Saturday, January 17, 2009

Pink Lazy Boys

During the fourteen months that my wife Anne suffered with cancer, we spent endless hours in a large room where friendly nurses administered chemotherapy. I saw and heard many interesting things during this time, some funny, some sad and all surreal. I remember one such story that seems almost like fiction, but is true.

Pink Lazy Boy recliners populated the chemo room at Oklahoma City’s Mercy Hospital. Anne liked the one in a corner. She would get comfortable in the chair as a nurse inserted a needle in her vein to supply the cancer drug suspended from a drip (unlike many cancer patients, Anne had no port in her chest to accept the drug).

Benadryl was usually one of the components of the chemo cocktail. The drug usually put Anne to sleep. I would read a magazine or newspaper (usually a U.S.A. Today) cover-to-cover while Anne slept beneath a soft blanket on the reclined Lazy Boy.

Treatment times vary, but Anne’s always lasted a couple of hours. She would awaken before the last drop of chemo fluid had drained from the plastic bag. The steroids that were part of the chemo cocktail made her feel stronger and better, and she often made cell phone calls during this time.

These conversations always amazed me because for a few hours after the treatment, her former healthy persona seemed to return. It was drug-induced, of course, but we both cherished the first few hours following a chemo treatment. After listening to one of Anne’s animated cell phone discussions with a friend, the man in the pink Lazy Boy next to us introduced himself.

“I heard you say you went to high school at Capitol Hill. Where did you live?”

“Near SW 42 and Western,” she said, giving him the exact address, and telling him the years that she lived there.

“I also have lung cancer, but we have something else in common. I remember you as he little girl,” he said. “I lived across the street from you.”

Anne and the man began talking and exchanging information when the man sitting across from us interrupted them.

“I know you’re going to find this hard to believe, but I lived in the house behind you during the same time.”

The three former neighbors spent the rest of their time in the chemo room exchanging friendly anecdotes and comparing notes about everyone they knew in common. I put down the paper that I was reading and listened to the amazing conversation.

Call it a coincidence, but all three patients were receiving identical treatments for the same type of cancer at the same time, and all three had lived within a block of each other for a period of several years.
Smoking is the usual stated cause for lung cancer. Anne was a heavy smoker but had quit more than four years prior to contracting the disease. The man sitting next to us had also been a heavy smoker, but not so the man across from us.

“I never touched a cigarette,” he told us.

The strange coincidence lingered in my mind long after that particular trip to the chemo room. What else did these three patients have in common that could have caused their cancer? I can think of only one explanation.

The part of Oklahoma City where Anne and the two men lived is near the center of a large oil field known as the Oklahoma City Field. Once the World’s largest producer, the Oklahoma City Field will ultimately produce around a billion barrels of oil. During the early days, many of the wildcat wells “blew in” for twenty-thousand barrels of oil per day, much if it covering the ground for miles because of prevailing winds.

Were oil by-products the cause, or the catalyst causing Anne and the two men’s cancer? I am a petroleum geologist and it pains me to believe it could have happened. Oil companies cleaned up the oily cesspool decades ago but it is impossible to know how many harmful chemicals sank into the soil and leached into the groundwater.

Environmental oversight of oil and gas drilling is far more stringent these days and a spill of even a single barrel of oil can result in stiff fines and penalties. It still makes me wonder what other industries are doing to harm our fragile ecosystem.

Anne’s cancer treatment cost our insurance company more than a million dollars. One chemo cocktail treatment cost nearly twenty-thousand dollars and did absolutely nothing to curtail the disease. Our scientists can put a man on the moon but they do not have a clue what causes cancer or have an inkling of how to cure it, except to inject expensive, painful and worthless toxic chemicals into the patient’s veins.

Will there ever be a cure for cancer? The answer is a resounding no! Too many pharmaceutical companies and scores of doctors are making far too much money to introduce a cure. One thing I know for sure. Some patients survive cancer but it is not because of their doctors or the toxic drugs injected into their veins. It is because their immune systems reengaged and killed the cancer.

I am not a doctor but as a geologist, I know that if you keep drilling dry holes, you must be looking in the wrong place. If I had the same success rate as most (I really mean all) oncologists, I would have been out of business years ago, and I suspect this is true for almost all businesses.

Sorry for the rant, but spending hours beside a pink Lazy Boy gives you plenty of time to reflect on life’s absurdities, and the almost total lack of control we have over them.

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