New To Some, Old News To Others

For those of you unfamiliar with my column: in Burke, Springfield, Fairfax, Fairfax Station/Clifton/Lorton, Mount Vernon and Alexandria, welcome aboard the Kenny train. I have been writing a weekly column for Connection Newspapers since December 1997 appearing primarily in our “Tuesday papers,” as we call them: Vienna/Oakton, McLean, Great Falls, Reston, Oak Hill/Herndon, Arlington, Chantilly, Centre View and Potomac. The question has persisted among friends and family: Ken he continue to, as my older brother Richard jokes, “churn out this dribble?” Apparently so, if the last 19 and half years are any indication.

Back in the day when I first had to characterize my column for various local yearly Press Association editorial contests (of which I have won nearly a dozen awards), I would write “Everything in general about nothing in particular.” A great friend of mine, Edward Faine, himself an accomplished author — of children’s and jazz books, and a small press publisher as well, has described my columns as “Thoughtful humor and insightful commentary.” Perhaps between these two quotes you’ll get a sense of what you’re likely to get from my weekly wondering.

And so it continued until June 2009. That’s when I published my first column about a diagnostic process which had been ongoing since New Years Day which ultimately lead to a lung cancer diagnosis delivered to “Team Lourie” on Feb. 27, 2009 (you bet you remember the date). That column, entitled “Dying to Find Out, Sort Of,” chronicled the process, excruciating as it was/is that one often endures attempting to determine the cause of a medical problem; in my case, a pain in my left-side rib cage which a day or so later, migrated to my right-side and eventually took my breath away — almost literally, especially when inhaling and/or bending over. This difficulty forced me off the couch and into my car for a drive over to the Emergency Room. Once the diagnosis was confirmed, I wrote another column entitled “Dying to Tell You, Sort Of” which detailed the findings of the nearly eight weeks the process took to specify my diagnosis: stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Out of the blue, I had become “terminal,” as my oncologist described me, and given a “13 month to two-year” prognosis to boot. Surreal, which is a common description offered by many in similar situations, is how one feels after receiving news of this kind, and only begins to tell the tale of the change and evolution in the individual’s life living forward into treatment and subsequently beyond into the great unknown.

This ‘great unknown’ is mostly what I have written about and published ever since; “cancer columns” (original I know) is what I call them. Occasionally, I will write a non-cancer column, one a month or so, depending on my experiences. These columns will address non-cancer issues of the day, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Most recently topics have included the movie “The Exorcist:’ “Exercising a Demon,” paying for things with a credit card: “Credit the Card,” reacting to advertising for grass seed and riding mowers: “And So It Begins,” and buying in bulk: “Bulky Boy,” but never/well, almost never do I write about my wife, Dina; I have been warned.

Though the recurring theme of these columns is cancer, the content is rarely morbid or dare I say, self-indulgent, believe it or not. I try to make fun a very “unfun” set of circumstances. I’m still writing about life; now however, it’s life in the cancer lane, a road unlike any I had ever traveled before. Nevertheless, I’ve gotten through eight years and nearly three months of it relatively incident free, save for a week in the hospital three and a half years ago. And yes, I am still undergoing treatment.

I hope you readers will be semi amused at the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune upon which my columns are based. Please know: the significance of their content is not that it is me writing them, it is that cancer is being written about.

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“Bulky Boy”

Is the nickname I gave Andrew, one of our male cats. It’s because he’s a bit portly, like his father, yours truly. However, Andrew’s nickname is not the impetus for this particular column. The impetus for this column is my tendency, as the primary (almost exclusive) buyer of miscellaneous household goods and to a lesser extent, services, to buy in bulk/quantity, not necessarily quality; although that’s a subject of a long-ago column and perhaps a future one as well — dare I cross that Rubicon again, and one that has earned me this identical nickname to Andrew.

As a cancer patient originally diagnosed as “terminal” — at age 54 and a half, eight-plus years ago, time becomes an integral/essential part of your life; what there is of it presently, what you have been told you have left of it and what you — in your wildest dreams, every day and every night, hope you actually get to do: live a relatively “normal” life expectancy.

Even though life has gone on years past my original “13-month to two-year” prognosis, I still struggle with the emotional yin and yang of whether I’m closer to the end or further from the beginning (date of diagnosis). And is so struggling, everyday decisions that might have a time element/time-sensitivity to them are complicated. Is it necessary to do it/buy it/obligate myself to it now when the benefit might be later? A later I might never see? If I’m trying to enjoy life in the present as much as possible to fend off the inevitable and relentless stress that a “terminal” cancer diagnosis imposes, then how does a future benefit help me now?

