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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Almost 5 years, and counting

With that random, yet holy, date of five years looming just six months away, I received some great news from Long Island oncologist Dr. Paul Hyman of Bay Shore on the Great South Bay.

Dr. Paul Hyman
The doc, an avid Mets fan (in contrast to Dr. Lee Zehngebot of Orlando, an insanely avid Yankees fan) yesterday told me to come back in a year. I think that's the Holy Grail for cancer patients. It's the time, converging with that five-year mark, a Mets no-hitter after 50 years and the transit of Venus across the Sun, that means I'm out of the woods for all intents and purposes. It means my tests showed up looking good, all the numbers should be about where they are and all the dots are there and the T's crossed.

So Dr. Hyman looked over the bloodwork, added information to his practice's new computer and software upgrades and then said, "everything looks good." Ah. Magical words to a person who has pretty much gone through hell, looked Satan, or whomever he was, straight in the eyes, kneed him in the hoo-has and walked slowly back home.

So it's been a long, bumpy journey, and there's more, I'm sure, to come. But Dr. Hyman's proclamation that he doesn't need to see me until past my five-year-out date of late December means I'm that much closer to the light than to the dark. It means my expiration date has not yet arrived. 
Dr. Phil Styne

Dr. Lee Zehngebot
 Along this trek, there have been several ups and quite a few downs. I've lost  my mother, gained two granddaughters and two sons-in-law, though one of those has since left the herd, gained three siblings and a bunch of nieces and nephews (see, and lost a couple of friends, one to this exact disease. I've met people via the interwebs with cancer of the esophagus who I later lost and I've made some remarkable friends, some in unexpected places, like hospitals and doctors' offices.

Dr. Joe Boyer
 And though I tried to avoid doctors most of my life, it all caught up with me in September 2007, when I was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, which until that year was pretty much a death sentence, killing 87 percent of the people unfortunate enough to receive the diagnosis.

Dr. Z, Dr. Joe Boyer, Dr. Phil Styne and a cast of thousands at Florida Hospital in Orlando, thankfully, were all part of a conspiracy to save lives, working on a grand experiment, a series of trials to figure a way to up the odds for esophageal cancer patients. I lucked out and caught them after they doubled survivability to more than 30 percent via their participation in a major study by the Minnie Pearl Cancer Research Network. As Catherine put it, I'm one of the 30 percent.

Dr. Z, for example, is not exactly a friend (never met outside of the office or hospital) though I do consider him one. But he is the man who almost more than anyone saved my life. (Yes, Joe Boyer was a big player, too, wielding a big scalpel and now a bunch of little robots even as he instructs at UCF and leads the thoractic surgical unit at Florida Hospital.)

Dr. Z and I have each other's cell numbers, and use them from time to time. He texted me a photo of him dropping down a slope on skis last year after one of his extreme vacations. I texted him yesterday in the car (no, I wasn't driving) after my visit with Dr. Hyman. I wrote: "Just saw oncologist who said all looks good and wants to see me in a year. Thank you for saving my life. Seriously."

And this die-hard, lifelong Yanks fan replies: "Anytime. You look better than the Yankees."

Hear that, A-Rod?