Sunday, June 24, 2018

Five Years

So, I just passed a little milestone: five years since cancer diagnosis.

I’m an official cancer survival statistic!

There’s nothing magic about five years with my particular cancer. But in order to measure progress overall, the CDC and other organizations track and publish five-year survival rates for all cancer types. You can see them here (on the Survival tab).

It feels both long ago, and like yesterday.

Wonderful Wife and I find that we use it as a life milestone. We’ll be trying to remember when some other event occurred, like having the house painted, and we’ll ask each other, “Was that before or after cancer?”

Long-time readers of this blog may recall that once I learned my cancer was highly survivable, I wanted to treat it like the flu with an unpleasant treatment. I didn’t feel like it would become a significant life event for me.

I was wrong.

I’ve written about scares I’ve had since treatment, where some other symptom or remark by a clinician unleashes an unexpected level of fear. It surprises me that it is right there under the surface.

I’ve always tried to be an empathetic and kind person but I think surviving cancer has helped me become even more so.

Two years ago I went to work in Informatics at Dana-Farber. That continues to be quite an honor. It gives me weekly opportunities to be helpful and kind to patients who are in the thick of it. And my personal experience gives me valuable insight in my work. I am working on projects that should have a direct impact on cancer research and new and improved treatments.

The Progeny both suffer from anxiety. They did to some extent before cancer (it’s disheartening how many adolescents suffer from anxiety today), but cancer definitely stepped it up, especially for Progeny the Younger who is now 12. Both have gone to therapy.

Wonderful Wife has a long history of depression, which fortunately is pretty well managed with medication. But after the heroic effort she put in taking care of me during treatment and recovery, she experienced a deep trough for several months. Luckily, with the help of her doctors, she was able to climb out and has done pretty well since.

The side effects of treatment persist but are just part of life now. I still cough a lot because of diminished and thick saliva that makes my throat "sticky". I think my sense of taste has improved, but it's such a subjective thing that it's not clear whether that is physical change or modified perception. My hearing is still affected, but I only have significant trouble in noisy environments like restaurants and bars where trying to focus on a conversation can be exhausting. Those are constant reminders of cancer, but they have a neutral sense to them - they are what they are.

The fact that I write so seldom here these days is evidence of the recession of cancer and its effects into the background of my life. Life is normal and busy, and even though I have a long list of topics I’d like to write about here writing never seems to rise to the top of the list.

I’m not even sure anyone is still listening here. If you are, please send a note to john at Just say “I’m still here, keep writing!”

Next week I visit Dr. Chemo for my follow-up visit.  Those are now just twice per year.

I’m going to bake brownies and make cards with a family photo, and deliver them to the Head and Neck Clinic, the Infusion Center, and Radiation Oncology. These are the places where I spent most of my time during treatment. The staff sees most people at their worst, and I know they like it when former patients come back healthy and happy and normal.

Happy Five Years to me!


  1. Just starting the journey, I have read half your blog in one night........I probably should have been sleeping.. is there anything you wish you would have done before treatment?
    I have two young kids, and want another.

  2. very encouraging thanks for taking the time to write about your experience. My husband is about to go down the same path with throat cancer - happy 5 to you!

  3. A note for people who comment: I would very much love to reply to you if you wish. Nosoap, above, asked me a question. But I have no way to contact you if you leave an anonymous comment here. Please be sure to leave me a way to contact you.