I am going real retro for this story. But then again, as a long term survivor, the comparison I am about to make, makes sense. I have a co-worker who routinely likes to tell me the phrase, “congratulations on your new Ford Pinto”. I do not think he is old enough to even know what a Ford Pinto really was, but I do know what the Pinto was. So when he mentions that expression to me, just as I am about to deal with an unpleasant situation, I know the situation is not going to be good. Neither was the Ford Pinto.
The Ford Pinto dominated the 1970’s and was marketed as a 2-door sedan. But the selling point, was the hatch back. Ford’s creation competed with other manufacturers who used the hatch back design. It had one flaw in it, a major one. There was a huge risk of the fuel tank rupturing with a rear end collision discovered half way into the decade. The tank would rupture and the car would go up in flames, leading to the Pinto being one of the worst cars ever made.
There are times when I feel like a Ford Pinto. Just like the car when it was designed, on paper, everything looked perfect. The car would compete with the AMC Pacer or the Chevrolet Vega. Production occurred, people bought, cars erupted in flames.
On paper, just as many other cancer survivors who underwent cancer treatments back in the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s, 1990’s, the treatments were supposed to lead to a cure. Treatments were not going to be easy to tolerate due to side effects – the common ones, nausea and hair loss – but for the time the treatments were used, they offered the most hope.
I am sure my story is no different from those back in the other decades. I was treated at the end of the 1980’s. My side effects for treatment of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma were all that I was told. I should say, short term side effects. You see, in my file as I would discover just a few years ago, there was mention of late term side effects. I had only two to worry about from my treatments, a secondary cancer such as leukemia, or pericarditis – an inflammation of the lining around the heart. That is all (yes… those two things alone are bad enough).
But as Maxwell Smart of the television show “Get Smart” used to say, “missed it by that much,” viewer knew it was not even close. Here is what my doctors missed “by that much” in my case:
coronary artery scarring (led to my double bypass six years ago)
heart valve disease
carotid artery disease
restrictive lung disease
facet joint arthritis
radiation fibrosis syndrome
Barret’s Esophagus (pre-cancer of the esophagus)
drooping head syndrome
muscle loss and what is left, muscle atrophy
compromised immune system
post traumatic stress disorder
There are more, but these are the things that are on my annual radar to be followed up on closely as they have the biggest potential impact.
Now, had I been told back in 1988 that I would have been at risk for all those things listed above, I do not know that I would have made the decision to go ahead with the treatments. I have been lucky. I know many who have far worse diagnosis than I do. I am lucky to have one of the top hospitals in the country monitoring and managing my issues. There are too many in our country, and the world who do not even know they are dealing with issues like mine or worse. Instead, they go to a doctor, voice their ails, only to be told their symptoms do not make sense and instead of the doctors ordering the proper tests to determine the cause, survivors are left to feel as if they are hypochondriacs or just all about the drama.
The late side effects that I developed, and so many others developed are very real. As real as the owners of many Ford Pintos found out that their cars could explode when it was too late, the same goes for us who were exposed to radiation levels four times the lifetime maximum exposure, or injected with a drug used by dictators to kill thousands of their own people. I was exposed to both of those issues not to mention other effects from pre-diagnostic surgeries or the other drugs used in my chemotherapy cocktail.
Sure, the Ford Pinto was, and if some people still own any, a cute car to look at. And to look at me, you would not be able to tell “my fuel tank was capable of rupture”.
I wish that after all the years had gone by since my treatment days, that more than just “curing a lot of cancers” had taken place, and more than just getting to the point of curing all cancers, but finding safer ways to do it.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am a “Ford Pinto.”