As a few examples and finally to the point of this column: buying in bulk. 240 dryer sheets — for two adults, one of whom works at home and doesn’t exactly get dressed for it; 90 tall kitchen trash bags — we use one bag a week, and that includes bagging the cat litter for five indoor cats; paper towels — enough quantity that we could likely wrap them around our entire house if we had to; toilet paper — is sacrosanct, one can never have enough in stock; and tissues/Kleenex — given how frequently my eight-years-of-post-chemotherapy nose runs — constantly, is also sacrosanct (although I can always use toilet paper, paper napkins or paper towels in the pinch; not exactly the same pinch as if the toilet paper inventory runs out, however). Naturally, these items are all nonperishable so their life expectancy is not a consideration. But since mine is, sometimes I think I need to buy them or else, because when I do need them it will be too late.

As for perishables, obviously it makes little sense to overbuy (expiration dates notwithstanding, except mine). I can’t eat all the food quickly enough anyway (another point of contention from a previous column), although I may try. But even I know, in my cancer-induced haze, that spending money now on an unpredictable future though penny-wise and beneficial in some emotional ways, might be pound-foolish. I need to feel good today – period, not feel good today about something I might benefit from tomorrow. I mean, how else am I even going to get to tomorrow? Don’t I need to filter out potentially harmful/debilitating mental and physical images/impacts and try to live as unencumbered as possible (to invoke one of my deceased father’s favorite words)? Cancer is already an uphill battle. If I don’t want to live the legendary life of Sisyphus, pushing a figurative rock up a hill, only to have it fall back down time and again, I need to find a way/strategy to both manage my budget and control my mind. Obviously, I want to live like I have a future, but not at the expense of my present. You can call me “Bulky Boy” all you want, but “crazy-kookie” not so much.

Hear Ye, Hear Ye

I can hear ye and I can see ye. And I don’t need life insurance to pay for the cost of my funeral, and neither do I need supplemental insurance to co-pay my Medicare coverage. These are both solicitations/direct mail pieces I’ve received in my mailbox in the last week. I can’t help but wonder why? Have I gotten older before my very eyes without regard to my actual age? Have I somehow become a qualified applicant without realizing the consequences of my living so many years beyond my original “13 month to two-year” prognosis? (I always place quotation marks around my prognosis as an indication of its having been said by my oncologist, and as a bit of a dig since here I sit and write eight years and two months post diagnosis.) Or do the people sending the direct mail pieces know something about me, my household and my neighborhood that I don’t?

Not that I really want to think too deeply about why I’ve been bombarded with these presumptive age-sensitive solicitations but, the piling-on effect of the past two weeks has stoked my embers. It’s not as if being targetmarketed burns me up or increases the temperature under my collar, but it does cause me to think and consider; always dangerous. As Moe Howard of The Three Stooges said to brother Curly in a typical two-reeler story line: “Every time you think you weaken the nation.”

I wouldn’t say the onslaught has been at all equivalent to the volume mailboxes see in the weeks leading up to an election, however. The materials I’ve received lately have felt more personal than the usual and customary ones that arrive before an election promoting a candidate, a cause or an amendment. Those political pieces merely wanted my vote. The pieces I’ve received of late wanted my life. Not literally of course. But they want me, not exactly a pound of flesh, but more than a piece of paper (computer entry, actually).

I haven’t had the opportunity as yet to speak with any of my neighbors to find out if the entire neighborhood was similarly solicited or was it just yours truly, the cancer patient whose survival has raised a marketing flag? I mean, with all the hacking/unauthorized access to phone numbers, addresses, bank accounts, Social Security numbers and private medical information, I don’t suppose it’s beyond a hacker’s reach to secure lists of “terminal” (I also put quotation marks around ‘terminal’ because again, it’s how my oncologist described me in late February 2009, and as yet another dig because I’ve lived so long beyond ‘terminal’) patients who quite frankly might be more open to/in need of and sensitive about certain conditions/situations/circumstances not necessarily characteristic of the general population.

Or maybe these direct mail pieces had nothing to do with me (I’m not a narcissist, really; just sort of writing for semi bemusement), but are simply modern-day equivalents of the old town cryer – without the bell? But with a similar goal: to reach as many people as possible, hopefully under favorable circumstances, not in the square, but rather in the privacy of their own homes.

Naturally, I tossed all of it. I didn’t take offense though, nor am I the least bit defensive about it having landed IN MY MAILBOX. It’s simply sound marketing. Find a neighborhood/zip code with the demographics that match your product and voila, a connection is made, supposedly. No connection here however, merely fodder once again for a column. (Besides, I have life insurance and I’m too young for a “med supp.”).