Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Incredible Shrinking Man

I've loved this classic movie since I was a kid, and it still works for me. Based on an even better novel by Richard Matheson, it tells the story of Scott Carey, who because of exposure to chemicals, among other things like a mysterious, glowing mist, starts shrinking. By the end of the movie, he's small enough to fit through a window screen. For a ten year old boy - and there is still a ten year old boy alive and kicking inside my head - it doesn't get much better than the scene when Scott fights and kills a giant spider when he's less than an inch tall. He uses a hat pin as a sword, as I recall.

At the checkup with my new family doctor in April of 2015, when the PSA test that started this whole mess was taken, the first thing the assistant did when she called me in was measure my height. She wrote me down as five feet nine inches tall. I said, "I am not! I've been five ten and three quarters my whole adult life!" So she measured me again. Guess what? I'm five nine. I've shrunk. That's what happens when you get old.

As you all know, that was just the beginning of the bad news, and by far the least of it. Once I was diagnosed with cancer in August of 2015, they put me on hormone treatment. It immediately started shrinking my cancer. But it also started shrinking me. Not literally, just in terms of how I feel.

When my PSA began to rise after ten months or so of one hormone treatment alone, (Lupron) another hormone treatment was added to it. Xtandi. The four horse pills I take every morning. That combination has had my cancer shrinking at an astonishing rate. But it's shrinking me at the same time, seemingly even faster than Lupron alone did. Shrinking my strength, my stamina, my endurance. My desire to do the things I used to love to do.

And there's no end in sight. I have to stay on this stuff for the forseeable future. It's giving me great numbers for now, but at the same time, I'm starting to feel like Scott Carey wearing boys clothes, and then moving into a doll house before being chased out of it by the cat. How small will I get? I feel pretty small now. 

My latest description of my treatment is that it's doing a great job of keeping my cancer under control, but it's also doing a great job of turning me into a wet noodle. The two go hand in hand. You can't have one without the other. I almost titled this post The Adventures Of The Wet Noodle, but that sounds like a children's book. And I couldn't have put that cool vintage movie poster at the top. 

There is one way that hormone treatment is shrinking me physically, and I've been talking about it in this blog. It curbs my appetite and makes me lose weight if I'm not careful to eat enough calories, carbs and fat. But my weight is back up where it should be now, thanks in large part to the ice-cream-before-bed-every-night diet. Oh, the sacrifices we make... 

My wife and I just got back from a road trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to meet our friends Christopher and Lori Caminiti. Christopher is also a Stage 4 prostate cancer patient. Our journeys are very similar, though he is farther down this road than I am. Our first evening together was nothing but fun, but this subject did come up. We both feel like our strength is shrinking because of treatment. Then, the next day, we proved it.

It was a beautiful day in Santa Fe, (sounds like a song lyric!) and the four of us went to the central plaza to shop and have some lunch. We walked around for a while and took some pictures. But every few minutes, Christopher needed to sit down. I was happy to join him. Each time we sat down, the conversation turned to cancer, and how treatment is taking its toll on both of us. 

By the time we sat down in the beautiful courtyard restaurant our wives had found for lunch, Christopher had about had enough. I could see the pain on his face, and in spite of how little time we'd spent together, I could tell he was not doing well. Christopher always puts on a happy face, no matter how he feels. But not yesterday at lunchtime. When our food arrived, we held hands to pray for the meal, and I was overcome with emotion. Instead of praying for the food, I mostly prayed for my friend.

Later, I told Christopher and Lori that I hated seeing Christopher suffer like that, but I also internalized it. To me, it looked like previews of coming attractions. This is what I have to look forward to. Yes, when we got back to the condo we'd rented, I needed a nap, but that was the extent of my "shrinkage." Christopher is the strongest man I know, but yesterday, fighting the spider would have been too much for him.

The way I feel some days, including today, there's no way I could take on that giant spider, like Scott Carey does in the movie. I'd be spider lunch pretty fast.

And we all know what the spider represents in the movie of my life, and Christopher's. Cancer. I'm doing my best to fight the spider, but the smaller I get, the harder it is to even lift the hat pin. And while I don't have proof yet, I fear that the spider is growing again, after shaving shrunk along with me for months. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many Orkin men I bring in to try to kill it, (little known fact: I used to be an Orkin man - ask me about my Daddy Long Legs story sometime) we'll never be able to kill the spider. One day the spider will bigger than I am, and I'll be too small and weak to fight it. Then the spider will eat me.

That's the biggest difference between me and the guys with varieties of my cancer that are curable. The ones who can be cured through treatment are able to slay the spider, like Scott does in the movie. The rest of us put it off for as long as we can, but we'll never make it past the spider to that window screen on our own.

When Scott Carey defeats the spider, he walks to the window and discovers that he is now small enough to escape through the screen. He's been so small that his wife has been unable to find him since the cat chased him out of the doll house and he fell into the basement. He had been completely alone for a long time, and would be for the rest of his life. He wonders, as the movie ends, how small will he become? The size of a molecule? A sub-atomic particle? He wanders into the forest that was once his back yard, contemplating the nature of the universe.

As I keep shrinking, I find myself doing a lot of contemplating as well. I do it right here in this blog. But I'm sure of some things. I'm sure I will never be lost and alone, like Scott Carey is in the story, no matter how small I get. I don't need to wonder what will happen when I'm no longer able to beat back the spider. I know I'll have the love of family and friends to surround me, and I know Who will be there with me to face the spider, and usher me through the window screen into a world of wonders when the battle is over.

Because even when the spider eats me, it won't win, and I won't lose. I may be getting weaker and smaller, but I have resources Scott Carey didn't have. I have an army of people praying for me. I have an incredible inner circle of family and friends who support me and love on me. If I may risk paraphrasing Obi Wan Kenobi, when the spider strikes me down, I shall become more powerful than it can imagine. If a spider can imagine anything. Because I am The Incredible Shrinking Man. #waroncancer

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