I got some good news. I have the ALK fusion gene that occurs in less than 4% of people with my condition. Scientists have developed a targeted therapy for this mutation that was FDA approved in 2011 as a front line defense because of its outstanding results. This means I won’t have to go through traditional chemo therapy. So instead of my system being carpet bombed by intravenous drugs the Crizotinib will target only the cancer mutation in my body. My doctor was real clear, “results are better and the side effects are lower,” but it’s too early to tell about longevity. This is the biggest break I’ve gotten since I heard the news. I’m delighted and excited to start, but I’m not sure how much my attitude had to do with these results. In other words, did my positive attitude help me?
I’ve been told by everyone to have a positive outlook on things. To keep my chin up. To have faith. I always answer the same way.
And I do, but this answer is usually followed by me gulping hard. Why? I don’t always feel every moment of the day that things will work out for me. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote an article called Smile you’ve got Cancer which delves into the cult of positivity. She makes the point that not only was the cancer killing her, but her lack of positive thinking made her feel doubly doomed. She rejected the idea that cancer “was a gift,” or, “the best thing that ever happened to her.” She’s a bit of a contrarian but the article had me laughing.
My emotions run the gamut, mostly hopeful, and largely buoyed by the wave of good will and prayer I’ve received in person through letters and on Facebook. I had no idea I had so many genuine friends. I had no idea that I had so many in my corner who cared. Still doubt is like a draft that blows though the house. You immediately try to find where the cold air is coming from, and close it off, but it can return. Similarly, anxiety creeps in despite my wish to close it out. Crizotinib has positive effects on 90 % of recipients but the mutation can change.
When an interviewer asked Thich Nhat Hanh, “Are you always this peaceful?” The Buddhist Monk didn’t say yes or no.
“This is my training, this is my practice,” he said, and smiled. By extension, being positive is an action step, a practice, as the great Monk reminds me. Luckily it has spilled over into my actions. I’ve received radiation on my back that has relieved my pain. I’ve set my mind to being hopeful while I lie on the table and hear the beams moving through me. I’ve used visualization techniques, breathing techniques; I’ve called on my childhood God. But the fact remains; I can’t contain the whirlwind in my head all the time. My worst thoughts will often try to stage a coup. This is okay when it happens, too. In the meantime, I have five radiation appointments left followed by a two week rest. Then the chemo pills start and the positive thinking, of course.