I took the diagnosis of non-small cell lung cancer (Stage 4) quite well, I thought. Except for occasional bouts of hysterical self-pity and thankfully rare gestures of melodrama.
Oh, I’d resisted it, denied it, although I knew all along that I had it. I ignored the warnings of my hapless local doctors, and when I finally agreed to a checkup, along came the Great Fire that destroyed a large section of Sonoma County. The hospitals were burnt to the ground or else unreachable. I watched the fire from the top of the hill: It never reached us, but the sky was dark as night. Oh well, I thought. Can’t go anywhere, but nothing wrong with me anyway.
The near-forceful intervention of good friends was what saved me as I found myself in the city, where the fire, though unseen, could be smelled in the very halls of the hospital where they’d put me. A room all to myself.
Which is how I came to be a patient in the cancer immunology program, where the latest “miracle” drugs for the treatment of inoperable cancer were being tested—with remarkable results. They put me on Keytruda, with a mix of two other concoctions, one of them fairly toxic. The first course knocked me for a loop, flat on my back for two weeks: It was a small death, or at least a brush with the same, and yet I bounced back. In a month I was on my...