Tag Archives: oncology

The wait

Last Saturday I went to get my CAT scan. It was all routine, drinking a ton of oral contrast, walking into the room, having an IV line hooked up to a vein, getting a syringe test, then a water test with the mean machine and finally, after alignment, the poison and the scan. The poison wasn’t bad, I was able to handle it quite well, but it really feels it’s beyond control when it enters the body. The feeling that the body warms up, heats and burns from the inside out, and the flavor and smell of the drug flood the senses and then it’s luck, because it feels nothing can save me. As the body processes the poison, it feels I’m saved. This time I had to go alone, my wife was taking a class in a neihhboring city, but I felt confident. I packed a sandwich, because I had been fasting for the scan. When it was finished, I asked the nurse if i could take a picture of the machine. She started to say that it wasn’t allowed as i took a couple of pictures. It was not a question, I was just being polite. 

On Monday I saw the oncologist. He said we had to remove the lump to have the lab say exactly what it is, and he said other similar lumps had been found in the back of my abdomen. That’s it, no more details. He gave me the number of a surgeon and we left. Arriving home, I now went to see the reports from the scan. It said a lot, but the important stuff was that the lump in the neck has a high probability of being malignant, and the nodes in the back of the abdomen have increased in size since the last scan, in September, and are considered a progression of the disease. Liver and lungs are clear. 

A day later, or two, we went to see the surgeon. We really liked the guy. He explained the surgery is simple and that it won’t take more than two hours at the very most. He explained the risks and he said he’d work under general anesthesia. He said I should be ok to leave the hospital within a few hours, but since insurance is involved, I’d have to stay a day, because of the policy. He filled the paperwork and gave it to us. We bought a couple of club sandwiches down in the cafeteria, and took them home. We were hungry and the sandwiches were great. They packed a bunch of jalapeños in a paper cup and they made everything a ton better. I haven’t been eating spicy for a long time because my tummy is kind of frail, but when I taste it, it’s like a burst of life!

I sent the paperwork to the insurance company and the authorization should be in around the middle of next week, and the surgery is already scheduled for Friday. 

Since I saw things might be becoming difficult, to avoid saying “nasty” or “desperate”, I did go ahead and ordered a few books from Amazon. Two for my dad, and a few for me: one about the philosophy of happiness, one about cosmology, one about Turner and his paintings, and leaning more to the ones about ships and the sea, one about a transplant surgeon, one about submarines in WWII, and Miss Norma’s book, this 90 year old lady that when diagnosed with cancer, she skipped treatment and went to travel cross country for a year with her son until her health failed, and every single day on the road she shared beautiful, inspiring and comforting pictures of her enjoying life to the fullest, always all smiles. My books should be delivered one day before surgery, and with luck, they will go to the hospital with me. 

All this has left me thinking a lot. I feel I have a very high potential to be heading to a death sentence. I feel great. I have been enjoying my days so much now. In the mornings, heading out to work from my dad’s house (I’m taking care of him while he recovers from treatment), I smell the cool, moist air filled with sweet orange juice from the stand by the avenue, I see the clouds, a very light shade of gray mixed with warm tones from the early morning sun, and, going the opposite way of morning commuters, I sit on the half empty bus, happy to be running the three stations to his home quickly and effortlessly. I stop and feel the taste of my food. Man, it’s so good! I usually pack scrambled eggs for breakfast, a little rice, some fresh papaya juice, cheese, cookies, yoghurt.  I consciously observe all I am enjoying at the moment, and I feel happy for it. Yes, nobody wants to die, and I am no exception, but we all will. There’s not much of a choice. We don’t want to die young, but we don’t want to die old and frail, we don’t want to die in pain or sadness, but we want to take the time to say goodbye and finish important business, and we don’t want to die in a state of dementia where we don’t even know what’s going on. So, I think I will take my process as if it is the best and make the most of the grim situation, and enjoy the ride like Miss Norma while it lasts. 

