Four Words Change Everything

2020 has been quite a year. Say what you will about the crash of ’29 or the unrest of ’68, this year’s COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown, along with an election campaign of revolting day-to-day events and a questionable outcome take the cake. Or would it be more fitting to say that 2020 trumps any previous annum in which we were not at war. War trumps everything else when it comes to unhappy years, so let’s be thankful that Trump never played that trump card.

As bad as the year has been, I often joked that for me, 2020 was a vast improvement over 2019. I joked that it would be a fine year to graduate from optometry school; what better than to be in the class of 2020, a perfect year for perfect vision? My son and daughter-in-law were expecting a baby, a son to be named Brock, who would be a blessed little brother to Carson, a fine young man,  and to Annabelle, my wunderkind granddaughter who is the apple of my eye. And most notably, in 2020, I was not being treated for cancer.

2019 presented me with a huge personal challenge. I was diagnosed with throat cancer, a particularly nasty disease from the wide spectrum of horrors known as malignancy. My oncologist, a brilliant doctor and not one to mince words, told me that the treatment for my disease was the worst regimen that any cancer patient would endure. He told me that the cure rate was high, but that it would be a tough road.

Looking back, I can offer no argument to that assessment. Thirty-five doses of radiation, administered as I lay with my head strapped down by a mask to ensure the lethal rays would be delivered to the exact location of my tumor; seven chemotherapy treatments delivered through a port that was surgically embedded in my chest, and which, blessedly did not present the level of nausea that I was promised; and finally the necessity of a feeding tube protruding from my abdomen through which I received essentially all of my nourishment through the time of treatment and for weeks beyond. It seems that a throat which is being fried daily by radiation is not at all happy to have even a sip of cool water passing through.

But I survived. 2019 ended and 2020 began as I started to eat by mouth. It was a slow process. But it got better. I was extremely fortunate in that my sense of taste was restored to very near my pre-treatment level. My voice, never destined to sing opera, or even karaoke, was functional, if not mellifluous. I was able to return to teaching at the dental school where I had enjoyed passing on my experience of nearly a half-century of practice to eager students. My wife and I were able to dine out again, one of the things we most enjoy. I was especially thankful for this, for my wife, with the patience of a saint, had gotten me to all those daily appointments and had greatly missed our social forays in dining.

The pandemic hit, and with it came the lockdown. We were once again eating all our meals at home, but at least they weren’t through a feeding tube. Plus, I’m blessed with a wife who loves to cook and is very good at it. And I didn’t have cancer.

Then came those four little words that change everything. YOUR CANCER IS BACK. A one-year scan showed a small lesion in my right lung, a spot so small that without the follow-up scans prescribed for my disease, it would likely have gone undetected for up to a year. More scans and a needle biopsy revealed that it was cancer and that it was a metastasis from my throat tumor.

My oncologist, still brilliant and still not mincing words, told me that the scans showed it to be the only spot in my body affected. The lesion would be removed and that if it was a one-of -a-kind, I would do fine and could live an even longer life than I already have. But, he cautioned, if more metastasis started popping up, then I would likely die from my throat cancer.

So next week I will have surgery to remove one lobe of my right lung. My non-word-mincing oncologist told me that the treatment would be far less harrowing than the treatment of last year. In three or four weeks, I would be up and running (perhaps walking would be more accurate) and would be able to return to teaching. But 2020 has lost its charm.

Thank God my grandson was born last week, healthy as can be, and likely to continue the traits of brilliance and genius passed down from my ancestors and skipping only my generation. I very much want to see him grow, and I’d like to see it in person. If not, I’ll have to watch from afar. Bring on 2021.

Image: corgaasbeek, Pixabay