Archive | July, 2018

In This, My Eleventh Year

“You should write something,” she said, “like, ‘I’m still here.’”

As in, I’m still alive.

It’s my 11th year now – 10 years and counting – since they found cancer in my pelvic lymph nodes. In this decade of the ups and downs of cancer, I find that I pass milestones less frequently, my self-discoveries strike increasingly sporadically, the observations at the cancer clinic dawn less often. Yet one thing remains all too consistent: the disappearance of a fellow cancerian, never mind the precise genus of cancer, into the vanishing point of memory. What was her name? Celeste? Yes, that’s it. Celeste.

My cancer journey has been long enough now to ignite a singular light, which could even serve as a True North, of a sort, for almost every cancerian: the beacon of hope. There’s always hope. But reasonable hope, to be sure. Not faux hope that’s wishful, or fantastical, or even pie-in-the-sky. And certainly not the crossed fingers that put some cancerians on life support in the ersatz hope that something unknown today may, out of the clear blue, abruptly announce an arrival tomorrow, and, voilà – we’ll all be cured!

No, reasonable hope approaches in steps, incrementally, their tracks to be read for a saving grace. Since my diagnosis on March 26, 2007, seven new drugs for prostate cancer have jumped the hoops of federal approval. Seven, in large measure the product of Mike Milken and the Prostate Cancer Foundation he founded.

Milken & Hutch Group

Mike Milken (left), founder of the Prostate Cancer Foundation, and Fred Hutch prostate cancer researchers at the Seattle Mariners’ Safeco Field, as the PCF inaugurates its annual Home Run Challenge to raise funds for prostate cancer research. Seven new prostate cancer drugs have been approved since I (far right) was diagnosed.

Thank you, Mike; thank you, PCF.

Which brings me to my most recent six-month check-up. PSA – you can argue the pros and cons of PSA as a screening and diagnostic tool – nonetheless remains the gold standard for monitoring a contest with prostate cancer, and the lower your PSA number, the better. And my PSA, on an early Wednesday morning in May, was a negligible 0.08 ng/mL. That was up a trifling 0.01 over the past six months. Heck, the rise may even be within some margin of error, or the result of rounding or…or…

0.08. Ten years in. Not bad, considering that my surgeon, after reading the pathologist’s post-surgery findings to me, advised me that he had another patient just like me, a patient with cancer in his lymph nodes, who was still alive six years after surgery. All this news stunned me – my cancerous lymph nodes, the metastatic march of my cancer, another’s ephemeral six years of survival –  it all sounded to me, and there are no words to cushion this for a soft-landing, like some sort of indeterminate death sentence.

Which is not to say that I’ve beat cancer, or that some oncologic god has called, “Olly olly in come free!” No, just that, for the nonce, I’m holding my own in Stage 4-land (there is no Stage 5). Holding my own as doctors continue their search for an eighth, a ninth, even a tenth drug. Holding my own as they experiment with the optimal timing and/or combinations of these new drugs: When do you get the best results with X? Should Y drug be administered in concert with Z drug? Should an old drug be retrieved from the shelf and used in a new way?

Someday – hopefully soon – we should know the answers to these questions, know what is today unknown. Reasonable hope, yes; but the question still hovers above all: when?

Meantime, I’m still here.