downtown to see the National Christmas Tree. We were all exchanging pleasantries and getting on quite well when I remembered that David’s mother is a nurse. I thought she would be the perfect person to ask about my oncology nurse. But to give the question some context, I thought I had to tell her I had cancer. And when I did, I could barely get the word out. After I stammered I asked, if there was any professional reason/advisory explaining why I haven’t heard back from my long-time (seven years) oncology nurse who, I had learned four weeks earlier at my last infusion when he wasn’t there to tend to me, retired early. He didn’t exactly leave me adrift but a month later, he still hasn’t returned my cellphone message (an email to his Verizon account bounced back and he hasn’t posted anything current on Facebook).

Obviously he’s entitled. Nevertheless, I’m perplexed. We were buddies. We were extremely compatible: sports, humor, from the Northeast, same age, Jewish and both spoke a little Yiddish. Heck, I had even been to his house for a Super Bowl party; plus we’ve been out to lunch a couple of times after my infusion, met locally for a medical follow up (not exactly a house call but he did come to me), and as I may have written in a previous column, he likely saved my life when I showed up at the Infusion Center with an oxygen level of 85. (Subsequent to that reading, he went into high gear making the necessary arrangements to get me transferred to on-site urgent care and ultimately “ambulanced” to Holy Cross Hospital in Silver Spring where I spent the next week. Though he didn’t visit me; he later explained that he rarely visited patients, he did call to check on me.) The short story is: our relationship went beyond patient-nurse. I wouldn’t say I looked forward to my infusions, but because of him, I didn’t dread them either.

It’s not as if he has to do anything for me or acknowledge me or even stay in contact with me. He has his own life; he’s made a change and presumably, his oncology patients are not part of it. I can understand that. In the medical specialty field, oncology is one of, if not the most, emotionally demanding/ wrenching: patients with whom you’ve developed a relationship often die. I can imagine how there’s only so much loss of life one can take. However, I thought our relationship went beyond that, in spite of the challenging demands that dealing with a “terminal” patient can exact.

Oddly enough, I’m not taking it personally. My feelings are not hurt, really. Until I know more of the circumstances surrounding his retirement (health, family, lifestyle, etc.), I’m not begrudging him at all. Moreover, he doesn’t owe me an explanation. His retiring is not about me. It’s about him and because of that, I want to know why he decided to leave and whether we can still stay in touch. So far, we haven’t; he hasn’t.

There’s no doubt that he’s been an important part of my cancer-patient life, and in a way, I thought — through my personality and survival, important to him also. Perhaps I was, professionally. Personally, I thought so as well. I just haven’t heard any evidence of it in the last month. Still, I will always be grateful for his care and concern.

No Urge

It’s not often; heck, it’s extremely rare, that I don’t write a cancer column, as I call them. And my reaction to not having the ‘urge’ to write yet another cancer column is, somewhere between simply taking a break/brake in the action and having no need to impose my cancer-centric self-indulgence on you faithful readers.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I write these columns because I need to, and because I’m allowed to; thank you Mary Kimm. Not that the related purpose is to avoid therapy (however, I did go on a handful of appointments with a psychologist but it seemed pointless and especially so, when the therapist expressed that she felt I was fairly well-adjusted). Ergo, I really didn’t see a purpose per se.

Oh sure, I will admit that the writing of these columns gets out of me some very personal and occasionally painful prose outlining the anxieties and fears of a cancer patient undergoing life-sustaining treatment that is better out than in, if professionals are to be believed. And maybe I’ll further acknowledge that, based on feedback I’ve received in the six-plus years that I’ve been writing them, that the content is, generally speaking, much appreciated (I’m not ready to characterize them as having served a greater purpose/been for the greater good however, because it’s only me I’m writing about and there’s a much bigger world than what I perceive in my head) and helpful. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine that it’s just me I’m writing about, mostly; and a la Las Vegas, sort of: in that what happens to me only happens to me. Hardly.

