Here we are, at the seven-month stage of my cancer treatments, and I’m happy to report that I’m still reporting to my reading faithful. That is, I’m still able to post periodical updates of my condition and keep a stiff upper lip with this dreaded disease.
First the good news:
- No dramatic changes in my composure. What started out as a malignant tumor in the bile duct continues to remain such. It has not shrunk, nor has it expanded to any degree. And I’m pain free with no ill side effects.
- I’m in a minority that can tolerate the aggressive chemo treatments each week at Boston’s Dana-Farber Institute: Four-hour infusions back-to-back followed by an off-week, for which I am grateful.
- I met another patient with gastro-intestinal cancer and he’s counting his blessings, not the days he was initially given. What started out at six to nine months has now surpassed two years and counting. Another, I was told, has gone four years with the same illness and considers himself somewhat of a walking miracle.
- I met another individual at a wellness session who stood up to be applauded. He had just divulged the news that he was cancer-free and in remission. The victim had actually recovered from ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), better-known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. I always thought ALS was an automatic death sentence, but apparently not. This man defied some impossible odds.
- I made it a point to join my church choir and am looking forward to teaching another Armenian language class this fall—my 46th year actually.
- In this year of Rio and the Olympic Games, I’m proud to say that I, too, joined the cadre of medal-winners in my sport. After showing up at the New Hampshire State Senior Games to watch the racquetball championships, I decided at the last minute to become an entrant and walked away with the silver medal in singles play. Later that day, I was also able to play two doubles matches with no repercussions.
- As greyhounds in the arena of life, we all need a carrot dangling before us, if for no other reason than to give us hope. Well, I have a double treat, first a 10-day fall foliage tour of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and again, my third trip to Armenia next spring, with my wife and daughter.
- I got to attend the wedding of a very dear girl, who has been like a second daughter to me. It allowed me the opportunity to see many friends and revel in the afterglow. And, too, attending my niece’s 50th birthday was another blessing.
- As if this were not enough, if any of you have been following my escapades with this obit-writing scenario and the Wall Street Journal article, I am pleased to report that it has erupted like a volcano. Radio stations have been calling from around the country looking for interviews. A family from Ontario, Canada, will be joining us for another round of classes on writing your own obit Nov. 7, 14 and 21 sponsored by the Council on Aging at the Citizens Center. By the way, anyone is welcome to join. We start at 1 p.m.
No, it hasn’t all been a Shangri-La by any stretch, so don’t get the idea there isn’t a flip side. Let’s look at some negatives from my disorder:
- An appetite that was once considered respectable has now betrayed me. Restaurants that were once frequented are avoided. Meals are now being considered mandatory, smaller portions, with no taste buds working in my behalf. Energy drinks, cold cereals, puddings and ice cream have now become standard fare.
- Many close friends have gone into seclusion, saying they don’t wish to become a bother on the phone. Those we meet have mixed emotions. Some will bust apart from empathy, knowing that cancer can have detrimental effects. Others put up a good front. A child I love very dearly suffered an emotional setback at camp this summer. With six young grandchildren around me, their inner thoughts about an ailing grandpa could raise some havoc in their lives.
- The activities I once relished like gardening and certain household tasks are now being left in arrears. I’ve developed a period of complacency which was never an option before. Watching others do the chores that were once mine has become stagnating.
Seeing that I don’t want this piece to end on a sour note, let’s dwell back on the positive. Every day you’re alive, feel the air you breathe. Take notice of the wonderful world around us. Cancer can kill a lot of people but it cannot cripple love, shatter hope, corrode faith, destroy peace or suppress our memories.
To continue living in the face of adversity becomes a challenge — and a privilege.
Editor’s note: Columnist Tom Vartabedian has been diagnosed with cancer. This is the second in a series of columns about his treatments and other experiences related to the disease that will appear occasionally in the Haverhill Gazette, where Vartabedian worked for decades. The Armenian Weekly will share these columns with its readers.