Wednesday, May 26, 2021
As I discussed a few weeks back, having all this time off/apart from cancer-related activities is unsettling in a peculiar way. I'm not in remission. I'm certainly not cured, and I'm still receiving regular treatment: a bone-strengthening shot every four weeks at the Infusion Center and of course, my daily Lenvima pill. Given the nature of what symptoms/side effects I experience, it's only after my quarterly CT scan and – recently added – a bone scan, followed-up by a post-scan video visit with my oncologist and endocrinologist (combined with my semi annual brain MRI) that I have an accurate/real-time sense of whether I'm coming or going, you know what I mean?
The result of these intervals and intermittent visits is that I, not the doctors, have my best sense of self. Though I can – and am encouraged to do so – email my doctors and/or call an advice nurse at all hours to discuss whatever ails me, realistically, on a daily, hourly and/or minute-by-minute existence, I'm the one that I have to talk to, and most likely, listen to. And though I think I know myself pretty well, a cancer diagnosis creates a prism through which all of our thoughts are filtered. Sometimes, what initially passes through is not identical to what comes out. Cancer is in control, sort of like the producers of "The Outer Limits" said they were in control of your television during the two years: 1963 and '64, when "The Outer Limits" was nearly must-watch television. They controlled more than just the horizontal on your television. They controlled the information going into your head. What you did with that information was entirely up to you. Only then, you were in control.
Much has changed in the almost 60 years since "The Outer Limits" was controlling television sets. And so too, much has changed for those diagnosed with cancer. However positive and hopeful, and effective the evolution of a cancer diagnosis and treatment has become, when "The cancer" (as "Forrest, Forrest Gump" called it) appears on your scan or marks your blood, you are no longer "the master of your domain." In fact, your domain has shrunk considerably and quite precipitously. Whatever you thought was going to be happening in your life now takes a back seat to everything your oncologist says needs to happen. Integrating into your life all the unexpected, life-changing advisories will be a task unlike any you've previously ever undertaken. Pondering your cancer-patient future will not result in one gulp, it will result in a series of gulps. As a consequence of your diagnosis/prognosis, you'll become an expert in gulps, morning, noon and night, when you're alone or with others.
And as you are gulping, you are forever trying to find your place in the universe. As a diagnosee, you join an immense club, the kind of club Groucho Marx said he "wouldn't join, if they would have me as a member." Ignoring your new reality seems totally irresponsible, but focusing 24-7 on your less-than-ideal circumstances seems like overkill (pardon the double entendre). This focus likely emboldens the cancer while weakening your resolve. I mean, your situation is bad enough; you don't need to make it worse by having it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Having it once in a while, like a snack, is more than enough. The weight of a premature death (any death is premature, right?) is simply too great a burden to bear without making it heavier. I'm not suggesting one ever acquiesce and give in to their cancer. Instead, I'm suggesting, find a place for it in your life where it's sort of along for the ride, rather than it being the driver.