Whew

How do you spell relief? ROLAIDS? Hardly. I spell relief: “Mr. Lourie, your scan remains stable.” News, as I’m extremely fond of continuing to say, “I can live with.” And despite the fact that I’m ending the previous sentence with a preposition, I’m sure you can appreciate how relieved I am to be ‘stable,’ and how amazing it is to hear my oncologist characterize me as his “miracle” (not possessive really, more descriptive). So life goes on, for another three months anyway, until my next scheduled diagnostic scan which this time will include an MRI of the abdomen as well as the CT of the lungs to give my oncologist a bit more information to more thoroughly evaluate my condition/status. Having been there and done both previously, the prospect doesn’t really concern me. Although it’s easy to be a big shot now, three months out, especially after receiving a good report. Perhaps my columns in April will be a bit more realistic — given that my life will once again be on the tomography/resonance-imaging-line.

Planning for the future however begins with yours truly assessing the present and wondering why I was so nervous the days before the scan and of course the two days after, until we saw the oncologist and received the results. I mean it’s not as if my life — and quality of life — isn’t at stake when these scans are interpreted; nevertheless, stressing about it doesn’t help, or should I say, doesn’t enhance my prospects. Somehow, integrating/assimilating the stress and anxiety of it all and not giving cancer its due must remain a major part of the psychological solution. I can’t give into it emotionally and for some reason, that’s exactly what I did this past week. I need to learn from my mistake. Though I’m sure it’s understandable under the death-defying circumstances, it’s not helpful. It may even be harmful.

I should know better, and I have known better; that’s what’s peculiar here. Moreover, I’m usually up for the challenge. In fact, I take pride in my ability to take on the challenge. Heck, it’s not exactly my first dance with the devil so what’s the fuss? The ‘fuss’ is obvious but fussing over things/outcomes I can’t control is not the process that works here. Going with the flow, taking the good with the bad (and vice versa), not putting any part of the cart before the horse meaning: not presuming any negative facts not yet in evidence and most importantly, as the band “Wet Willie” sang in the 1970s, you’ve got to “Keep on Smilin.’” Humor may not truly be the best medicine, but laughing and joking is hardly the problem.

Cancer is the problem, but sometimes the patient/me is the problem. As Moe Howard said to his brother Shemp in a Three Stooges short entitled “Pardon My Backfire:” “Every time you think you weaken the nation.” And though I don’t want to weaken my nation/resolve with respect to my underlying disease, occasionally, as perhaps happened this past post-scan week, I get caught up in my own circumstances and think too much, and lose some cohesion and poise. Neither of which a cancer patient can afford to lose. I know — as a cancer patient/survivor — that if I do receive bad/disappointing news, it will be bad enough when I receive it so thinking/worrying that the news will be/could be bad before I actually learn that it’s bad is a complete waste of valuable emotional wherewithal. Wherewithal that I’ll possibly need later should the news in fact be bad. What my survival has taught me is that even after initially receiving some very discouraging life expectancy statistics for lung cancer patients from my oncologist back in 2009 when I was originally diagnosed, one might still have a future. I’m living proof of that. And it just might be the present that provides the means, justified or not.

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I Think Therefore I’m Not

As much as I write a good game, and talk a good game, I don’t think as good a game as I write and talk. As I sit and write this column, on Saturday, January 14, I am four days away from my regular, recurring, quarterly CT Scan, scheduled for Wednesday, January 18, followed up almost immediately by my normal post-scan, face-to-face appointment (I have had telephone appointments) with my oncologist two days later on Friday, January 20. As you all are reading this column, it’s almost like real time, except you only know my feelings and some dates, but not the results/facts.

Nor do I, of course, as of this column’s publication and of your reading it, and therein lies the reason for this column. Waiting, wondering, worrying and hoping is what I/Team Lourie will be doing for the next six days. And though we’ve all been through it before (nearly eight years of ‘it’), enduring ‘it’ never gets any easier. In fact, it gets more difficult in a way. Partially because, given my original “13 month to two-year prognosis, this waiting for scan results shouldn’t be happening. I can’t help thinking that I’m borrowing time. I wasn’t diagnosed as “terminal” for nothing. I was/am a stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer, meaning the cancer had (1) metastasized (spread) which is never good and (2) was inoperable, which is self-explanatory. Both of which determine a stage IV diagnosis thereby minimizing one’s options. Ergo, my prognosis. Yet here I am, nearly eight years later, anticipating the results of my next CT Scan to learn whether I’ve been given another reprieve or another reminder of why I was diagnosed stage IV in the first place: tumor growth and/or movement.

