Daze of My Life: A scary thought
Daze of My Life
A scary thought
By Kenneth B. Lourie
Not knowing (never knowing) if what I'm feeling physically is a direct result of the stage IV lung cancer (the "underlying problem," as I find myself describing it) with which I've been diagnosed, or rather the fact that I'm 56, overweight, physically unfit and sleeping on an old bed is unsettling to say the least, downright incapacitating to say the most. Are the aches and pains symptomatic of the tumors in my lungs growing and/or moving - or of the cancer appearing somewhere else in my body independent of the "underlying problem," or are they completely normal given my age and overall physical condition/lifestyle/diet, etc?
How do I separate fact from self-created fiction? Moreover, how do I prevent my brain from maximizing everything while minimizing nothing? I don't want to make a lot of a little any more than I want to make a little out of a lot. Sometimes I feel if I ignore a certain pain, maybe it will disappear and therefore not be symptomatic of anything cancer-related. Other times, if I accept the pain as legitimate and worthy of a call to my oncologist (which I am encouraged to do as often as I feel the need to), perhaps the pain will in fact represent bad news - for me, and the beginning of an unexpected and premature end. There's a naive part of me, which thinks, if I don't mention it or, if I make light of it, it won't be cancer-related and thus not confirmation of my oncologist's original 13-months to two-year prognosis, given to me/us back on Feb. 27, 2009.
Whenever I do feel something: in my lungs, especially when I cough or have any breathing or respiratory problems; in my sternum; in my sides - where the pain first manifested itself back on Dec. 28, 2008; in my brain/head - where lung cancer spreads to in 30 percent of patients; in my arms and legs where regularly I have muscle weakness; in my lower back where my kidneys are located (my creatinine is high and constantly monitored), I worry if this pain is it. "It" not being as good thing.
Since this mental battle has been fought for nearly two years now (dating back to that original Emergency Room visit, which led, ultimately to where I am today) I feel like I've won a few skirmishes. However, it doesn't make me feel any more empowered having endured these challenges. Certainly I can say, "I've been there, done that," unfortunately the experience doesn't solve or address the "underlying problem." As such, the problem remains: how does one live with such uncertainty?
Every day I feel something somewhere in my body, I wonder, is that the cancer? Every day I don't feel something somewhere in my body, I wonder, is the cancer still active; maybe it's simply doing what cancer often does: kill without any real symptoms until it's too late to treat successfully. (I always ask myself: whatever happened to stages I, II and III?) Both thoughts wear on me, constantly. Is it something or is it nothing? Is it real or is it imagined? Should I call my oncologist or not? Sometimes I think the mental demands are worse than the physical ones. Everything is magnified; nothing is simplified - in my head, anyway.
Death comes to us all. Trying to convince myself that what I feel does or does not matter - relative to the "underlying problem," has kept me awake more nights than any pain or discomfort I've felt. It hasn't been easy. However, it sure beats not feeling anything - if you know what I mean.
Kenneth B. Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.