Thursday, September 10, 2015

A few words, wryly spoken… My unlucky cancer journey, as told in The Washington Post

Follow up to the previous post.  I plan to check out his book. - JHH 

Given all this, I was delighted to see today’s article in the Washington Post: “Is thyroid cancer the good cancer? It doesn’t feel that way when you get it.” The article quotes me (among other survivors) and describes how my cancer journey—my years of surgery, chemo and clinical trials—contradicts the medical notion that thyroid cancer is one of the most curable around.

The reporter, Emily Mullin, who interviewed me over the phone, has written a sensitive and informative piece that also gives her personal connection to thyroid cancer (her mom has it).

As a former reporter for The Associated Press, I always appreciate when a news organization gives coverage to an urgent subject that gets far too little public attention. (Aptly, September happens to be Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month). The article mentions how my struggle led me to write a novel, The Opposite of Everything. The book is a comedic twist on what I went through, and writing it helped me work through the disruptive changes that cancer brought to my health and relationships.

As Emily writes in the Washington Post, my story began in spring 1994, when my family doctor felt a small lump in my throat during a routine checkup. Diagnosed with thyroid cancer, I underwent an operation to remove my thyroid, dozens of lymph nodes, part of my trachea, and a nerve that controls one of my vocal chords. The procedure left me permanently hoarse. A year later, I had another surgery to take out more cancerous lymph nodes. And in 1999 I had a third surgery to remove a tumor that had wrapped itself around my remaining laryngeal nerve, threatening my ability to speak.

After all that, my battle with thyroid cancer wasn’t over. By 2000, my cancer had metastasized to my lungs. I underwent three years of traditional chemotherapy, but the cancer continued to spread.
In 2008 I signed up for a clinical trial at the University of Vermont Medical Center that tests a novel treatment targeting the enzymes that tell cancer cells to grow. My cancer has stopped spreading, although some spots remain in my lungs.

Throughout my battle, the doctors’ words two decades ago have come back to haunt me: “You have the good kind of cancer.”

I beg to differ, though I do feel lucky in a backwards sort of way. I live in a time when medical technology has led to new novel treatments that have given me hope. I have a great family and my disease helped kick-start my career as a novelist. I start each day seeking meaning in everything I do, and sometimes succeed. My life is not the one I once imagined. But lumps and all, so far it’s a pretty good deal.

David Kalish is the author of The Opposite of Everything, a romantic comedy and cancer story rolled into one, inspired by the author’s simultaneous struggle to mend his heart, by finding new love, and his health, by finding new treatment.

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