Sometimes God Throws a Brick: A Chronicle of Living, A Reflection on Life recounts the events associated with, and my reactions to, my introduction to lung cancer over the past several months. It has become yet another near-death episode that I’ve experienced. I suppose that it’s a natural reaction to wonder if there’s a purpose for surviving, something bigger than ourselves. I never identified any in the past, but then I never received so much assistance from others either. The previous events were more solitary and of much shorter duration. This time, after receiving a “weeks to months” death sentence at the outset and still being alive and well almost two years later caused me to more seriously ponder what the purpose, if any, might be for me to remain among the living. Maybe it’s to share my experiences with cancer victims and their caregivers. I’ve offered to discuss my thoughts regarding cancer, its treatment, and what to do upon receiving the dreaded diagnosis. The response has been so great that I began documenting my observations and suggestions.
Many friends were familiar with a photograph-rich book entitled Reasons to Live that I self-published a number of years ago after having a mild heart attack. They inquired if I was going to write another book. My uninspired, noncommittal response was usually met with strong encouragement. I had considered documenting my treatment and everything associated with it, but frankly, I preferred to sublimate all that had occurred and dwell in the present, even daring to venture into the future as the tumors continued to resolve during my first treatment.
Because of the remarkable kindness and support given to me by my wife, Vicki, and son, Ned, and so many people the past two years, I’ve been striving to become a better person, to try to repay the love in any way that I can. I hadn’t done so in response to my previous experiences. When I mentioned this to a friend that cancer has significantly helped me toward becoming who I want to be her response rang true. She smiled and said, “Sometimes God throws a brick."
That pretty much clinched my decision to try to write this memoir. I thought it could be a straightforward process. One of my oncologists encouraged me to continue to work and pursue my hobbies as best as possible during my chemotherapy treatment. For many years, I have kept a journal of thoughts and interesting tidbits that I’ve encountered while reading and listening, as well as photographs that I have taken. Included in the journal are the update e-mails that I sent to a large group of friends reporting on my progress. In addition, at the suggestion of Vicki, I kept brief notes of my responses to my various treatments. The emails and a selection of these notes and relevant journal entries formed the framework for this memoir. They detail my experiences and states of my heart and mind. Everything is presented in chronological order unless indicated otherwise.
I needed quite a bit of help from Vicki in creating what follows. It seems that my memory has failed me in a number of areas. Others generously refer to it as “chemo brain.”
Preface to the Second Edition
I have created a second edition of Sometimes God Throws a Brick: A Chronicle of Living, A Reflection on Life in response to the many requests that I write a book about my more recent experiences. This edition picks up with Chapter Six where the first edition left off, after the completion of radiation therapy. As time progressed I included more non-clinical material in the update emails, they became even more personal in many respects, further describing the saga. The emails embodied much of the type of information I included between the emails in the first edition. Consequently, the new matter consists primarily of the emails. This edition also includes an updated Cancer Treatment Advice appendix.
In the almost two years since completing the first edition I have been blessed with mostly good health. There are always ups and downs with treatments; they are poisons after all. But my general good health afforded me time and space to reflect and live and appreciate my countless blessings. I had avoided examining any actuarial data concerning my type and stage of cancer. I typically heard that with the various treatments the cancer continued to spread in one-third of the patients, ceased spreading in one-third and shrank in the other one-third. I liked the odds, that in 2 of 3 of the cases the cancer was under control. That’s all I needed to know. I had heard that my brand of cancer was the deadliest and is never completely vanquished by any treatment, but I had no idea of just how dire my prognosis was. Not until this past summer, that is. I learned that only 43% of us survive 6 months post-diagnosis, 25% at one year and 11% at two years. I’m presently one of the 5% surviving at the three and a half year mark, and I’m doing very well. I mention these figures not to impress, but because I know my survival is attributable to forces much greater than I, far greater than my understanding. It’s this realization and the resultant ramifications that flavor my more recent emails.
This edition describes my participation in a second clinical study, one that is examining a new class of drugs, the state of the art in cancer treatment. The best hope ever for a robust treatment, possibly even a cure. Unlike previous modalities, these immunotherapy drugs, anti-PD-1 and anti-PD-L1, do not poison the cancer, but instead eliminate the ability of cancer to hide from the host body’s immune system. These drugs block signals from the tumors that protect them. Consequently, the immune system may be activated to exert a response that attacks the tumors. I am still participating in this trial.
This edition is frequently revised with new email updates.