Fighting with Confidence

The upcoming Christmas holiday will be especially poignant for me this year.  A few minutes ago, I was asked by a woman if I would deliver the eulogy at her husband's memorial service, which will be held on the 2nd of January 2011.  The man, who passed away on December 2 from complications of bladder cancer, was one of my oldest friends.  Like me, he was a musician.  We had played together in the late 1970s and early 80s, before I moved to Nashville, Tennessee.  I came back home to Portland, Oregon in 2005 because the previous year I'd been diagnosed with Stage IV melanoma.  After a recurrence in late October, 2005 and 6 months of treatment with Interleukin 2, which was completely successful, I began playing with my friend Bryce again.  We'd worked together off and on for the last 5 years, and had re-kindled our previous solid friendship.  About a month after his cancer was discovered in February of 2010, he had successful surgery and a long recovery.  About 3 months later, it recurred in his lymph nodes and one of his kidneys.  The regimen of chemotherapy he underwent did not work--the tumor in his kidney doubled in size and he was told that nothing more could be done. 

When we talked about this, I asked him what he and his wife were doing next. He was noncommittal and, I felt, too nonchalant and uninformed. I encouraged him to get other opinions, look for vaccine studies, told him about an out-of-state institution I knew of that has a reputation for aggressive treatment of cancer, and he said that they would look into it. I don't believe that they ever did, nor did they seek other opinions locally.

I am fortunate to be in a very small percentage of Stage IV melanoma survivors, which I attribute to a strong immune system, swift, aggressive action, great surgeons, Interleukin 2, and something perhaps even more important-a wife that was willing to leave no stone unturned in finding the best courses of action to take in choosing physicians and treatment. She, my sister, who flew to Tennessee from California after my diagnosis in April of 2004, and I met with melanoma researchers, doctors, and surgeons in order to decide what was best for me. We weighed everything each of us had heard before deciding who would take charge of my assault on the disease. We took complete responsibility for the treatment of my cancer.  Too often, people are so overwhelmed by hearing that they or a loved one has cancer that they become numb, unable to fend for themselves, and put their lives completely into the hands of strangers without asking questions. They accept what they are told as the final truth.  In my case, the first oncologist we met with, whom I greatly respect, told me that my cancer would take my life.  As of this writing, we are told that the odds of a recurrence are less than 1%, and that when something does kick me off this mortal coil, it will, most likely, not be melanoma.

So at this time of year, when we are celebrating according to our faith and our individual belief systems, I encourage those who are facing cancer to believe in themselves.  If you have questions about your treatment that aren't being answered to your satisfaction, go somewhere else for answers until you are satisfied that you are as informed as you can be.  Arm yourself with knowledge in order to fight with confidence.  Make your luck.