Ought To Ship

I don’t want to praise the Lord too much for providing me with such a trivial and mundane benefit but, I sure am grateful when my 112 pounds of cat litter arrives/is delivered to my front porch, mere feet away from our cats’ litter boxes. “Auto Ship,” baby. No more am I lugging 28 to 44 pound boxes of cat litter into our five-indoor-cat household from the local supermarket and/or pet superstore. I don’t want to plagiarize a television “spokesthing” from my youth so I’ll give “Speedy” from Alka Seltzer proper attribution when I write as enthusiastically as I can: Oh, what a relief it is!”

The litter is my second auto-ship of substance; having made an earlier/similar commitment to 16 pound bags of dry cat food. I do get some fancy, multi-vitamins auto-delivered and my wife, Dina, as well receives special eye vitamins in the mail, but I thought that was the only way to purchase them, given that the manufacturers were out of town so I never considered them an auto-type ship. Previously, I had always resisted inquiring about getting products delivered from a national company when they are available locally. My thinking had been that since I’m home during the day, and regularly in and out doing errands at many of the stores that sell this merchandise, why ship it when I can shop it? It seemed redundant.

Now however, given the pleasure I felt when I saw that litter sitting on the porch without my having had to life one finger; well, a few fingers initially when I “keystroked” my way through this companies online registration, the light has come on. Moreover, given the neuropathy I have in my feet, I’m tired of walking around those giant  warehouse stores. Sure, the local proximity and availability is helpful but the bigger the buyer, the more effort the unloading/restocking is required at home. Perhaps I’ve simply come to a realization, and not necessarily an accommodation to my age, that less effort equals more overall value. And if in addition to less effort, I can buy products at equal or even lower cost than doing so locally, than I am sittin’ pretty in high cotton, if I may double-down on the benefit?

Not that I’m overworked and underpaid for the household duties I perform but, I’d rather be under worked and overpaid, if you catch my drift? And given certain realities to the many tasks now performed by hand, it’s up to me to reinvent the wheel, so to speak. And so, I’m starting to consider very seriously, ordering more stuff this way, especially bulky/weighty stuff and to let my fingers do the clicking rather than my arms and legs doing the walking and carrying. Let commercial/corporate America do the driving and delivering. I don’t have to prove my shopping mettle anymore. I’m ready to sit back and let the boxes do my talking.

I’m not quite ready to order food/perishable however. I feel a certain sense of calm and serenity wandering down supermarket aisles taking mental inventory of what’s present and what’s not – and what’s new and what everything costs. Not that I try many things as anybody who knows me knows, but occasionally, Entenmann’s or Hostess or Nabisco will surprise me with a new item and thus will have made the visit all the more sweeter. I wonder if I’ll have the same sensation perusing and clicking my way through a site that so far has been unseen – by my eyes, anyway. I guess it can’t hurt to explore a bit. I mean, it’s not exactly the dark web. (Is it?) Nor do I expect to use bit coins or have to create an avatar for myself. Nevertheless, the process does seem a little daunting; changing habits that have become habitual, and routines which have become routine. Seems a bit like turning an ocean liner around after it’s headed out to see. They don’t turn on a dime and neither do I. Still, I’m intrigued by the possibilities, and besides, I’m nearly out of laundry detergent.

Perhaps a test is in the offing. I don’t think I’m quite ready to join a club/pay a membership fee, but I am open to investigating. Time will tell I suppose, as will my first bill.

Talking the Walk

Our long, local, over night nightmare is almost over. By the date this column publishes: September 20, 2017, I will, for the first time in nearly nine weeks, not had to have snaked down in the dark, our “turny-twisty” and narrow 150-year-old staircase to walk from the upstairs master bedroom to the downstairs and only usable commode. Though the renovation of this upstairs bathroom is not entirely complete nor ready for primetime (it is mostly usable as the water is now running and flushing), the demolition/renovation process apparently must go on/adhere to a schedule so, on Tuesday, September 19 the downstairs bathroom, with all its fully functioning amenities will come under the sledge hammer – among other tools, and provide no further use until on or about October 24th.

