A Future As a Former Cancer Patient?
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Commentator Leroy Sievers joins us every month to discuss his life as a cancer patient. Last month, he imagined what his own funeral might be like. Today, his thoughts are turning to something different.
LEROY SIEVERS: Most of you know me as someone with cancer. Google my name, and yes, I confess I've done that. More often that not, it comes up linked to one other word - cancer. But what about all the other things I've been?
I've been a journalist virtually my entire adult life. I've also been a baker, a short-order cook, a chicken delivery boy. I've taught. I dabbled in the human rights world briefly. I tried and failed to write a book. All that seems dwarfed by the cancer.
You'll hear cancer patients say it over and over again. I am not my disease. But this beast has a way of forcing everything else into the background, if not out of your life completely. Now I find myself about to embark on another part of this strange journey.
I've been undergoing a relatively new procedure called radiofrequency ablation. They stick a needle into your lung, your liver, wherever the tumor is. The needle actually pierces the tumor, then they burn it out from the inside. They kill it. Something that people undergoing chemo can only dream of. I've seen the scans, seen the black holes where my tumors were.
I had three tumors in my lungs. We've done two of them, one more to go, and that will happen next week. There are no signs of new tumors in my latest scans. The tumors on my spine, which we attacked with radiation, haven't grown at all. The assumption is that they're dead, too. So when I undergo that last procedure, I should be free of any active tumors.
Obviously, this is great news. To really put it in perspective, just a couple of months ago, my doctors and I pretty much agree that it looked doubtful that I would survive the year. We thought I might not even make it through the summer. Now I sit here thinking that that last tumor doesn't know what's about to happen to it.
And when that's done, when the last tumor has been turned into ash, what am I then? Will I be somebody who used to have cancer? I think most cancer patients don't ever think it's really gone. It's just hiding, waiting to jump out and scare us when we least expect it. Will I be able to resume my old life? To rebuild my battered body into what it was before? I don't know. But I know this disease has changed me dramatically in so many ways.
I am a different person, hopefully a better person. You cannot go through an ordeal like this and not be profoundly affected. If I'm cancer-free, does that mean I'm not part of cancer world, the community in which I found so much comfort and strength? I don't know the answers to any of these questions. I just know that once again I will be a stranger in a strange land. But I will still be someone whose life was changed in every way by the monster we call cancer.
MONTAGNE: Leroy Sievers blogs and podcasts about his experiences with cancer on our Web site. To follow his story and share your own, go to npr.org/mycancer.