Last Shot: The Questions I'm Tired of Answering About Cancer
Lindsey Best Andrew Youssef
[Editor's Note: Longtime concert photographer Andrew Youssef found out almost two years ago that he had Stage IV Colon Cancer. In that time, he has continued to shoot tons of music events for our sister paper OC Weekly on top of other freelance work and working a day job at a hospital, of all places. As he continues to fight for his life, this series allows him to tell his story in his own words.]
By Andrew Youssef
It was difficult telling my family and friends that I had Stage IV colon cancer. It is easy to surmise that very few people in my age group (37) have friends with a terminal disease. Everyone has different perceptions of cancer. My interactions with friends now has changed because the usual topic of cancer comes up first. Most cancer patients will tell you about the dreaded "How are you doing today?" My stock answer is, "I'm hanging in there." Does this person want to know in general how I'm feeling, or are they inquiring about my latest PET scan results and my tumor levels?
I'm very open to telling anyone who inquires the current state of my health. Does it get tiring repeating the same story all the time? Yes. But I have to understand my friends and family are concerned. Sometimes I feel like posting a scoreboard about my current tumor levels (they dropped last week) and what the latest PET scan showed (currently not so great at the moment).
With the advent of Twitter, Facebook and texting, it is easier to communicate my current health status, but why would I want to post a depressing Facebook status among your feed of cute baby/engagement photos? I try to make this column as the sole output of my struggles and victories with cancer. Part of the struggle is educating everyone that this is a chronic disease, just like hypertension or diabetes.
In my current state, it appears that I will never get off chemotherapy, because in the few weeks that I was off chemo I almost died. I receive chemotherapy every two weeks, on Wednesday. The intravenous chemotherapy I receive is Erbitux (Cetuximab), Avastin (Bevacizumab) and the oral chemotherapy pill of Tarceva (Ertolinib) every day. Recently, my regimen was adjusted so that I would avoid the severe diarrhea that would occur a few days after treatment, leaving me bedridden for a few days. This makes shooting concerts a dicey proposition when they happen close to my chemotherapy treatments.
I've switched regimens and medications so often that it definitely throws my friends off as to whether I'm available to get together. This causes some friends to pull back in communication because they probably assume I'm sick all the time. On the other hand though, some friends seem to forget that I even have cancer and don't ask me about my tumor levels and PET scan since they figure I'm fairly active since I'm going to as many concerts as I am. Overall, though, I have a great support system of family and friends who are doing their best in helping me navigate this long road of dealing with cancer.