Although I've had a pretty good run of late not writing much about "the cancer"—to quote "Forrest, Forrest Gump"—the reality is, as you might imagine, cancer is ever present - in your head and in your heart (and for me, in my lungs). Never more so than when your quarterly CT scan is imminent. As I sit and write this column on a Sunday, Wednesday—three days hence—Is what you'd call 'imminent.' Not that there's much preparation; there's not. But with electronic media being what it is, one does receive multiple reminders: text, email, and the occasional call. And even though I don't actually have to do anything in advance, I am reminded nonetheless, in advance, what there is yet to be done: show up! (Apparently, many cancer patients, staff have told me, are not as compliant as you'd expect them to be.)
But it's not the 'advance' or the after that I'm addressing in this column. It's the way before and how a CT's imminence affects one's life. As much as I write and talk/act a good game, living one's life pretending to minimize cancer's presumptive/possible/"prognosed" impact is indeed make believe. Not that I'm a glass half-empty person; I'm not, as you regular readers know. However, there's nothing like a computerized tomography and a post-scan appointment with one's oncologist to focus your attention on the fact that you have been/are living with what your oncologist originally characterized back in early 2009 as a "terminal disease”: non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV (and giving you a "13 month to two year" prognosis to boot). A disease whose initial progression (doctor-speak for growth/movement) eliminated surgery as an option, but one for which there have been multiple lines of chemotherapy, none of which was ever been said to be a cure. In the spirit of that reality, how does one live in the present and plan for the future? (Jeez, that last line sounds right out of one of the Carrie Bradshaw's "Sex and the City" voiceovers.
On the one hand, the one with no sense of reality, I suppose one is simply to go about one's varied business with nary a care or concern in the world. On the other hand, the one with enough a sense of reality to choke a horse, I suppose I am to mark time, count the number of days until my next scan, plan for today and think about tomorrow - but not too many tomorrows as there's no sense getting ahead of oneself or else one will get behind. And if that sounds mixed up, it is. Because for cancer patients "time is a godforsaken paradox." As Captain Katheryn Janeway of Star Trek: Voyager further explained many star dates ago: "The future is the past, the past is the future. The whole thing gives me a headache." And if you do get any headaches, you need to contact your oncologist because in 30% of lung cancer patients, the cancer moves to the brain. A location which presents all sorts of treatment and quality of life challenges. And a manifestation there, should it appear, scares the living daylights out of me. But never mind. Just keep on planning and pretending that you don't have a "TERMINAL" disease. You know, the type of disease for which there's "NO CURE."
Then again, if I do get bogged down by certain realities, I'll be no work and no play - and no fun (neither do I want to be a dull boy). And no fun is no way to live - in the past, present or future, and that's no paradox. So if and when the chips and/or the "chippee" is down, one needs to be thankful for the chips that you do have and for the ones you hope yet to accumulate. Otherwise, you might as well see the cashier on your way out. Life's too short (don't I know it) to live only in the present and not consider the future. And if I don't consider the future, it's unlikely I'll have one. Just because I've now had a past that lasted years longer than I expected shouldn't mean I can't have a future I never anticipated.