Calculating Risk

Thursday I traversed the frozen surface of the pond for perhaps the last time this season. The ice is thinning quickly. I had on my rubber boots and stayed what I felt to be a safe distance from shore: should I break through, the water would not be over my head. I got some fantastic photos and considered the little adventure a success. However, over dinner that evening when I mentioned that I’d been on the pond earlier, David and Peter were furious. Peter wouldn’t calm down until I promised I wouldn’t go out again.

I have always considered fear the enemy; something to conquer and overcome and I’ve had a lot of practice. Being risk adverse and scrappy has been an asset now that I have lung cancer.  As a participant in a phase I clinical trial, there is the potential for unforeseen and possibly life threatening side effects of treatment itself. Before you are given your first dose of an experimental drug, you must read through and sign consent forms which acknowledge this risk. It is something most healthy persons would never do. When you have a terminal illness, it is similar to coming to the edge of a ravine with a tiger on your trail. Between you and safety is a rickety bridge that may or may not support your weight. However, even chancy passage is an easy decision when the alternative is certain death.

Last week, the first night in the hospital, I pumped Dr. Shaw for information regarding the worst case scenario. She hesitated, but I assured her that knowing helped me feel more in control. When David had to leave for home, I told him goodbye and that I loved him and that if anything happened, I was so sorry (I figured that covered pretty much everything).

That night, when I finally fell asleep, I  dreamt I was kneeling in a field next to a man who seemed to sparkle with light, as if he were made of fireflies. And then I recognized the sparkling figure; it was my Grandpa Roy. It’s been almost thirty five years since my grandfather passed, and I was shaken the following morning. It was almost as if I’d paid a visit to the narrow place between life and death.

It was merely a dream. My enzyme values continue to fall. Slowly. It is a time for patience, and that is a virtue I cannot claim.

Linnea Duff, of Amherst, NH, is a married mother of three who has been battling NSCLC (stage IV) for over seven years. She blogs at life and breath: outliving lung cancer where this post first appeared.

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