I have had an inkling that I would write about what I’ve learned from stage 4 lung cancer for some time. The words never materialized effortlessly — which is the only way I can write — until this moment. In fact, I just emailed my sister to say that I was breaking our date to go to the YMCA for exercise, because the words are here, now. So, let’s see what I’ve learned. I’ll find out with you as I write. I’ll write all at once, without editing, and I’ll stop when I get tired and the words run out. With this as my writing style, I’m sure that I won’t say everything that I might say over time, but I don’t like to work with pieces anymore. I write everything I have to say in this moment, in this way, and I’m done for now.
Please keep in mind that I am simply sharing my personal experience; I am not speaking for anyone else, with or without cancer. Most certainly, what I have learned is, again, personal; I am not suggesting anything universally true. Nothing I say should be construed as advice to anyone. No, I’m not being careful or cowardly. I am being 100% honest and transparent. Well, look, we’ve already come to it, the first thing I’ve learned: be neither careful nor cowardly in expressing yourself; be 100% authentic, honest, and transparent. (I think I’ll use bold font for what I’ve learned, as those things will no doubt appear in random fashion as I write. I don’t want to be orderly.)
Well, there’s number two: don’t be concerned with traditional or conventional expectations of etiquette or grammar; just let the damn things fly out of you with as much energy, love, creativity, and nakedness as you dare.
Let’s have a bit of back story.
In late December 2011, I was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. (For six months prior to my diagnosis, I had been imprisoned in chronic, paralyzing pain. On several occasions, I actually blacked out from unendurable pain.) My cadre of doctors explained to me that my spine, pelvis, and hips were ridded with tumors, and that my spine was in danger of collapsing. Had they not rushed me into a series of tumor-dissolving radiation treatments, relieving pressure on spinal nerves, I would have fallen prey to irreversible lower body paralysis. They went on to say that, statistically, I had maybe six months to live, perhaps nine with intensive chemotherapy.
I am writing this piece on February 27, 2014. I have never been good at math, even now having to use my fingers for basic calculations, but I believe I have exceeded the shelf life prediction of the doctors. We become a statistic only if we allow ourself to become one. Only last week, I went for a crisp-paced four mile walk. My current oncologist cannot really get his mind around how much I have healed, even taking into consideration (from his point of view) the intervention of a round of chemo and daily targeted cancer medicine: the primary tumor in my lung has shrunk by half; bones have been re-growing, there is no new metastasis. No one knows anything for sure; everyone is only guessing. Do not take anyone’s opinion as factual; do not mistake someone’s guess for your certainty. He was especially happy to see that my brain was “normal,” since that is one organ to where the lung likes to ship its satellite tumors. I must admit that I was a bit crestfallen at this news, since I’ve always enjoyed a self-image that included being, ummm, let’s say, to invoke Mel Brooks’ film Young Frankenstein, abi-normal.