Chemo every other week has prevented me from being here as often as I like. I hope you forgive the longer than usual post. It’s good to be back.
Like you, I’m living in a new normal. I don’t know how you’re adjusting but I don’t like it much.
Actually, it bites.
The news continues to track death-by-Coronavirus while I continue to dodge the virus and death-by-cancer statistics.
Frankly, being taken out either way would be disappointing.
Coronavirus brought the world to its knees. I don’t wish for nuclear mushroom clouds and mayhem but it IS a dramatic end-of-the-world battle worth fighting.
So is a shark mistaking me for a tasty snack or being on the front lines of a terrorist attack.
Those are endings I could appreciate, not this silent deadly stuff.
Blame it on my background. I was raised on Revelations and the 80s.
Back then, the Cold War hung in the air and we thought the Russians would end us. Cueing up the movie, Red Dawn, brings that era rushing back. The original that is, which I watched just the other night in my chemo daze.
Incidentally, that was my high school mascot. I was well past the age of make-believe when the movie came out but I still see myself donning an AK-47 to take out threats to our nation’s well-being.
Donning a mask isn’t quite as sexy. It’s hot and stuffy in there and my lipstick gets smeared.
But I’m doing my part even if it is a selfish act of preservation.
Speaking of self-preservation, I was finally admitted to Laguna Mission for an upper AND lower endoscopy. Yep, lucky me.
Remember the POO?
Right. Cancer point-of-origin is still a big question mark hanging around my neck.
I show up at 6:30 am, mask and gloves donned, had my temperature taken, found my way to check-in and was promptly escorted back outside to sit on a park bench by Nurse Nancy, a trim perky blonde.
“We don’t have your COVID test on file,” she admitted. “You’ll have to wait out here until we can track it down. You did have it done, right?”
The Duty Nurse stuck a swab so far up my nose I gagged on it. You don’t dream an unpleasant experience like that no matter what drugs you’re on.
And now they couldn’t find it?
My husband makes a little growling noise when I annoy him, like some sort of man-dog. I like it so much I’ve adopted it.
I sat out there, benched in my pajamas and my little bald head, growling.
Bureaucracy at its finest.
Ten minutes later I was escorted back inside where I slipped into a massive piece of cloth hanging open in all the wrong places.
My GI Doc appeared at my side, a no-makeup-no-nonsense kinda gal with a ready smile.
“I told them they better find that test result,” she said. “We’ve worked too hard to get you in here today.”
With that the anesthesiologist emitted a plunger of fentanyl into my IV and I was gone, baby gone.
It’s shocking really, how quickly one is expected to come out of a drug-induced coma.
One minute I’m in 50 shades of darkness and the next GI Doc is explaining she biopsied an angry area of ulcerated tissue and a polyp in my colon she also removed. Nothing in my stomach, hooray.
“Hernia?” Is what I tried to say. It came out more like “Nunya?”
Luckily, GI Doc speaks anesthesiology. “That’s the least of your problems,” she said.
I hear that a lot.
“I’ll call you with the results in a couple days.”
Then she was gone and I was putting my pajamas on backward.
Nurse Nancy rolled into my peripheral, “Your husband’s on his way. Can you make it into the chair?”
I was far more fascinated with my arm, laden with plastic bracelets, purple declaring me COVID free, yellow boldly proclaiming FALL RISK and a red one inked Allergy: PNC.
Given these color-bands and the state of my head I felt like I’d just had all access admission to a RAVE party. But I bet most people don’t leave RAVE parties in a wheelchair.
And instead of craving a dose of “E”, I wanted pancakes from STACK’s. With loads of coconut syrup.
Yep, party time.
Nurse Nancy rolled me out. Prior to surgery she’d mentioned we were the same age, said 50 was a difficult birthday for her.
Agree. In terms of celebratory events, 50 and 2020 have been disappointments of epic proportions.
Can we send ’em back? There should be some sort of Universal return policy.
Anyhoo, Nurse Nancy and her boyfriend went to see the Oprah Road Show. The guest speaker was J-Lo.
“J-Lo said turning 50 is only halftime and nothing is determined at halftime. There’s a whole other half to play.”
