Cancer. Just like the Coronavirus, I never saw it coming.
That’s the thing that gets me the most. Shouldn’t I have intuitively felt something was wrong? Pain stabbing me like a knife might’ve been helpful.
Actually, I did have pain. A bothersome ache in my lower right abdomen that radiated to my lower back. But it didn’t hurt that bad, not like brushing your foot against fire urchin in Hawaii (guilty) or being nailed by a car in the crosswalk (yup) or snapping your lisfranc ligament on a trampoline (ay caramba!).
It was just… annoying.
Annoying finally drove me to the ER where they did a CT scan. The doc came in, pulled up a chair and started asking me some questions that flagged my suspicion. Something was wrong.
“We’ve called in a general surgeon. He’s on his way so sit tight. Can we get you anything for the pain?”
Well hey, if you’re offering.
I called Glenn, my husband. “I think you better come down here, luv. Something’s up.”
Turns out they found an easter egg behind my stomach, like the ones placed in video games that take you to secret level stuff.
Now, finding an easter egg in a video game is rad. In your own body?
Not so much.
The tests began immediately: CTs and MRIs from belly to brain coupled with guided needle biopsy to find out just what level this little gem was gonna take me to.
Following the biopsy, I found myself seated with my husband in a bland room next to a sheeted gurney, suburbia sprawled below, car doors slamming, kids running down the street.
Dr. Howard Cheng, Oncologist, walked in. In his hand was a thick file containing all the test results conducted over the past month. Even more important, biopsy and pathology reports.
I watched Dr. Cheng watch me— The Bruce Lee of Doctors as Glenn calls him. Delivers news with a fast, precise karate chop. Ha!
You have neuroendocrine cancer. Ha!
It’s metastasized to lymph nodes in your chest and multiple nodules in your lungs. Ha!
We start chemo immediately. Ha!
You’re going to lose your hair. Uh…
There’s always a hush when the verdict is handed down. No melodrama. No grabbing my husband and clinging to him in soap opera tears. That came later.
I breathed in and out. Glenn breathed next to me. I watched Bruce Lee watch us.
Cartoon-sized words spun in my head: Wait! Whoaaaa! What?!
“Neuroendocrine cancer. It’s rare, not staged, but the fact that it has spread to distant parts of your body… That would categorize it as Stage 4.”
You’re going to lose you hair.
He said that more than once.
Every time I saw him, actually. For a follow-up and at my first chemo appointment. And the 3rd time he said it, I got it.
“You think it’s better that I cut my hair, as if I have some kind of control over it rather than it just coming out in gobs on my pillow.”
In that moment, I got Bruce Lee. Not a sugar-coater, not a hugger, not the guy who’s going to chat around the cupcakes in the break room or show up at the company party wearing antlers. Bruce Lee is the nerd in the corner rifling for answers, seeking ways to help that don’t include a warm deliverance for me but pack a helluva punch to cancer.
Bruce Lee sent me up to UCLA Oncology Research and Development to meet with his cohort, Dr. Lee Rosen, who specializes in neuroendocrine cancer. Dr. Rosen informed me Bruce Lee had sent tissue and pathology samples to a molecular biologist and had applied for me to receive immunotherapy, a cutting edge form of cancer treatment where my body’s own cells are used to attack cancer.
Why don’t my cells attack this f*** intruder anyway?
Ah, cancer is a sneaky bitch. It’s the femme fatale of the cell world, a shapeshifter of lore, cloaking itself to appear “normal” all the while maneuvering for world domination in my body.
This is what Bruce Lee thinks about. It’s ALL he thinks about. That he understood the emotional level of despair I was apt to feel over losing my golden locks, that was a bonus.
But as my husband repeatedly reminds me, I’m stubborn. Come from German stock with a splash of Irish, Scottish and Dutch. I’m a cocktail of hard times swirled into 5’2” and the gloves are off. I’m keeping my hair until I don’t.
And in the meantime, I’m buying some fantastic wigs that come in shades of pink and “My Little Pony.”
Despite the whimsical hair shades I know this is no rainbows and unicorn trip. It ain’t a journey I want to go on but that is true for most of us when Change barges in the door without knocking and catches us with our pants down.
So I’m going, weapon in hand and that weapon, is a pen. I’m going to mark this journey for others because, like all stories, there is trial and triumph ahead. I’ll shave my head when the time comes, maybe mark myself up with henna tattoos and pick my pen back up and march.
I believe I’ll make it but there’s a chance I won’t. I honestly cannot believe I’m not secretly wonder woman, immortal forever. Such a bummer.
But I’m not and neither are you. It’s a strange world we find ourselves in today with the Coronavirus putting you all on house arrest, just like me. Hey, do you think we could Skype a game of Twister?
Come along, dear friend. I’m taking your hand in mine as long as I can hold it and we’re going to face these bitches together. In the meantime, maybe we can all finally finish a game of Monopoly.