Despite a terminal cancer diagnosis, Oren Miller embraces life and treks through the mountains with his family, reveling in every moment.
Although I had written two blog posts about embracing mortality, there was always a plan: The Tarceva—the chemo pill I’ve been taking since June—would work for, let’s say, 5 years, before my misguided body starts fighting back. By then, there would be another treatment–maybe a clinical trial or an experimental surgery, and then, the promised land: NED. No Evidence of Disease. Followed by a big party with a big cake, big balloons, and big plans for the future.
After only a few months, though, it looks like the pill doesn’t work anymore. A scan showed growth in the liver. So now what? The alternative to Tarceva is either another pill, which may or may not work for a limited time, or chemotherapy, which is limited in what it does.
And the irony is that I don’t feel too bad. Walking—even standing—as much as I do now, would have been unimaginable only a couple of months ago. And now: Things are great! I’m breathing better, and I have more energy, and I go downtown with the kids, and I drive them around, and for a second, it looks like this is something I can beat, and then the doctor tells me the freakin’ pill doesn’t work.
Since I feel relatively well now, I tend to forget I’m on a one way road here. Sure, I’m allowed to deviate here and there, go up on this or that mountain to allow myself to be the man I was 5 months ago. I’m allowed to be active on the mountain. I’m allowed to stop obsessing about my health and about my future. I’m allowed to be a good dad and an average husband again. I’m allowed to taste life beyond cancer.
But the gift of life beyond cancer—one I wish I hadn’t taken for granted all these years—is temporary. At some point, cancer wakes you up and calls you down. Time to get back on the road.
But first, here are some pictures of life on the mountain, inevitably followed by the shock of coming down:
Had an amazing, memorable, rejuvenating trip. Three days in New York, five days in the Berkshires, then 6 hours to drive back home. In the evening, I start to sweat. I have nausea. High pulse. Runny nose. All happening at the same instant. And then…
Then suddenly that smell again. Oh no, not that smell again. Imagine opening the door of an antique, wooden armoire. Imagine moth balls. Imagine getting into the armoire and closing the door behind you. That’s the smell. That’s what I get as soon as I start feeling sick, like I’m inside a mothball-filled armoire.
This time I’m in my own bedroom, and I’m thinking I should open a window. It’s so stuffy in here all of a sudden. And just my luck that, again, the smell comes back exactly when I start feeling really sick…
And then it hits me—this is no coincidence. Oh my God, I’m not in a stuffy room! And no one else can smell anything. Is it possible that this smell comes from inside of me? Because if that’s true, then that must be the smell of cancer. And then I think, I’d better get used to this shit, better learn to like the mothballs, because that’s the smell I’m gonna die with.
Getting off Tarceva is not necessarily the beginning of the end. It could be the beginning of a new beginning. Or at least the end of the beginning? I’m not sure I’m making sense here. I’m still optimistic, is what I’m trying to say. I still believe. I believe that even if it doesn’t help me live one additional day, optimism is the only way to live, as long as it’s mixed with a healthy dose of acceptance. Optimism is what allows me to continue this journey, and what motivates me to go up on as many mountains as possible and to create memories for the kids, for my wife, and for myself, before cancer calls me back down. Plan A is over. Let’s see what Plan B has to offer.
November is lung cancer awareness month. Now you know. As part of an effort to raise awareness for lung cancer, I’m including some statistics here:
— Lung cancer is the biggest killer in the world, and second in the US only to heart disease.
— Lung cancer accounts for more cancer-related deaths than breast, colorectal (colon), and prostate cancers combined.
— The 5 year survival rate for lung cancer is 17% (compared to 96%, 88% and 65% for prostate, breast and colorectal cancer, respectively).
— And despite all that, lung cancer receives only 7% of cancer funding, and 0.1% of charitable donations.
— Lung cancer affects smokers, past smokers, and people who have never touched a cigarette. If you breathe, you are vulnerable.
(Stats stolen from this post).
A donation to one of the many lung cancer organizations (like The Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation or many more you can find online) can help turn this thing around. I believe scientists are close. I believe in science, and I’m optimistic about science. And I’m optimistic about a future where lung cancer is a disease rather than a death sentence.
Love you all.
And thank you!
It’s been a crazy summer. I’m looking forward to the next one.
This post originally appeared on Oren Miller’s personal blog, A Blogger and a Father. Reprinted with permission.