Today I was eating a Tootsie Roll, and while chewing it, felt something sharp against my gum. Knowing my candy, sharp I should not feel, so immediately I stopped chewing in hopes of locating the sensation; which I did. It turns out that I broke off the top half of a previously (years ago) installed dental crown. Fortunately, the crown was still in my mouth, so I was able to retrieve it. Upon closer examination of it and the now crown-less tooth, it appears that the crown and the tooth are completely intact (undamaged) and perhaps a simple re-cementing at the dentist’s office awaits, a repair achieved much less expensively than replacing the entire crown. (I can hope, can’t I? After all, I am a cancer patient; hope is what I do.)
As soon as I realized what had happened, I began to remember – and laugh. Approximately 4 months into my initial chemotherapy infusions nearly five years ago in the first quarter of 2009, I shared a dental concern with my oncologist. I had broken off the top half of a tooth and it needed a crown. Concerned that somehow the chemotherapy would affect the crown’s cementing, I had waited until this point to ask my oncologist’s permission to have the repair. I offered to him that since I had one more heavy-duty chemotherapy infusion scheduled (boy was I naive), could I schedule the dental-crown appointment with my dentist now? My oncologist looked up at me as I sat on the examining table and hesitated and then asked: “How long does a dental crown last?” I similarly hesitated and said: “I don’t know. About 10 years, I guess.” To which he replied, “Maybe you don’t need a dental crown.”
Perplexed as to why he was advising me not to seek a medical/dental solution, I thought for a few seconds while I processed his answer: Why did he ask about how long the crown lasts and how come he’s not encouraging me get the crown…Oh, I get it. He doesn’t think I have 10 years.
Then I laughed and said I understood. A few weeks later, against my oncologist’s advice, I got the crown. And now five years later, the crown has fallen off. Not only did it not last 10 years, it barely lasted five years. Moreover, I lasted five years, three years longer than the back end of the “13 months to two years” prognosis I was given by this oncologist. Not that I necessarily wanted to prove him wrong and/or get my money’s worth out of this crown, but the fact that I have outlived both my crown and my original terminal prognosis has brought me great joy. Not a sense of self-satisfaction per se, but more a sense of irony.
Given the rather grim statistics attached to a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis, the relative significance of a dental crown repair is practically zero. Still, it feels good. (Moreover, my philosophy was and is: given the extreme negative that a terminal cancer diagnosis/prognosis imposes, anything the patient, in this case me, can do to act/live normally, the better/more optimistic I’ll feel to counter the weight of a cancer diagnosis. Giving in to it is not an option.)
So I’ll be calling my dentist this week to schedule a consult/fix. However, considering the fact that February 27, 2014 will be my five-year survival anniversary, an accomplishment that few – less than 5 percent – of stage IV, non-small cell lung cancer patients ever realize, it will give me pause once again as to whether the repair is truly necessary. Now whether it turns out to be a waste of time, energy and money, as my oncologist originally presumed it might be, the repair is necessary for one main reason: peace of mind.
It’s my life and I want to live it. The heck with the diagnosis/prognosis.
“This column is my life as one of the fortunate few; a lung cancer anomaly: a stage IV lung cancer patient who has outlived his doctor’s original prognosis; and I’m glad to share it. It seems to help me cope writing about it. Perhaps it will help you relate reading about it.”
Mr. Lourie’s columns can be found at www.connectionnewspapers.com. (key word, Lourie)