Welcome to the Club

“Some club,” as my late mother would likely scoff. And the club to which I refer is, to spin an old Groucho Marx joke: a club you’d rather not join especially if they’d have you as a member. This is of course, the cancer club, a club whose membership continues to grow despite worldwide efforts to the contrary. According to Medscope.com, one in two men and one in three women will be affected by cancer in their lifetime. Hardly a statistic to be ignored. And so, even though I had a rather uneventful/healthy upbringing and further on into adulthood, in late middle age, 54 and five months, Feb. 27, 2009, I was impacted and rudely awakened with a non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV diagnosis – out of the blue, and given a “13 month to two-year” prognosis to boot. As a life long non-smoker with no immediate family history of cancer, whose parents both lived well into their 80s, I was more inclined to worry about the Boston Red Sox pitching depth than I was about cancer.

But cancer, for the past nearly nine years has been my life and amazingly, so far anyway, not the cause of my premature death (what death isn’t ‘premature?). And what brightens my day and lifts my spirits more than anything else (other than a Red Sox World Series Championship) is when I meet a newly-diagnosed lung cancer patient who exhibits the can/will do positive-type attitude necessary to endure the inevitable ups and downs to follow. To be selfish, it empowers me and strengthens my own resolve to live life to the fullest (it’s not as simple as saying it) and damn the torpedoes.

Within the last few months, I have met, over the phone, two such individuals. The first man, Lee, I met before he even had his first infusion. The second man, Mark, a bit more experienced, I met a year and a half after his first infusion. Each man was engaging, outgoing, confident, enthusiastic and quite frankly, happy to make my acquaintance. You see, after being given a less-than-desirable prognosis, it’s helpful to meet someone who, despite having received a similar diagnosis, has nevertheless managed to live almost nine years post diagnosis. (If he can do it, I can do it kind of feeling.) As for me, the nearly nine-year survivor, meeting cancer patients who are at the beginning of their respective cancer journeys, helps me to reconnect with my routes, so to speak, and share and share alike some memorable experiences, both cancer-related and not. In a way, we get to live vicariously through one another which for me reinforces how lucky I’ve been to survive for as long as I have.

And not that I need reminding, but it’s easy to take for granted one’s good fortune and forget – occasionally, the seriousness of my situation and the cloud that hangs over my head. The sword of Damocles has got nothing on me, literally or figuratively. Living with cancer is akin to nothing really. The chance that you’ll survive beyond your prognosis, maybe even have your tumors shrink, or see your scans show “no evidence of disease,” creates a kind of tease that cause your emotions to run the gamut. The possibility of living after being told you’re dying – and vice versa, perhaps more than once, over your abbreviated – or not, life expectancy, is simply too much to handle/absorb sometimes. It’s a roller coaster for sure, but one that rarely comes to a complete stop and never allows you to get off. Moreover, it’s not multiple rides, it’s one long, endless ride with no guarantees about what happens next – or where it even happens.

Meeting people who are ready, willing and able to confront their cancer future is just as important and stimulating as meeting someone like me who hasn’t succumbed to this terrible disease. It’s a win-win situation. Particularly significant when at date of diagnosis, it appeared to be a lose-lose. I’m proud to be a member of the cancer club, especially so when I meet people like Lee and Mark.

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