This heretofore (“Good Will Hunting”) logistical challenge has not presented too many difficulties for my wife, Dina. But given that I’m a male of a certain age, quite the opposite has been true for me. Once or twice and occasionally even more per over-night depending upon how late and how much I’ve had to eat or drink before bedtime, I’ll need to visit the bathroom to attend to some very personal business. To be clear, the ‘challenge’ to which I refer is getting to the bathroom, not starting and/or finishing what I intended once I get there. Moreover, when the task at hand has been completed, of course I need to retrace my steps – usually in the dark, and walk back upstairs. Though not nearly as difficult as walking downstairs; nevertheless, at the time I am going down and back up, in the middle of the night, my vision might not so readily acclimate and my balance is, let’s just say: inconsistent, especially when trying to avoid the miscellaneous bathroom-remodeling boxes staged in the living room on the very route I must travel.

Needless to say, having this nightly nonsense come to an end is most definitely a column worth writing. Not necessarily to self-indulge anymore than usual but more so to amuse you regular readers and possibly even prepare you for your own in-home renovation. And considering that this renovation is our first – and we have minimal experience with these matters, I thought it useful to write it forward and perhaps share a less-than-obvious impact of taking the one-and-only-on-the-same-floor bathroom out of service. Sinks, mirrors and shower/tub issues notwithstanding, all of which can be withstood and endured with the reorientation to the downstairs bathroom, the commode issue, considering its unpredictability, naturally trumps all other real or imagined difficulties.

Though the upstairs bathroom is incomplete and lacking multiple finishing elements, its transformation so far is incredible – to our eyes. I’ll spare you any details because that really would be self-indulgent and not at all the point of this column. But the two months or so it will have taken for the upstairs bathroom to become operational again and the nightly effect it’s had on me appears to have been worth the wait.

As concerns the downstairs bathroom, we are now ready, willing and able to integrate its destruction into our routine. Given that it is more of a powder room than a master-type bathroom – though it will include a shower-only enclosure, no longer will it be my twice-nightly destination. In addition, I am looking forward to its transformation because the interim process will not prevent me from going anywhere I regularly go nor inconveniencing my wife, Dina, when she readies for work in the morning.

Monitoring its progress will be more of a curiosity than a calamity since, in my mind, there will be no sense of urgency about the pace of this project as there had been with the upstairs bathroom because my bathroom access will not be affected in the least. And in the most, I am extraordinarily grateful – and relieved.

“Kenny’s Story”

Ordinarily I wouldn’t have given the Lyrica television commercial too much attention. But there sat a spokesperson named Kenny, his name clearly printed in red script on top of a white oval located above his right breast pocket on his custom-work shirt, a middle-aged white man like me, holding his left foot across his right knee talking about a medical problem that we both feel: the “shooting, burning, pins and needles of diabetic nerve pain.” It was odd seeing someone named Kenny on television referring to a problem that not-on-television Kenny also has, though my symptoms are not from diabetes; they’re from eight and half years of chemotherapy. Nevertheless, as Babe Ruth said about the sound of his throat-cancer-ravaged voice on “Babe Ruth Day” at Yankee Stadium on April 27, 1947: “It feels just as bad.”

Campaign to date, according to ISpot.tv, within the last 30 days, “Kenny’s Story,” as it’s identified, has had “74 commercial airings.” And though I don’t think for a moment that this Kenny could be confused with that Kenny, considering that he’s an auto mechanic who “grew into a free-wheeling kid” and “enjoyed every step of fatherhood,” and I’m not ‘free-wheeling,’ not a father and know zero about cars, I do feel his pain, literally.

