My apologies. I haven’t written a blog post in a while. The fall of 2019 brought many good things into my life – the publication of a full-length book, Winded: A Memoir in Four Stages, and a launch party to celebrate my 60th birthday and my seventh cancer birthday with a stage four lung cancer diagnosis.
Yet in close proximity to those positive events, I had to deal with new findings from CT scans on the small, inconclusive, but clearly growing spots on my lungs. Repeated scans revealed increases in those small spots. The fall of 2019 with its powerful and positive events brought me some revitalization, yet as 2020 dawned, I lost ground – more fatigue and increased mysterious twinges in my lungs and bones.
All terminal cancer patients who enjoy “more time” know the duality of these kinds of twinges. They could mean nothing. Or they could point to the beginning of the end.
And then there was COVID-19. With seven years of survival under my belt, I know well how guilt, an insidious infusion in a survivor’s veins, can make the heart and body quake with the recognition of unfairness. COVID-19 plays a diametric role in a cancer patient’s life. At the basic level of survival, it can transform a relatively normal person into the hermit of hermits. How likely is it that a stage IV lung patient would survive COVID-19? But the psychological and emotional effects become even more twisted as a cancer patient watches others die of COVID-19, with little notice and considerable suffering. “That should have been me,” she says. “At least I’ve been able to prepare a bit. I’ve had ‘more time,’ as the commercials say.”
After a final, mid-year scan in 2020, during the summer’s brief pause in the pandemic, my oncologist and I were able to negotiate a new treatment plan. I would go off my daily oral pill of Tarceva, the miracle drug for my particular mutation, and begin taking a new oral medicine approved in recent years, Tagrisso. Tagrisso, also known as osimertinib, and created by AstraZeneca,
Would it do the same for me? After nearly eight years on another drug, I was a statistical outlier Could that happen twice? What were the chances? It would not be fair. I knew three women with my kind of cancer who had found hope in the narrative of my extended life on a miracle drug yet failed to receive the same benefit.
On November 7, 2020, three months after I started taking Tagrisso, I travelled to two Henry Ford facilities for tests. After getting labs and scans at the hospital, I drove to the office building where my oncologist saw suburban patients one day a week.
I had suspicions about how my body was reacting to the new drug. I felt cautiously optimistic that I might be experiencing an upsurge in energy. The side effects of the medication were far less drastic than those I’d experienced in the almost eight years I’d taken Tarceva.
My oncologist asked, when he entered the room, if I was nervous about the results, and I told him that I thought I knew what they might be. He confirmed that the spots were shrinking. Significantly. And the pleural effusion that had begun to grow again in my lungs was once more receding.
Good news. Something to celebrate. Yet throughout the day, I’d been thinking about the card I needed to write to the husband of the woman who had died that previous year, shortly before my book launch and 60th birthday party.
How do I celebrate my good news? My minor triumph?
Here are the facts:
- I was diagnosed with cancer in November 2012, just before my 53rd birthday.
- After being a writer and creating manuscripts for my entire adult life, I was awarded with book publication at the age of 60.
- I also began my second reprieve from cancer, a second regeneration, at the age of 60.
- In May of 2021, at the age of 61, I will publish a second book, the novel that I began writing thirty years ago.
It is all good news.
It is also not fair. Nor is it a miracle. I assert to you most pointedly but humbly: Life is not fair.
Yet I am trying to grow from that little girl who found it hard, for so many years, to take a compliment. I must take this good news and allow it to be a humble little light, not unlike the flame of a candle one has just ignited, trying to gain purchase on the wick.
I am cupping for a moment that small flame and its wick.
It’s a quiet whisper: Good News.