We all know — or we should all know — that lung cancer is one of the biggest killers in our society. With an estimated average of 433 people dying every day from some form of this disease, there is no question as to why it is considered such a horrifying diagnosis. Lung cancer kills more than any other cancer, and more than its three closest competitors in the cancer arena combined. If there were cancer cage matches, lung cancer would win virtually every time based on the sheer volume of its devastation and mayhem. Yet, in spite of receiving only a fraction of the research funding that other cancers get, a surprising number of treatments have emerged to help lung cancer patients outlive their initial prognosis.
But you have lung cancer! You’re expected to die. And, by the way, you’re expected to die quickly (and brutally). That is what the common narrative tells us.
Lung cancer treatment has made amazing bounds over the past decade. For a growing number of patients, living with Stage IV lung cancer is no longer an immediate death sentence, if a death sentence at all. For some of them, especially those diagnosed “earlier” in the Stage IV spectrum, while there are still a few months to alternate between treatments to find what works, or for those lucky enough to have an actionable mutation, even this advanced type of lung cancer can be treated as a chronic illness instead of a fatal one. Earlier and better diagnoses have led to younger and healthier patients having a chance to engage in this challenge before their cancer has beaten them down from within, and they have brought a new level of perseverance to the process. Continue reading The Overstayed Welcome→
As long-time readers know, I take issue with a number of high-profile “wellness warriors” and anti-science advocates who claim to offer “natural,” “holistic,” or simply “alternative” treatments that can cure cancer or prevent it entirely. Chief among these are Chris Wark and Ty Bollinger, two people with absolutely no scientific or medical training and tons of bad advice. They are part of a large network of disreputable and largely discredited hucksters, many of whom get by on their claims by offering just the tiniest shred of truth mixed in with their hyperbole and insidious messages. They thrive in our increasingly anti-intellectual culture, where headlines and sound bytes sway their customers and their “fan base” into believing that there is substance to their messages. This is why, more than ever, it is essential to take a critical approach to all the medical headlines that are presented, and especially those making extraordinary claims.
The well-established and professionally vetted website, Healthline, has a very good primer on the subject of spotting fake medical news. It could hardly be more topical. There is nary a day that goes by when some website or other isn’t making absurd claims about the latest health craze or danger. Whether it is bloating the risks of GMO foods or misrepresenting the cancer risk from eating red or processed meat, there are more sources out there in the ether intent upon cherry picking data or simply removing it from context in order to sell their point than there are serious outlets for the reporting of science news. Part of the problem with this is that science news isn’t usually considered very sexy or commercial, but a bigger problem is that it is generally difficult for most people to fully understand.
And capitalizing on that, we have opportunists like Chris Wark, a self-proclaimed guru on defeating cancer without chemotherapy. Duly note, of course, that Mr. Wark was cured through surgical intervention and, while chemotherapy was recommended as an adjunctive treatment to lower the risk of future metastasis, there was no indication that he had any actual, existing metastases that needed treatment. To put it bluntly, he was one of the lucky colon cancer patients who had it all taken out without any recurrence. This had nothing to do with whether or not he received chemotherapy, and there is no way of knowing how he would have responded to such treatment or whether his “lifestyle” choices have had any bearing whatsoever on his post-surgical health. Continue reading Common Sense, Clarity and Wellness Warrior Lies→
Nothing is forever, as the saying goes. And it seems true in terms of human experience. Change is inevitable. You can’t please all the people all the time. Time will tell. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. But, of course, you can’t judge a book by its cover because the grass is always greener on the other side. Also, that thing about picking your friend’s nose.
Just not that one about everything happening for a reason. I’ll concede that there are certainly arguments for cause and effect — in fact, very much so, which is essential understanding when it comes to actually dealing with the issues that are thrust upon us in spite of our best efforts and desires. To suggest that everything happens for a reason is immensely wrongheaded and, even with the best of intentions, is ultimately unhelpful.
I have been fascinated by the suggestion that life with cancer somehow equates to “a new normal” in my families existence. I don’t know what that is supposed to mean, exactly; isn’t “normal” supposed to be an objective center, a median experience, the fulcrum of an ever-swinging scale? But nowhere does the relative nature of normality present itself so clearly as with the slide into a chronic, managed illness.
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Through the wonder that is Social Media, I’ve connected to a wide range of people with their own personal cancer stories. As an extension to this blog, and as part of the research for both a broader understanding of the treatment options out there in the big, wide world, and the book I have been slowly developing to help guide future patients and caregivers through this often difficult and confusing process, I have been collecting interviews from a growing pool of diverse perspectives. Most of these interviews end up in my Patreon feed, where my podcast/video blog has its official home.
One of my recent acquaintances was the wonderful Lizz, who writes a lively blog called The Drop Off, which recently acquired the subtitle of “TRAVERSING THE INCURABLE, HELP AND HUMOUR FROM A CANCER SUFFERS WIFE.”
My mother had recently received news about five friends and relatives dying within a four-day period. It seemed really stacked up, and then she got a call that her last remaining uncle was going into hospice care. While it would be another couple of days until he died, the early warning essentially brought the total news to six in under a week. Granted, she is “of a certain age” at which it is expected that her peers and associates will be ending this existence at an increased rate, especially those markedly older than herself. It happens. It’s a part of life. And it isn’t talked about enough.
