Genuinely, I sometimes wonder when I hear stories of other cancer patients who are suffering so much worse than me with their treatments, whether I should feel guilty about how well I appear to be doing, comparatively. It is an irrational reaction, of course, as I am not responsible for how other people respond to their chosen treatments, nor do I have any level of control over their physical health either before or after their cancer was discovered. Yet it pains me to hear these stories and realize that there is so little I can offer to ease the suffering.
In many of these cases, the patient remains upbeat, even happy, throughout the story. Tougher than I, these characters. Stronger of will, because they endure more by choice, determined to lick their adversary. And lick it they shall, because these are cancers that, even far along, can now be cured or, more practically speaking, be diminished to the point of near eradication. And this, in spite of the heavier toll paid for the intense beat down of the chemo cocktail, makes me feel a little jealous. And that jealousy makes me feel guilty, too.
And then along comes my friend, Carlos. A refuge from El Salvador, Carlos came to California with the hope of finding some treatment for his leukemia. He is a slight fellow, but only on the outside. Continue reading Guilt of the Patient→
The other day I was having a discussion and it came to light that statistics had been bandied about quite early in my post-diagnostic journey. Now, I’m no stranger to statistics, but odds are that, whether you realize it or not, most of you are. That is not to say you have never heard any quoted or identified yourselves among some figure cited here or there… The truth is, one way or another, we are all statistics. And that means, well, virtually nothing. Moreover, even if one out of ten of us understands that even if the median reader gave up two sentences ago and clicked off this page, some readers will actually read most or maybe even all of what I am typing up here, this understanding is still only a basic understanding of a type of statistical qualifier and hardly bridges the gap between acquaintance and friend.
Which is all just a very wordy way of saying that statistics should only be read when one is prepared to interpret them, and while interpreting them it is important to remember that they often cannot highlight a “truth” without refined analysis. Such is the case with the statistical survival rates of adenocarcinoma, my particular flavor of cancer.
Here is a quick video I threw together this morning so that you can see my general physical appearance after passing the halfway mark on my current treatment schedule. No, my beard was already that gray… However, I’ll admit, my face does look a little “fuller” than it did this time last year. This isn’t a beauty contest, Folks!
While it may seem oxymoronic to use the term “benefits” in conjunction with a cancer diagnosis, the fact is that there are going to be some options that open to the cancer patient and ways to take advantage of them which might not be immediately obvious. And the best way to maximize these benefits, of course, begins with an early diagnosis. Just like everything cancer related, the earlier the diagnosis the better, though no matter how late the diagnosis comes it will always be better than an even later one.
Because cancers tend to move at varied rates, it is important to know whether a cancer is of the slow and steady variety or if it particularly aggressive. The options available for an aggressive cancer are naturally slimmer, largely because that cancer needs to be attacked right away. But this can, in its own way, be liberating. When our set of choices is reduced to the bare minimum, it frees us up to focus on other things. There is somehow, amazingly, less to worry about. I do A or B, it works or it doesn’t. There is no waiting or wasting time, just getting into action and rolling with it.
Our culture has recently dipped into a new low when it comes to the context of our words. One could blame Twitter or the general dumbing down of literature or reality TV, but the sad implication of our times is that society has largely grown intellectually lazy. This is hugely important to understand, because, like it or not we still communicate predominantly with words. Emoji simply cannot express the full range of our experience, and even if they could, eventually it would be clear that they are still just avatars for words or expressions and our verbal language still matters.
In cancer research, there are a multitude of reasons why a compound may look promising for use in a cancer drug. Passionate and caring people put countless hours into looking for new ways to disrupt the biological processes of cancer cells that won’t harm healthy cell development. Theory after theory must be tested and then move from paper arguments into the laboratory. The first step in the lab will be along the lines of testing a culture of human cancer cells in a little petri dish under a microscope. Then, if that step is successful, growing tumors on mice to see if those can also be effectively killed off while leaving the mice unharmed. And yet, for still another multitude of reasons, successfully killing cancer in a dish or on mice does not mean that substance is an effective cure for human cancer.
I arrived at the infusion center feeling good. Well, I was a little annoyed that my once-reliable coffee thermos apparently no longer holds a seal and now I am sitting in cold, damp pants while I wait for my lounge chair. But overall, again, my complaints are few.
There is an old saying that we must “play the hand we’re dealt.” It’s a poker reference, of course, though it is relevant to non-gamblers, too. The gist of the message is that we need to adapt to our circumstances and use the resources that are available to us. But there is a hidden message, too, which the card sharps among us might already have gleaned. Kenny Rogers famously sang that “you’ve got to know when to hold ’em.” But what he didn’t really get to in that song was knowing when to play the cards you have.