A personal announcement
June 20, 2011
For the last eight months I have intended to tell readers about a certain personal situation, but, perhaps out of a reluctance to discuss publicly something so private and so serious, kept delaying doing so, though some readers have been aware of it. However, the time is long past to let people know about this.
Last June, just under a year ago, I was diagnosed with metastasized pancreatic cancer.
This is a serious type of cancer, and normally the prognosis for prolonged life is not good. However, under chemotherapy, which began in late July, I have had extraordinary improvement. From the day of my first treatment, the symptoms rapidly lessened, and subsequent CT/PET scans showed the tumors dramatically shrinking and in many cases disappearing, until, starting about three months ago, the scans have not shown any tumors in the body at all.
From shortly after the treatment began, most of the physical problems I was dealing with were due not to the cancer, which was rapidly and amazingly being reduced, but to the chemotherapy. There, too, I was fortunate. There are many possible side effects of the drugs I am receiving, but I have only had a few, chiefly neuropathy (tingling and numbness) in the feet, and overall physical weakness. The weakness has been my most serious problem, as I will discuss further below. There was also a complete loss of hair on the head and face and even the eyebrows. Since September I have worn a hat whenever I go out. But I must say that the loss of my mustache, which I had had my entire adult life, is a definite improvement. More recently, probably as a result of a reduction of the dosage in my treatment, hair has grown back in a limited fashion on top of my head and my face, though not the eyebrows.
My late sister, Karen Levy (here is a family picture with her at age 12 and me at age two), used to joke that I looked like a neonate; well, for the last many months I really have looked like a neonate.
I am being treated as part of a clinical study in an experimental chemotherapy protocol that includes one drug which has long been used for this illness, plus another, newer drug which is the main object of the study. The treatment consists of intravenous chemotherapy administered once a week for three weeks, then a week off, then another three weeks of treatment, then a week off. At the end of each eight week cycle I have a CT scan (and sometimes a PET scan) to see how things are going.
When the treatment began, I had tumors all through my abdomen, and my midsection was distended as a result of a buildup of fluid in the abdominal cavity. I was in pain and was taking pain-killers. According to the most recent scans, with the official determination being made in April, I have had what the doctors call a complete response to the treatment. What this means is that there is no radiographic evidence of cancer in my body. No tumors can be seen. The doctor supervising my treatment tells me that for metastasized (stage four) pancreatic cancer this is very unusual. In fact, the number of people who have had a complete response to this disease is so small that there are no statistics on this group regarding their prognosis and other factors. It would be more accurate to say that there are no statistics on this group, period.
However, this does not mean that I am cured. Based on the medical profession’s experience with this type of cancer, the doctors believe that the cancer is still in my body, but in a microscopic size that cannot be picked up by scans, and that tumors will eventually start to grow back, though when that might happen no one knows. My doctor says that in the absence of treatment, the tumors will come back sooner rather than later. Therefore chemotherapy must continue indefinitely. Metastasized pancreatic cancer is not considered curable. The purpose of chemotherapy for this type of cancer is to reduce the tumors and prolong life, not to cure the disease. However, there are rare cases in which there is a cure, and in a meeting with my doctor two months ago he said something he had never said before, that a cure in my case was possible, though he doesn’t expect that. A complete response—the disappearance of discernible cancer—is the best possible result I could have had at this point and I am very fortunate and grateful. Many friends have been praying for me and sending me their good wishes, and that undoubtedly has been a major factor in my exceptional improvement.
During the weeks from when symptoms first appeared until treatment began, I was in bad shape and felt bad all the time, emotionally as well as physically. As soon as the treatment started, at the end of July, I began again to have a feeling of well-being and of gladness to be alive, and I also began writing at VFR with an energy that had been lacking for the previous couple of months. At the same time, during the long months of chemotherapy, I have often been very weak. My physical activities are limited, and walking is difficult. Often on the Saturday and Sunday after treatment (which is on Thursdays) I have been rather weak and unable to do much of anything, though this seems to be improving lately.
Thankfully, I have had enough energy to continue blogging, though not enough to write full length articles or engage in real debates. On occasion I’ve let an issue go because mustering the evidence and arguments to respond to an opposing position was beyond my capacity. This is not because my brain is not sharp, but simply because I have lacked the energy to do the sustained intellectual work that is needed for more demanding kinds of writing.
When an idea comes to me and I write it out in a blog entry, or when a reader sends a comment and I respond to it, that takes one level of energy. Absorbing more complex subjects and writing about them, or responding to large positions opposed to my own, takes a higher level of energy, which I generally have not had.
Yet, curiously, during these months, some readers who did not know about my health situation have told me that my writings had become more powerful than before. Perhaps the fact that I lacked the ability to write at length pushed me to say more in fewer words.
Just as I haven’t been able to write at length, my reading has been limited to shorter articles. When it comes to books, I prefer easier reading like biographies, popular novels, or poetry.
Another way the illness and treatment have affected me is that I avoid things that are very stressful or upsetting. For example, I didn’t write about the Ground Zero mosque issue for months last year because I found it too stressful, though I did start writing about it in August, partly because I was feeling better and could handle it. Similarly, I avoided writing about the movie Machete last year. I just didn’t want to deal with something that evil.
Also, as a result of my condition and inability to handle stress, I have become more intolerant than before of correspondents and online commenters who, instead of dealing with the issue at hand, make negative comments about my personality or ad hominem statements of any kind. I have zero tolerance for that now and I simply stop communicating with people who do that.
On balance, the news I am telling you today, while bad, is also astonishingly good. While I have not been able to function with full, normal energy, and while I live a rather limited life in terms of physical and other activities, I am not suffering physically and I feel well emotionally much of the time, though the weakness resulting from treatment sometimes has me quite down.
When I first got the diagnosis, my first reaction—the thing I felt most strongly—was regret that I would not be able to do many things that I feel I must do. My sense was that I was only just starting my work. For me, what that means most of all is getting the ideas I’ve been developing at VFR into the mainstream, through longer written works, or perhaps through a larger website or an activist organization. I have said many times that there is no real conservative movement in America, and that if there is to be one, it must be created. I can’t say that I have done my share in helping to create such a movement. This is a great regret.
The need is to build a traditionalist conservative movement that comprehensively rejects the liberal regime under which we live and presents a viable alternative. Many elements of such a critique of liberalism are at VFR, scattered in thousands of blog entries, but they need to be brought together into a digestible, coherent whole. This is one thing that I want to do. I think I will be able to do it. However, even if I do not, I know, from messages and comments I’ve received over the years from readers, that the ideas I’ve developed have touched many people in their mind and their spirit. I am confident that these understandings will continue to bear fruit, in whatever form that may take. At the same time, my excellent medical progress makes me hopeful that I will continue to be able to write and contribute to the political and cultural debate for a good while to come.
UPDATE, October 7, 2011: More recent news on my health situation.
UPDATE, December 29, 2011: An entry on the future of VFR.
Personal update on my health situation, May 15, 2012. No change.
Some News, June 4, 2012. Tumors have returned, after 15 months in which there was no evidence of disease. We are embarking on a new treatment.
Good news, September 6, 2012. A slight reduction in the size of the tumors, and I’m free of symptoms and debilitating side effects.
Status report, January 12, 2013 (in relation to the terrible intestinal dysfunction and pain that began in mid December, 2012):
According to a CT scan this past week, there is—contrary to what my doctors and I had believed—no recent spread of the cancer, which is very good news (though of course the tumors could start growing again any time). Therefore a further spread of the existing cancer is not the cause of the intestinal misery I’ve been going through for the last three weeks.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at June 20, 2011 09:27 AM | Send