Just because I’ve made public something very personal and presumably private doesn’t make me the go-to-guy for cancer chat, it just makes me a person willing to open the doors wider than are typically opened. So what? A little honesty never hurt anyone; self-indulgence though, can be really boring and tiresome. (I mean, sometimes, too much of a good thing is simply too much. To quote my deceased mother: “It’s enough already.”) And as much as I’m cognizant of possibly droning on and wasting what attention-span you’ve allocated in my direction, I am trying not to drone on and trying not to lose you in the process.

Possibly there is a means to my hopefully not premature end. Perhaps admitting the error of my ways and/or addressing the cancer concerns as I regularly do has contributed/caused my rather unexpected (based on my oncologist’s original “13 month to two year prognosis from FEBRUARY 2009) living “unexpectancy.” Perhaps laughing in the face of danger extends one’s life more than giving in to it. All I know is, whatever I’ve done/been able to do emotionally was not/has not been thought out. I’ve just continued to be me, myself and I — which has included my weekly cancer columns. Moreover, the three of us, collectively, have likely survived for so long because so much that could have bothered us/me, didn’t.

Whether it was the outlet I had/have in my column, my personality, encouragement from family and friends, or my connection to The Connection, there’s no way to know. What I do know is, the weeks when I don’t write a cancer column are my favorites. Those are the weeks when I feel that cancer doesn’t have a hold on me and in turn, I feel that I have a hold on cancer. And if there’s one thing us cancer patients want to feel, it’s control. Even if it’s only for a week or two, here or there, the benefit is exponentially greater than the time we actually get to experience it.

Rocking The Chair

Not that I was ever a CB person (Citizens Band radio), good buddy, but right now, I am in the middle of both my four-to-five week infusion interval and my quarterlyscan interval. Far enough past that I don’t have any residual food or emotional issues and not close enough that I have any anxiety about the food and emotional issues that will inevitably occur. I am between a rock and a hard place, and I mean that in an atypical way: I am under no pressure, but no illusions either, oddly enough. I am sailing smooth and riding high, mindful of my reality, but appreciative of the relative — and comparative calm with which this interval affords.

Not that I can be normal (not a cancer “diagnosee”), but this is as close to ‘normal’ as it gets — for me. After all, I do have a “terminal” form of cancer (non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV), not a cold, so it’s not as if it will go away with time. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the particularly good times — now, while trying to manage my expectations for the bad times — later, after this honeymoon-type period ends. But since there have been many more good times than bad since I was diagnosed in late February 2009, I am not bogged down, emotionally by my circumstances, although I am somewhat compromised, physically. Nothing I can’t live with, however. Actually, I’m thrilled to live with any of it, ‘live’ being the operative word.

At this juncture, nearly eight years post initial symptoms (New Year’s Day 2009), mostly I can handle what happens to me, so far any way. But when similar stuff happens to others: death, disease, disability, dementia; I feel their pain, sort of; and suffer emotionally. It’s not as if I take in all their anxiety, but in a way, the weight of it does affect me. And sometimes, I get weepy over it. As I’ve written before, and heard many times as well in the cancer world, negative anything is extremely harmful to cancer patients — or most other “terminal” patients I would imagine as well. From my own experience though, I certainly understand the difficult circumstances under which all us patients/survivors endure; remaining positive and being surrounded by positivity is key as is humor, encouragement, compliments, congratulations, compassion and empathy. All are crucial to our core. Healthy bodies we may no longer have, but healthy minds we have to maintain. And the stronger and healthier that mind is, the more it will help us to mind our own business and do so in a manner that will prevent the cancer from taking over those minds.

Just as The United Negro College Fund “slogans” “A mind is a terrible thing to waste;” in the cancer world, it’s terrible when patients are unable to use their minds to fight their disease. In many cases, cancer is a killer, there’s no doubt about that, but allowing negative emotions to take over is really unhelpful. Accentuating the positive (like the subject of this column) and minimizing the negative has to be the order of the day — and the night, too. You have to find the good or the funny and embrace it, exaggerate it, extend it, elongate it, and reinforce it. Anything to make sure it matters more than the bad. Bad is bad enough on its own. It doesn’t need any help from us. Focusing on what I can enjoy hopefully will enable me to keep on trekking, and to “Live long and prosper.” Come back.