Now the fact that the words of advice are coming from someone named Kenny does give me pause however. Not that all Kennys have identical personalities or life’s experiences but knowing how little familiarity I have with this product makes me distrust him somehow. My name is Kenny and I’m not prepared to make those statements. How can he? It reminds me of a long-ago M*A*S*H episode when Major Frank Burns was feeling paranoid (as he said: “I’m only paranoid because every one’s out to get me”) because he thought “someone else is using my face.” None of which makes any more sense than my not believing spokesperson-Kenny just because his name happens to be Kenny. But there’s no accounting for viewer reaction, probably. That’s likely why there were a total “1271 airings” of Lyrica diabetic nerve pain commercials nationally over the last 30 days. “Kenny’s Story,” at 74 airings, was a small percentage of at least a dozen variations on this theme as well as a parallel campaign to address Fibromyalgia, a similar condition also treated by Lyrica.

It’s odd, of the multiple spots that have appeared on television, all of which show people living active lives – and being grateful for using Lyrica, only three: “Kim’s Salon,” “Michael,” and yours truly are “given-named.” All the others: “Coach,” “Grandpa,” “School Teacher,” “Keep the Beat Going,” “Helping Others”, as a few examples, are not. I’m wondering if “naming”/invoking names in these spots does in fact personalize the experience for viewers in a way that the pharmaceutical companies think is counter productive? Maybe naming the spokesperson/sufferer causes a reaction among Kims and Michaels that yours truly is feeling/writing about? Moreover, given that “Big Pharma” probably doesn’t want to limit its reach by excluding a segment of the market because of name recognition possibly lends some credence to the presumption that using a name to identify the individual in one of these spots is rare because it’s unhelpful. As it relates to these spots and their names, perhaps less is more, given how many research/clinical dollars (hundreds of millions of dollars we’re often told) are invested in the process of bringing FDA-approved products to market? Accordingly, I suppose “Big Pharma” can’t afford to leave any potential stone/”presrciptee” unturned.

I certainly don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I can only wander – and wonder what is it that makes sense here and where I fit into their universe. The commercials have hit their intended target: me, a patient with “shooting, burning, pins and needles … , but I have to tell you: I don’t like “Kenny.”

Nothing To Do With Cancer, Almost

How lucky am I? In the last two days, I have been the extremely lucky, though presumably random, recipient, of not one but two unsolicited phone calls offering me FREE accommodations at any number of Marriott and Hilton hotels, fairly reputable brands, I’d say. All I have to do is transport my wife, Dina, and myself to the agreed-upon hotel during the designated window of opportunity and voila, a semi-unencumbered vacation for two awaits. And believe me, the offer couldn’t have come at a better time. Let’s be honest, what more than a cure does a “terminal” cancer patient need than a reasonably priced, stress free get away from his every day? Need I even characterize that previous question as rhetorical?

Now since I hung up rather quickly, I don’t have all the details, other than their phone numbers of course. Because, as you might imagine, I still have a few questions I’d like answered – you know, to optimize the benefits/coordinate the timing of our vacation. But the ‘unsolicited’ nature of the call didn’t enable me to organize my thoughts and ask all the appropriate questions. Nevertheless, the opportunity seems worthy of a follow -up phone call.

Ideally, what I’d like to do is bracket my vacation/air fare and the miscellaneous travel expenses I’m undoubtedly going to incur around the respective properties’ availability. Meaning, I’d like to fly once and stay twice; staying in their respective properties in the same city/location switching out of Marriott after my first free weekend stay and then booking into the Hilton for my next free weekend stay (and I’d be willing to pay for my mid-week excursion during the transition). In effect, making the trip a two-for-one as opposed to a not-going-at-all. And in so arranging, using as much of corporate America’s largess and marketing budget as is cleverly possible for a non-corporate America employee to exploit.

Not having pursued this possible presumption quite yet because I’ve just had chemotherapy on Friday and I’m not really in the mood to tangle with a fast-talking, smooth operator, who though he/she may have my best travel plans at heart, may not exactly be feeling my strain. So I’m going to wait a few days until I regain my bearings – and patience, and tolerance and call them back unsolicited at a time convenient for me but possibly not so for them and see if we can make a deal.

