The Journey of Uncertainty
Last updated: April 2023
Learning you have cancer is just the first step, muddling through what follows is often a mind-blowing journey of uncertainty. By age 77, I had faced cancer twice before. At age 70, I was diagnosed with an aggressive but contained form of prostate cancer. Often called, “the good cancer men live with and die from something else” is not what you tell the families of the more than 30,000 men who die annually from prostate cancer (PCa) in the USA alone. Worldwide European Urology “projects” that over 740,000 men will die from prostate cancer by 2040. I guess it is not the good cancer we all hear about after all.1
The journey of uncertainty
When you are diagnosed with prostate cancer you are asked what treatment you want versus suggesting what treatment may be best. For me, the journey of uncertainty began here. Given my cancer was aggressive, I chose surgery in the hope it would be stopped. It was not to be. Some 5 years later, it returned and thankfully, I was fortunate to have a second chance to kill it with 8 weeks of radiation. So far so good.
Then out of the blue, in August of 2020, I was diagnosed with a form of blood cancer, specifically, stage II non-Hodgkin lymphoma. This time, no multiple treatment options were offered. The treatment in my specific case was 24 weeks of R-CHOP chemo infusions. While I had experienced surgery and radiation for prostate cancer, I had never experienced the uncertainty of chemo.
I was clueless when it came to chemo and how the treatment worked. The first day was scary and thanks to the many internet articles I had consumed, the thoughts of undergoing chemotherapy were scary. When you do not understand something, it is easy to build up imagined fears. This time there were no options, I had only one way to treat the stage II lymphoma.
Looking forward to the end of uncertainty
While my reaction to the first treatment resulted in a week-long hospital stay (due to a prolonged zero white blood count plus some blockage complications) the remaining treatments were adjusted for my age and body mass. And along the way, I also got a lot smarter on the need to consume larger quantities of water. By infusion 4, I began to look forward to the end of follow-up appointments, lab workups and infusions. One thing that really took me back were the number of blood tests taken over the 24 weeks. I would often joke with my wife saying that they take a blood sample the minute I open the car door in the parking lot.
As I neared the end of my chemo journey many well-meaning friends, church members, and relatives remarked constantly: ”Just a few more to go and you will be finished!” “Wow! You are almost done.” While all of those folks meant well, my previous cancer taught me a valuable lesson. Unless you have been there it is impossible for anyone to fully comprehend that cancer is not a “done and run deal.” Far from it, a cancer experience stays with you for life. Somewhere lurking in the back of your mind there is always the question, “Will it return?”
Upon completion of chemo, my daughter-in-law was excited to have a family Zoom call to celebrate my end of treatment. As she is making the arrangements, I am silently asking myself is this over, or am I am in a race with an unknown outcome? I politely went along with the idea of the Zoom call and thankfully suppressed those unspoken words. During the family call I slowly realized my fears were just part of an evolving transition period which in time will once again allow me to look back and realize I had won another round with cancer.
How do you feel about your support system?