No Mas

December 5, 2001

Chemotherapy has beaten all the bravado out of me.

From the time of my diagnosis, whatever doctors said was needed to get rid of this cancer I was willing to do. Chemo all spring and summer? Sure. Cutting out my stomach? No problem. Even in the days immediately following my surgery, when they talked about the necessity for more chemo, I said, "Bring it on." Well, they brought it. And brought it. And brought it. And today, like the boxer Roberto Duran who famously threw up his hands and quit in the middle of a title fight with Sugar Ray Leonard, I said, "No mas": No more. Scheduled for another round of chemo this afternoon, I threw in the towel and said I can't go on. I've had all the treatment my body and mind can take.

For the past week, following a devastating bout of chemo last Wednesday, I've been lying nearly immobile in bed, unable to so much as sit upright in a chair for more than an hour or two. Too weak to set foot outside my apartment or even talk on the phone, it was all I could do just to get myself the table to secure the minimum sustenance for survival before collapsing in bed again for several more hours.

By this morning I'd finally built up enough strength to make it the clinic for my scheduled next round. One look at me and my doctors agreed: Enough is enough. "We've given you the most aggressive treatment you could have gotten anywhere in the world," they said--reiterating words they had used in prescribing my course back in the spring. Having found my breaking point, they agreed it was time to back off, to stop treatment and focus solely on recovery. They even removed the feeding tube that had been supplying my nightly nutrition formula.

For the first time since April, I have no cancer treatment on my calendar. No longer will I have to schedule my life around doctor visits, chemo sessions, or figure out in advance which are likely to be "good days" where I'll have the energy to do something, and "bad days" when I'm likely to be needing rest. From this day forward I can begin the process of recapturing my full health and living a full life.

My doctors say these last rounds of chemo I'm skipping had been designed as "bonus" sessions--search-and-destroy missions for any last cancer cells that might be remaining. They weren't vitally necessary to complete--if they were, I would have stuck with them regardless of the side effects. (So for those of you out there worried that I've "given up" in my fight with cancer, that's not the case; I'm just forgoing an option that may have been superfluous anyway.) The possibility exists that I don't have any cancer cells left to kill, in which case continued chemo is simply an attack on healthy cells, doing more harm than good. Had I been able to complete these "bonus" rounds of chemo, I would have made it over every last hurdle the doctors put out there for me. But it was a tough, tough course to complete, and I feel no dishonor in stopping at this point. Almost making it to the finish line is good enough, given that my docs put the finish line so far out there as to be almost ridiculous in its torture to complete. That's why they called it the most aggressive treatment in the world.

I just pray we did enough chemo to get every last microscopic one of those cancer cells, down to the infintesimal level. Because from now until I hear otherwise, I'm clinging to the hope that I'm (dare I say it?) cancer free, that I won't ever have to go through anything like this again, not least out of fear I might not be able to take it if I do.

Unfortunately, the statistics of this cancer's recurrence are sobering--extremely sobering--but like everyone who buys a lottery ticket, I dream of being the lucky one.

It is a beautiful dream, and so long as I'm alive I fully intend to win.