Because, to tell you the truth, if I could coordinate two hotel reservations – along with all the amenities with which I’m likely to be showered for accepting these extraordinarily generous offers, combined with some free air miles I’ve accumulated with United Airlines/their travel partners, this indeed could be the trip that my oncologist encouraged us to take when he first delivered the life-changing/life-ending prognosis: “13 months to two years” back in late February, 2009. Further adding that, before starting chemotherapy, was as good as I would likely feel for a long time. And as I have come to learn, the quality of my life is very important to my oncologist.

At that time however, I didn’t feel the need and/or wasn’t motivated my oncologist’s suggestion; I wanted to get started on my treatment. Now, eight and half years later, perhaps the timing is better, especially given that it presents itself at the beginning of a new Redskins football season. And if I may quote the late, great, former, head coach of the “Over the hill gang,” George Allen: “The future is now.” So let me sift through the offers this week and see if can indeed take the “trip we’ve always dreamed of.” I know it’s often said that you can’t go back. Maybe we can still go forward.

Bathroom Humor

I write this column in all sincerity, but what are you asking me for? A rhetorical question if there ever was one. To what I refer is the question I was asked earlier this morning by one of the home-improvement tradesman working on my upstairs bathroom. Having made significant progress on the bathroom in the five weeks or so since I published “And So It Begins,” a column detailing the few facts I retained about the demolition/renovation and the anxiety I felt about it, today’s task was waterproofing the shower enclosure/bathroom floor in preparation for the tile, if I understand correctly. Now, as further context, I know very little about home improvement (car repairs, computer technology, lawn and garden; shall I go on?). Moreover, I know very little Spanish. Combine the two, as happened this morning, and you are asking (literally) for trouble.

The waterproofing man arrived at 8:45 a.m. The day before, his boss/presumably the owner, had stopped by for a walk-through and to drop off materials for the job. I thought I would see him again, I was wrong. The only person on the job is the person whose English is better than my Spanish and the only Spanish I know, I know from a cartoon character, “Speedy Gonzales, the fastest mouse in all of Mexico,” I grew up watching on Saturday-morning television. After directing him to the upstairs bathroom, within a few minutes, the man walked downstairs and asked/motioned for me to follow him back upstairs, I figured there was likely a question that needed answering so immediately I got off the couch to assist.

Once we were both inside the bathroom, he started pointing to the walls (front, back and sides), ceiling, niche and planned-for bench within the enclosure, to ask for – so far as I could understand, what needed to be waterproofed (I’ll spare you any details about the process since I’m unlikely to do so accurately). Now, other than asking the project manager Simple-Simon-type questions about what is going on, what has gone on (literally and figuratively) and what is planned to be going on, I am out of any kind of loop. The workmen come in. I point them upstairs. Then I go into my office and mind my own business. I rarely check their progress, Generally speaking, I only look to see what’s been done after they’ve left. I am not in any body’s way and I don’t serve as any kind of resource other than answering the most basic questions: “Is that the basement door?” ” Do you mind if we shut off the water?” Is there a hardware store nearby?” As such, I am the least-bit helpful.

The man working today is new to me/the project. He’s not been here before. But I did open the door to let him in and I did direct him to the upstairs bathroom. For all he knows/has experienced so far, I seem to be somewhat helpful. Ergo, after a bit, rather than calling his boss, he came back downstairs to solicit my help. Limited though I knew it would be, I was happy to try. As the conversation began, it became clear to me that not only did I not know what he was talking about (job wise), I couldn’t even understand what it was that he was saying. I was lost in translation and lost in intention. As I attempted to answer/explain/guess what he was asking while we were both pointing/gesturing/talking, I quickly realized that this was a language match not made in heaven. Nevertheless, we eventually came to some sort of an understanding of the task at hand and back downstairs I went.

Sitting on the couch, I began to feel uncomfortable about the instructions I think I had just given/agreed to. As a result, I considered calling my project manager at home on a Saturday morning to get some clarity/confirmation about what I think had just transpired upstairs. Not at all bothered by my weekend intrusion, and after listening to a condensed version of this column, Stefan assured me that what seemed to be happening here was supposed to be happening.

