“On average, someone with your condition has about two years to live.” That’s what my new oncologist told me when I met with him for our second session this week. That’s not all he had to say. He began with the words, “Given all the extraordinary complications you’ve endured with this cancer . . . ,” and I thought sure he was going to conclude by saying “your body by now has become so compromised that there’s not much hope left.” But no, he finished his sentence this way: “it’s amazing that you’re still vigorous, strong and vital. That says a lot about your capacity to stand up to this illness and to thrive.” He assured me that he planned to treat the disease aggressively. He spoke of adding new drugs to my present chemotherapy regime, told me he’d start genetic testing, said he would get me into an immunotherapy trial and promised that he would add other modalities as the need might arise.
It was a lot to take in. I didn’t have time to feel sad that my prospects might be so limited; that would come later, I thought. Instead, I focused on what I’ll be facing right away: chemotherapy infusions coming in two week intervals — a sine-wave of six days feeling sick followed by eight days feeling better — all for the foreseeable future.
He reminded me that there was some very good news to celebrate. It seems I’ve “stabilized.” The most recent imaging revealed that the cancer has not spread beyond the colon and the liver. Things could be much worse. The liver surgeon whom I’d seen earlier in the day, reinforced our expectations that surgery was not an option for me because of too many lesions on both organ lobes plus the fact that one nefarious nodule has dangerously wrapped itself around a cluster of blood vessels and bile ducts.
So, where does all this leave me? A little bewildered that things should be so dire, and yet more than a little encouraged that there is still much to fight and live and hope for. I certainly understand the reality of my situation: this is a serious condition that I’m battling, and, barring some uncommon turnaround, I know this cancer will ultimately cause my death.
But when? Not soon, if I have anything to do with it — and I do! I’m putting myself on the five- to ten-year plan and am committed to doing everything I can to make that happen. Why? Because I love life, this life, too much to do otherwise just now. Mine is a rich existence, full of creativity, beauty and love. I’m grateful for all I’ve had up ‘til now, and for however much more I’ll have of life in the months and years ahead. Yes, I’ll be grateful for death as well, when it comes: I know that, too, is ultimately all about rich living.
But just now it seems right to stand and fight this internal assault on my bodily integrity and personal well-being. That’s what I’ll do, and, along the way, I’ll cherish the days and months and years in which I’m given to do it.