As a culture, death makes us squeamish. It’s hushed up, spoken of mainly with euphemisms and generally avoided for its awkwardness. Worse, it is often treated as an embarrassment. Oh, why did Grandad have to die so…inconveniently? Perhaps he should have just gone on vacation and disappeared… “I’m sorry for your loss,” they all say, pitying you for being unable to arrange a cleaner exit for the dearly departed. But death is messy, sometimes. Death brings hurt, upends the cozy lives of the living, leaves an overwhelming amount of loose ends.
But death is a natural part of life — one that cancer patients often have staring at them right over the proverbial shoulder. In February, I interviewed Michael March about his, as he put it, “Final Journey.” Michael is dying from throat cancer that migrated to his lungs, after eight years of dealing with various cancer issues (including periods of remission). Our conversation ran the gamut, from the lack of education that people have in talking about death to the spiritual comfort some seek during their period of decline. Michael also opened up about the fear of suffering that still remains after having made peace with the idea of dying. Continue reading Death, Death and More Death, Naturally→
I just put about two weeks’ worth of coffee into my body, so please consider that as you read these proposed guidelines for political postings on social media.
I decided to put these down because I have noticed so many friends falling off toward these two camps: those who are tuning out completely due to political news fatigue and those who are spun up into a frenzy of posting and reposting and forwarding and generally being outraged all the time (or at least every fifteen minutes between the odd stress-reducing cute animal pic or positivity meme).
The fact is, neither approach is helpful, and probably not healthy, either. We should all remain engaged, after all, or at least aware of what is going on around us. But we should not get lost in the process, nor should we be a part of the system of misinformation that has plagued our national politics for a long, long time. (That’s right, it is almost a national treasure, this “fake news” thing, and it goes right back to the beginning of our country’s history. That it appears to have reached some new apex in the past year is something of a natural progression, albeit a sad one. The challenge now is for the media to really keep it in check as it had done, more or less, for the past 120-ish years since the Hearst-induced Spanish-American War.)
I was going to write about working without wearing any pants, and how pantsless careers are sort of ideal, but instead I am going to offer some thoughts on death and dying.
Most of my mornings begin like this: the low-impact sport of serving up espresso drinks at my daughter’s school followed by a cool down period of errands on the way home. Sometimes, since this is Los Angeles and there is always a bit of traffic to contend with, I have time for a phone conversation or to catch up on my quota of NPR. The ride home also gives me time to ruminate on important issues and subjects for my blog. Sometimes a conversation sparks a new thought process, twists the direction I had planned on going or otherwise derails what would have been a perfectly good fluff piece. By way of example, I recently conversed with my mother about my father’s final days, thus running the train of intention for this post completely off the rails. Continue reading The End of Life and How to Die→
Staring at my budget with blurred eyes and a brain addled by a host of fun chemicals, I have to pinch myself and remind myself there are reasons that I chose the long game; there are reasons I passed over GoFundMe or GiveForward or any of the other single-goal fundraising websites my friends have used wisely to bridge specific financial gaps. I’ve seen those sites work super effectively, raising $3,000 or more in less than a week while targeting figures high enough to cover a host of potential costs ahead. For those friends, who would be “out of the woods” in a few months or so, where all their resources will be expended in a concentrated time, I think the outreach and the community reciprocity is amazing and a great testament to compassion within our social groups. But I’m not hard-wired that way, and my condition is not so neatly tied up in a closed time-frame.
Longer stretch, earning smaller frequent support goals
At this point, though it could change, I am on this merry-go-round every three weeks until I die — preferably quite a few years from now. And while I am still riding my chosen horse (a big, jet-black unicorn with a dangerously sharp silver horn, if you must know), I have a lot that I want to accomplish. I can’t manage a job for more than an hour or two most mornings, so I haven’t been traditionally employed for over two years. And yet, I have so much work to do! Like my book on living well with advanced cancer, getting on with life in spite of new limitations and finding the very best of ourselves along theway. Continue reading Support My Site in September and get My Book Free!→
I don’t normally write about guns, but soon it will be gun violence awareness day, so it seems appropriate to throw my two cents in. After all, I like shooting guns, and I like talking about the law. Plus, you know, I have a terminal cancer diagnosis, so it just kind of makes sense.
I recently read two similar news stories about a pair of women who were killed mere days apart: one was deliberately shot by a stranger after leaving a rural vacation spot, and another was shot in the back when her toddler found a gun in the car while they were driving. Pure coincidence that both of those happened close together in Wisconsin, a state I used to live just over the border from, and happened within a week of each other with two mothers being shot and killed while driving with their children in the car. Otherwise, one was a presumably intentional (if random) murder by a horrible person, the other a very random (and presumably inadvertent) act by an innocent.
I’d love to say that the random shooting of mothers by their small children was a complete outlier, but it isn’t. Sadly, this sort of thing happens far too frequently, even among responsible gun-owners and pro-gun advocates — even while they are driving. Of course, not all toddlers who come across guns shoot their mothers. Sometimes, and I find this part deeply, deeply sad, they simply shoot themselves because a loaded gun was within reach. (For those of you who did not or could not click that last link, it details four cases where toddlers shot and killed themselves during the same week last month, in addition to five non-fatal accidental shootings by minors.)