Still, we have to see the lab results and hear what the doctors have to say about it and the options I have. Maybe I am worrying way ahead of time. With some luck it will be like that, but here we don’t get so lucky. I haven’t waken up to realize it was just a bad dream, and it’s been about four years since this all started, so I’m starting to consider that it is real. Oh well…

Lump

Some two weeks ago my oncologist cleared me until September. I feel good and I was very happy that things look good, and then yesterday I found a lump in my neck. A hard rounded thing on one side, and nothing in the other. I was concerned. The area is a region of lymph nodes and lymph nodes are related to cancer. The oncologist always feels for them when I visit. I am thinking that if this is cancer that spread from the original tumor, this is a life sentence. If this is a new primary tumor, then it means I will have to undergo treatment, which is far from being a party. I also have a ear that’s locally thick, and I’m not as concerned and a few things to discuss. 

I don’t feel scared. Today wasn’t an easy day and I thought I was depressed, but then I understood that I didn’t sleep so well last night, and then my wife woke up very early to go teach her 7:00 AM class, and I got up to prepare her breakfast, a sandwich with egg, smoked ham, spinach, cream cheese and chipotle mayonnaise, yoghurt, a small Brie cheese, a chopped apple and some fruit paste, crackers and hot coffee with milk in a thermal cup. I could’ve used an hour more of sleep. It was a bad day in that sense. In the afternoon, when she came back, I fell asleep. She woke me shortly after and I was in such a deep sleep that I couldn’t understand what was going on for a minute or two. Then we ran to the dentist. I drove all the way feeling a little groggy, and then on the chair I was closing my mouth because I was ready to sleep. It was good, the repair works well, the doctor is great, she’s Colombian and she exploits my liking for her country talking about what they eat or drink there. Today she was telling me I should have a shot of aguardiente. I asked which of the three brands she likes best, but she said all are good. Usually they prefer the one from their region, but the truth is that they don’t taste different. 

On the way back we went to the supermarket, we bought a ton of shrimp and I will make some broth this weekend, as good as in any cantina, except that I don’t eat spicy anymore. 

I got a call from my oncologist, my appointment is on Monday. I think it will take a little time to figure out what the little alien growing in my neck is, and what his intentions are… 

Back home, our yorkie jumped and jumped as if it was the first time he saw me in centuries. I love the guy, even if he does something stupid, like this morning when he stole an apple center I had discarded and swallowed half, and then puked while I was in the shower… But it’s the awesomest dog ever!

I sent a picture of the lump to the oncologist, a portrait, and I only had a cartoon app to point at the lump. I used a drawing of a knife and an arrow to point at it. I hope he laughed. Maybe the mood will be serious next Monday, but as long as I can, I will enjoy life. 
🙂

At the oncologist

Let’s start this while I wait and see where it goes. My gastroenterologist suggested a tomography because my tummy is hard to tame and I went to the ER about a month ago, and the doctors initially suspected a blockage. I ruled it out immediately because I was pooping a massive flood and the nurses were already tired of wheeling me in my bed to the toilet, as their policy says, but I welcomed the tomography because it’s always better to see and know ahead than just waiting blindly. 

Results came in and there are calcifications here and there, and some could point to tumors, which scares me and makes me very nervous, because I should be clean. It is what it is. Dr. Internet said those things point to old lesions, but I need to hear the oncologist. For now the worst case would be a bad suspicion backed by my CEA marker requiring a PET. I haven’t seen the results of the CEA, because reality is tough, but I already downloaded them and asked the receptionists to print them for the doctor. It’s been a few minutes and they don’t call me yet. Sometimes my doctor arrives late. He once arrived casually for whatever other reason, not remembering my appointment. My wife said she just saw him, so it should be good. I brought the tomography in a USB I copied myself so he can keep it until our next appointment, and I copied the one from last year. I’m a smart patient, is like to say. We also brought mi wife’s laptop in case there was no other way to play the thing. 

