Opinion: Column: As Second Opinions Go...

...it was first rate. A confirmation – of sorts – that I have (and have had in all likelihood) thyroid cancer and not non small cell lung cancer. And I say “sorts” because the medical records transferred did not include the original pathologist's report on the tissue sample taken in 2009 and not all the scans from the nearly 12 years of treatment either. Nevertheless, this second oncologist summarized my cancer as being thyroid; partially because I'm still alive. Generally speaking, lung cancer patients don't survive years beyond their prognosis. Addition by subtraction you might say. Unfortunately, lung cancer does what it does: grows, and when it doesn't, it's reason to consider another diagnosis. My primary oncologist had often said that the tumors in my lungs never acted as he had anticipated.

Good news then. Great news. I don't have the "terminal" cancer with which I was originally diagnosed. I guess that explains why I have lived so many years past the "13 month to two year" prognosis that I was initially given in late Feb., 2009. Rather than having an incurable disease: non small cell lung cancer stage IV, I now have papillary thyroid cancer stage IV. Hopefully, I will be able to live with it much as I had lived with the apparent lung cancer day by day, scan to scan. However, the day to day stress may be less because the worst case is not necessarily a scenario that I have to anticipate. Granted, it's still cancer, and from what I was told, still incurable, but for the moment, very treatable. Surgery is likewise not an option and there is still medication – with side effects, that will remain part of my life, but there is life that remains. Moreover, there also remains regularly scheduled CT scans and lab work that will monitor my condition. And it is not until I receive the results from these diagnostic procedures that I can truly appreciate the change in my diagnosis.

It's not that I don't trust this second opinion, it's more that I've spent the last nearly 12 years thinking one way and changing how I think now after one 45-minute appointment is not quite how I can roll.

Besides, my thyroid cancer has metastasized to the lung. And though it has been slow moving, it has moved. And it is rare. At present, it is responding to the medication, but there are no guarantees in the cancer business, and I will continue to live from one scan to the next. I am grateful to be out from underneath, apparently, this terrible weight of fear and inevitability. However, as a long-time cancer patient, I can't simply presume that life resumes as per usual, with per-usual being a pre-cancer-type life. Regardless of now being a thyroid cancer patient and not a non small cell lung cancer patient, I still am a cancer patient. As such, I still retain all the feelings and anxieties. I will still attend all the meetings, if you know what I mean? I can't simply disconnect or forget all that I've endured these past 11-plus years.

And lo and behold, I have a CT scan this Wednesday. By the end of the week, I will likely learn if my newly diagnosed thyroid cancer is still responding to treatment or whether there is something rotten in Denmark (me being Denmark). Even though I have a new working diagnosis – thyroid cancer, which on the face of it, is much less serious, I can't approach my life any differently than I did before. Cancer is in charge, and until it tells me, so to speak, via scans and lab work, that it's OKAY to breathe normally, I won't be able to. Now more than ever, almost, even with this new information, I can't forget where I've been and what I've been told. It was lung cancer once. Perhaps, it can be again. For the moment, I'm going to try and enjoy my new-found status. But with the incomplete medical records painting a less-than-definitive picture, I will go along with the second oncologist's assessment, but only from a distance. Unfortunately, having been told one thing before, and now being told another very different thing, doesn't change the facts on my ground. I still have cancer.

And it's still incurable. That problem remains.

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