With all this chatter about interferon, it’s easy to lose track of exactly why it’s important for me to put up with the awful side-effects. I would be crazy to go through this drill if it didn’t provide some worthwhile benefit. While that benefit is underwhelming it is at least measurable. For people like me with advanced melanoma, there are no good choices for treatment. The research shows that patients who complete a year’s regimen of interferon (4 weeks of high dose and 48 weeks of low) gain a 10 percentage point improvement in 5-year survival. That would push my odds from about 40% to 50%. It seems unfair that a treatment as difficult as this wouldn’t provide more improvement in survival, but that’s the way things are. You can see why a lot of people opt against interferon and accept their slightly diminished odds. I’ve had second thoughts myself about continuing. It’s partly a fear of the melanoma recurring that keeps me going.
One of the things that having a cancer diagnosis does for you is make the point that you’re going to die—if not now, if not even soon, then eventually. This realization comes as a shock to most of us. When we’re healthy it is very hard to appreciate this point. It certainly was for me. We can always postpone having to deal emotionally and spiritually with our own death. But when the doctor says, “It’s cancer,” our life telescopes down. It compresses itself and forces us to consider its end. We have to ponder what it means to possibly exit this world sooner than we expected. I’ve worked through a lot of this heavy stuff already. I won’t go into details here, but suffice to say that it’s been a time of spiritual growth. By acknowledging the fear of death, and moving past it, the prospect of life is that much sweeter, regardless of how much more time God has allotted me.