And So It Begins

For the first time in almost exactly 25 years: bathroom demolition, times two. With financial assistance from my father-in-law, along with use of our home equity line, we have committed to and contracted for, a complete renovation of our two full bathrooms (‘full’ meaning: tub/shower, commode, sink, vanity, mirror, shelves, lights/fixtures, counter top, floor and shower tile, and paint). Ergo, over the next eight to 12 weeks, our house will officially become a construction site.

Never having experienced this level of upheaval and chaos in any of our previous homes before, we are looking forward since we have no reference looking backward. We know one thing for sure: our five indoor cats will be miserable and scared and likely hiding for days on end. Considering that the workers will be in our home from 7:30 am to 5 pm, I don’t know when the cats are going to feel like eating since their routine will have been completely thrown off having so many new people in the house for so many hours per day. (I don’t even want to think about the litter box implications.)

Nevertheless, time marches forward, and given that our home is historic/over 250 years-old, its bathrooms, though not exactly pre-Colonial, definitely are showing their age. Their design, form, function, efficiency and attractiveness barely blip the radar. Both bathrooms are old, and that’s the only compliment I can give them.

I imagine the next two to three months will likely be a journey of discovery; Columbus-like in that we will be discovering a new world with modern bathroom amenities and conveniences, color coordination and functionality, many of which we’ve not been the beneficiaries of in over 25 years. Our kitchen remains as it has been all those years ago: large but clearly deficient in many ways compared to modern kitchens. As a matter of fact, as the designer, project manager and I walked into the kitchen looking for the access panel to the adjacent bathroom, I said, “As you can see, our kitchen need work, too. Any chance you all offer a ‘BOGO? Buy one, get one free?” Of course, they both laughed and shook their head. They didn’t have to say “No.” It was more a rhetorical question anyway.

Considering the time we’ve all had together, we have no doubt the contractor and his workers know what they’re doing. We’re not sure however, as homeowners that we know what we’re doing. From our first meeting, a few months back, the process has seemed clear enough as do the drawings/design ideas we’ve now seen/decided upon do. Still, when it goes from their paper to our property, how will it all transfer? They seem confident and complimentary which certainly has been reassuring but we’re novices in this transformation. For us each step forward is yet another step into the great unknown. And since we can only take it one step at a time, we have no choice but to live and learn and hopefully not regret and decisions we’ve already made (although changes can still be made).

So far, and it’s not very far, so good. However, it’s the process of starting and ultimately finishing that worries me. Not that I run on a schedule (heck, I can barely walk), but my wife, Dina, sort of does; and it seems as if she and the workers might be occupying the same space at the same time. I suppose the timing and all eventually works itself out but it’s the interim with which I’m concerned. I realize there are no guarantees in any of this. I guess I just have to deal with it as I do with my having cancer: take the bad with the good, keep a sense of humor and try to remain positive. Doing so has kept me alive for eight years and four months. I’d like to think I can manage for another eight to 12 weeks.


A Near Catastrophe, Always

As I bring our two cat carriers up from the basement in order for “The Buff Boys” to acclimate in anticipation of their impending visit to the Veterinarian, I can’t help but think back to the spring of 1976. That’s when an appointment to mend my male cat, Tillie, nearly went very wrong. To this day, the circumstances still haunt me.

Tillie had been a surprise birthday gift given to me in September of 1975, along with a puppy I named Gus (both named after a W.C. Fields’ movie entitled, “Tillie and Gus”). Tillie was an all-black domestic short hair. Gus was a German Shepard/St. Bernard mix. (He was beautiful. He had a white-ish beige coat, floppy ears and a curly tail.) Introduced to one another at six weeks old, Tillie and Gus were the best of friends/siblings. Though I made sure they spent their evenings inside, during the day, both were outside. (We had a fenced-in yard so Gus was confined. Tillie however, as you might imagine was not. He had the run of the neighborhood.)

Sure enough, one day, Tillie got into a cat fight. His tail had been bitten and was beginning to abscess. I knew I had to take him to the Veterinarian. However, I was in college and had very little money to spare. Nor did I have a credit card either. (Those were the days before credit card companies solicited college students.) In a financial bind, I called my parents and asked for money (I did work in the dining hall all through college but lived in a house off campus and had the usual room and board-type expenses). They sent me $25. (In my mind, I can still see the check.) In addition to whatever other money I could scrape together, I guess it was enough so I took Tillie to the “Vet.” for repair. He stayed overnight. The next day I got the call that he was ready for pick-up. That’s when the event occurred that has affected me/my animal-owning life going on four decades plus.

