Naturally I would love to consider myself cured. I would love to be given an N.E.D. (no evidence of disease) determination on my next CT scan. I would love the cancer to just disappear and never return. I also wish for a cure for each and every individual that suffers through this torturous disease.
Although I hope and pray for such “miracles” each day, the harsh reality of the matter is that this is not the case. At least not at the moment.
So the next best thing for me to hold onto right now is that my cancer will become chronic as opposed to terminal.
Essentially, there is a distinction between cancer survivors, terminal cancer patients, and those with chronic cancer. The definition of a cancer survivor seems pretty self-explanatory. You have cancer and you survive it. Plain and simple. I myself was a previous five-time cancer survivor. The more difficult concepts are the latter two: the terminal cancer patient and the chronic cancer patient.
There are different factors involved when labeling someone as having “terminal cancer.” Some of which are that the person is given only weeks or months to live, that the cancer is progressing and cannot be arrested, that the cancer does not respond to any given treatment, that there has been secondary metastases (for example, the cancer metastasizes to the lungs and then to the bones), or the cancer causes the compression of vital structures or organs, etc.
The more elusive concept is that of the chronic cancer patient. For these individuals the disease will never go away completely but it can be controlled. In effect, the cancer can be arrested, not eradicated. This is what is generally known as stable disease, whereby the cancer can be kept in abeyance. These are the stories we hear of patients who live many years with certain types of cancers. In most cases the cancer will eventually kill these patients, but this may take longer than statistically predicted. Chronic cancer patients typically engage in countless therapies. One combination of drugs may fail while another may work. Sometimes this lifestyle can take a toll on chronic cancer patients and wear them down. Imagine an arduous schedule of clinical trials, targeted drug therapies, follow-up appointments while all the while trying to maintain a positive attitude with the hope that the cancer will not begin to spread again. This can gnaw away at someone’s spirit, destroying the indivdiual little by little.
However, as difficult as it may be to live with chronic cancer it still remains superior to the alternative, which is terminal cancer.
It is extremely difficult to stop my mind from wandering into dangerous territory. I have to consciously distract my brain from the negative thoughts.
I begin to think that perhaps I will have to endure treatments as I did as a child that will cause hair loss, weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea, fatigue, etc.
Perhaps the cancer will continue to further spread to places that will cause debilitating pain, seizures, blackouts, or organ failure.
Perhaps I will become terminally ill and will wither away in a hospital bed like so many brave individuals before me.
Perhaps my lungs will collapse.
Perhaps I will be faced with pulmonary effusion (fluid in the lungs), which can cause a number of complications.
Perhaps these are all likely realities in the near or distant future.
Perhaps this dreadful day will come, hopefully it won’t.
So today I find solace in hoping that my cancer will stabilize and that I too can consider myself chronic, not terminal.
Sadly metastatic cancer patients must content themselves with little milestones, knowing that their cancer cannot be cured but can be controlled. Seems pretty boring, I know. But nowadays I’m loving the idea of being boring.
As these demoralizing thoughts take over, I begin to visualize my meditation instructor’s voice telling us to retrain our brains into thinking that we are healthy and healed.
At this very moment I say to myself that I am fortunate that my cancer has not spread to other organs other than my lungs. I am extremely thankful for not being deemed terminal right now. I am very lucky that all of my organs are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing, and my body is functioning as good as it can with these nasty little tumors trying tirelessly to slow it down. So ha cancer, take that! And yes, it’s very mature of me to taunt my cancer.
I pray that all those facing metastatic cancer will never have to face a terminal diagnosis, and for those facing one, I pray for a cure.
Today I find myself as healthy and healed as I can be at this very moment in time.
Love, health, and the hope of tomorrow.