Daze of My Life: Dying To Tell You, Sort Of

Daze of My Life
Dying To Tell You, Sort Of

The question was posed by my co-worker, Big John Smith, one night as I arrived at the office after hours to do a little organizing: "Hey Ken, how are you doing?" My answer: "John, I'm in pretty good condition for the condition I'm in." And the "condition" to which I refer is cancer. Yup, cancer as in the dreaded, often terminal, disease. (If only this column was going to be a light-hearted recounting of astrological antics but alas, poor Yorick, I know it well; it's not.)
No, this column is going to be about a health situation that I find myself in, quite unexpectedly, I may add. The situation to which I refer is as a recently diagnosed, stage IV lung cancer patient; at present, hairless and four "chemos" in to a six-chemo cycle, with no radiation to follow and surgery not an option. (There are two big tumors in my chest/lungs with multiple smaller ones located throughout so my oncologist feels that surgery would not exactly be a patient-friendly pursuit.)
My prognosis is not great (great, it's not even mediocre); 13 months to two years, although, as my doctor said to me recently, he's "wrong all the time." To which I replied, "I'm glad you're wrong all the time." Nevertheless, as a result of the seriousness of his prognosis, I have made a few changes. I have to tell you, though, if the shock of the diagnosis doesn't kill you; totally out of the blue, symptom free, and I'm a lifelong non-smoker (5 percent of lung cancer patients are non smokers) before the actual cancer does, you have, as Ricky Ricardo so often said to Lucy, "some 'splaining to do." And for the week or so after we (team Lourie: me, my wife and my brother) received the diagnosis, you're in a daze, and you can explain nothing; assembling/researching information, trying to sort out fact from fiction, find some chink in cancer's armor, navigate a path to a longer and healthier life, a life that only days before was not so abbreviated.
Moreover, when you recall what the oncologist told you in that initial team meeting; that you should probably quit work and maybe consider taking that vacation you always wanted to but never had the time or the inclination to take, your world officially changes. I remember sitting in the oncologist's office listening to him read through the reports of the various scans/tests/biopsies that I had and then to hear him summarize the diagnosis - and severity, I swear I felt like I was watching a Lifetime movie, a movie I saw at least a hundred times while spending three nights a week visiting my parents/then my widowed mother, except that this wasn't a movie, this was real, this was me. Surreal doesn't begin to describe it.
The best answer we could get from the doctor as to why a lifelong non-smoker with no relevant (meaning cancer) family history to speak of would be so diagnosed at 54 was, the medical version of s--- happens: "Cells mutate." And that's pretty much where the conversation ended. The oncologist's motivation was to go forward and attempt to treat/cure, not to go backwards and research the past, and it wouldn't change the course of my present so moving forward we did, and we have.
I'm going through chemotherapy. I've changed my eating habits; I'm now eating an alkaline diet, basically fruits and vegetables; I'm drinking alkaline water; taking a teaspoon of baking soda once a day; drinking my Mona Vie and supplementing it all with vitamins and minerals, and miscellaneous other homeopathic-type remedies. And so far, I'm doing pretty well, "Above average," my oncologist said. My first post-chemo CT scan showed "significant" shrinkage in the two largest tumors. In addition, I'm "tolerating" the chemotherapy very well which allows/enables my doctor to treat me as aggressively as is prudent given my health and fitness. And my health, all things considered, is fit.
And as I find myself saying to whomever expresses an interest, "If it wasn't for the underlying diagnosis and the side effects from the chemo therapy, I'd be doing great." Really.

Kenneth B. Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.