Somehow, I must ignore the facts and the statistics, ignore the reality; and as Andy Dufresne said to “Red” in “The Shawshank Redemption:” Get busy living or get busy dying.” Which as you regular readers know is what I try to do, or at least write like I try to do. And to friends and family, it appears to be what I’m doing. However, in my head, six days away from learning my fate (at least for the next three months until my next CT Scan/brain MRI), I am not exactly ‘living’ it. I’m stuck, more or less, between “why worry” and “what if?” As a consequence, I can’t get out of my own way, sort of; heck, I can barely get out of other people’s way.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not moping around “woeing-is-me;” that’s not my nature. But I am having some difficulty deluding myself into thinking (living) that the next few days are somehow a random-type meaningless occurrence that will have no bearing on my life. Quite the contrary, it’s everything. There’s no more important time in my life than waiting for the results of the varying diagnostic tests that I have. And though I remain mostly asymptomatic now, (last week’s column: “Slippery Hope” notwithstanding), I was also asymptomatic (generally speaking) when I was first diagnosed in February 2009. Consequently, feeling nothing does not provide the same comfort and joy as you might think. Granted, feeling symptoms would be worse. But considering that over the years feeling/not feeling symptoms have both lead to encouraging and discouraging results, I’m not comforted by anything until after my oncologist tells me if my warranty has been extended.

Feeling something, feeling nothing; I never know what to feel except fear — of the unknown, and for the next few days, my future is what’s unknown. Living through that is always a challenge. If I’ve convinced readers and friends and family otherwise, all the better. Personally speaking, it’s only easy writing and talking about it. Living it is another story entirely

Slippery Hope

When you’re diagnosed with a terminal form of cancer, you spend a lot of time talking to yourself, not aloud; well, mostly not aloud, trying to convince yourself of a million and one things that don’t lead to that inescapable conclusion: premature death (I know, any death is premature). And when you get sick, as I am now and have been for the past 10 days; not getting worse, just not getting better; it is, at least for me, not only next to impossible, but impossible as well, not to think that perhaps this is the time when you have crossed the Rubicon.

Though what I am referring to are merely/mostly cold symptoms: sneezing, coughing, runny nose, nasal congestion, watery eyes, occasional headache; no temperature or sore throat, no vomiting, no nausea; it’s easy to rationalize that I am simply experiencing a severe seasonal reaction to some strain of something which is, if what I hear from friends and family is true, something which is definitely going around. However, that assessment would presume I’m a relatively normal person, ‘normal’ meaning not a person diagnosed with stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer. Ergo, the conversations me, myself and I are constantly having with ourselves.

And though the answers rarely change (always minimizing, never reinforcing a negative, accentuating the positive), I have to admit the longer I live through these blips on the radar, the less conviction I am able to sustain in my ongoing attempts to talk myself into or out of, whatever the case may be, the challenges emotionally and/or physically, that characterize one’s life living with cancer. And believe me, ‘living with cancer’ is all it’s cracked up to be, and I’m one of the lucky ones, a survivor, nearly eight years in fact, post my Feb. 27, 2009 face-to-face appointment with an oncologist; my new best friend, who lowered the diagnostic boom to Team Lourie that day.

I think I can say with some certainty that the one constant in my life these past eight years has been the many conversations I’ve had with myself. Trying to maintain an even keel; heck, any keel that would keep me emotionally afloat. Obviously, encouraging and supportive words from others have filled many gaps, but there are way more gaps when I’m alone that need to be filled. Reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, radio, television and the Internet, fill some and provide distraction for others, but still there are many more times when you’re left alone with your thoughts; when the rubber really hits the road and somehow you must get through the night or the post-chemo weak or the before, during and after “scanxiety” and navigate the slings and arrows of the outrageous misfortune which has befallen you.

