In June I wrote about plans for a currently incurable summer vacation, but I couldn't have foretold the incredible experiences that lay before me over the next two months. It truly was the best summer I have had in years, with everything magnified through the prism of a Stage IV cancer life.
It was my best summer in years not only in spite of Stage IV cancer but in many ways because of it.
"Magnified through the prism of a Stage IV cancer life" is exactly how it felt. I knew that taking a summer off from chemo treatment would probably cause some tumor growth but when you are faced with the odds I and other Stage IV patients often face – quality of life is always balanced with quantity. Every day of a carefree summer counted in special ways towards the quality side of that balance, an equation that can be hard for someone without a currently incurable diagnosis to truly comprehend.
I did not waste a single day. I took chances. My life became a whirlwind of daily experiences and the rush of experiences arrived in a nonstop flow of excitement and fun.
Reliving childhood memories with my kids and extended family in my Michigan hometown and then creating their own new childhood memories at their cousin's and Grandparent's homes. Attempting cutting edge science for the treatment of my own disease. Giving Stage IV patient advocacy speeches before hundreds of people. Visiting very close friends of the Stage IV community across multiple time zones, in cities big and small. The simple joys of riding a Jeep at sunset through the rural countryside and the complex joys of long in-depth emotional conversations with fellow Stage IV survivors. Home cooking and the finest of city dining. Visiting rural and suburban family homes and staying at urban boutique hotels.
Every day was an adventure.
One highlight: Spending hours with a fellow Stage IV patient currently living eleven years into her diagnosis partially because of a cancer drug I co-invented. We spent our evening deep in discussion at a restaurant fittingly named the "Miracle of Science".
It was the ultimate "Cannonball Life" summer.
And today it comes to an end.
Tomorrow, I return to the world of CT-scans and tumor blood marker tests. To doctor appointments and infusions centers. To chemotherapy and treatment. I'll find out shortly what the medical costs were from my currently incurable summer vacation.
No matter the test results I receive in the coming days, I will have no regrets. I lived my life to the absolute fullest this summer and I made many memories to last a lifetime – both for myself and for those I was with.
As the sun sets on my currently incurable summer vacation, I'll end with a paraphrase of how I started it: "And for that opportunity I am very thankful. No matter what your situation, I hope you have enjoyed making some good memories the past couple of months. That is what summers are for."
Dr. Tom Marsilje is a 20-year oncology drug discovery scientist with "currently incurable" stage IV colon cancer. He also writes a personal blog on life at the intersection of being both a cancer patient and researcher "Adventures in Living Terminally Optimistic," a science column for Fight Colorectal Cancer "The Currently Incurable Scientist", and posts science and advocacy updates to Twitter@CurrentIncurSci. This guest column appears on Diagnosis: Cancer through our partnership with Inspire, an Arlington, Va., company with condition-specific online support communities for over 800,000 patients and caregivers.