A Delicate Balance

It’s a delicate balance, this living with lung cancer; between life and death, between treatment and quality of life, between disease and health.

It’s been said that we begin dying as we take our first breath, and we don’t know the hour or manner of our death. There is currently no cure for lung cancer. The best I can hope for is some time with NED (No Evidence of Disease), or at least no progression in the growth of the tumors in my lungs, lymph nodes, and liver, and no further metastasis. This disease may kill me, or not. I could die from something totally unrelated to lung cancer – getting hit by a meteor for example – or I could die from complications from the disease or from the treatment itself. Life is what we make it, and death comes to us all.

Quality of life will be different for each person. For me, it means having more good days than bad. It is having fewer days suffering the side effects than not. My new regimen has given me two bad days so far. Today is not bad at all, and the first day after treatment was good, so I’m batting better than .500 at the moment. And I won’t have another treatment for 2 1/2 weeks. So it’s looking good. Each person has to decide for herself what quality of life is acceptable and for how long. If I reach the point that I have more bad days than good, then my quality of life is suffering, and it will be time to reassess treatment vs. hospice care. But until that day comes, I intend to live my life as fully as I can.

Health is something I always took for granted, in spite of my bad habits in my younger days. I think we all feel invulnerable when we are young. We don’t think about unsafe behaviors, about dying, about chronic illness, about aging. We think we will live forever, even though in some part of our brain we know we won’t. Disease is an uncomfortable fact of life for many of us as we age. We are living longer these days, so more of us are suffering illnesses like diabetes, and high blood pressure, and heart disease, and various cancers. The pressures we live under for most of our lives has an effect on our health unless we learn to decompress at an early age. I didn’t know I was under so much pressure until I started seriously looking at my life and what I wanted it to be (somewhere back in my 40s – better late than never!).

So once again onward and upward. I will try to keep this delicate balance for as long as I can.

First trip

Monday was an exhausting day. We showed up at the doctor’s office at 9am as requested. I thought I was ready. I was dressed comfortably in sweat pants and a t-shirt, as we’d been told the room gets cold, and I had my power black bear afghan, my Kindle, and my smartphone. Oh, and Steve – can’t forget Steve; the most important member of my team! We met with the Financial person who explained how much that day’s costs would be (humungous!) how much the insurance would pay (some 70%) and how much we had to pay (a pittance!!)

Then back to the waiting room to wait for the Medical Assistant to call me back to check BP etc. Oxygen was good, everything else was good. So back to the waiting room to wait for the Physician’s Assistant. We spent about 20 minutes with her going over everything. She then took us ‘in the back’. There was a large, sunny, room with lots of windows. The room was divided into 4 ‘pods’, each pod containing 15 or so reclining chairs and a ‘visitor’ chair for each recliner. The room was buzzing and almost every chair was taken. We had a short wait for an empty chair in one of the pods with visitor chairs, and yes, the room was cold. Each recliner had a colorful afghan neatly folded on it for patient use – all of them looked handmade – a nice touch.

There were several nurses buzzing around, and the patients ranged in age from mid-20s to the lady next to me who was 90. One of the nurses came over and explained the process then started an IV. First thing is always to hydrate – that means running in close to a liter of fluid. Then the anti-nausea drug(s); then the steroid to ward off mouth sores. And finally, the chemo itself.

They also gave me a bag full of information – called Bag-It! It’s a tote bag containing a binder and several pamphlets and booklets dealing with cancer, treatment, nutrition, other things like acupuncture. I must admit I haven’t looked at everything yet. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed. Sort of like being on a roller coaster that I can’t stop. By the time everything was done, it was around 5pm, and I was more than ready to go home. I was told to drink lots of fluids, and I was given a list of things to watch for, and off we went home.