Having been a cancer “diagnosee” now for eight years and exactly three months – as I sit and type on May 27, 2017, a lifetime considering the original “13 month to two-year” prognosis I was given on February 27, 2009, I have learned much about cancer that I didn’t know. In fact, I’ve learned everything about cancer I know now because previously I knew nothing. Growing up I heard/experienced very little about cancer. My parents were healthy as was my immediate family (aunts, uncles, cousins). And even though I spent many Sundays with my parents visiting my grandparents in nursing homes, the diseases/afflictions I remember hearing most about were diabetes, Parkinson’s, Leukemia and high cholesterol. Never cancer or any condition that I associated with cancer. I realize now how lucky we all were. I wouldn’t say I took good health for granted, but I might have taken it as a given. Not any more.
Everyday I wake up, as my father used to say, is a good day; and ever since I was diagnosed in early 2009, most days – all things considered, and I do consider all things, have been good days. I have been extraordinarily fortunate in how my body and mind has reacted to being diagnosed with a “terminal” disease: non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV. Rarely have I ever gone one step forward and then two steps backward. Oh sure, the early hairless days of heavy-duty chemotherapy (infused for six hours every three weeks) were challenging, but it was a process I had to endure – so far as I knew (I know a bit more now and there are many more choices/protocols than ever before).
It reminds me of a long-ago M*A*S*H episode in which “Hawkeye” met a South Korean woman after she drove – a Cadillac, into the 4077th. She needed medical help for her family. Col. Potter ordered “Hawkeye” to return with the woman back to her home. Begrudgingly he went along, mistakenly thinking she felt a sense of entitlement. After a short time treating her family he learned how wrong he had been. Later that day, “Hawkeye” saw the woman walking up a nearby trail carrying buckets of water on a pole. When he asked her why she was doing that (getting the water that way, from wherever); she replied: “Because that’s where the water is.” It struck him. and apparently, it struck me, too. As a cancer patient/survivor, that has always been my approach/attitude. “Next man up,” a common sports refrain; no excuses, keep moving forward.
Over the years, I have met many cancer patients; at the Infusion Center, at conferences, at work and at play. And I may be biased (no ‘maybes’ about it), but I have to say, we’re a fairly hearty and resilient bunch. Getting diagnosed with a terminal disease – frequently out of the blue, is not exactly the stuff of which dreams are made. Quite the contrary. Nevertheless, many of the cancer patients I’ve met seemed to have faced their demons and are standing tall against the worst kind of adversity. Bette Davis is often credited with the quote: “Old age is not for sissies.” Well, neither is cancer. It seems to be for everybody, everywhere. Unfortunately, cancer is an indiscriminate, equal opportunity destroyer; all ages, all races, all ethnic groups, all populations.
According to “Medical News Today,” “One in two people will develop cancer in their lifetimes.” So getting cancer is either a matter of time, inevitable or a random-type miracle if it doesn’t affect you. For many of us who’ve been affected already, we’ve come to learn that cancer isn’t the automatic death sentence it used to be, especially for us lung cancer patients. The research dollars and enthusiasm going into defeating this scourge are at their most significant in decades, perhaps ever. Now is not the time to give up hope. It’s time to embrace it.