I don't know where my cancer trajectory will lead, but I do know that others have been down this path.
In the past few days, friends with whom I had lost touch have stepped forward to share their experiences with cancer.
One of these friends, a man I met while helping to organize the 1987 March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, learned of my situation through a mutual friend. In an e-mail, he described his situation as "pretty low on the cancer scale."
"My situation is so mild I tend to think of it as Cancer Lite," he quipped. "It was early, slow-growing and very treatable."
The other friend, a co-worker from many years ago, heard about my diagnosis in an e-mail with other former employees of the nonprofit where we met. She told me that she is also a member of the "Cancer Club," having battled breast cancer with chemo and radiation therapy. "I am an old hand at the cancer game," she said.
My friend went on to disclose what she described as the worst part of her experience: learning that her child had a brain tumor. Since then, her child has had surgery and radiation.
"She is amazing," my friend wrote. "She had to learn to walk and talk again. A year later, she is in swim class and finished circus camp. She is my hero."
Last month, I met a deputy of a local legislator at a work function. He had arrived after a photographer working our event had left, and I was asked to take a photo of him with a certificate of commendation he brought from Washington, D.C.
After I took the photo, the legislative deputy struck up a conversation with me, which required me to jot down my responses in my note pad.
In minutes, I told him that I was in the middle of medical appointments to determine why I was unable to speak and swallow, and he told me that he had found himself in a similar situation many years ago. He said that he went many years without a satisfactory diagnosis until a neurologist at a local university examined him, pinpointed the cause of his problems, and set him on the road to treatment and recovery.
He said he hoped that I would find the cause of my problems. I thought to myself that I didn't have the patience to wait years to find out what is wrong.
I've already turned the corner in my situation by getting a cancer diagnosis. Tomorrow I will meet with the Tumor Board at Kaiser and by the end of the day, I hope to have an understanding of what it will require to treat this disease and continuing with my life.
I don't think that I would describe my illness as "Cancer Lite"; this disease already has resulted in a hole in my throat and another in my stomach. On the other hand, whatever lies ahead for me cannot possibly be as difficult as it would be for someone to watch his or her child suffer.
I'm not being glib, but I expect to join the ranks of cancer survivors. Just as my friends with cancer are today helping me cope with my fears, five or 10 or 15 years from now, I want to be able to give others hope.