7/15/07 Living Life, 3 Months at a Time

Friends and Family,

Last Wednesday I had my quarterly CT scan to see if there has been a recurrence of my lung cancer. I received a call from the nurse in my primary care doctor's office two days later, on Friday. She told me that my CT scan showed a "hyper-dense nodule" on my thyroid gland, and that my doctor wanted me to have an ultrasound that afternoon to see if it was cancer. Reeling from this latest news, I gathered my wits enough to tell her that I had an appointment scheduled with my oncologist two hours later that afternoon, and that after discussing this with the oncologist, the two of them could coordinate what the next step should be. She agreed.

Genevieve and I have been more worried about how this CT scan would turn out than we were before the last two scans. Further, our fears were brought to a raw edge since we had just attended the funeral of my friend Dwayne Elam. Dwayne and I shared a special bond while we both dealt with our cancers over the past year. Dwayne was the husband of Gen's cousin, and our families are close.

At the reception following the funeral we spoke with a woman whose husband had died two years ago, while still in his late 40's, from the same type of cancer that I had last year. Combine this with Dwayne's passing, and we were on edge.

When we met for lunch just before the appointment with the oncologist, I shared the news with Gen. She immediately lost her appetite. We were doing everything we could to rationalize how this new development was insignificant, right up until we met with the oncologist. It wasn't working very well.

That changed very quickly when we met with the oncologist. He told us that the "so-called nodule" was so miniscule that it was probably a computer mis-read (oversampling of nearby tissue), the wrong shape (regular edges), and the wrong location on the gland, to be anything to worry about. Further, it was an extremely unlikely place for the cancer to reappear. He didn't think it would have even been mentioned in the radiologist's report if I didn't have a history of cancer. It wasn't worth investigating further.

We got even more good news when the doctor told us that the chances of recurrence are greatest right after chemotherapy ends (almost eight months ago!), and grow smaller with every passing scan. We had thought that the cancer was more likely to show up after a year or two, when it had time to grow large enough to be detected on the scan. Instead, my odds are getting better every three months!

There are very few moments in life, if any, where you see the entire course of your future shift in a matter of moments. This was one of them. Fear turned to guarded joy, and we were ready to move on and live the next three months of semi-normal life. Rapidly re-developing plans for dealing with chemotherapy, work, relationships, and potential shifts in financial stability were all discarded before we left the room.

But not forgotten. We have become very aware of how all of our plans can shift at some three-month interval in the future. It makes the time more precious.

These fantastic results have reinforced my belief in the steps that I have been taking to beat cancer. I won't pretend to have a cure for cancer, but I think these steps are helping me. I hope they are of some benefit for you as well, even if you don't have cancer. I may not have any more wisdom than the next person, but I can tell you that cancer has made me think really hard about my priorities. Here is my master plan, in no particular order:

1. Remove the "cancers" from your life. This includes negative people, negative conversation with otherwise healthy people, television shows that focus on negativity and terror (think local news and some dramas), etc.

2. Bring as much joy as you can into your life. For me this is sometimes playing golf or watching basketball, or taking the time to listen to someone, and sometimes just taking the time to discover what I really like.

3. Treasure the relationships that are important to you. Making time for the people that bring meaning to my life, treasuring the moments I do have with these people, and thinking about them even when I'm not with them.

4. Making healthier choices. I'm exercising six or seven days a week, eating a little healthier, and getting more sleep.

5. Doing things that bring meaning to your life. This one is still taking shape. Part of it is sharing ideas that I would otherwise be reluctant to share, as I am doing right now. It also means donating time or money to causes that are important. What it means for you may be very different.

6. Have an "attitude of gratitude". Whatever you think about, that is what grows in your soul. Feed it the good stuff, and it will return the favor.

7. Grow. 30 years ago I read about a group of nuns that were living well into their 90's. The common thread among them was that they continued to learn new things, read, and otherwise keep their minds active. How much room is there for cancer if your body is busy growing?

A friend of mine has a theory of gardening. There's no room for the weeds to grow if you plant the flowers really close together. Filling your mind, your heart, your body, and your environment with healthy, positive, growing things doesn't leave much room for cancer. Besides, it sounds like a pretty good life to me.