When I think about being diagnosed with lung cancer, I don't think, why me. I might think, why not me, but I definitely think, now what. The idea/strategy being: moving forward, not recriminating or regretting backward. As Popeye the Sailor Man so often said: "I y'am what I y'am." Although I doubt he was talking about having lung cancer. How could he? He ate all that spinach, canned though it was. Besides, he's a cartoon character.
And as much and as often as he ate it - and it always helped him overcome whatever predicament Brutus had put him in, is as little and infrequent as I ate it. Perhaps that was because my mother cooked vegetables in a pressure cooker so by the time I saw them on my plate, they no longer resembled a vegetable nor were they the least bit appetizing. To say the vegetables were limp and lifeless does a disservice to all things characterized as 'limp and lifeless.' In fact, I can still remember the first time I ate a vegetable that was not d.o.a. It was at my mother-in-law's house; she was a wonderful cook. She made asparagus for this memorable meal and served it in a beautiful antique china serving dish. When the dish came my way, I stuck my fork in the asparagus to serve myself and heard a sound, a poof. I was taken aback, sort of. It was a sound I had never heard before. - from a vegetable. As I learned that night, it was the sound of a vegetable that had not been cooked beyond its edible life.
That's not to imply that avoiding vegetables contributed to my diagnosis. Hardly. It simply says that vegetables were not a part of my childhood. Meat and potatoes were, as was my standard go-to meal: cream cheese and American cheese on bread. It was the sandwich of my youth and it has remained very much a part of my adulthood as well. It may not sound appetizing to you, to me, it represents all the comforts of home; heaven on Earth between two slices of bread or open-faced on a bagel or English muffin. Simple but oh so effective - and delicious.
Not to be totally oblivious to my underlying medical condition, I do realize that modifying my eating habits is a prudent and sensible consideration. However, I rationalize that need-to-feed with the explanation that, as a cancer patient (and anyone else, really), if I am to continue to attempt to thrive while I survive, I need to be happy, positive and relatively stress free. After all, this cancer business: characterized as "terminal" by my oncologist; chemotherapy - and its well-known side effects every five weeks, C.T. scans quarterly, M.R.I.s every six months, P.E.T. and bone scans every so often, face-to-face quarterly appointments with my oncologist and all the associated fears and anxiety surrounding this rather unpleasant experience, and you can imagine, even agree perhaps, that living in the trenches as us cancer patients do, we need help - in any number of ways; personal and professional.
And though I am mindful of what I eat, I don't want to abuse the privilege of survival I've been given. I never want to take it for granted, especially considering my original "13 month to two-year" prognosis. By the same token, life is for living. As Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) said to "Red" (Morgan Freeman) in the movie "Shawshank Redemption:" "Get busy living or get busy dying." Since I'm in no hurry to die, I need to find a balance in how I live. Being miserable because of what I can't eat won't work for me. I'm just not flexible/mature enough in my eating choices; never have been. I still eat like a child, but now I have a man-sized problem.
I imagine the longer I live with cancer, the more vigilant I have to be. Then again, if it ain't broke, is there any reason to fix it? Do I leave well enough alone or do I try to grow up and eat my age, not my shoe size? I mean, I am eligible for Social Security.
"This column is my life as one of the fortunate few; a lung cancer anomaly: a stage IV lung cancer patient who has outlived his doctor’s original prognosis; and I’m glad to share it. It seems to help me cope writing about it. Perhaps it will help you relate reading about it."
Mr. Lourie’s columns can be found at www.kennywithcancer.com