And here I thought outliving my lung cancer prognosis by six-plus years was a miracle.

Two, Hopefully for Won

Being diagnosed with cancer; then having cancer/living with cancer, is like having a second job. A job that unlike many, requires and/or imposes a ’round the clock-type 24/7 adherence to protocol, policy, procedure, presumptions and principle. To live not like you’re dying takes more than scoffing at a country music song that twangs an alternative vision. Believing in what routines you’re following and any lifestyle changes you’ve made allows (I didn’t say enables) a cancer survivor to thrive under the most difficult and demanding of circumstances.

Unfortunately for those reading this column looking for answers/guarantees, there aren’t any other than: if you abuse the privilege of post-cancer-diagnosis survival, the ends will likely justify the means; meaning, you are responsible for your own actions and “inactions.” The prognosis one is given at diagnosis is a reasonably thought out prediction. However, as grim as those words sound and seem at that moment, that prediction is not cast in stone. I’m living proof of that. The words you hear are based on the past. Your ensuing treatment is more about the present and future and what you decide to do living forward. Being open and unassuming, and by ‘unassuming’ I mean: not taking anything for granted, presuming facts not in evidence, considering that which has happened to somebody else – either good or bad, could happen to you and of course, asking as many questions in as many ways as necessary to get the answers you need, will help you co-exist with this terrible burden. Being diagnosed with a heretofore “terminal” disease presents one with innumerable challenges but not the slim pickens (choices not the actor) or yesteryear.

Integrating/assimilating all of the facts, fiction and philosophy into one’s daily cancer conundrum is a task often complicated by one’s day job/intention to remain on that job. The thinking being; at least in my mind/experience: living as normal a life as possible and staying as true to one’s usual and customary self as well as to one’s wishes, desires, hopes, prayers, etc., will enable (not ‘allow’ this time) you potentially to live longer and prosper more and trek “where no man has gone before.” For us cancer survivors/patients, where we hope to ‘trek’ is beyond the prognosis given to us by our oncologist.

I can boast of such an accomplishment, but I’d rather write it quietly and consistently as encouragement to others similarly diagnosed and “prognosed” than brag about it loudly. However, the changes/choices I’ve made might not suit another’s personality. I regularly receive suggestions about additional anti-cancer pursuits. Some I embrace, some I don’t. Some are conventional (Western), some are alternative (Non-Western). Many sound reasonable and “integratable” – into my lifestyle. Many others don’t. But given that my life is at stake, how can a suggestions incompatibility with my personality matter? We’re talking life verses premature death here; not sit-down Italian verses take-out Chinese. And though food certainly matters, it is of course to no comparison to living verses dying. Still, I don’t always say “yes.”

This is the yin and yang of my life and probably the lives of many other survivors of serious/terminal-type diseases. I want to feel like I’m winning. But I’m deathly afraid of losing. Moreover, I want to live my life as normally as possible, but not if it has adverse consequence. And how would I know anyway? Symptoms can be misleading and scans are quarterly. And though I remain positive about my very negative circumstances, occasionally the reality of those circumstances interfere with that normalcy. When that happens, I usually put pen to paper and try to write myself out of it.

I Had a Dream

Which apparently, according to my oncologist, is not unusual. In fact, he’s had them, too. What I am referring to, in a general sense, are cancer dreams. The ‘cancer dream’ I had was my first. Actually, it was not so much a dream, with a beginning, middle and an end, as it was a fragment; a moment in subconscious time that provided (illuminated would be too strong a characterization) an opportunity to possibly see my future and prepare accordingly.

Before I share my dream, let me give you a bit of context relating to my cancer condition. I am nearly five months into my ninth year post diagnosis. I have stage IV non-small cell lung cancer, the terminal kind. Stage IV, if you don’t know (and I certainly didn’t know stage IV from stage left until my oncologist told me in late February, 2009) means the tumors have metastasized (moved from its original location, which is rarely good) and are inoperable (which means surgery is not an option/recommended/reasonable). Ergo, the “13 month to two year” prognosis I was given and the associated two-percent chance of survival beyond five years. To say then that cancer/my mortality is constantly on my mind is an understatement of epic proportions.

