That which doesn't kill us merely postpones the inevitable.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
So Will This Be On The Final Exam?
One of my New Year's resolutions for 2008 was to take more risks, to exercise more courage, to try to step outside my comfort zone at least once a day. And it has been my fortune, good or otherwise, that I rarely have to go seeking excuses to cross my ever-expanding comfort zone border: my life seems to regularly hand out prime opportunities, served right to my door on a sterling silver platter.
Today's little adventure was an MRI of my brain.
Being strapped into the dark noisy pounding tube for 45 minutes was strange and creepy and dreadfully claustrophobic, and yet not nearly as bad as I'd feared it would be. Probably, in large part, because over the past two years I've perfected my ability to put myself into a dissociative trance to a high art. And anyway, I'm not particularly anxious about the results of this MRI. I mean, I'm not suspecting brain tumors or degenerative lesions or anything more dramatic than just a little residual chemo brain damage, which may or may not show up on the scan.
What happened was, the last time I went in for my routine six-month oncology clinic visit, I complained about having memory and concentration problems and just generally being a spacey ditz. I figure the chemo brain phenomenon still hasn't fully resolved, so I asked the young resident if there was anything I could take for it, like maybe Ritalin or one of those drugs. He went back to ask the oncologist on duty, and the way she described it to me when she could finally stop laughing was he burst into her office with this incredibly hopeful look on his face and gasped, "A lady out there wants to know if there's a pill she can take to improve her memory. Is there such a thing???"
Now this brilliant oncologist is actually rather well known around these parts, though I'd never seen her before and had no idea she was even doing time at Our Lady of the Damned. So it was a huge honor when she sat down to casually chat with me. I liked her a lot.
After reviewing my chart and asking me some basic questions, she said, "You know, it's not really unusual for our memories to give us a little trouble, what with aging and menopause and all. What sorts of problems have you been having?"
"Well," I said. "Last week I locked my keys in my car."
"Ha!" she said. "That's nothing. Last week I locked my keys, my phone, and my emergency beeper in my trunk. And the whole 45 minutes while I was waiting for the Pop-A-Lock truck, I had to listen to the phone ringing and the emergency beeper frantically beeping, like all my patients were dying."
"Well," I said. "I missed my turnoff on the interstate. I was halfway to Shreveport before I even realized it."
"Ha!" she said. "That's nothing. One Tuesday I went to my Wednesday hospital by mistake, and I was on my third patient before I realized it."
"Ok," I said. "I accidentally sent a fuck-you email intended for my ex to my landlord in California instead."
"Whoa," she said. "Wow. Ok. I'm ordering you an MRI of the brain, stat."
Anyway, it'll probably be a week before I can get these results since everything kind of shuts down for Mardi Gras around here. But meanwhile, to tide us over, this morning after the MRI I went to the medical records department and obtained the results for last Friday's CT scans. And here's what they have to say:
Impression: Negative CT of soft tissues of neck, unchanged since August 27, 2007. Negative CT abdomen & pelvis, unchanged from August 27, 2007. Negative CT thorax, unchanged from prior exam.
100% negative, still clean as a whistle, not a trace of trouble anywhere! I've been free of disease for one year since my last chemo now, and though the odds are still uncomfortably high that the lymphoma could return, passing the one year mark means they are considerably less uncomfortably high. Prognostically speaking, this is a statistical milestone. Or vice versa. Anyway, the best possible news.
And now with a tip o' the wig to my wise spiritual mentor the Ever Ob. Rev. B. Dagger Lee, would you all please join me in singing along to the Great Goddess of Soul:
Hello? Anybody still out there? I am well and fine, thanks for asking. Just not much in the mood for cancer blogging lately.
Cancer. Feh. You know, frankly, most days now I tend to forget all about it. Don't even think about it much. I feel a little guilty for not reading the cancer support boards any more, or keeping up with other cancer blogs. But my energies just seem to have drifted off elsewhere these days. I'm taking up new interests, and I mostly hang around with people now who didn't even know me when I had cancer, people who don't always think of me as Tragic Cancer Cootie Person. I'm carving a pretty good new life for myself.
But a couple of weeks ago a funny thing happened.
I had heard that an old friend named Frances, whom I hadn't seen in several years, had recently been diagnosed with lymphoma, and that she was undergoing chemo at, of all places, Our Lady Of The Damned. So on one of her chemo days I put together a little gift bag full of goodies and trinkets and headed over to pay her a supportive visit.
I set out in high spirits, full of good cheer. Going back up to the fifth floor chemo ward was kind of an exciting thing for me: I felt like a ragingly famous alumna returning to my old high school stomping grounds, proudly displaying a shiny cluster of Nobel medals pinned to my lapel. Except in my case the bling of success was a rack of ripply new muscles, a head full of unruly hair, and the unmistakable rosy glow of good health.
But my high spirits encountered a chilling little setback on the way up when I ran into my old buddy Scott, the only surviving member of the lung cancer gang I used to hang out with back in my own chemo days. I'd seen him once last summer at a big cancer fund raiser and he was doing well, recovering from the brutal treatment, growing a beard, hoping for a few more years with no active disease. But now the grim news was Scott's cancer is already back, and has metastasized to his bones. He told me he's trying one last round of chemo, but he's in severe pain, heavily addicted to morphine, weak, depressed, living alone with no family, not much money, no car. Suffering and struggling, but not ready to give up his last shreds of hope and independence for hospice.