I went by myself. I had a car; a 1970 Ford Maverick, but no cat carrier. I was, apparently, planning on simply holding Tillie in my arms as I had done the day before. However, the pick-up was not nearly as uneventful as the drop-off. Once I got outside the building, Tillie began squirming (his tail had been shaved and had stitches where the abscess/bite had been inflicted) and broke free from my grasp. He ran off about 20 yards or so to the rear of this modest one-story building and stopped just shy of a chain-link fence which separated where we all were to another neighborhood – beyond my reach. My fear: had Tillie climbed over that fence somehow, he likely would have been gone forever.

Slowly I approached Tillie, repeatedly calling his name as quietly and reassuringly as I could, trying not to rattle, startle or scare him in any way; presuming post-surgery, in an unfamiliar place, possibly in pain, it might not take much from his father to cause him to scamper off and disappear. As I casually walked toward him, amazingly, Tillie sort of stood still, enough for me to scoop him up. Which I did and then carefully walked back to my car and drove us both home without any further adieu – except for the rest of my taking-cats-to-the-“Vet.” life.

And yes, that means now. And though I’m not stupid enough to transport cats without cat carriers anymore, I am only at ease once we’re back home and have let the cats out of their boxes and released them into the house (all our cats are indoor cats). Throughout this process, I must check the latches on their carriers a half-a-dozen times; in the house, in the car, in the parking lot outside the “Vet’s” office, in the waiting room, in the examining room and then again after wards; back in the waiting room while I pay, in the car on the way home and finally in the driveway as I prepare to carry the carriers/cats across the yard and into the house. Once inside with the cats/carriers in hand, finally I can relax. Home at last.

Forty-one years ago; it seems like yesterday, or maybe tomorrow if the “Vet.” can see us. And that’s what worries me. Been there and unfortunately, have done that.

Not An Auto-Matic Fix

But a fix nonetheless, of our 17-year-old backup car, a 2000 model year Honda Accord. On balance, since inheriting it from mother in 2008, it has been an exceptionally reliable and reasonably-priced second car and one which I’m happy to own. I drive it approximately 7,000 miles per year and not over long stretches. In effect, it is our local car. And considering there is no monthly car payment and the insurance/maintenance costs are low, as a non-car guy who only wants to get from point “A” to point “B”, I can live with it “Big time,” to quote our current President.

Now I’m at a bit of a crossroads, however. (And not that this is a “cancer” column per se, but it is a column affected by yours truly being a cancer “diagnosee.”) I am dropping the car off at my local mechanic, Tony, later today because there are some warning signs and idiot lights suggesting I do so. First, the infamous “check engine” light is illuminated. Its yellow which Tony said is not as bad/urgent as if it were red. Nevertheless, to turn it off/fix the underlying problem (since it doesn’t appear to be the gas cap) will likely cost hundreds. The preliminary assessment is that the fault is emission related.

The second area of concern is temperature, specifically how poorly my car’s air conditioner is cooling and how loud the fan controlling it is when engaged even when one/low is selected. Adding insult to summertime discomfort, the passenger-side window doesn’t slide down, either when using its own power-window switch or the master control on the driver’s side. To summarize, I have one window (the driver’ side) that can go down and extremely limited air conditioning. I wouldn’t say it’s hot in the car, but I’m sure any normal person would. Having had previous conversations with Tony about these repairs, I know the dollars needed to right these wrongs might not make any sense given the age and mileage on the car and the diagnosis of its owner. Yet here I am trying think long term, not cancer term. What to do?

I don’t want to be miserable driving the Honda anymore (and it is me who’s driving it). But I only need the air conditioning for another six to eight weeks or so – and not every day, and rarely at night. I do need to open the windows though for eight to 10 months, not so much during the winter and rarely on cold nights, but opportunities do present themselves. Spending the hundreds/possibly thousands of dollars for all repairs now however might make me miserable, too. The question persists then for any of us who own/want to maintain older cars: when are you throwing good money after bad? Ergo: when is enough, enough? (I sound like Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City.”)