Given the unlikely still-living situation in which amazingly I find myself, I am regularly waiting for disappointing/discouraging health-related symptoms/news. With every five-week cycle of pre-chemotherapy lab work/24-hour urine collection and chemotherapy infusion, followed by quarterly CT Scans and semi annual brain and/or lower abdomen MRIs, I am at the mercy of results – which at this juncture rarely manifest themselves in any symptomatic/life-changing way. In short, I rarely know what the cancer is doing until my oncologist tells me. So far, mostly so good. As a result of this general lack of symptoms, I am always anticipating the day when I am not so lucky and wondering how it will happen/how I’ll react when “the cancer,” as “Forrest, Forrest Gump” said it, asserts its insidious hold. This was the dream fragment I had.

The only real symptom of my lung cancer/treatment shows up in my lab work: specifically my creatinine level, which measures kidney function. And kidney function, per conversations with my oncologist, is a major concern. The damage I’ve incurred already is irreparable and likely to get worse and a constant worry (I’ve recently had a “liquid biopsy” in an attempt to determine non-surgically the genetic mutation of my tumors which could possibly enable me to switch my chemotherapy to one which is not filtered through the kidneys). In the interim however, or until there is an “actionable” match, I am stilt preoccupied with this risk. The fear of dialysis/a kidney replacement weighs heavily on my mind.

In my dream, I woke up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. As I stood over the commode to “pass water,” as my father-in-law calls it, I saw blood in my urine. And what little I know is: blood in the urine, stool, phlegm, etc., is not good, generally speaking. Now whether it’s related to my lung cancer/kidney function or not, at that subconscious moment, I was convinced that my cancer had taken an extremely deadly turn and that my life would soon be very different.

My reaction: I believe I swore and then nearly crumpled to the floor, my left arm extended against the adjacent wall to keep me from falling. Then the dream, as much as I remember it, faded.

Fortunately, my most recent scan indicated the tumors have not moved or grown and that my kidney function has not gotten worse. Nevertheless, I do feel as if I’ve seen my future. And though it might not be great, I do feel as if I’m better prepared.

Coincidental Or Not

One of our older/oldest cats, Biscuit, born late September, 2006 and his oldest human parent, yours truly, born late September, 1954, are both having teeth issues. In fact, the exact same teeth issues: the 1st molar and the 2nd bicuspid in the “upper right quadrant” are causing us problems and have to be extracted. Biscuit’s teeth extraction will be done by our regular veterinarian. Mine will be done not by my regular dentist but by a specialist, an oral surgeon. Unfortunately, the two practices are not related so there’s no chance of a “BOGO.” Nor is there any chance that the two procedures will be about the same cost. My teeth extraction will be double at a minimum, perhaps even quadruple, if I’m lucky. (I made inquiries.) Accordingly, Biscuit’s extraction will occur/has occurred first.

What’s of interest to me is the coincidence that Biscuit and I need the same teeth extracted at the same time. Which when you consider that Biscuit and I are approximately the same age, is not really a surprise. It’s really more of a fact of life/aging – for both of us. Perhaps there are other behaviors and/or physical/mental indicators in Biscuits day-to-day activities which might clue me in to my own aging process. After all, we are living similar lives.

So far, Biscuit’s post-teeth-extraction recovery has been uneventful. He’s been spry and energetic. He’s been on the kitchen counter, various window sills, the dining room table, the ironing board and all the other furniture; he’s knocked over the wicker trash basket in our bedroom three times and he’s been eating like a dog. In short, he’s “back baby.” He almost appears to be smiling – except when we attempt to give him his post-procedure pills. As per usual, during the day he’s sleeping on the back of the couch and at night he’s curled up in the laundry basket; and he’s still the first cat – of five, an hour early, I might add, for breakfast and dinner, to place his order/meow his presence. He’s as ready to eat as ever. He hasn’t missed a beat or a step. If I had to summarize/characterize his actions now, I’d say he has a real joie de vivre, “an exuberant enjoyment of life.” So what am I waiting for? Godot?

