These are the exact words, ergo the quotation marks, e-mailed to me by my oncologist describing/assessing my most recent CT Scan. Words which no doubt will be clarified-and-questioned by yours truly at our next face-to-face appointment (in two weeks approximately). Subject to interpretation, misinterpretation, one’s level of denial, that same one’s level of acceptance; these are words that for now, I must live with, and considering the operative word “live,” I am happy – and amazingly fortunate, to do so.
Given the availability of e-mail, results regarding lab work, diagnostic scans and miscellaneous other tests are now just a mouse click away. No more sitting anxiously in the doctor’s office waiting for his arrival, eager to observe his facial expressions, body language, tone and inflection, desperate for a hint, until he shares the latest news about your health; now we know, sort of. Although there is a wide margin for conversational disconnect and misunderstanding when doctors provide such information electronically (and not personally, and with no real-time feedback loop), knowing something quickly (same day service for this most recent result), has its place. Not perfect, by any means. But they are a means to an end – of worrying and wondering when you are going to receive a phone call/hear back from your oncologist.
Nevertheless, it is impossible – for me, not to get existential when you receive these e-mails and wonder, what does it all mean? Of course, you know what you want it to mean. But as much as I’d like to think I can be objective about such communications, given the seriousness of the underlying diagnosis (NSCLC, stage IV), I suppose if I were being totally honest, I would have to say that’s probably being unrealistic. Moreover, even though I’ve been through this emotional ringer for three and a half years now, and much of what occurs is familiar, presuming that wishful thinking, naïveté and plain old hope don’t subconsciously take over and lead the patient/survivor down the garden path is probably also a bit unrealistic. Still, what’s a terminal patient to do? As Tug McGraw of the “Amazin’” ’69 Mets made famous: “You Gotta Believe.” So I do.
It’s not that I’m totally out of touch with the severity of my diagnosis and the statistical probabilities of living beyond a certain number of years, it’s more that I choose to ignore them and try extremely hard not to dwell on them. (Much easier written than actually done.) As my brother Richard encouraged me at the very beginning: “There are exceptions to every rule. You’ll be the exception that disproves the rule.” And so, he has been proven correct as I have survived beyond my oncologist’s original prognosis, grim as it was (“13 months to two years”). It’s not to say I didn’t believe what the oncologist said to me when I first heard it, (life expectancy/prognosis), but it was sure hard to process it since I was asymptomatic and felt completely fine. Still, I took the news very seriously, as you can imagine. To say the next few days at home were not incredibly difficult would be a lie.
Within a few weeks or so, I had made a variety of changes in my life and tried to assimilate my diagnosis/prognosis into my present so that maybe I’d have a future. For a long time I became a proponent of George Allen’s football philosophy: “The future is now!” Given how I feel now, three-plus years later, and considering the results of this most recent scan, the future may simply be what it is: not now, but later. At least, that’s the way I see it, subjectively speaking. (Now whether “subjectively speaking” is just a euphemism for “unrealistic” is likely a topic for a “future” column.)
Kenny Lourie is an Advertising Representative for The Potomac Almanac & The Connection Newspapers