Would I be better off spending the repair money on a newer car and enjoy whatever warranty protection I could muster and thus minimize future repair bills or not? The only problem with buying that ‘newer car: it’s likely (heck, there’s no ‘likely’ about it) there will be a monthly car payment which at present I do not have, and in so having one will definitely make me miserable.

Factor in my health status and I can’t stop asking myself: do I solve a problem that affects the quality of my life today at the expense of tomorrow (pun intended) or do I plan/repair for tomorrow and suffer the consequences of having done so today?

As a stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer patient originally characterized by my oncologist as “terminal” and given a “13-month to twoyear” prognosis to boot back in late Feb., 2009, I’ve always tried to live my life and make decisions as if I had a future beyond what I was told.

And for the past eight years and four months, I have pretty consistently maintained that approach. Still, the longer I live, the more my underlying medical diagnosis impacts my thinking/judgment. Unfortunately, worlds sometimes collide and reality is up for grabs. And occasionally decisions are made in a “bizarro” kind of way where topsy is turvy and vice versa. Welcome to my whirled.

Infusing is Rarely Amusing

Four weeks out of every five, it appears as if I don’t have cancer. Fortunately, I don’t look the part. Nor do I act the part – in my opinion. However, there is one week out of every five when I most definitely feel the part: the week after my chemotherapy infusion, when eating is a particular challenge. The look, feel, taste and thought of food and/or drink is nearly impossible to swallow – literally and figuratively. And though I’m not in any pain during this post-chemotherapy weak, I am compromised nonetheless.

Friends and family who are familiar with my “normal” eating habits (I’d order off the children’s menu if I could) have joked that since I’m unable to eat any of the usual and customary Kenny selections, perhaps I should try eating foods that I would never select: Brussels sprouts, grapefruit, tuna fish in a can, fresh fish on a platter, all condiments other than mayonnaise, all legumes and a million other foods that you probably love. Plain and boring is how I roll (a potato roll is my preference), repeatedly.

The problem is that when I’m post chemo, nothing satiates: salty, sweet or “snacky;” hot, cold or medium; fast or slow; store-bought, home made or restaurant-ready. It’s all merely a variation on a theme where my back stiffens, my head tilts back and down and my eating mind says “no.” It’s been this way for about two and a half years now. And though I don’t look the least bit undernourished, I am overwhelmed by these week-long post-chemotherapy eating fits and non-starts.

Naturally I have discussed this side effect with my oncologist. When asked how long this situation lasts, my seven-ish day struggle seems about average, according to my doctor, maybe even slightly shorter than some other patients he treats who are infused with the same chemotherapy drug as I am. Apparently, there are other patients where the eating challenges last even longer than mine. And since there’s nothing to be prescribed/recommended to affect this eating problem/lack of outcome, all I can do is live with the consequences of my treatment. Live being the operative word. So unless I stop treatment, this eating challenge will persist, presumably. (Although, there’s scan clinical information regarding side effects on stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer patients still living after eight years and four months as we’re a patient population that doesn’t much exist. We’re not exactly unicorns, but neither are we ponies at the Fair.)

Fairness – and normalcy for me was officially gone on February 27, 2009, the date of my diagnosis and the initial Team Lourie meeting with my oncologist. But so what. As of that date, my perspective/orientation became about living forward, not recriminating backward. Sure, the present was important, but the future was more important, and the past, well, it had passed. No more could I afford to consider who, what, where, when, why and how I ended up in this predicament. My goal was to remain positive, take the bad with good, survive until the next drug approval by the FDA (of which there have been half a dozen in the last two years specifically for the treatment of lung cancer) and try not to impose my problems on anyone else.

Which I believe I’ve succeeded in doing. Oh sure, I’ve imposed myself on you regular readers, but what I’ve imposed on you have been my experiences. Considering the context, I’d like to think I’ve shared, not self-indulged. Moreover, I’d like to think we’re all better off for the ‘experience.’ I know I am.