As for my procedure, I’ve been told it takes 30 minutes or so. Local anesthesia is used (unlike Biscuit who was totally sedated/anesthetized). Moreover, the post-surgical pain is not terrible and the chance of infection is minor. And though I’ll have a space in my gums where my teeth used to be, no longer will I be anticipating the pain and discomfort that cracking or splitting either of these two teeth would cause. The only pain I’ll likely have is the pain of payment. (See 7/26/17 column entitled “Taking Care of Business” for associated details.)

I guess my curiosity/concern is whether I trust anything I’ve observed from Biscuit’s dental experience – considering we’re the same age. Is what’s good for the cat also good for the human – all things being equal, sort of? Is Biscuit’s return to normalcy so quickly and so easily – and so vigorously, a lesson to be learned? If seeing is believing and I do see extremely well for someone nearing his 63rd birthday, then Biscuit’s ‘experience’ and the comparison between his pre- and post-extraction behavior should be an inspiration to us all, especially those of us of similar age with one and the same, two actually, teeth which need to be extracted.

I mean, the procedure I’ve been putting off is not exactly brain surgery, it’s oral surgery. I’m not admitted to a hospital. It’s outpatient. I’m in and then out. Same day service, just like the restaurant where my wife, Dina works. I don’t even need someone to drive me home (unlike Biscuit. I had to drive him home.) And now that Biscuit is home, safe and sound, I suppose it’s time for me to buck up and schedule my appointment. After all, it has nothing to do with cancer and everything to do with quality of life. I’d say that’s a win-win.

Week to Weak

And speaking, a few weeks late, of my “whirled,” (see July 5, 2017 column, “Not an Auto-Matic Fix”); at least as it relates to my next week or so: 24-hour urine collection on Tuesday, pre-chemotherapy lab work on Wednesday, in the Connection office on Thursday, chemotherapy infusion on Friday, continuing anxiety concerning the previous Wednesday’s CT Scan/awaiting results from my oncologist followed by our usual post-scan appointment with him Friday a week later to discuss my future: status quo or the great unknown; coinciding with the typical eating challenges/post-chemo side effect which lasts a week to 10 days after treatment. If this cycle of gloom doesn’t sound like fun, you’re right, but it’s a living/my life and I’m extraordinarily (I didn’t want to say “damn”) lucky to be able to live it.

And recently having spoken to a new stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer “diagnosee,” who’s on a 24-hour morphine drip and Percocet every four hours because he’s in constant pain, I know how amazingly fortunate I am/have been since being originally diagnosed in late February, 2009. Sure, I’ve had my share of pain and discomfort, but in the medical-measuring system I’d give it a “1.” Hardly the stuff with which nightmares are made (see column in a few weeks, as yet untitled).

I’ve always been a great believer in context. Not so much comparison because what you see and what you get are not necessarily relevant, comparatively speaking, but more that the circumstances are all relative. It takes me back to Popeye the Sailor Man, who apologizing to no one, always said: “I ‘yam what I ‘yam.” And so am I. When I see other cancer patients at the Infusion Center, when I talk to cancer survivors, when I hear or read of other cancer patient circumstances, I try to live and learn, not take it personally, and count my blessings. Given the hand that I was dealt back on Feb. 27, 2009 I wouldn’t say “Wild” Bill Hickok (and his black aces and black eights) came to mind, but my life, according to the “11 month to two-year” prognosis I was given, certainly passed before me – and much sooner than I had anticipated.

In spite of my diagnosis/prognosis, and the miscellaneous ups and downs that I and most cancer patients endure, I’ve never given in to my oncologist’s initial assessment. It was so unbelievable hearing such grim news, especially considering that I was age 54 and a half, that it almost seemed like an out-of-body experience, sort of like Scrooge in Charles Dickens “novella, “A Christmas Carol.” Sure we were listening attentively and asked our share of questions, but it didn’t seem real or even about me, sort of. I mean at this juncture, I had no pain and no symptoms and no family history of cancer – and I was a life long non-smoker. Yet here I was, in the bulls eye of a dreaded disease with no known cure receiving a modest life expectancy/two percent chance of living beyond five years.

