Leroy Sievers has had some bad news this week. His cancer is back and with a vengeance. He battled colorectal cancer about 5 years ago and was then apparently disease free for about 4 1/2 years until they discovered a tumor in his brain. Then, after surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and something called radioablation therapy, he recently appeared to be completely disease free. In fact, last week I read about him entertaining the same kinds of thoughts I have considered; namely, am I really still a cancer patient, even when I have no evidence of disease? Now, tumors are back on his spine and on his ribs.
I feel sad for Leroy. But the truth is also much more selfish. I am afraid for myself too. Leroy has been a kind of bell weather for me, a touchstone about how to courageously deal with this disease and the possibility of recurrence and, yes, death from the chronic attacks of cancer on a body which eventually has fewer and fewer resources left with which to fight back.
Leroy seemed to be home free. But even as he wrote last week about the "identity" issue, I could sense the undertones of not quite believing it was true that he was cancer free. Now, that undertone has been replaced with the certainty of recurrence. And, I can't help but wonder - if this is what happened to Leroy, what about me?
Maybe it will be different. After all, I have had no evidence of metastasis to anywhere in the body except the lymph nodes of the mesorectum. That organ is gone now with the amputation of almost all of my rectum. I have had no scans showing metastatis to the liver, the lungs, or, in Leroy's case, to the brain or the bones. That makes Leroy and me very different from one another as far as medical prognosis is concerned.
But I can't help but wonder. And, as soon as I do, I begin to feel a little guilty, not only because I'm thinking about myself again, but because I am "surviving" this disease while he is still on the front battling for his very life.
Yes, my life has changed dramatically. I still battle neuropathy. I fear fecal incontinence. I worry about travel and if I'll ever be able to take long walks again. I am anxious about the apparent loss of my libido and how much of a husband and father I truly am these days. I rest on the recliner in our living room far more than I ever thought possible before cancer. I need my pills and a lot of sleep. I must watch my diet carefully.
But the bottom line is that I'm still here. I'm no longer on chemotherapy, undergoing radiation, or contemplating surgery. I still have most of my bodily functions working in a somewhat normal fashion. I can go out each morning and do a good day's work. I can make a contribution at my place of employment and with my professional associations. I have no evidence of disease. So, maybe I should just feel sorry and sad about Leroy's situation, and simply get on with it, trying to make every day worthwhile and contribute what I can when I can.