Relatively Speaking

If you live long enough, it’s quite likely that many of the family members/generations born before you will have predeceased you. Moreover, the family members born before them, two generations-plus behind, are most surely to be geshtorbin (Yiddish for dead) as well. The effect: memory loss. Specifically, the memories lost of a generation of great grandparents – and beyond, you probably never knew or for whom you have extremely limited knowledge; after all, you were an infant when your maternal grandmother died. And when your widowed mother died nearly nine years ago, you lost what may very well have been that final anecdotal connection to your family’s history, especially if your Jewish and your grandparents immigrated from Russia, Romania, The Baltic States, etc. before World War II where recorded history of Jews was evidence not documentation.

It just so happens that in my family, in fact, our closest surviving cousins, Ronnie and Gil, who themselves are in their 80s, are alive and extremely well and living with their daughter, Jayne, in Massachusetts. This past weekend, Ronnie and Gil drove eight hours to visit my brother Richard and me. And though we are regularly in touch over the phone, it has been years since we were all together in Washington, D.C. And being in their company, naturally we reminisced – ALL WEEKEND. What spawned this column was a comment Ronnie (a singer/pianist in Boston for 25 years) made in response to a question we asked about whether there was any other musical talent in the family. She said quite matter of fact that my maternal great grandfather – who I had never met or even heard of before, “was a cantor in Russia – with a beautiful voice” (who never left Russia). “What! I never knew that.” I don’t recall knowing anything about my great grandparents, maternal or paternal.

You see, Ronnie was there almost at the beginning. She was the first born to my mother’s oldest sibling and only sister, my Auntie Lee. My mother was the baby of the family – after two brothers were born. As such, the age difference between my mother and Ronnie was about 14 years, atypical for a niece and an aunt. As a result, Ronnie was witness to lots of family history that I thought might have been lost forever when my mother died in 2008. As a few examples, Ronnie knows who was present at my mother’s “Auntie’s” house for Passover Cedar in the early 1960s. She knew that “Auntie” was my mother’s mother’s brother’s widow, not my mother’s mother’s sister. I certainly didn’t. She knew that three families/our cousins lived together in this three-story home and all worked together in the family market: Levine’s. Still more that I didn’t I knew.

Another family connection Ronnie and Gil reminded us of was a family line we have in South America. Again, before World War II, one of my maternal grandfather’s (Hyman) brother’s Simon (Shimon) immigrated to Argentina where to this day exists first (Eduardo) and second cousins (names I’m afraid don’t know) I’ve never met, though Ronnie and Gil have met numerous times in Miami and in Argentina (Ronnie and Gil used to live in South Florida). The more we talked, the more we travelled back in time. But I won’t self-indulge myself and bore you any longer. I will try to wrap it up in the next paragraph.

My mother, Celia died in Dec., 2008, my father died in Dec. 2006. With their passing, my brother and I lost – among a million other things, their first-hand, on-site accounts of our Lourie/Blacker history dating back 150 years or so to Russia/Eastern Europe, before any of my relatives immigrated to America. Ronnie, my mother’s cherished niece, knows as much about our family history as there is still to know and her husband of nearly 63 years, Gil, knows almost as much. Their visit wasn’t just a weekend. It was a lifetime. A weekend of a lifetime for which Richard and I are extraordinarily grateful.

Spontaneous Confusion

Since I have some alone-time; just me and the cats, I thought I’d try to write my next column a few weeks ahead and take a bit of the time-sensitive deadline pressure off. Not that meeting my weekly commitment has been too much of a problem over the years (nearly 20 in fact), still, I thought I’d put pen to paper, literally, and see what comes out.

So far what has come out is that I’m having creative difficulty writing something that’s to be published two weeks hence. It seems/feels that writing in the present about something to be published in the future is awkward, sort of. It’s somewhere between wishful thinking and a prediction. Neither of which is characteristic of who I am or how I think. I guess my writing nature is that I like to react to reality and then address it in print, rather than anticipate it and then respond to it. Typically I prefer to be current in my thinking and honest in my prose. Apparently, I have nothing else to share so trying to explain that void is the semi point of this column.

And I suppose, without being too self-indulgent, that if a stage IV cancer patient – yours truly, who shares everything with you regular readers; highs, lows and in-betweens, has nothing of particular interest to share, perhaps it’s because I’m experiencing a comparatively easy fortnight between 24-hour urine collection, pre-chemotherapy lab work, every-five-week infusions, and quarterly scans followed by my quarterly face-to-face appointment with my oncologist, so I have minimal cancer-related business to preoccupy my life. It’s almost as if I’m unencumbered by my underlying problem: non-small cell lung cancer. And I have to admit, it’s a heck of a feeling to not have my conscious and unconscious minding my business and re-minding me that I have an incurable form of cancer. Which of course I never need reminding of; as opposed to ending a sentence with a preposition which obviously I do need to be reminded of.

