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.

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