Retrospective Contemplation

Roughly one year has passed since my lung cancer diagnosis. The process of exploring it began on September 7 last year, when I saw my doctor for a persistent cough. Two x-rays and a CT scan later, a preliminary diagnosis was made; around October 10. From there, the number of types of tests accelerated. PET scan, lung function test, biopsy, etc., etc. The result of the PET scan, delivered to me on October 19, reaffirmed the preliminary diagnosis of lung cancer. But, still, a biopsy would be necessary to be certain. It wasn’t until November 2 that I got the final, official word: the biopsy confirmed lung cancer. And, after a rush of tests and doctor visits and other such stuff related to my medical condition, I underwent surgery on November 19. The surgeon removed the lower lobe of my right lung, where the cancer had taken hold.  After a seven-day hospital stay, I returned home and limped along for quite a while, recovering from the gashes in my back and side and the holes left where drain hoses had been thrust into my lower chest from the side. My six-weeks of radiation therapy, five days a week, began in January, as did my four-courses of chemotherapy. Though I’ve said many times I was lucky and I had it easy (and I believe it), the experience was a bitch and I don’t want to go through it again.

So, why am I writing about this again? I guess it’s the fact that I recognize that I’m in the midst of a “moving anniversary” that began with my first doctor visit on September 7 and my formal diagnosis on November 2. That, and the fact that most recurrences of lung cancer occur during the five years following diagnosis. So, I’ve almost completed the first year; if my CT scan tomorrow (the results of which I won’t know until my appointment with Dr. Chen on October 24) is clear, I will have finished a year cancer-free. Just four more years to go before I can begin to feel some degree of comfort that recurrence isn’t likely. But, in reality, a recurrence is possible even well beyond five years. It’s just a fact of life that cancer can return. Such is the way of the world. There’s not a damn thing I can do to change it. I might improve my chances if I change my diet and engage in a consistent exercise regimen; whether I do either of those things reveals the value I put on extending my life. That’s a bit of a grim thought.

Another issue that probably influences me to continue thinking about my cancer is that I’ve not yet fully recovered. I still can’t walk up a hill or up many steps without getting badly out of breath. I tire easily. I’m still dealing with a godawful cough about which no one seems to be able to determine a cause or prescribe a successful treatment.

Last year, when faced with the possibility of surgery and subsequent treatments, I seriously considered having no treatments. I did not want to deal with the possibility that surgery could leave me in much worse condition than I started. I did not want to live as an invalid who could do nothing for himself and who very existence could be a monstrous burden on my wife and others. But I chose to go ahead with it because I was led to believe the process would be challenging but “doable.” And that’s true. But if faced with it again, I don’t know what I might decide. And that’s one of those things on my mind during this “anniversary” period.

I wish I could erase these matters from my mind, but I know I can’t. But I can try to minimize them and hide them from view. As hard as I am to live with on normal days, I must be an especially difficult person when death is on my mind.

The time is ripe for a shower and shave, followed by breakfast. Or maybe I’ll reverse the order. And, then, a bit later, off to church. I’m not in the mood for that, but I’ll go. I think the holiday from church services while we were in Europe got me used to owning my own Sundays again. I rather like that. But I should be willing to share them. Should. That’s the operative word.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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4 Responses to Retrospective Contemplation

  1. Thanks, Bev. I do feel like I’m on an upward arc!

  2. bev says:

    You’ve been on an upward trend for awhile – doing more – so that’s worth something. It was great to see photos from your recent trip. Here’s hoping for a good scan and more recovery.

  3. That’s a good point, Liz. And that is, indeed, something!

  4. lizardek says:

    Congrats on a cancer-free year. Even if it can come back, it hasn’t, and that’s something!

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