Getting back to the substance – if you can even call it that, of this column: my difficulty writing weeks ahead of publication. What’s puzzling about this difficulty is how uncharacteristic of my personality it is. I am not spontaneous. I rarely do anything spur of the moment other than getting off the couch, changing the channel on the television, switching radio stations in the car, deciding what to wear, eating/drinking/going to the bathroom and/or miscellaneous other household-type duties and responsibilities. Yet the problem I’m experiencing now – related to my June 14 column, is that since I’m not being spontaneous, I’m unable to create?

How can that be a problem? That’s who I am all the time. I do everything in advance – of consequence, that is. Maybe I’m making too much out of nothing? (Oh, really.) Maybe I’m simply stuck in my head and need to get out of my own way. Not that I make mountains out of mole hills but sometimes, and I’ve told by my oncologist that I can blame my having cancer for everything, I might not think so clearly and get bogged down emotionally. Ergo, I will lay the blame for this column and it’s lack of substance, on having “terminal” cancer.

Cancer doesn’t work in mysterious ways (well, perhaps it does to researchers), it works in destructive ways: physically, mentally and spiritually. Logical becomes illogical – and vice versa, rational becomes irrational – and vice versa and manageable becomes unmanageable – and vice versa. For cancer patients/survivors, expecting that one’s life will go merrily along is totally unrealistic. Expecting the unexpected is the path of least resistance. This week’s column/dilemma is simply another example/reminder of how cancer intrudes and deludes and affects those of us who naively thought we would be unaffected.

I Hope I’m Right

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.

Price Points – In the Wrong Direction

Not that I need a pound bag of M&Ms to weigh 16 actual ounces (it’s now down to 10.70 oz.) or a half gallon of ice cream to weigh 64 ounces (rather than the 48 oz. it currently is) or the “family” size bag of Utz potato chips to measure more than its current/meager/non-typical-family size of 9.5 ounces (down from 14oz. that I remember), nevertheless; I do need to feel the love, and right now I don’t. I sort of understand price points and the business models ingrained to retain customer loyalty (price matters more than size, generally), but I am hard-pressed to ignore the fact that even though I’m spending the same amount of money as I always have, I’m not getting anywhere near the same amount of product as I always have.
Not that the few items I’ve listed here are staples (well, maybe not to you they aren’t), or the necessary building blocks of a healthy diet, they are pieces to a puzzle which characterizes some of my eating habits – and probably some of yours, too. After all, we are all victims of advertising messages which bombard us 24-7, on television, on radio, in print and on devices. In a way, we’re all sitting ducks targeted to quack accordingly because some entity/marketing strategist knows who we are, what we’re doing and when we’re doing it. It’s not exactly “Big Brother,” but it’s a bit more than “Little Sister.”
My brother, Richard and I grew up in the 50s. We ate cookies, candy and snack cakes until the cows came home, and we didn’t even live on a farm. Quite the opposite, we lived in suburbia, seven miles from Boston, according to the sign on Rte. 9. We ate dessert after breakfast, lunch and dinner and a few times in between: after school and before bedtime. Why? Because my mother had been non-stop advertised-to about the importance of calcium and the best way for children to get calcium was to drink eight glasses of milk per day to “build strong bones and healthy bodies.” And the only way to get us boys to drink that much milk was to feed us something for which milk was a kind of elixir: cookies, cakes, snack cakes, etc. So we ate and drink to our hearts content, but more importantly, we ate and drank to the development of our bones and bodies. And so it continues to this day, sort of, mostly. As my sister-in-law, Vanessa says and then laughs after listening to Richard and I talk about our dessert issues: “Boy, your mother did some job on you two.”
I’m exaggerating, a bit, with respect to our current daily consumption. I mean, who could keep up that pace? Moreover, given certain age/weight/cancer realities (particularly concerning yours truly), it would be totally, extraordinarily irresponsible to continue to snack-cake and cookie our way through the day. Still, the urge to splurge seems to hard-wired into our brains and when the moment is right, it might not be Cialis that we always think of. (Do you remember the Seinfeld episode when George was determined to combine sex and eating and brought a sandwich to bed? For the record, the thought has never crossed my mind.)
I imagine as you’ve read this column you’ve developed a sense that given the Lourie’s longstanding – and sitting commitment to such hedonistic pursuits, pennies, nickels, dimes or quarters on the dollar are unlikely to dissuade either one of us from our Santa-like appointed rounds. Still, we’re not idiots. We’re aware of the effects on our bodies if we devolve into the snack cake eating machines of our youth/adolescence. We’re not getting any younger nor are we likely getting any thinner or healthier. I’d like to think we’ve gotten smarter and more respectful of what foods go in and by association what money goes out. But as difficult as it is to turn an ocean liner around after it’s headed out to sea, so too is it difficult for yours truly to care less about what I’ve spent my entire life caring more about: dessert/sweets. However, I do anticipate a reaction to this most recent size reduction. As my mother, Celia, used to say: “It’s enough already.”

