Once you cross over into the world of cancer, it changes you forever.
It’s hard to understand how such a nasty disease can make you a better person. But if you live through it, you come out the other end with a new awareness.
I never knew I was so cavalier about other people’s pain. So oblivious to what others were going through. So ignorant of the numbers, the stories, the highs, the lows, the uncertainties that people all around us are dealing with on a daily basis.
Until you become one of them, you live in a vacuum, untouched, unfazed, blithely going about the business of life as if it will last forever.
Cancer changes that attitude abruptly.
Never again will you speed in a hospital zone. Or get frustrated by someone’s frailty. Or look away from a person in a wheelchair.
Suddenly, you notice the oxygen tank on the lady in line ahead of you. The bulge beneath the clothing that covers a man’s catheter. The bruised hands of an elderly woman from failed IV insertions.
The telltale signs of people going through hell, quietly.
I’m one of the lucky ones.
My family is much larger than I thought.
Since I was diagnosed with prostate cancer and started writing this series, I have felt the unwavering and unending support of more people than I can possibly thank in a single sentence.
The e-mails and prayers and cards and calls from thousands of people around the Lowcountry have humbled me to the point of tears.
Fortunately, my surgery was considered a success and I am said to be free of prostate cancer. I feel extremely lucky to have discovered it, had good counsel on what to do about it and benefited from the skill of those who removed it.
Having stepped from the carefree world of sports so suddenly into the deadly serious surroundings of medicine, I was taken aback by the dedication this profession demands of doctors, nurses and every living soul who touches you along the way.
With each passing day, I’ve become stronger and more confident as I slowly venture back toward reality. I’m hopeful this confrontation with cancer eventually will become a personal milestone.
But I’ve never believed, deep down, that it would ever be over.
I was reminded of that a few days ago.
Always a but …
I learned after the fact that I’m a candidate for a clinical trial.
My doctor said the kind of tumor I had on my prostate was a bad one, one that has a higher risk of returning — 60 percent in five years, 80 percent in 10 years.
If those numbers are meant as a scare tactic, they work. Once you’ve done battle with this demon, the thought of it coming back is even more frightening. It’s a fear so many live with every day.
In short, they say I should consider taking part in a clinical trial. One that involves chemotherapy. One that tracks down any microscopic, malingering cells that could cause me damage down the road.
My doctor stressed that the trial was controversial. I underlined that word several times as I was taking notes.
My initial instinct is to say I’ve had enough, thank you. I’ve had a glimpse of the medical industrial complex and don’t want to become one of its permanent residents.
There’s this feeling that once you get into it, you never get out. There’s always one more test to do. One more treatment to consider.
Eventually, someone is going to contact me and explain the details. I will be left to decide what to do: roll with the punches or roll the dice.
I’ll get back to you on that one.