The E and the H Words

I can’t believe I said it. I actually used the “E” word talking about my cancer.i-have-cancerpost

E. As in Enjoy. No, no, no. I do not enjoy — and never have enjoyed – having cancer. Cancer Sucks, as my t-shirt shouts. But there’s cancer my disease, and then there’s cancer my experience.

Cancer, my disease: I had my regular, semi-annual checkup in July, another checkup on another birthday. The results could have been better, but to have hoped for such would have been pure greed: My PSA, a marker of how well I’m keeping my cancer at bay, was up a scant 0.01 (to 0.10) over the past six months. Great results, and my oncologist was effusive, saying, “It’s really6 slow growing. You’ll probably die of something else.” (“Really” to the power of 6 because I think he said “really” something like six times to emphasize his point.)

So that’s where I stand today – medically speaking – precisely nine years after my prostatectomy on Sep 11, 2007.

And then…and then. There’s cancer my experience: all of the people, the life adventures, the challenges, and self-discoveries that have enriched my life only — and only – because I have cancer. They’re big things, and they’re little things, many sad, some uplifting, but I would have missed out on them all if I didn’t have cancer.

Like the woman at the cancer survivors’ gathering who declared, “I’m not grateful I have cancer, but I am grateful I’ve found out what I’m made of.”  For this is what only we cancerians know: What would I do if I got cancer? For others, it’s rhetorical; for us, it’s real. She knows, and she found out what she’s made of. Ironwood, I suspect.

Or reporting to the infusion bay and overhearing through the curtain that the person in the next bed is being sent home — without treatment — because her blood counts aren’t right. It’s bad enough to undergo the anxiety of a test, or to steel yourself for the harsh side effects of a treatment. But then to be turned away after such emotional expense, all for naught?

Or the email from my Seattle Cancer Care Alliance infusion nurse, Kim. Subject: “I have cancer.” What do you say, what do you do when the woman who has been with you for so many years, for so many treatments, with her needles, meds, pumps, laughter and, most of all, her loving care, herself is diagnosed with cancer? I say, thank you, Kim, thank you for everything. May you rest in peace.


I’m on the elevator to ride down to the parking garage at Seattle Cancer Care. There are four of us:

  1. Me
  2. Sunny, middle-aged woman — doesn’t look like a cancerian
  3. Non-descript man with
  4. His wife bundled up in a heavy coat, wearing a ski cap over her chemo-bald head and staring at the floor. Surgical mask covers her mouth and nose.

The lights on the elevator panel show we’ll be stopping on parking levels B, C and D. Me: “Looks like my grade card.” Door closes.

Level B. Non-descript man and cancer-wife leave elevator. Door closes. Sunny, middle-aged woman says something about how she always feels better coming to the cancer clinic. I say, “When I see people like that” — I point to the door — “I have no problems today.”

Level C. Sunny, middle-aged woman agrees: “There’s always someone who’s worse off.” Door opens, and she steps out. Abruptly, she turns to me, and holds me perfectly in her eyes, brandishing the absolute brightest smile I’ve ever witnessed: “I was given 18 months to live,” she says, “and that was three years ago!”

Door closes, and she is gone – even before I can ask her name.

But I’d like to think it’s Hope.

About Bill Curry

Stage 4 prostate cancer

14 Responses to “The E and the H Words”

  1. So refreshing, yet quite real, these words. Only cancerians can completely value the depth of your narrative(s). Each of us manages this little inner dialogue, postulating what course upon which to embark when the winds change – when the test results change. It can be a fierce assessment. Your perspectives certainly provide a verbal balm and a realistic way to go forward. Thank you

  2. Always an inspiration. Thanks Bill for being you

  3. Bill:

    Just want to concur with what others have said here about your wonderful posts.

    Craig’s news concerning Dan is truly sad. If he had died of a stroke, he certainly will have died of “something else,” but I can’t help wondering if that something else might have been a lingering side effect of hormone treatment.

    As for me, after five years, my steady PSA finally went up a bit in June. If it rises again, I am told some scavanging may be in order–what a horrible word for that procedure.

    I’m visiting the San Juan islands in October. Perhaps, a possible meet up in Wa.?

  4. Thanks for sharing. You help put life in perspective.

  5. Well stated, Bill. Bob & I look forward to seeing you & Rebecca next week at our 55th!

  6. Always an inspiration. Thanks Bill for being you.
    See you Saturday

  7. Oh darn, now you’ve got to find a doctor to treat “something else!” This is the age of Whackamole. Hang in there!

  8. Cancer opens you’re eyes, teaches you to love life, cancer teaches how to fight and how to live. Most cancer teaches you how to LOVE and how to be LOVED!
    Great article Bill! Thank you, my friend.

  9. ‘E’ also stands for ‘excellent.’ Also, “encouraging.’ Always a pleasure to read your beautifully written posts, Bill. And you continue to be an inspiration a guy who’s two years behind you: Still no evidence of disease at 7 years out, but some entertaining interactions with the medical-industrial complex earlier this year.

    Hard to believe it’s been 4 years since we all met in DC. I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but I found out via Facebook the immensely sad news that Dan Zenka passed away in late August from (I believe) complications of a stroke. Beyond that I know nothing. But he was an inspiration for all of us.

  10. Abrazos Muchacho!! Attaboy!

  11. Bill, this is very good news and your writing, as always, is so compelling, realistic and upbeat at the same time. Nine years now of a whole alphabet of feelings. Thanks for sharing your journey! Patti and Darrell

  12. Hi Bill;

    Glad you are doing well. I have had a late chemotherapy complication-long story but after a sinus infection that didn’t clear well, Onc did CT sinuses, chest, abdomen, pelvis, and a bone marrow biopsy, and determined my ‘absolute neutrophil count’ (the main infection combatting part of the white blood cell line) was extremely low and even once hit zero. This can be caused by all manner of terrible bone marrow problems (tumor invasion, bone marrow scarring, secondary tumors, etc. etc.) as well as drug toxicity.

    The ‘diagnosis of exclusion’ (which is always a disturbing situation as it implies you’ve eliminated every other possible cause of severe neutropenia) is Rituximab ‘delayed onset neutropenia’. It can come on weeks to months after treatment and can last weeks to months as well. They are having me do daily self injections of Neupogen to try and elevate the neutrophil count; will see tomorrow if it is helping as just started 2 days ago.

    Anyway I’ve been told to ‘stay away from sick people’, which seems like pretty sage advice. Hopefully this will resolve soon…and I can meet you for lunch some time…

    Again congrats on good numbers, and do live long enough to succumb to something other than the big C.

    Best wishes


    On Sun, Sep 11, 2016 at 3:28 AM, My First Cancer wrote:

    > Bill Curry posted: “I can’t believe I said it. I actually used the “E” > word talking about my cancer. E. As in Enjoy. No, no, no. I do not enjoy — > and never have enjoyed – having cancer. Cancer Sucks, as my t-shirt shouts. > But there’s cancer my disease, and then there’s can” >

  13. Bill,
    As always I thank you for the update. I once had a professor who told me “All lives have an expiration date … what counts is what you do before that date is reached.” You’ve set a marvelous example, and, statistically speaking, you’ll continue doing the same for years to come.

  14. well done.

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