Woe Is Not Me

When I think about being diagnosed with lung cancer, I don’t think, why me. I might think, why not me, but I definitely think, now what. The idea/strategy being: moving forward, not recriminating or regretting backward. As Popeye the Sailor man so often said: “I y’am what I y’am.” Although I doubt he was talking about having lung cancer. How could he? He ate all that spinach, canned though it was. Besides, he’s a cartoon character.
And as much and as often as he ate it – and it always helped him overcome whatever predicament Brutus had put him in, is as little and infrequent as I ate it. Perhaps that was because my mother cooked vegetables in a pressure cooker so by the time I saw them on my plate, they no longer resembled a vegetable nor were they the least bit appetizing. To say the vegetables were limp and lifeless does a disservice to all things characterized as ‘limp and lifeless.’ In fact, I can still remember the first time I ate a vegetable that was not d.o.a. It was at my mother-in-law’s house; she was a wonderful cook. She made asparagus for this memorable meal and served it in a beautiful antique china serving dish. When the dish came my way, I stuck my fork in the asparagus to serve myself and heard a sound, a poof. I was taken aback, sort of. It was a sound I had never heard before. – from a vegetable. As I learned that night, it was the sound of a vegetable that had not been cooked beyond its edible life.
That’s not to imply that avoiding vegetables contributed to my diagnosis. Hardly. It simply says that vegetables were not a part of my childhood. Meat and potatoes were, as was my standard go-to meal: cream cheese and American cheese on bread. It was the sandwich of my youth and it has remained very much a part of my adulthood as well. It may not sound appetizing to you, to me, it represents all the comforts of home; heaven on Earth between two slices of bread or open-faced on a bagel or English muffin. Simple but oh so effective – and delicious.
Not to be totally oblivious to my underlying medical condition, I do realize that modifying my eating habits is a prudent and sensible consideration. However, I rationalize that need-to-feed with the explanation that, as a cancer patient (and anyone else, really), if I am to continue to attempt to thrive while I survive, I need to be happy, positive and relatively stress free. After all, this cancer business: characterized as “terminal” by my oncologist; chemotherapy – and its well-known side effects every five weeks, C.T. Scans quarterly, M.R.I.s every six months, P.E.T. and Bone scans every so often, face-to-face quarterly appointments with my oncologist and all the associated fears and anxiety surrounding this rather unpleasant experience, and you can imagine, even agree perhaps, that living in the trenches as us cancer patients do, we need help – in any number of ways; personal and professional.
And though I am mindful of what I eat, I don’t want to abuse the privilege of survival I’ve been given. I never want to take it for granted, especially considering my original “13 month to two-year” prognosis. By the same token, life is for living. As Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) said to “Red” (Morgan Freeman) in the movie “Shawshank Redemption:” “Get busy living or get busy dying.” Since I’m in no hurry to die, I need to find a balance in how I live. Being miserable because of what I can’t eat won’t work for me. I’m just not flexible/mature enough in my eating choices; never have been. I still eat like a child, but now I have a man-sized problem.
I imagine the longer I live with cancer, the more vigilant I have to be. Then again, if it ain’t broke, is there any reason to fix it? Do I leave well enough alone or do I try to grow up and eat my age, not my shoe size? I mean, I am eligible for Social Security.

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.