One of my favorite Tom Petty songs – even to this day – is “The Waiting.” I remember listening to it repeatedly on WEBN when it was released in 1981. I was a lowly Sign Printer (that was my actual title) at Value City Department Store in Latonia, Kentucky. I had a ramshackle “office” (more like a cage) over the loading dock that always smelled of ink and solvent, but I was one of the only employees in the store that could listen to the radio during the day. Given my lifelong love of music, it was a nice trade-off for “getting my hands dirty,” something that by my own admission, I am loathed to do at this stage of my life.
So how does a Tom Petty song factor into a cancer journey? One thing that cancer survivors learn is sometimes, the waiting is the hardest part. It begins before you are even officially classified as a cancer patient or survivor, waiting days for a biopsy result that you both want and dread at the same time. For many cancer survivors, that feeling of dread continues every three, six or twelve months while waiting for test results, hoping against hope that there has been no recurrence or disease progression.
I remember like it was yesterday the nervous anticipation that my wife Diana and I had when it was time to receive my first PSA following my prostatectomy in September 2013. If I was going to be cured, that PSA needed to be somewhere down around 0.01, but it was 0.1. My urologist was not happy and suggested that we do another blood draw in a month, hoping that there were some lingering cancer cells that would be gone by then. That result was 0.2. I was not cured by the surgery. I immediately began radiation in January 2014. The thinking was the cancer was still localized and radiation would obliterate the rest of it. 33 radiation treatments later, my PSA never came down, and my cancer is incurable (but treatable).
That reality kicked off a cycle of waiting for test results every three months. I remember in the beginning, literally pulling over to the side of the road when I got a push notification that my test result had posted to the UC Health patient portal. I couldn’t even wait to get home to receive the news. I am sure I am not the only cancer patient that has ever experienced this anxiety.
My brother Brad reminded me of another great Tom Petty lyric last night… “most things I worry about never happen anyway.” Cancer patients must get really good at taking a deep breath, not assuming the worst, and not going down the Google rabbit hole in researching their disease and prognosis. It’s harder than it sounds sometimes. I’ll talk about that more in my next blog post, entitled “The Median is Not the Message.”
Until next time,