December 5, 2001
Chemotherapy has beaten all the bravado out of me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
is a beautiful dream, and so long as I'm alive I fully intend