So its February 23, 2015, a milestone for me and my family. Four years ago this morning I was diagnosed with Ocular Melanoma (OM), specifically a 14mm x 16mm x 2.9mm choroidal melanoma tumor inside my right eye. Most people who know me remember that I had an issue with my eye and often ask me how my sight is doing. I want to take this opportunity to provide an update and some nuggets from my now four year journey with cancer.
First an update: OM is not really about eyesight. An OM tumor is highly likely to spread outside the eye into vital organs and lead to death. I was told that I had a 30% chance of living longer than four years by a genetic counsellor who gave me the prognosis. That kind of message made me much less concerned about eyesight and more concerned about the spread of cancer. The tumor in my eye is still there but after being irradiated, bathed in chemo and lasered repeatedly it is shrinking and should no longer pose a threat. I have had CTs and MRIs often since 2011 and to date no cancer has been found outside of the original site. If there is no cancer found this year, my risk will go down to around 10%.
So, if nothing else happens, I may have survived a very deadly disease.
Now for the take-aways. Like me, Oliver Sacks has Ocular Melanoma too. His recent Op Ed in the New York Times is a great read and describes pretty well how I feel about receiving a terminal diagnosis.
I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written.
Dr Sacks has an amazing mind and clearly has a deep appreciation of the life he has lived. Still, at 81 he is lamenting his situation. That is understandable since he is human and will miss the only life and family he has ever known. But in a way it is sad; less grateful than one should be for the privilege of living eight decades.
I don’t know Dr Sacks and should not criticize but here’s what makes me say that.
One day I was sitting in the Ophthalmological Oncology Waiting Room at Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia feeling sorry for myself. I was about one year into regular treatment and not looking forward to getting another shot in the eyeball. A little girl wearing an eyepatch came in with her mom and sat down across from me. She was about 10, about the age of my little niece. In that moment I realized that I had not been thankful. I felt like a petulant kid at Christmas who did not get the requested present. It was not a good feeling.
As Dr Sacks said, he has traveled, written, read, lived, loved and has been loved. Me too. I have two daughters who have grown into healthy, productive adults. They are really pretty cool people too, people I love to spend time with. My wife of almost thirty years is a constant companion and my best friend in the world. I miss her right now and we’ve only been apart for about three hours and that relationship is a gift from above. It’s also something that the little girl at Wills may never know.
So, how long is long enough to live? I don’t know the answer to that but I want to strive to be the person who is thankful for however long it is. It reminds me of this song “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry.
If I die young, bury me in satin
Lay me down on a bed of roses
Sink me in the river at dawn
Send me away with the words of a love song
The sharp knife of a short life, oh well
I’ve had just enough time…
But I am pretty sure no one really feels that way; even if you die in your 80’s like Dr Sacks probably will. It’s hard not to covet more time but that’s my prayer for my fourth anniversary. That I can listen to that Band Perry song and sing along with those lyrics with an honest voice. A voice that says, yep, I’d like more but I’ve had just enough time. Thanks be to God.