Mostly I have been successful. Occasionally though I have been depressed. Occasionally I have felt lonely. Occasionally I have felt out of control. And more than occasionally, I have just plain worried. Like now, when I’m sick and tired and wondering if persistent cold symptoms portend the beginning of something worse. After all, I do have lung cancer so any breathing-related and/or coughing problems could indicate an exacerbation of my underlying condition, or so I would guess.

Ah yes, guessing. That’s perhaps the real problem. How do you stop yourself from going down that rabbit hole, especially when you’ve already quadrupled the back end of the number of years: two, offered up by your oncologist eight years ago? I don’t suppose I could experience a normal life expectancy after being given a terminal diagnosis. Could I? I guess it’s possible. Probable? I wouldn’t know. However, there’s no harm thinking about it. Except if you’re thinking about it all the time.

I Digress, Yet Again

I went to my local Giant supermarket the other day, a trip I make regularly, so regularly that I deserve a close-in, employee-of-the-month-type parking space. Unlikely as that may be, I do get to park in a special close-in L.E.V., (“low emitting vehicle”) space when I drive the Honda which is a ‘low emitting vehicle.’ (This Giant was built with special “Green” amenities.) Not that I couldn’t use the exercise if I were to park further away and actually walk a little bit. Nevertheless, between the chemotherapy-induced neuropathy in my feet and the associated fluid build-up in my legs — and feet as well, walking, even short distances, is hardly a comfortable stroll. Nor is it a walk in the park.

Once inside the store though, I am less inhibited by my condition — or merely just focused on the shopping task at hand, particularly so when I find myself sauntering down and perusing the candy/cookie aisle, where my presence is a fairly familiar sight. In fact, if the candy/cookie aisle could talk, “You again” would be what it say upon seeing me taking inventory. And as I was doing my due diligence this day: checking availability, price and variety — and taking my time doing so, an employee working in the same aisle who must have noticed my deliberation asked quite innocently and sincerely if I needed any help. Realizing that I was the only customer in the aisle and that the employee must have been talking to me, I started snickering and laughing to myself and did not immediately respond to his offer of assistance. Soon enough though, I turned around, smiled and said: “No. I don’t need any help. If there’s one place in the supermarket where I don’t need any help, it’s this one. Every other aisle, not so much. But candy and cookies, I can handle. Thanks anyway though.”

I ended up buying two medium-sized bags of mint M&Ms which were on sale, the purchase of which were made more enticing after I noticed a coupon dispenser nearby distributing an additional $1.50 off-two coupons. That was all the inducement I needed. Not that I’m necessarily driven by sales and coupons but, given my tendencies — and cash flow, the only self-control I can successfully impose on myself, is price. I won’t buy the item unless it’s on sale and then I can’t stop myself from buying it. Moreover, if I have a coupon as well and the item is on sale, well, it’s “Katie bar the door.” The only question is: how many coupons do I have? However, if the item is not on sale and I also don’t have a coupon, then unless I’m desperate — which occasionally I am, I can withstand the temptation and not buy the item, usually. Such is life in the chocoholic lane.

Unfortunately, the chocolate problem continues once I get home, that is if it hasn’t already reared its ugly head in the car while sitting in the parking lot after I’ve finished my shopping. (And what’s worse, my drive home is barely five minutes. Yet sometimes, it’s too long to wait.) Once inside the house, not immediately though, I’ll probably start getting urges. I rationalize these urges by insisting that I need to eat the candy/cookies so I won’t have the candy/cookies in the house, thereby eliminating said temptation. However, the problem isn’t exactly solved; it’s just recreated, so to speak. Once I’ve eaten all the candy/cookies in the house, and there are no more candy/cookies in the house, I need to go out and get some because — there are no candy/cookies in the house. Ergo, my regular visits to the Giant. It’s not pretty, but it is predictable.

I wouldn’t say I’m a man on a mission, but I am a man on sugar. And though I certainly realize that cancer and sugar are bad together, Kenny without sugar — and with cancer, might actually be worse.