Part of the experience of living through cancer is to live in terror of an entity growing silently, rapidly and ruthlessly within the same body we’ve always trusted. There is a feeling of betrayal, a feeling of being invaded. The odd sensation of cursing, and having loved ones curse, something bursting into unwelcome life inside us. This type of growth we fear.
During this experience, there are other growths, equally unexpected but something to savor. Who knew, that at the age of 56, my vocabulary would expand to include such polysyllabic delights as: bronschoscopy, mediastinoscopy, metastatic, pneumonectomy, bilobectomy, neuropathy, Carboplatin or Paclitaxel? I would never have learned those terms had I never had lung cancer. This may sound Pollyanna-esque, but my inner nerd mightily rejoices in any increase to vocabulary, however gained.
The other happy surge of growth is to my circle of friends. I’ve gotten closer to many of my existing friends, and cherish this development. After cancer, the circle expanded to include my Radiation Oncology Waiting Room buddies, some of who are also my Chemo buddies. When you see someone every weekday morning, one grows attached. We share our names, our diagnosis, our history. We compare notes about chemo, the effects of radiation, the impact on our lives and families and more. We worry when our fellows don’t show up for scheduled therapy.
Chemo sessions involve a stay of about 3 hours in the Oncology treatment area, during which my chemo buds and I are hooked up to an IV on a rolling stand. Some patients visit other patients to chat, some sleep through the sessions. One overhears a patient in the next cubicle answering questions from doctors, nurses and the resident social worker. I listen to the dilemma of how much parents should tell a 12 year old child about their dad’s prognosis; how to get through the neuropathy and nausea many experience when bombarded with certain drugs; that the unpleasantness of constipation/diarrhea is common. Knowing these bits of the journey of others makes me care about them. It is the camaraderie of the sickroom, and serves all of us by helping us realize we’re not all alone. Who could blame my “normal” friends for growing inwardly glassy-eyed over my recitation of symptoms, side-effects and treatments? My radiation/chemo buds do not. Nor do I when they speak. This is not a polite listening. This sharing makes us feel less odd, less isolated through this terrifying, out of control, ride.
My circle has further expanded to the contacts I’ve made on the Lung Cancer Survivors board on inspire.com. I read entries from as far away as Australia: the highs of receiving a NED (No Evidence of Disease) verdict after successful cancer treatments; the lows of someone finally succumbing to the disease after only a few months of fighting stage IV SCLC (small cell lung cancer); the tragedy of an all-too-brief remission. It all helps, the contact with other cancer patients and their families helps, even the bad news.
The scary part of cancer, the wild reproduction of cells that blocked the airway to the middle lobe of my right lung; that growth I fear. But life is rarely only filled with the horrible, even when going through this disease. I do not feel like I’m tottering around in a nightmare; I relish all of the good growth achieved by living through this. And there is much to relish in this life.