Opinion: Column: “Barbasoul”

That was a close shave, if I may euphemistically characterize my most recent, blade-free brush with cancer-like symptoms, especially considering that I thought my life was at stake.

The pain was located around my left-side rib cage, exactly where the pain was on that fateful Jan.1, 2009 day when I couldn't ignore it any longer and thus felt compelled to get off the couch and go to the emergency room.

Though I didn't have any shortness of breath, or difficulty inhaling, exhaling and bending over (all of which I had back then), nonetheless I thought the worst and didn't fool around this time and made an appointment with my primary care physician as soon as possible, which was for the following day. I didn't have a great sleep that night, but it was somewhat improved knowing I might get an answer the next day.

To say that my life was beginning to pass by is a bit of an overstatement to be sure, but it was moving around a little bit. Trying to bury/compartmentalize what a possible recurrence/resistance to my current standard of treatment would mean before I actually met with a physician and received cancer confirmation was the immediate task at hand.

Rationalizing that what symptoms I wasn't experiencing meant something positive/encouraging compared to what I felt 10-and-a-half years ago was one mental route I was traveling. The other was my usual and customary fall-back position: "It's nothing until it's something."

However, I have to admit “something.”

Though I can't speak for all cancer patients/survivors; for me – in spite of my inherited-from-my-father positive attitude – being diagnosed with a "terminal" disease, as clearly described by my oncologist back in late February, 2009, creates a sense of inevitability – as does the "13 month to two year" prognosis that followed.

Inevitability, as in, one's demise (I'll never forget the walking-down-the staircase-with-a-yo-yo example he used) and then death is only a matter of time. Time which you don't have, and quality of life which you'll never get back.

And when that “inevitability” is most clear is when you have symptoms (related to your cancer or not; you don't know definitively, at least I never do), especially if those symptoms are identical to the ones that got you into this jackpot in the first place.

So yes, I've had a difficult few days fighting the inevitable feelings and wondering if my amazing good fortune had finally run out. After all, a "terminal" disease doesn't generally mean you go on living a normal life expectancy. Au contraire. It means you don't! And at some juncture, the cancer spreads beyond modern medicine's ability to manage it.

Then the patient is given a choice: stop the treatment and try to enjoy your remaining days without side effects, and thereby live a less cancer-centric quality of life with some freedom and independence – and hopefully feel some kind of better. And in those intervening days, try not to worry about the cancer doing what it inevitably (there's that word again) does, which is not cure itself. Or try some experimental treatment and hope for the best.

This is the emotional concern and challenge which hangs over my head. Never more so than when I have the symptoms that I did this past week.

Fighting the cancer and fighting these feelings is too much. One at a time I can handle.

Handle it I did as I sat in my doctor's office and in great detail, described my symptoms, and explained what I was feeling and what I wasn't. My internal medicine doctor listened intently as he has since the very beginning when I was first diagnosed. He was calm and reassuring in his assessment.

My symptoms, he said, were not cancer-related. They "were muscular," he continued, "on the outside of my lungs."

Not lung cancer at all. As such: No lab work. No X-Ray. No CT scan. No nothing. Another reprieve.

Life goes on, until....

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