But eight years and five months later, here I sit, breathe and try to write some wrongs about a life mostly unexpected, and one in which I haven’t sweated too many details nor concerned myself with the “nattering nabobs of negativism,” to quote former Vice President, Spiro T. Agnew, specifically as it relates to lung cancer outcomes. Which are dramatically improving.

New drug approvals and increased funding for lung cancer research has infused hope into lung cancer patient’s lives. Routines with which us lung cancer patients/survivors have become accustomed will be less routine and will make our lives more fulfilling. It might not be perfect, but it’s definitely a life worth living.

Taking Care of Business

The cats. The car. The dentist. The pancreatic enzymes. It was a week that typically isn’t. As often as my credit card was swiped these past few days, I’m amazed its magnetic strip is still magnetized. To quote my deceased mother, Celia: “It’s enough already.”

Oh well, what’s done is done, though it definitely needed doing. And aside from the fact that I didn’t have the actual money, fortunately I had the available credit, which I was grateful to have had. I mean, how long can you put off necessary evils/expenditures before they rear their ugly consequences? And though money doesn’t grow on trees (linen actually), credit seems to, and so the to-do list now has some cross-outs/”has-dones” finally.

Now the anxiety about neglecting the “to-dos” is replaced by the worry about the cost/needing-to-pay the “having-dones.” Nevertheless, the cats have had their vaccinations shot current. The car now has a passenger window that goes down – and back up, a check-engine light that no longer illuminates, a blower that will now provide heat in the winter and a defogger when needed, and as it turns out a bit of unexpected air conditioning. The dentist has referred me to an oral surgeon (since the teeth were both “unrestorable“/not root canal candidates) who will extract two teeth from my mouth and hundreds more from my bank account/probably credit card – again, but no doubt get me back on a course of dental correction. The pancreatic enzymes, the most expensive bottle of pills I buy (I consume upwards of 55 pills per day) is an expense I incur every three months and does something to help my immune system keep the lung cancer in-check, a priority if there ever was one.

Paying to keep on playing (so to speak), by maintaining this kind of normalcy enhances the feeling that life is indeed still being played. And not that my attitude/philosophy in such responsibilities is totally affected by yours truly having been diagnosed with a “terminal” form of cancer: non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV, to be specific, but as the old punchline says: “It doesn’t hurt.” And avoiding hurt is definitely part of the fighting-cancer strategy; along with avoiding stress, eating healthy, exercising and boosting one’s immune system.

I guess what I’m realizing that I have two lives, sort of, the usual and customary life: work, play, day-to-day stuff and the cancer life: lab work, chemotherapy, scans, oncologist, pills, lifestyle changes, etc. On some days, they are parallel. On other days, they intersect. And though they may be separate, they are inter-related. What benefits one is likely to positively affect the other. Additionally, a negative in one life will  likewise have an adverse consequence in the other. However, the requirements to maintain their respective lives is different. Yet balance/co-existence must be maintained in order for one to remain “twogether.” Two separate halves will not make for a responsible whole, but rather lead to an emotional one. And if there’s one attribute that a cancer patient/survivor must have, it is emotional wherewithal. Failure to do so in one’s cancer life will likely spill over into the non-cancer life (and vice-versa) and cause a kind of an adult version of failure to thrive. Cancer might win the battle in the end but you can’t let it win the battle in the interim. Fulfilling your every-day responsibilities helps give that life the kind of accomplishment that aids and abets in your fight against your cancer life. Moreover, handling your cancer life gives you the confidence and optimism to live your non-cancer life.

Granted, the two lives might not exactly be the best of friends, but they must be partners of a sort. The sort that is independent, appreciative, respectful and considerate.