Archive | January, 2016

Kicking the Can(cer) Down the Road

My most recent semi-annual cancer check-up came last year, quite coincidentally, on my birthday.

“Semi-annual.” That’s the check-up that arrives so soon that there couldn’t possibly have been that much change in your cancer. Yet it’s also the check-up that’s so infrequent that maybe — just maybe — enough time has elapsed for something to have gone haywire. This incalculable equation (time➗cancer=?) is, in part, why we cancerians get so anxious as our test dates draw nigh. And there’s nothing we can do to swing the balance of test results; there’s no strategy that will improve the outcome; and there’s certainly no studying in the hope of getting a better score on the test.

It will be what it will be, when it will be, and, all too often with cancer, you feel like you’re just along for the ride.

A cancer test on a birthday? A day to celebrate — or not.

At reception in the blood-draw lab:

“Your name?”

“Curry. C-u-r-r-y.”

“And your birthday?”


“Oh! Happy birthday! Any special plans?”

“That’ll depend on the test results.”

It would be an overstatement to say that, when he delivered my results, my oncologist seemed a bit giddy. But in the din of delivery of good test news, I think I heard him say something like, “With numbers like this, you’ll live forever.”

To be sure, my PSA had risen over the previous six months, from 0.06 ng/mL to 0.07. Really not that much of a rise at all – even a rounding error? — and so, over a birthday dinner of steak tartare, the champagne flowed: celebration times two.

Later, as I added the test results to my PSA spreadsheet, I noticed that I’d been here before, that I’m back exactly where I was on Oct. 4, 2010: a PSA of 0.07. (Reminder: PSA levels reflect the progression of my cancer.)

Of course, that was before my PSA rose to 0.10 and then to 0.11 and then to – well, before it could go any higher, I underwent 36 treatments of salvage radiation, trying to rid myself of cancer once again. Yet today, I remain a Stage 4 cancerian, one who’s back where he was five years ago. And that’s when I finally and fully grasped — and came to embrace — the import of ‘managing your cancer’: We’re kicking my can(cer) down the road.

We’re buying me time.

Except that, with cancer, buying time is truly about buying life – and all of the wondrous adventures and delights woven into the fabric of life.

Or as my friend David put it: “We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary…and chose to do it alone, off shooting pictures in the high desert of Arizona…and, most importantly, commemorated and savored a milestone neither of us thought we’d see nearly eight years ago” when his wife, Nancy, was diagnosed. “Oh, what a blessing!”

What a blessing, indeed.

Since my 0.07 PSA reading in 2010:

  • I’ve seen my daughter start and finish law school, marry a great guy, pass the bar and start practicing law.
  • I’ve traveled to stunning National Parks, experienced the wonders of far-off places and loved strangers in strange lands: China, Sri Lanka, Cuba and beyond.
    Version 2

    Loving strangers in a strange land: Huang Gang village, Guizhou, China; Aug. 2, 2012. (Photo ©Colleen Kerrigan)

  • At family reunions, I’ve reconnected with relatives I’d not seen in years, decades even, and together we stoked our family memories, raised toasts to our parents and enriched for the future our shared gene pool.
  • I’ve spent extended yet rich time with old friends and new, sharing memories, stories and thoughts of the past, the present and our futures.
  • I celebrated the 35th anniversary with my bride, a milestone, to quote David, I thought I might never see.

And, perhaps most importantly, since my last PSA of 0.07, six new prostate cancer drugs have been approved, each one with the promise of extending life. Six new drugs since, medically, I was last right where I am now.

So am I truly back to where I was on Oct. 4, 2010?

Not on your life. Nor on mine, because life doesn’t stand still even when cancer threatens to stop your clock.

And there’s a lot more life to pass as we kick my can(cer) down the road.