Suddenly Senior

Cancer experiences underscore the delicate balance of life and death

I don't remember exactly when it first occurred to me, but I was going to die, and soon.

I believe it was when one of the kind and loving nurses at Mease Countryside Hospital advised me, confidentially, to not undergo chemo. "I'm just saying, I wouldn't," she insisted.

My God, I thought, would I live to see the election? A news junkie, I'd hate to miss the finale of the most fascinating and important election of my lifetime just because of Stage IV cancer.

Last you heard — in this soap opera that has become our lives — my wife, Carolyn, had just endured a stem cell transplant to force her so-called incurable blood and bone cancer into remission. And she got it! Her doctor told her that she is in partial remission with two to five years or more before more treatment might be necessary.

Meanwhile, back in the comic books, right in the middle of Carolyn's procedure, I suffered a serious heart attack requiring the placement of four stents. Could it get worse?

In a word, yes.

After a pain-wracked summer, I found blood in my urine. Next I knew, a CAT scan revealed two masses, one in the bladder, one atop my left kidney. In short order I had the tumor scraped from the bladder and a biopsy of the kidney. If it was the same cancer, it had spread.

It was and it had.

This was actually fun, the biopsy part. The surgeon accidentally pierced an artery and I was off. Still awake, I heard nurses screaming "52 over 27" as my blood pressure plunged and I crashed. Falling, falling . . .

Then this same doctor made an incision in my groin, got a camera and scissors and line and glue and whatever else he needed to stem the bleeding. He saved my life, and I watched the whole drama on a monitor.

From the beginning, I was the most popular guy on the critical-care ward. I could hardly believe my luck. "Look in 446! We've got a Jack Nicholson look-alike. Only this one's cuter." (I admit, I made up that last part.)

All the nurses stopped to chat. "You do! You smile just like him!"

A guy can get used to that. Especially a sick old guy wondering if he will live long enough to get the hell out of there. By day four the nursing staff had lost interest. A glance in a mirror revealed, with four days' growth of beard, instead of Jack Nicholson I looked like every other geezer on the floor, pasty and pathetic.

Truly lucky

Just when I had come to believe there was no hope, Carolyn's oncologist convinced me that I am truly a lucky guy. My particularly small and aggressive cancer, it turns out, is easily killed with chemo. The doctors make it sound like, "a little chemo, a little radiation to stop this already Stage IV cancer from advancing into the brain, and faster than death knows how to run, the cancer's in remission.'' I swear, that's the word the oncologist used. Remission.

So I got a port installed at my right shoulder, and last week had three days of chemo. After three more, by mid October another CAT scan will see if the cancer is gone. Doctors tell me it will return, but that we will be able to beat it back again.

I honestly have no idea where this will take me. Never has "A day at a time" been so paramount in my thinking. The alternative, my oncologist told me, was a life expectancy of 16 to 20 days.

• • •

My apologies to all of you who have written us. I've wanted to write for a long time but, as you can see, we're only now just able.

And know too, please, that we plan to keep the Suddenly Senior Web site together for you as long as we're able. To give you great weekly jokes, readable stories and reliable, helpful information — this is our mission (along with getting you to laugh at yourself).

In 1999, when I started Suddenly Senior, I promised that I would write with truth and humor about what it's like to get old, nose hairs and all. Carolyn joined me soon after. We plan to continue writing just that. We plan to share our lives with you as long as we're able.

It's just too much fun not to!

Frank Kaiser is a nationally syndicated columnist who lives in Clearwater. His Web site, www.suddenlysenior.com, includes nostalgia and links to senior-focused sites. Contact him at frank@suddenlysenior.com or by writing to 2431 Canadian Way, Suite 21, Clearwater, FL 33763.

Cancer experiences underscore the delicate balance of life and death 09/29/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 1, 2008 5:02pm]

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