It Usually Turns Out Fine

Last night, after writing my post subsequent to visiting with the surgeon, I did additional research on Stage IIB lung cancer survival without treatment. The average, I found, was seven months from diagnosis to death. That’s considerably less than I expected. Seven months after my diagnosis would fall around June 3, 2019.

I looked at my calendar for that date and found a reminder that our passports are set to expire six months later. And Janine’s regular “Dancing Divas” line dancing practice and her normal Monday afternoon Mexican train and dominoes gatherings are on the calendar for that day, too. Looking at the calendar from the perspective that my life might end around that date, without treatment, offers a powerful incentive to go forward with surgery. Regardless of whether I have surgery, the prospects ahead do not look especially bright. Even after successful surgery, I’d have rounds of chemotherapy that would last at least until early April. My already less-than-stellar lung function/capacity would be adversely affected by the surgery. The possibility exists that the middle lobe might have to be removed, in addition to the lower lobe where the tumor is located. In that case, my lung function would be reduced even further. The surgeon said his rough calculations suggested that, if he had to remove two lobes, I’d be at the borderline of needing to walk around with an oxygen tank. Maybe I would, maybe I wouldn’t. He doesn’t think so, but can’t rule it out. Just so I’ll know.

Other online resources suggest I should have a second opinion. They say the doctors expect their patients to secure second opinions. And they say second opinions are wise because no doctor can know all the most recent advances in treatment of the various stages of lung cancer. On the other hand, my surgeon is telling me I need to act fast to avoid the risk that the tumor might spread to other organs or into the lymph nodes, if it hasn’t already. There’s no assurance that it hasn’t. He said yesterday he’s rarely seen a tumor so large that has not involved the lymph nodes; it’s possible, he said, that the PET scan simply didn’t pick up the microscopic evidence of that involvement. That’s why they recommend chemotherapy for tumors larger than 4 cm. I’ve decided a second opinion would add too much time to the process. A short while ago, I send him an email, asking if he could still fit me in on November 19. It didn’t take him long to respond. We’re on. He has an early surgical commitment that day, but slicing into me at a reasonably early hour is now on his schedule. Success! I’ll have at least the smallest, lowest, lobe of my right lung removed that day. If things go awry, he might have to take out more. I know the risks. I’ve signed on to them.

The inevitability of death is harder to face when one considers its arrival may be months away instead of being measured in years or decades.  The difficulty is not contemplating one’s own experience or his own end but thinking about the people left behind who will have to deal with it. I can’t bring myself to think about what I would leave for my wife to do on her own if I were to die. But, then, I have to think about it. I have to do what I can to ensure that, as hard as it might be, she has the resources and support necessary to get through it. Not that I plan to die. I don’t. At least not in the immediate future or the foreseeable beyond.

I’m writing this, when I should be doing something else, because I want to capture my confusion and my dilemmas and how I’m torn while I deal with this crap. I’m not writing it for sympathy or as a call for help or anything like that. I’m writing it for me. I just want to be clear about that.

I doubt anyone will dissect my lung. Although I did agree to let them keep and use any excess samples. Blood, tissues, etc., etc. Happy to let them put them to good use in research. I just hope they don’t go overboard. You know. Harvest my heart and my stomach and my liver at the same time. I doubt they’d do that. They’re much too decent folks to do such scurrilous things.

I make out like I’m not scared about this stuff. I guess I am. I don’t want to go to sleep and never wake up. I don’t want to go to sleep and wake up unable to speak or breathe or think or move. But you have to put your faith in people sometime. The way people sometime put their faith in you. You have to accept that everything will turn out fine. And it usually does.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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4 Responses to It Usually Turns Out Fine

  1. robin andrea says:

    I’m glad you scheduled the surgery. It will be good to get that done and started on the chemo. We will be thinking of you and sending you the very best wishes.

  2. bev wigney says:

    “regimen” not “regiment”. 🙂
    I’m glad that you have a good plan in place. That’s important.

  3. Thanks, Bev. I plan to walk into this with the right attitude and to walk out of it breathing just fine. That’s the plan! I really appreciate your comments and your support. I know you’ve been there; you’ve been through the process and know what I can expect. That’s incredibly valuable to me.

  4. bev wigney says:

    You probably don’t need assurances that things will turn out fine, but really, most of the time, surgery goes off fairly well. As for the prospects of maybe needing to use oxygen, I think that’s just a warning of a possibility. As mentioned to you somewhere, one of my uncles had to have a lung removed – or most of it – due to TB – and I never knew there was anything wrong with him until my mom mentioned it years later. Respiratory therapy is quite advanced now, to help people regain their function. A lot of how you recover is related to determination. As for the chemo, it’s not usuall that onerous these days. My husband did one of the platinum drugs — his regiment was Cisplatin-vinorelbine — and he walked right through it. No big deal. It was a later chemo that caused him grief. Anyhow, just details — but the point is to try not to feel too bogged down what could go wrong and concentrate more on what might go right. I believe that helps.

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