The thing about science is that it’s full of data and numbers and conclusions and impressed with how incredibly scientific it is right up until the moment that it jumps over some unknown, blurry line and becomes an art. I faced this problem after my round four scans, but I’d really hoped that it was a one-time shot. On Thursday, those hopes were dashed.
Since my last chemo ended on October 26, I have been figuring out how to recover from the destruction that it caused. Sleep? Yes, lots. Exercise? Not really until I’ve gotten more sleep, but sleepy stretchy hot yin yoga is perfect. Travel to amazing places? Yes, but be careful and refer back to the sleep comment. Pills? Yes, folic acid for red blood cells and hair, biotin for hair, vitamin c for general principles, four prescriptions to help protect and heal my damaged immune system and nerves. Work? Yes, after a two-month leave. My main goal was to be completely cancer, if not tumor, -free for my post-round-six-end-of-chemo scans on December 11.
“Your scans are contradicting each other.”
Awesome. Michael grabbed my foot (I was up on the exam table), and my doctor looked stricken.
“Your CT scan shows continued shrinkage, down to 4.7×2.0 from 6.0×2.4…”
Pretty good…35% drop.
“…which implies that your tumor is continuing to heal. But your PET scan shows increased activity but in a really odd way. If it’s still cancerous then your tumor would light up evenly, but if you look at the scan, it almost looks like a barbell. So it could be your thymus, which is right there and doesn’t like chemo…”
No shit, neither do I.
“…it could be a false positive, or it could mean that we didn’t get all of it with chemo.”
“So I think we should take it out.”
“You want to remove my tumor?”
“Yes, I want to take it out and chop it up and figure out if there is any cancer left in it anywhere.”
“And if there is?”
“Then radiation and I’ll strongly recommend transplant.”
My brain changed gears without using the clutch and my transmission dropped onto the floor of the exam room. I’ve been through stem cell transplant with my sister. It’s beyond horrible. A month of lock-down on the scary 15th floor of Prentice, definite fertility loss, years to recover if the treatment itself doesn’t kill you.
Whatever my face looked like, it was enough to push my doctor over the edge, and she pulled me into a long hug. Tears rolled down my face as I hugged her back. “I didn’t want to text you the results because I knew you would need this.” She and Michael had some kind of exchange that I ignored, but I’m sure it had information. I just sat, in the warm hug, and cried. Until I had enough space to recognize that Michael’s hand on my ankle was reminding me of his go-to saying: Lydia, wait to worry.
I took a deep breath and sat back. Our relationship slipped back into patient-doctor.
“So, surgery? While he’s in there, can he bathe the area with chemo? I’ve heard that can help.”
“It does, but not in your case. The chemo can be contained in the abdomen, but for you, we would end up doing an incredible amount of damage to your lungs and heart and major veins and various endocrine glands like the thymus because its not a contained space.”
“Is he cracking my chest open?”
“No. This surgery is laparoscopic. Just four small cuts around your sternum.”
“Do I have to spend the night?”
“No. This is outpatient surgery unless he nicks your heart or lungs.”
Well, I’ve had a collapsed lung before…I chuckled. “Maybe they can use my old scar for the new chest tube. I’ll suggest to him that if he screws up to screw up with my left lung.”
She didn’t look amused. “I spoke to him this morning and he made space to see you on Tuesday.”
I sobered. “Who is he?”
“The head of thoracic surgery. He used to be the head of thoracic at Mass General.”
Wow, that means he’s probably one of the best thoracic surgeon in the country.
“I’ve been planning on seeing my family for Christmas. Do I need to do this surgery right away?”
“No. This is not the same situation we were in back in June. You could wait a couple weeks if you want.”
When one of my dearest friends cleaned up a few years ago one of her major problems was what to do with all of her free time that she used to spend getting and being wasted. She received some of the best advice I’ve ever heard: “K, just remember the three Ms: meetings, movies, and masturbation.”
So, until I actually have my surgery and they slice and dice the tumor and figure out if I still have cancer, I’ll remember the three Ms. But I’ll replace meetings with perhaps meditation or macaroni.