I have been thinking a lot about my mortality. I tell my wife that it’s actually good, because if I were healthy and knowing nothing, it would come as a bucket of freezing water, and the surprising shock could be so bad that it can tear people apart. But I know the business I’m in, so the risks are known and I should be prepared to hear the most heartbreaking news, and I dearly hope I won’t. I dearly hope I will live. I dearly hope I will laugh at this when I’m eighty. 

My dad just turned seventy. We celebrated the last couple of weeks. I have him books he wanted and a CD player he needed. We went to a French restaurant yesterday and I enjoyed being with him and my uncles. They really had to be there. My dad lives with one of my aunt’s kidneys, and he has lived like that for about forty years almost. My aunt and my uncle also spent countless hijab Y my hospital bedside when I had my surgeries, and they are so dear to me. My wife, of course, was by my side and she has cared for me, supported me greatly, endured my storms and saved my life taking me to the ER so many times I can’t remember but the last one and the first one. My dad used to be a little sick most of the time when I was a kid, and because of this, I am a little ok with my current situation, far more sedentary than anybody my age. My dad now feels a lot better, and sometimes we talk about my future, wondering if I will feel like he does when I hit seventy. That would be very nice, but for now I am still covering from the heavy downpour that is this quarterly surveillance and uncertainty, I’m trying to do it as best I can. I don’t like the waiting room in oncology. It’s a ton of people and you don’t know anybody. Some women wear scarfs on their heads, and the rest you don’t know who is patient and who is company. When I was in radiotherapy we were an awesome bunch. I used to think of it as “the social club”. We all went there at the same hour every day, and while we were there rather briefly, we got to know each other a little bit. We used to share laughs and wish each other well. Everybody was kind and nice. We also got to see people in really bad shape every now and then, but that was not the norm. We used to sit and chat while waiting our turns. It was rather relaxing and encouraging, even though we knew that everybody was sick and we never knew what was going to happen to everybody. I hope they are around, remembering our “meetings”. 

It was raining outside and we’ve had three power failures already. The emergency power plant comes in soon and we don’t spend long in darkness. It’s now forty minutes after the appointment and we haven’t been called. Maybe the doctor isn’t here, I don’t know. 

The doctor just came in. My wife had mistaken somebody that looked like him, but he just arrived. He didn’t see us in the waiting room, but now he’s calling us in. 

—————-

He looked at it all and decided to measure again in six weeks. The marker is a bit higher, and higher than the maximum safe value. My liquid balance issues make him want to wait this bit more before requesting a positron emission tomography. He looks very, very calm. He says I look very healthy, and I wouldn’t expect to feel any different even if I were starting to get into big trouble, but I do feel assurance. I am happy, even if there’s no reason to celebrate. A “we don’t know” is not a “you are as healthy as when you ran the marathon or when you biked the pacific coast”, but it isn’t a “the ship has sunk” either. We walked out and now it’s dark. I wanted the hot chocolate mexican style they are offering in Starbucks as one of the specials for this season, so I told my wife I’d buy her chocolate. I drank the hot chocolate from there to her car. I opened the passenger door for her, gave her the chocolate and drove off. The chocolate is ok, but it isn’t like the one brought from Oaxaca. It’s pretty good and it was gone soon. My heart is resting. The tension is gone for now. What can I do? The doctor is the one who knows and I never ask them to be simple on me, they know that I will do what they say it’s needed. Why worry? Why not worry? It’s my life what is being gambled, but I put my trust in this man, and he should have a good judgement to guide my health. 

Tomorrow is Tuesday, I will continue to work my shift, and then try to enjoy my time. I am reading a book (this books with 800 pages make me nervous, because as a cancer patient, you’d better hurry to make sure you will finish it!), I started building a plastic model airplane, and we have a young puppy that just became old enough to go out, so I have to walk him whenever possible. The little guy is awesome and keeps me happy. I will enjoy the coming six weeks and I will make an effort not to visit the ER during this time. On Friday I see my gastroenterologist, and I wonder if he will see in the tomography any reason that may explain why my tummy is so difficult and stubborn. I judge these problems outside of the domain of cancer. These problems explain why I have written almost nothing in the past two years. I hope I can write more often.