Changing gift horses

Have you ever heard the expression, “don’t change horses in the middle of the stream?” Well, that’s what we’re doing. After six months of treatment, we’ve decided to change where I get my treatment, switching from Dana Farber in Boston to Smilow in New Haven. Smilow is about an hour or more (depending on traffic) closer to where we live than DFCI. We were very satisfied with the care we received in Boston, but logistically, it became difficult, as I began having side effects from treatment, to be dependent on care that was that far from home. I’m going to miss the doctors, nurses, and other professionals there. I thought that they were almost uniformly highly knowledgeable and extremely caring. I know that they are paid professionals doing their jobs, but I will miss them. I will not, however, miss the commute.

So now we’re at Smilow Cancer Center at Yale New Haven Hospital. We met with the oncologist who will be overseeing my treatment. We scheduled scans of my brain, chest, abdomen and pelvis, and we scheduled my next immunotherapy treatment, which will be my seventh. So far, nothing is changing, as this doctor is recommending the same course of treatment as my old doctor. Same stream, new horse.

A funny thing, or at least an interesting thing, happened while we were seeing the doctor. Dr. Sznol, after having reviewed my scans and other tests from Dana Farber, told us that he agreed with their treatment plan and also, most importantly, that he felt that I was a “responder.” In other words, the tumors in my body are responding to treatment (i.e getting smaller) and that there is, in his opinion, a very strong chance that I will achieve a complete response in six months to a year. This is excellent news by any standard.

Lynn was very excited by this news, but she was surprised by my reaction. I did not get excited right away because I had to think it over a bit in my head. Now, this Dr. Sznol is a big guy in his field, well known, well respected, but here I was taking in his words with more than a grain of salt for no particularly good reason. First, in my mind, the data hadn’t really changed. Except for some blood work I had done that day, he was basing his opinion on tests and scans that I already knew about. Second, I’m now scheduled for scans in two weeks, and newer scans will always give the most accurate picture of what’s going on inside my body, and that’s always going to be the case until I stop needing scans. Third, I was getting over a nasty cold and I didn’t feel that great. It’s hard to feel like your body is healing when you feel like crap. Still, here was this noted oncologist giving me this great news and I’m, if you’ll pardon another horse metaphor, looking this gift horse in the mouth and counting its teeth. I don’t know why Lynn puts up with me.

As I’ve had some time to think it over and let things sink in, I am feeling pretty good about things. I think its just my nature to not get too excited over things for fear of being disappointed later. I see that I need to get over that. I still don’t know how long I have left (which is a good thing), but while I’m alive I want to experience joy. The first step to experiencing joy is to give myself permission to feel it.

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