My fan­tasy game of ‘Can­cer Jeop­ardy’

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - COMMENTARY - By Debby Tep­per Glick

In my fan­tasy game of “Jeop­ardy,” I choose “Dis­eases No One Wants” for $200. The clue reads, “Can­cer.” I buzz in im­me­di­ately. “What is the dis­ease caused by an un­con­trolled di­vi­sion of ab­nor­mal cells?” Alex Tre­bek know­ingly nods his head as he replies “Cor­rect.” I move onto “Side Ef­fects” for $400. The clue pops up: “Nau­sea, Fa­tigue and Anx­i­ety.” I buzz in again. “What are com­mon side ef­fects of chemo­ther­apy?”

Next up “Stupid Plat­i­tudes” for $600. I’ve hit on the Daily Dou­ble and must de­cide how much I’m will­ing to wa­ger. What do I have to lose? I’ve al­ready come this far. I put it all on the line. The clue: “You’ll beat this thing be­cause you are a fighter.” I smile at the inanity of the re­mark, “What is a ridicu­lous cliché most can­cer pa­tients will hear from a wellmean­ing friend or rel­a­tive?”

I have good cause for feel­ing as if this episode of “Jeop­ardy” is a re­run. Eigh­teen years ago, I had breast can­cer. This time around it is lung can­cer. Might this qual­ify me as a con­tes­tant for Dou­ble Jeop­ardy?

Dr. Daniel S. Chen, of the Stan­ford Can­cer Cen­ter, wrote, “There are few things harder than get­ting a di­ag­no­sis of can­cer.

“But one of those things is think­ing that you’ve beaten can­cer, and get­ting the di­ag­no­sis again.” Truer words have never been spo­ken.

As this is my sec­ond ap­pear­ance on can­cer jeop­ardy I feel like I should be more knowl­edge­able. Ei­ther I am slow on the up­take, or there is an end­less amount of in­for­ma­tion to learn. I’ve al­ready cov­ered ra­di­a­tion and chemo­ther­apy. Next up: im­munother­apy, pe­ri­odic CAT scans and worry.

I naively thought, with my hair com­ing back, life would get back to some sem­blance of nor­mal, as I’m sure Alex Tre­bek thought, when doc­tors told him in Au­gust his pan­cre­atic can­cer was re­spond­ing well to treat­ment.

Then, in Septem­ber, he was told he had to go back for an­other round of chemo­ther­apy. This month, he said the dis­ease may end his ca­reer.

I am grate­ful to feel bet­ter phys­i­cally, but emo­tion­ally it has been more of a strug­gle. For a por­tion of ev­ery day, I feel as if I am run­ning on empty. Be­cause I am. What I lack in bravado, I make up for with vul­ner­a­bil­ity. I am one big pool of vul­ner­a­bil­ity. I swim in it daily.

When I shared my dif­fi­culty re­turn­ing to civil­ian life with my cousin, Jeff, he sent me a text that put it all in per­spec­tive. “That old cliché that it’s a marathon not a sprint ac­tu­ally doesn’t work be­cause it is both. You just went through the sprint and now you face the marathon. You can ex­pend the en­ergy short term but now you are ex­pected to sus­tain that en­ergy over a longer pe­riod. If it wasn’t that you have no choice, it would be im­pos­si­ble.”

I rec­og­nize this isn’t the most up­lift­ing trea­tise on life with can­cer. But I’ve read enough “Can­cer Made Me a Bet­ter Per­son” or “How I Learned To Em­brace Life Through Tragedy” es­says to last a life­time. What­ever floats your boat, but these mes­sages don’t res­onate with me. I was happy enough with my life BC (Be­fore Can­cer). Years ago, I read Miriam En­gel­berg’s graphic novel “Can­cer Made Me a Shal­lower Per­son.” This is a ti­tle I can em­brace.

The word “jeop­ardy” is de­fined as “in dan­ger, in peril, at risk.” With my stage 4 di­ag­no­sis, most days it’s hard not to think of my life as a full-time con­tes­tant wa­ger­ing it all on the luck of the draw.

I know I need to learn to pace my­self. Not ex­pect too much too soon. But oh how I miss my old self, the en­er­getic per­son I once was. As I slowly re­gain my stamina, I’m heart­ened to find there are oc­ca­sions I am able to per­form my lit­tle happy dance. It is nice to know I still re­mem­ber the moves.

The Fi­nal Jeop­ardy cat­e­gory is Ca­role King songs. I stake it all. “This top 10 hit from 1971 is a cau­tion­ary tale about slow­ing down.” I hap­pen to have some first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence on the sub­ject. I know ev­ery lyric to this song be­cause I’m liv­ing it.

I scrib­ble my an­swer: “What is ‘It’s Go­ing to Take Some Time This Time’ ”?

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