…is greatly exaggerated." So said Mark Twain. So said W.C. Fields. And so said Kenny Lourie. And the reason I am now saying it is because of what correspondence I received in my personal inbox accessed through my HMO's online site. What I received was a condolence letter (sort of a form letter, quite frankly), addressed to the Lourie family from my oncologist expressing his sadness at my "passing" and his "privilege to have participated in the care of Kenneth Blacker Lourie" (me). Then, a bit later in the day, I received a cell-phone call from an unknown number (so I didn't answer it) but apparently, it knew me, as a voice mail message was indicated. I entered my code and listened in associated shock as I heard my oncologist speak in a very heartfelt way about his "sadness" yet again concerning the death of yours truly. He spoke for nearly a minute, hemming and hawing and occasionally hesitating as if at a loss for words. Compared to the email, this message was personalized. Reading and then hearing what I have just written was an out-of-body experience of sorts, almost as if I was attending my own funeral and listening to the eulogies while standing off in the distance.
This experience was not totally unfamiliar to me. In fact, once before, pre-cancer, something similar happened, though it was more curious than morbid. Scanning the Obituary section of The Washington Post, I noticed – for the first time – that photos of many of the deceased were a part of the page. They were located above the agate type and mostly in black and white. Catching my attention as they did, I randomly went to the top right corner of the right-side page where I saw a photograph of an African-American man, unknown to me except for one extraordinary fact. Printed below his photo was his date of birth: 9/30/54. The same as mine. It took my breath away. I have to tell you, seeing one's date of birth listed in the obituary section is a peculiar kind of the-future-being-now.
Subsequently, I was diagnosed with "terminal'' non-small cell lung cancer, stage IV, and given a "13 month to two year" prognosis. And though my presumptive death was not listed in the obituary section, its inevitability was implanted in my brain where it has been gnawing at me since late February, 2009. And for the last 11-plus years, as you regular readers know, I have ebbed and flowed with the varying medicines and protocols which have amazingly managed to extend my life way beyond my oncologist's expectations, and never once had I being given last rites, so to speak, or advised to "get my things in order." Until today, that is.
After I thought a bit about what I had read and heard, a part of me drifted back in time to the 1999 Bruce Willis movie "The Sixth Sense" and whether unlike Haley Joel Osment, I was actually dead already. Being alone in my house with nobody to snap me out of my delusion, for all I knew, this is what death feels like. Nevertheless, I continued with my normal routine, presuming I was still alive and sure enough, it soon became clear that I was indeed still alive.
But my oncologist and maybe even my endocrinologist – with whom I have an appointment Monday, June 8th, might think otherwise. And not that their thinking “otherwise” will change their lives, but knowing what they think they know rather than what is actually true might blip their radar and cause some emotional misdirection. After all, they're only human and even though I might not be their most memorable patient, given my unexpectedly long life post-diagnosis, I feel I'm not so easily forgettable either. Not dying does that to a person's "pagh," to invoke "the spiritual force inherent in all sentient beings" as believed by the inhabitants of Bajor. (See Major Kira Nerysfrom "Deep Space Nine.")
For the moment/immediate future though, I am still present and accounted for. I just hope all my medical appointments haven't been automatically cancelled, since I'm still a living and breathing cancer patient, and that's no exaggeration.