I realize I'm cancer-centric, especially in these columns, but for some reason that centricity didn't acknowledge my February 27th cancer anniversary. That date, in 2009, is when I was originally diagnosed with stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer, the "terminal" kind. I remember it well. It was a Thursday. It was the initial Team Lourie meeting with my soon-to-be new best friend: my oncologist. A week or so prior, I had received the first indication - from my primary care physician, that my life was about to change: the results from the previous surgical biopsy confirmed a malignancy. It's rather an awkward dynamic to meet someone - for the first time, who immediately becomes the person who will control, manage and, in effect, be responsible for whether you live or die, and for how long. From then on, he becomes the most important person in your life; a person who is now entrusted with your most precious asset: your health.
It was not an unfamiliar experience for me meeting someone cold and attempting to build a rapport. As a long-time salesman, that was my modus operandi. Whether in person or over the telephone, I have regularly been engaged in this kind of pursuit: trying to create an environment of trust and honesty in order to reach a shared goal. Previously, it was about making a sale; now, it was about understanding my options and agreeing on a course of treatment. However, the one major difference between these two pursuits was control, or rather the lack thereof. Cancer was now in control as compared to my life as a salesman where I chose it because it allowed me to be in control: who I called, when I called, scheduling appointments, et cetera. Soon it became apparent, I was no longer in Kansas anymore. I was in the hands - figuratively speaking, of my oncologist - in Maryland: my new boss. If I wanted to live beyond the "13 month to two year" prognosis I was given, I would have to be as attentive and compliant as possible.
In spite of our shotgun-type of relationship, we have persevered together, which has enabled yours truly to acknowledge, albeit a week or so later, an amazing achievement: 12 years and still living. Not that my circumstances have become de rigueur, hardly; especially since the thyroid cancer diagnosis of late has put into question my original non-small cell lung cancer stage IV diagnosis. Apparently, after making a few inquiries, it appears unlikely that we can litigate the past any more than we can guarantee the future. It seems that cancer, whichever type, will be a part of my life and likely a part of my death as well.
I'm surprised how it's (my life) all turned out and grateful to whomever for what I'm not entirely sure. Nevertheless, somehow it's worked and here I am: alive and reasonably well. Not cancer-free and never to be cured of my stage IV papillary thyroid cancer; still, it's a living and it sure beats a dying. Treatment and scans and all will continue, but so what? Originally it appeared my die was cast, but as it has happened, not nearly so fast.
All of which is nothing new, really. A cancer diagnosis is all about change, ceding control, and hanging on for dear life as you will be up and down and all-round, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Expecting a normal kind of pattern to your future life ended the moment a biopsy confirms a malignancy. Either you adjust to the vagaries of your cancer life or you will die having failed. I think I have succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. So much so that I didn't even acknowledge my "cancerversary" last week. I guess I needed the week off from worrying about it and didn't even realize it. I have to admit though, it felt good not focusing on it for a change. Almost like I was a "normal" person.