I don’t know about you but I’ve been dragging a lot of crap around with me for a lot of years.
When my husband and I married, we brought our boxes o’ crap with us, unpacked what we needed and tossed the rest in the attic.
Those dual evil-doers, cancer and coronavirus, have kept me housebound but far from bored.
We’ve torn through those boxes, ridding everything that was “mine” and “yours” and making it ours.
On a personal level, I’ve sifted through every aspect of my life like a jeweler searching for precious stones to keep. I sorted 4 piles: Keep, donate, recycle, burn.
The burn pile, I admit, was my favorite.
I know, I know, probably not eco-friendly but seeing old party pics curl and burn, watching the drunk, dazed look on my face disappear along with bad boyfriends and fair-weather friends?
Burn baby, burn.
Watching everything go up in smoke felt so freeing. I even burned the first draft of my manuscript, releasing myself from whatever expectations I have of it.
Don’t worry. I have another, far better draft.
Writing is rewriting.
Living is rewiring.
Tear out that old emotional crap associated with people, places and things that don’t serve you. You need permission?
There are those who believe physical ailments are first created emotionally.
If that’s true, I must need some serious rewiring.
My week off chemo, I meet with Bruce Lee for a progress report. It’s late June and I feel good, strong.
Bruce Lee walks in and the first thing I notice is, he’s rather jovial. Cheery even, for an Oncologist.
“We’ve been measuring your CEA — carcinoembryonic antigen. It’s a protein the cancer makes that we measure in the blood, otherwise known as a tumor marker. It’s dropping: 9.6 in January, 9.1 in May and today? 6.9”
Daaayum. That’s good, right?
“That’s really good,” he confirms.
I wanna whoop. Because in addition to that substantial nugget of good news, that cursed pain in my abdomen radiating to my back is GONE.
“None at all?” Bruce Lee asks.
He pats the sheeted gurney — Poke and prod time. He listens to my breathing, runs his gloved fingers along my neck, stops along the left side.
“There’s a little something here…” Unable to confirm, he continues down under my left collarbone, feeling for the barometer we’ve all been using: A nodule that used to be the size of a marble.
It’s shrinking. I know because I can barely feel it.
“I’m having a hard time finding it,” Bruce Lee admits. “And if this is what I’m feeling… It’s too small. I can’t measure that.”
Oh yea, a lot of whooping and laughing with Bruce Lee during that appointment. You would’ve thought he said the magic word, “Remission.”
Then this week rolled around.
The left side of my neck looks swollen but I can feel a sizable lump in there. Instantly my heart races…
WTF? Where did that come from?
I barge into my husband’s home office, panic winging across my face.
His eyes widen, “What? What is it?!”
I show him.
“Allergic reaction,” he suggests.
“That’s what it looks like to me.”
I have been having some shortness of breath the past couple days. Figured it was related to Atropine — the new drug they put in my IV cocktail to counteract the massive stomach cramping caused by the chemo.
I read the side effects: Blah blah blah… in rare cases, swelling of face, tongue, throat.
As in, 1% rare.
Maybe I’m that 1%.
Glenn nods. “Go take some Benedryl.”
“I dunno…” I say. “It feels kind of solid.”
“Maybe it’s a fatty polyp,” he suggests. “Happens all the time. Go look it up — Google images.”
“Lipoma… Oh jeez.” I scour Google. “Hey. It kind of does look like that…”
Bruce Lee shakes his head, eyes concerned behind the newly added face shield. “That’s not an allergic reaction.”
He pats the gurney and I hop up like a circus animal. He runs his fingers along my neck.
“It’s a mass. I can feel the borders. A couple of weeks ago I felt a little something there but…”
But we were too busy celebrating the good news. And in the space of two weeks, it has grown considerably. No way to miss it now.
“We’re moving up the CT scan to this week, adding the throat. STAT.”
Fuck. I hate that acronym. Both of them.
90% of the CTs I’ve gotten since December have been bad news. It’s a contrast CT which means: a) Fasting and B) Drinking that barium crap.
2 hour minimum following ingestion before I can be admitted for CT.
And then there’s STAT — When that label is attached to your medical order, there are additional procedures in place.
One of them is CLEARANCE: Meaning I’m not permitted to leave until the radiologist reviews the scan in case they need to pull me back in.
1 hour minimum. Waiting for technician to burn CDs: 20 minutes.
I’m going to be at the damned hospital all day.
Just as I thought, I’m at the damned hospital all day.
Glenn and I fidget next to the sheeted gurney, waiting for Bruce Lee with the results of the throat to pelvis CT scan.
It’s been a painfully slow week, my emotions rolling close to the surface.
Thursday afternoon, I crept into my husband’s office in tears.
“The beach,” I managed. “I need to get out.”
We walked Strands to Salt Creek, crowded with kids, teenagers and bustling families. No wonder California is a petri-dish. We were the only ones wearing masks.
No bloodwork today, no weigh-in, just vitals.
My pulse clocked in at 91.
“Geez-us — you’re freaking out,” Glenn says.
Bruce Lee walks in. Not jovial. Not concerned. Determined.
“Your CEA count from Tuesday: Dropped to 3.8.”
Wow. That’s good. But the lump…?
“Cancer. Located in the lymph nodes beneath the muscle and obviously, it’s growing.”
He rattles off measurements. Overall, the cancer is growing and all the areas of growth are in my lymph nodes, the preferred means of travel by the cancer it seems.
“Your lungs– Multiple nodules, the largest measuring 7.5mm.”
Wait. That’s good news. Before the largest was 10mm…
And the cancer MUST be shrinking in the primary site in my colon because my pain is gone.
It’s a mixed bag of news and I’m a bit confused.
“So, how is it that my CEA count is dropping significantly, my bloodwork is crazy good, and the cancer is growing?”
“This tells me the cancer is changing,” Bruce Lee replies.
Changing how? Adapting. That sneaky, shifty little bitch.
“Is it normal for her to feel this good?” Glenn asks. “I mean, look at her.”
Right. Despite hair loss, weight loss and a third nipple, I’m the picture of health. It is baffling though, just how good I feel.
“No,” Bruce Lee says. “It’s not.”
This I chalk up to Transformation: If the cancer is changing, that means I have to change enough to overcome it. So I meditate, eat organic, work out and reach out to friends and family on a near daily basis.
Believe me, I don’t always feel like it. This week, I hung out with more than a few sour patch kids. But the gloves are back on.
Tuesday I start a new chemo regime: Round 3.
I’m not sure how many rounds there are but I’m going to the bitter end, until the cancer drops or I do.
Right now, the cancer seems to have the upper hand. The tumor in my neck is squishing my jugular vein.
While other veins have picked up the blood load between heart and head, there is the danger of blood clots in this particular vein.
“We may have to introduce blood thinners,” Bruce Lee offers. “Radiation is also an option.”
I’m nodding before he even finishes. I don’t need or want more medication. Nuke that mutherf–
That’s right. Burn baby, burn.