Nurse Nancy patted my shoulder. “It’s only halftime for you, honey. Now… help you out of that chair?”
After a speech like that? Hell no, I’m leaping out like Wonder Woman.
Arm bracelets and all.
Still, I hope she’s right.
It’s a question that hangs at the back of my mind, this question of time. Sometimes it’s a quiet murmur, other times it hits me like an adrenaline shot to the heart:
How long, God?
God’s not saying and neither is the doctor dream-team we’ve managed to put together from Yale, Cedars-Sinai and UCLA.
No, they want tangible results which is why the very next morning I’m back at Laguna Mission for a full upper body CT scan that will answer the next big question:
Is this chemo working?
I’m a little nervous to get all these results on the same day but I’m glad, too.
Before we hop online for the Telemedicine calls with GI Doc and Dr. Bruce Lee, I reach out to my good friend and life coach, Lisa, who helps me phrase the possible results in my head:
“Try not to look at it as, ‘Cancer is growing = Death; Cancer is shrinking = Life.’ Is there a way you can phrase it where either way, it’s positive?”
Wow, no. Uh-uh. If it’s growing, I’m fucked. I’m going to crumple into a little ball until the wind picks me up and blows me away like a tumbleweed. But…
I did come up with something. And that something is this:
If the cancer is growing, that means I have to grow enough to overcome it.
And that’s the mindset I took into the face-to-face with my Docs.
By the way, neither of them have a very good poker face.
GI Doc was first. “The polyp was precancerous, nothing of interest there…”
She’s going to tell me the ulcerated tissue is a hidden trove of carcinoma.
“Well, pathology is saying it’s metastatic tissue,” she said. “Not the primary. I’m going to discuss this with Bruce Lee, before you talk with him.”
It’s the primary. Has to be.
The neuroendocrine tumors in my lymph nodes and lungs never made sense to me but colon cancer does.
The pain in my abdomen, the reason I eat such small meals and have a hard time digesting so many foods.
The reason I like to eat sugar because sugar, like cancer, doesn’t hurt.
This has to be the primary.
Instead of being disappointed to find more cancer, I’m excited.
When we meet with Dr. Bruce Lee, I can tell he is, too. He looks like a little kid who’s found a stash of Halloween candy in May.
“I think this is the primary.” Ha!
“The pathologist is saying it’s metastatic tissue but I don’t agree. I’m having them run some special tests. Generally when cancer is inside the colon it didn’t come there from somewhere else. And your CT scan…”
“No… It’s shrinking. The mass behind your stomach and in your lungs, too.”
Shrinking! I swear I hear a chorus of angels sing.
“If the colon is the primary site, it changes your diagnosis to colon cancer with neuroendocrine features.”
“Is this good?” Fingers crossed.
“Very good. Ha! More treatable. Right now, with this chemo we’ve basically been throwing bombs at the cancer. Now we’re going to add a biological agent called Avastin. It cuts off blood supply to the tumor, like sending in special forces to cut off food and water supply. I expect very good results with this.”
Oh. My. God.
This is the FIRST good news we’ve had in 4 months:
The mets behind my stomach and in my lungs are shrinking.
The special tests revealed the cancer in my colon is indeed the primary.
When we talked with Cedars-Sinai, we were told this “tripled” my prognosis.
Geez-us, what was it before?
Nevermind. I don’t wanna know.
I was told by a dear family member: One ear open for the diagnosis, both ears closed for the prognosis.
I try to follow this, especially once I looked up the definition of prognosis:
An educated guess as to the outcome of a type of treatment.
An educated guess?
No one needs to hang their hopes on an educated guess, no matter whether the prognosis is for cancer or Coronavirus.
This doesn’t mean throw caution to the wind but it does mean to live the best you can in the midst of a health crisis.
I asked Dr. Bruce Lee about this, because living to me involves love: Seeing who I love and doing what I love.
Dr. Bruce Lee looked at me over his mask and said, “There’s some risk involved, sure. But a life without risk is no life at all.”
I’ll still do my part to save the world by donning a mask, but I’m headed out.
Love is worth the risk.