Wednesday, July 18, 2007

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0601 - Continue Counting?

Yesterday, I reached the 600-day mark of my unwanted journey. For those of you who haven't been with me since day 1, let me briefly explain.

On 25-Nov-2007, I began my unwanted journey with colorectal cancer. The day before, my gastroenterologist gave me the bad news that I had what he was virtually certain was an 8-cm long malignant tumor in the recto-sigmoid region of the colon. It had probably been growing there undetected for about 8 years, with telltale symptoms only appearing recently and which had led to the colonoscopy he performed just 2 days earlier.

I made a conscious decision to count the days from the time of my diagnosis and to use the blog format to communicate with family and friends about what was happening. Optimistically, I used a 4-character day format. This meant that my unwanted journey could be documented for up to a little over 27 years before the format would reach Day 9999.

Here I am at day 0601, not even 2 years from the day of receiving my diagnosis. But already the count seems both a blessing and an irony. A blessing for fairly obvious reasons - I'm still here; I'm still blogging. An irony because my intent was use the Day xxxx format both as a quick reference and, I hoped, to support my optimism about a positive outcome. After all, it became quickly apparent, as I met with other oncologists and received confirmation of the original diagnosis, that I had at least a Stage 3 and possibly a Stage 4 condition. My hope was that, as the count increased, I would have objective documentation that my optimism was warranted.

In that regard, the counting has worked.

Yesterday, unfortunately, was not a good day. I had rectal bleeding and some discomfort that prevented me from enjoying the milestone of 600 days. But the significance of the day did prompt a conversation in which my wife and I discussed again how milestones for prognosis are measured for colorectal cancer. Five years from the end of treatment is the big one. I have a very long way to go to reach that one. It won't be until early December this year when I reach the first anniversary of when an oncologist told me that there was no evidence of disease (something which they immediately backed off in scheduling further MRIs, CT scans, biopsies, etc). So, even if all subsequent tests are negative, there is about another 1600 days to go before I reach that major milestone.

On the other hand, one could justifiably say that counting the days means I just can't get over it. I'm here. I'm blogging. I'm working regularly. I have most of my life back now. What's the point in counting? Has cancer so defined my life that I am reduced to counting the days?

Yes and no.

Yes, cancer has changed my perspective. Bodily ailments of one kind or another are now always shadowed by concerns about recurrence. I can never sit on the toilet these days without thinking about cancer. So, yes, cancer has shifted my outlook.

No, even though cancer and cancer treatment has reduced some aspects of quality of life, the counting of days has become a kind of periodic celebration. I look at the number - today, for instance, at 601 - and say, "Wow, I've done better than some might have expected. I wonder how many more counts of 600 days I can add to that figure?" Besides which, I still get occasional newly diagnosed visitors coming to my blog and then writing or calling me for advice or just to chat. As the number climbs, that alone should give others reason to hope.

So, I think I'll keep counting, for a while longer at least. Count me blessed.

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