Category: Medical drama

The waiting game

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I wanted to DO something. I expected things to happen in a fast-paced action sequence, like the movies. Instead, I discovered, this “battle” is more of a slog.

Or if it is a battle, the patient is stuck down in the trenches most of the time, wounded and with no clue what’s going on. All you can do is await news from someone with a better view, hearing occasional bursts of fire and wondering what, if anything, has been hit and whether you’re next. You become bone-weary and mud-stained and not particularly attractive. And yet, you’re alive. So there’s that.

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Stability

Sorry for keeping you in suspense about my scan results! I had a second, different type of scan today to clarify some of the findings from the one I had last week. The short version: I still have cancer, which of course I was secretly hoping against all reason not to hear. The imaging still reveals at least three tumors, roughly the size of cranberries, scattered through the peritoneum (abdominal lining). But they haven’t grown significantly, and my liver, lungs, and other organs remain unaffected. In other words, my cancer is stable.

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Alas, poor Ned! I hardly knew him.

Oh, NED. I miss you already. Others who have experienced cancer will recognize this odd acronym, used by doctors to describe the awkward expanse of uncertainty between “measurable disease” and “cured.” It stands for No Evidence of Disease, meaning that there’s nothing in your bloodwork or scans to show that cancer remains in your body, and yet, the danger remains great and you must keep vigilant watch. It only takes a few rogue cells lurking in the shadows to wake the beast again. (Kind of like You Know Who at the beginning of the Harry Potter series.) Only time can tell how long your remission will last: could be a few months, could be decades.

Maybe, you dare to hope, the disease will Never Ever Dare to return. Sometimes it doesn’t.

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The “mother of all surgeries”

I’m so glad this article didn’t come out a few months sooner. Here’s the lede:

The operation is so terrifying some call it MOAS: the Mother of All Surgeries. It can take 16 hours. The risk of complications is high. And after 30 years of research, doctors are still arguing about how well it works.

….Now, as the surgeon scrubbed in, Phillips was ready — or as ready as one can be — to have his innards scraped with electrified wires and sluiced with hot poison.

Gripping journalism, but terrifying pre-operative reading material. Geez.

Reading this two months after undergoing the same procedure makes me marvel at the fact I was out of the hospital within six days. I trace the scar sealing my own abdomen with wonder. (more…)

Becoming Stage IV

It’s funny, the random things you remember and tuck away for later, without knowing why. A few years ago, I read an interesting article in the Washington Post about a drastic cancer surgery pioneered by a local man. Maybe it was his name that made it stick in my head: Dr. Sugarbaker. Such a pleasant name, so incongruous  with what sounded like a kind of torture, a procedure involving the patient’s internal organs being basted in hot chemo drugs like a bizarre spa treatment after all-day open abdominal surgery. I remember remarking on it to my husband; joking about the name. I remember thinking “God help the poor people who have no options left beside that!”

Fast forward three years. My oncologist is calling, which can’t be good: He’s an email guy. I don’t even know his phone number. It’s after hours and it sounds like he’s on his cell, driving. (more…)