When most people think of a terminal cancer patient, they think of the end-stage, when the person is bed-ridden and so heavily medicated, they’re barely aware of where they are. I’m about as far from that as most healthy people so it may seem strange for me to refer to myself as terminal. After all, where there’s life, there’s hope, yes? It ain’t over till it’s over, right? Sure.
If I wake up tomorrow morning to news that they’ve found the cure for recurrent uterine cancer, I will no longer be terminal. Recent work involving the use of viral cells to carry targeted medication directly to cancer cells to eradicate them shows a lot of promise, so much so that this may well prove to be the treatment all cancer patients have been waiting for. But so far, we’re all still waiting.
Meanwhile, I’m taking progesterone, which as I’ve said may be able to hold the cancer at a low level and prevent it from growing and spreading. This coming week, I’ll have a blood test; the following week, I’ll meet with my oncologist or a member of her team to get the results and find out how well that’s working. Her team members have said they’re hopeful about progesterone holding off the cancer for years; they’re all younger doctors. My oncologist doesn’t talk hope; she talks in terms of what results she has in front of her. Hope is my department.
I suppose calling myself terminal doesn’t sound like I have much hope but in fact I do. I hope to live longer than my oncologist’s original estimate, despite knowing that her estimate is based on however many patients she has seen. The long-shot is that I live long enough to see the viral-cell treatment succeed and be among the first to experience an actual cure. But those really are long odds, on the order of being struck by lightning, winning the lottery, or getting a personal phone call from Steven Spielberg begging me to accept two million GBP in option money for “The Girl-Thing Who Went Out For Sushi.” (I can dream; as Blondie pointed out, dreaming is free.)
Until there is an actual cure, all the treatment I receive is palliative. Palliative treatment is not curative treatment. Palliative treatment is meant strictly to alleviate symptoms and relieve pain, resulting in improved quality of life.
But if life itself is the terminal condition we all have, I’m not actually doing anything out of the ordinary. As I said when I started this blog, if mortality is certain, then putting off the inevitable is not only business as usual for us, it’s also the whole point. So in the larger sense, nothing has really changed for me.