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I was asked how my "mentality" was after diagnosis. Here's my answer:

By mentality, I'm going to work on the assumption you mean mental attitude and thoughts.

I received the call from my GI doc at 5:30 on a Friday afternoon telling me I had esophageal cancer. My attitude at that point could best be called blind panic. Cold sweat and a paralyzing fear ran through me. Of course, the first thing I did was hit the internet and the news was so bad I did not expect to live through the weekend. (This was in 2000; the survival rate is better, but its not the cancer you want if given a choice.) The weekend was spent with both the wife and me in a state of shock. A lot of tears were shed. All thought of long range plans disappeared and our future became measured in days. The statistics were so bad we had very little hope of having a future.

Monday was spent getting a CT. Tuesday was a visit with a thoracic surgeon who offered the first gleam of hope when, after looking at the scans, turned to us and said, “Mr. Greene, I think I can help you.”

The next six months were spent in what my wife calls, “the next thing, and the next thing, and…”. I went where I was told, did what I was told and, all through it, the first thought upon awakening and the last thought at night was “I have cancer.” That thought must have gone through my head a thousand times a day: I have cancer. During chemo and radiation, the thought was all consuming. During the 6 weeks between my final radiation and surgery, it was there day and night. It was, as another esophageal cancer patient wrote, “Living with the shadow of death.”

Life after surgery was a bitch.

Most of my esophagus and a quarter of my stomach removed. I had to learn how to eat all over again. Mealtime was referred to as “gagging, retching and choking time.” I went into a case of clinical depression that was treated with Remeron. As the drug kicked in, my way of thinking became, “Right now, I don't have cancer!” For the first year after surgery I had a chest x-ray and a CT every 3 months and suffered what we call scanxiety; a time when you hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

The second year, these came every 6 months. Scanxiety became less and less fearful and the future started to open up again. The wife and I started to think about retirement, something we hadn't done since that phone call.

Went in for my 5 year scans and they were clear. This is the point when, statistically, your chance of a recurrence approaches the chances of someone first being diagnosed with the disease.

In my 13th year we were sitting around the dining table and I suddenly realized that I had forgotten the 13th anniversary of my diagnosis! Cancer was no longer a central part of my existence.

I kept an online diary of what I called “dancing with the dragon.” Reading it today it doesn't seem like I actually went through all that. I am active in esophageal support groups and, talking to long term survivors, our thoughts and attitudes seem to be similar.

That's about how I can best describe my mentality during cancer.