Suddenly my spine felt like it was made out of ice cubes. I briefly toyed with the option of thrusting Frances's gift bag into Scott's hands and running off down the hall screaming, possibly even hurling myself through the next plate glass window. But thanks to many decades of cultivating an acceptably civilized superego, I managed instead to temporarily repress this initial impulse, politely wished him well, and continued on with my original mission. With a slightly heavier step I trudged on up to the fifth floor.
My first impression when I walked through the familiar double swinging doors was: Wow, they must have repainted the place with some amazingly brilliant white paint! I don't recall the walls being this bright. Or maybe they doubled up on the fluorescent light tubes. Everything was so white, so light, so bright! Almost blindingly bright. I blinked against the intense whiteness. In my memory, the chemo floor had seemed more like a dark tunnel.
I peered through the shimmering brightness until I spotted Mike, my old chemo nurse. He too was glowing with the eerie new brightness. He saw me, and slowly he smiled, a blindingly white smile. Slowly he stood up, slowly he moved towards me. His mouth was slowly saying something, and my mouth was slowly saying something back, and everything was perfectly normal. Except I guess the blinding light and the weird slow motion effect were making me a just little dizzy and disoriented.
In slow motion I said I had come to see Frances, and Mike's glowing finger slowly pointed to her room. Ah. I knew that room. It was the exact same room I had been in for my last chemo session, exactly one year ago. "Go on in," said Mike, his voice reverberating like an echo chamber. "She'll be glad (glad...glad..glad...) to see you. Her daughters are in there with her."
I squinted at the closed door. It too was glowing with the fiercely bright white light, like some kind of blindingly glowing radioactive shield. Even so, I could almost see straight through it to what was inside the familiar chemo room. I could almost see Frances lying on the same bed I'd lain on, brilliant sunlight pouring in onto the blindingly white starched sheets. I could picture her three beautiful smiling daughters hovering around her like angels, surrounding her with light and warmth and love. I could also see the one lone chair, pulled way back in the dark corner: the chair where he always sat, the Painter, the Designated Driver. With such vivid clarity I could see him sitting there still, reading his book: stern, aloof, annoyed, preoccupied, coldly indifferent to anybody else's feelings. And as I stared at the door and saw what I saw, the muscles in my throat clamped shut like a steel trap that would never ever again let oxygen pass into my lungs. I thought I was going to die on the spot.
Frances, if you're reading this: I am so very sorry. And embarrassed! I swear, that was the very first time in my life I've experienced a full-blown panic attack. It was all there, the racing heart, the sweating palms, the spinning room; feeling faint, unable to breathe, a sense of utter dread and impending doom. I think I mumbled something about being late, threw the bag at poor bewildered Mike, and fled the hospital like I was being pursued by a rabid pack of ferocious fire-breathing land sharks. I sat in my car shaking and hyperventilating for fifteen full minutes before I could drive.
A few days later I mentioned the incident in passing to my therapist, with a mildly bemused and detached clinical interest. Wasn't this peculiar? I said. An actual textbook panic attack, straight out of the blue. How odd! Then I shrugged it off and moved on to something more important, more real.
But no. "Uh-uh, wait a minute," she interrupted. "Hold on. Go back: this panic attack, tell me, what does it mean? What exactly was it telling you?"
It took me a while, but I finally said it. It meant that my whole situation was pretty damn dire, something I've been kind of denying lately with all my happy-happy healing and forgetting and moving on. This panic attack was telling me that I went through something extremely huge and horrible and intensely devastating, and it's just not that easy to just move on and forget about it, to leave it all behind me like it never happened.
The illness, the pain, the terror of almost dying; the being without health insurance, the scary degrading hospital experiences, the dangerously uneven medical care; the loss of my beloved home and all my life savings and any hope of financial security; the slug in the gut of finding out that the person I loved and trusted was incapable of empathy or emotional support and not in love with me after all; the ongoing knowledge that my cancer, like Scott's, can always come back, any day, any minute, and turn my life into a living hell. This whole unthinkable nightmare hitting me all at once seems to have shattered something in my soul, and done some permanent psychic damage.
And now, even though the worst appears to be over and I'm coping extremely well, adjusting, healing, rebuilding, still, at a very deep cellular level, permanently etched in my very neurons, I remain deeply traumatized. And this buried cellular trauma can be triggered and might rise up to haunt me and debilitate me at any time. Fun, eh?
So in one sense there's healing and moving on, but another sense there's no such thing. No matter how strong or brave I try to be, reality will never be the same.
Anyway. As for blogging, I have to wait and see. I'm schedule for my routine six month CT scans on January 25th. Plus I may have to have an MRI of my brain because I've been having having some memory and cognitive problems that are probably just a combination of lingering chemo brain fog, chemo induced menopause, and/or post-trauma nerve damage effects. But worse possibilities have to be ruled out, though I'm definitely not looking forward to 45 minutes trapped in the Pounding Tube of Claustrophobia.
Anyway, various tests loom on the horizon. And if those are clear I think it's maybe time for me to officially sign off as a cancer blogger and wrap this baby up. If I decide to start another blog it'll probably just be a trivial chatty little what-I-ate-for-lunch dealie, amusing for me and my dogs and a few close friends but not so much to anybody else. Though I will post a pointer here if I do. Meanwhile, I'll keep updating Flickr from time to time to let folks know I'm still alive. Click on those pics in the right sidebar to follow the aimlessly meandering plot of my ever-improving days.
A single woman in my fifties, in debt, no income, no health insurance, and then that grapefruit-sized tumor wedged between my lungs turns out to be a malignant high-grade highly aggressive stage IV lymphoma. How much worse can it get? Bwahahaha! Stay tuned and find out.