Tag Archives: doctors

Playing the Cancer Card

This is just a brief aside before continuing the series on The Hunger Games.

As I may have mentioned, I am an active participant in a very large online support group for people whose lives have been touched by esophageal cancer; patients, survivors, caregivers, family, and friends. What follows is a message that I posted this week to 1600 of my closest friends.

Hi all,

This Friday, June 22, marks five years since the endoscopy that diagnosed my cancer. However, because I did not get the biopsy results until Monday, July 2 (and up until that day, my GI doc kept telling me that I definitely didn’t have cancer) I use July 2 as my anniversary date. Barring the proverbial bus, I am about to join the 16% who survive five years from diagnosis, and the 60% of stage IIIs who last five years. (Thanks to my recurrence, I still have four years to go cancer-free to be in the clear.)

That was a hell of a summer, five years ago. My wife and I spent most of July going the rounds of getting tests, interviewing doctors, and making decisions. Our daughter told us she was engaged. I took my wife to Paris for a week, before my treatments started. August and September were all about being sick, but, every week, we drove down to the shore and spent a day on the beach, following it with dinner at Surf Taco, even when I could barely swallow. On our last beach day in September, I lingered at sunset, drinking it all in, reminding myself that this could be the last time I ever see the ocean. (I have done that every September since.)

Last look: September 6, 2007, 6:01 PM.

October into November brought surgery, more surgery, and a pulmonary embolism, with more than three weeks in-patient. Winter and spring brought six more cycles of chemo. A few weeks after my last chemo, my son, who had struggled mightily through adolescence, graduated from Rutgers, magna cum laude, and started working as a paralegal in Manhattan. (When the recession took his job six months later, he got an even better job in legal journalism.) The summer of 2008 was filled with wedding plans, and my daughter was married in September.

My daughter and son-in-law bought a house two years ago. She loves her job, and was promoted from professional staff to management last year. He works in community development , and just completed a graduate professional degree at U. Penn.

The new house, ready for move-in.

My son has been with the same young woman for several years, and I think it’s going to stick. He and I went to Europe together three years ago this month. He just finished his first year of law school at the Univ. of North Carolina at the very top of his class.

My wife and I have had great times together, and have shared some great trips, great shows, great places and events. She actually started a new career and a new job at the worst time of my EC treatments, and has taken the world by storm.

Christmas week of 2010, we were in Puerto Rico.

I have done some great writing. I have touched some lives in a good way, here in the EC-Group, in my work in my religious community, and as a volunteer EMT. In my ambulance work, I have eased peoples’ pain and quieted their fears. I have saved some lives. I have seen some people die, which has sometimes been very hard on me. (Last week was one of the worst — it was a fatal side-effect of chemo and was very, very personal.)

Here I am, in my ambulance corps coverall, doing some writing, while my editor provides criticism.

As I think back over five years of survivorship, these are the things that come to me, not the dumping, the bile reflux, the irksome lack of stamina. Not the bowel obstruction from all of my scar tissue, the metastatic recurrence and the lung surgery it provoked, or even the two orthopedic surgeries.

So, here’s the deal. I didn’t get either of my kids or their partners on Father’s Day; my daughter couldn’t make the trip because her chronic back problem was flared up, and my son and his gal were out of state at her folks. So I got promises of future visits. When my daughter called on Father’s Day, I did it; I played the cancer card! “Are you guys free in two weekends? You know, that Monday I’ll have five years of cancer survival, and I’d love to get the family together to celebrate.” Absolutely! she said.

So, I texted my son and his girlfriend with a similar whiny message, adding the fact that big sister had committed. Within five minutes, I had an affirmative for Sunday. For the first time in memory, my wife and I will have both kids and their partners all to ourselves for a day.

You have to be sparing in playing the cancer card. Pick your times and make it count.