Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Against the Odds...?

[This post was slightly amended for clarity after its original posting at 9:47PM, Pacific Time. It was subsequently republished at 11:46PM PT.]

Yesterday was my dad’s second round of chemotherapy and today he was up and around, albeit supported by a cane and moving rather slowly, making jokes and eating well. And he has little pain; he hasn’t taken pain pills in several days. He is still sleeping upstairs in my parents’s bedroom. In fact, he’s been like that for awhile. Lately he even trundles himself up the stairs with nary a hitch. This is a vast improvement from a couple of weeks ago. But today it is especially surprising in the wake of the chemo, which typically knocks flat its recipients the day after administration. My visiting Aunt Gloria is amazed by my dad’s stamina and spirits. And she should know, having herself recently underwent a course of chemotherapy (and a pulmonary resection) during her own current battle with smoking–induced small cell lung cancer. It’s nearly like old times.

Except it’s not.

He tires easily. He needs the cane. The walker waits for him at the top of the stairs. So do the as of yet unused oxygen cylinders and mask. And none of my family is living in denial. We each know.

We know that on average chemotherapeutic efforts extend life just two to three months. If you understand statistics, you appreciate that that means there are few who experience significant life prolonging. We are aware of the palliative effects of chemotherapy—the primary reason that such drugs are administered to stage 4 lung cancer victims like my relatives. I cannot but help believe that the improvements I see in my father are thus born of his therapy—and consequently they will be extremely transient.

I know I keep harping on mortality figures but I don’t want to encourage false hope or inappropriate optimism. My dad is going to die and quite probably in the next few months. Of course I would love for him to be an outlier but it is better to plan for and live as if there is no chance of that happening, and celebrate and embrace every miraculous day.

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