Sunday, December 13, 2009

December 13 2009 - It's my Cancer Anniversary

Three years ago today on December 13 2006 I received terrible news of a major cancer recurrence. The CT scan showed five inoperable tumor hot spots in my throat and oral cavity. My surgeon suggested that the palliatative care unit was a reasonable option. That is a group most commonly known for helping to make you comfortable via pain management and psychological counselling but without treatment or the hope of a cure for your disease. At that time I had made major strides towards a recovery from an extensive surgery five months earlier and was considering going back to work. In addition to becoming a patient in the palliatative care unit, I also met with my oncologist and one week later began an endless non-stop regimen of different chemotherapies, one of which continues three years later as I write this blog entry. Last year and the year before on this date, I wrote about that day in 2006 and said that I hoped to be able to write about it again the following year. Well, as Jimmy Buffet named his nationwide tour last year, “The Year of Still Here.” Well, I’m still here too.

On the health front, I have been in a state of no evidence of disease (NED) for 26 months. That is remarkable. It has not been an easy three years. Long term chemotherapy is physically tough on my body. I have neuropathy in my toes and the balls of my feet, I’m constantly chilled, I have severe aches, pains, and cramps at times, and my muscle tone is less than it should be. I feel like I’ve aged 25 years physically in the last 3 years. I’m 57, but that puts me in the body of an 80+ year old. Plus, I have eating and speaking disabilities. I won’t address them in this blog entry as they have been addressed ad nauseum in past entries. I frequently ask myself, “Why go on?” “Why not just give up?”

The answer is: 1) because I’m stubborn and 2) I don’t think my purpose on this planet is yet complete. Plus, among the physical hardships, life is still good. I visited with 90% of every close friend and relative at least once this past year. We spent quality time together. Some of these people I had not seen since before I had become ill in April 2005. It was so good to see everyone and to see how well they are doing in their lives. If you are one of those 90%, please know how much once again I enjoyed our visit(s). I continue to try to shape my daughter into the grownup I hope she will become someday. We visited six Ivy League college campuses over her spring break. I’m currently teaching her to drive under the firm belief that I’ll do a more thorough job than she will get from a Driver's Education course. (My driving instruction is supplemented by an online driver's ed course.) I took two courses this year; one of which was on writing a non-fiction book held at Rice University, and the other was in analyzing a company’s financial statements at Lone Star College. The latter was a tough course, but I aced it. Although my body is compromised, my mind is still intact. I read some great books this year: The Snowball (a 900+ page authorized biography of Warren Buffet), The Big Rich, The Help, A Million Little Pieces, Nothing To Lose, Gargoyle, and many others. The course at Rice University gave me a finer appreciation for how tough it is write a great book. I began writing a book on my cancer experience. It is a long term work in progress.

People undergoing cancer treatment pass through different phases. I have passed through the period of intense treatment. The intense treatment phase lasted over two years. I do not intend to offend anyone who has been on active duty in a war zone in our Country’s armed services with my next statement, but I feel that intense cancer treatment is similar to being in the heat of physical battle. The enemy is cancer, the treatment is tortuous, painful, and physically and mentally exhausting, and one’s very existence is continually tested. In me it created symptoms similar to post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). With the help of a psychologist I have passed through that phase. I’m now looking with some optimism at how to make my best of the time left on this earth. I’m still looking to make a positive contribution. I volunteered to become involved in three worthy causes this year. I was accepted by none of them, but I’m keeping my eyes and ears open for good future opportunities. I hope to find something meaningful before my time runs out. Long term serious illnesses reinforce the reality of mortality.

On a more tactical note, I have my quarterly cancer checkup at the end of this month. I’ll have blood work, a CT scan of my head & neck area, and a visit with my oncologist. I currently feel okay physically. I also felt okay three years ago today when I got that terrible diagnosis. I hope my check up will be a non event. I do have some anxiety about it and will share the results with you all in January.

One last note before signing off… Cancer has also taught me how important love and hope is. I don’t know how to quantify that, but I do know that it plays a huge role in my life with my family and close friends.

Stay healthy and Happy New Year!