Friday, September 29, 2006

Month In Hell

Goodbye, September. Eleven months before I see you again will still be too soon.

This has been a month in hell for me. The worry, the fear, the doubt, the sleepless nights, the phantom pains, the ever present anxiety, the placing of my entire life on hold. The tests, and the waiting for the results. The questions, and lack of answers. The bureaucratic mess and heartless decisions that delayed Blue Cross/Blue Shield approving a test that could have answered many of those questions by now.

I will not cry when you leave, and the calendar turns to October. With that turn comes a new month, and new concerns. My PET scan is scheduled for the 3rd... but at least I can carry into the month with some hope now, and an optimism I did not have on August 31st, when the calendar changed and this goddamned farce began.

I had my consult with Dr. B today. There is a lot of potentially good news to report... the lymph node growths that are of concern have remained the same size... one has gotten smaller... since the August CT scan. Tumors don't shrink... they can remain the same size for awhile, but TC usually grows quickly. So, PGN (Possible Good News) #1.

PGN #2: No tumor markers are present in my blood.

PGN #3: All other scans are clean.

That's the good news. Here's the questionable stuff --

There remains one area of concern: the nodule on my left lung has grown from 8 mm to 13 mm. That could be a tumor... or, it could be scarring from some kind of respiratory infection. My allergies - or something - have been kicking my tail since heading back to NM, and this could all be from that. Dr. B prescribed an antibiotic to see if that clears the congestion up... if it does, then that could be another sign that this is, well, nothing.

I finally have the PET scan scheduled for next Tuesday, 3 pm. If that shows anything amiss, then all bets are off and we start thinking cancer again. But even Dr. B saw this as good news ("with qualifications"), which is a sign to me that maybe, just maybe... this has all been much ado about nothing.

I hope and pray.

I'll be awake when September ends... because I want to change each and every one of my calendars to October as soon as I can.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

...And God Spoke

Today is D-Day. Today is the day I find out the results of the bevy of tests I had this week (is two enough to warrant a "bevy?" I'm saying yes here). Those tests will tell me and my oncologist -- or at least give a decent idea -- whether or not my cancer has returned. My consult is at 1:00 pm.

But this isn't about that, really. It's related to it... but this post is really about an unbelievable bit of reassurance and comfort I received Thursday, in the most unlikely of places. I was not expecting it, and I did not ask for it... but it was exactly what I needed, without even knowing it.

And as pithy and self-righteous as the title of this post may sound... for the life of me I can't think of a better way to sum up what I'm feeling right now.

First, some background. As I mentioned in recent posts, I recently bought a new car -- a Mazda 6. I first went to the dealership last month, two days before I found out that my cancer may have recurred. It took me three weeks -- three tough weeks -- before I decided I was of clear-enough mind to go ahead and buy the car, with all that was going on. I haven't regretted the decision; I love the car (although I still miss the GA... and the GA's sunroof.)

Anyway... yesterday, I took the new car back to the dealership to pick up my new license plates. I also had a detail coming to me (although I've washed the car three times since I've had it, waxed it once, and it wasn't really 'dirty') and I was waiting in the dealership's showroom for that to be done when one of the sales managers walked up to me. I'd chatted with him a few times during the buying process, and I shook his hand as he asked me how I was enjoying the new car.

"Hey, got a second?" he asked me.

We chatted a bit about the new showroom fixtures being installed at the dealership, as per Mazda dictate ("I think it's all just a way for Mazda to sell furniture," he quipped) and then lowered his voice.

"Just so you know... I went through what you're now going through about 10 years ago."
It took me a second to understand what he was talking about... and it hit me just as he said, "TC. I had it, and had my last round of chemo right before my 35th birthday."

He told me about his experience. How he discovered he had it, and how it affected him. He told me about the "fucking asshole" urologist who had told him "he had good news and bad news"... where the good news was it was treatable. And he answered my questions... all of which were much more personal than the typical "car salesman/customer" relationship normally allows.
He told me about his experience being on chemo... the hair loss ("I looked like Grasshopper from the Kung Fu movies"), the sickness, the smell.

"And here it is 10 years later -- I got testicular cancer before it was 'cool' -- and I'm doing fine. It's never come back."

It never occurred to me to ask who told him I was going through this -- I'd told the salesman when he called me the day I found out, August 28, to let me know they'd agreed to the numbers I'd wanted -- and it never occurred to me to be at least a little pissed that my health was the subject of gossip at a car dealership.

Fact is... he didn't have to say anything. It's not a story a lot of men would feel comfortable sharing with a relative stranger. But he chose to share his story, because he felt it would help me. And it did.

For the first time this month... first time this year... I was able to talk to someone who had gone through what I am going through now, and reassure me in a way no one else I know could right now. At a car lot. What are the odds?

We talked for about 15 minutes, before the salesman came back with my now-even-cleaner car. I shook his hand again -- a grateful wringing -- and thanked him for telling me.
"No problem. And if you ever need to talk, or have any questions, you know how to reach me here."
I left the dealership feeling... heartened. And with a sense of reassurance I haven't had in the past month. For the first time, I felt I really knew, and believed, that even if the diagnosis is bad... it's not the end of the world.

I can't begin to describe what I'm feeling now, as I write about this. I am still scared... terrified... and I still expect the worst today. But there's also this feeling of genuine hope now... of optimism... and, of gratitude, to both my fellow TC survivor and also... well, you know.

And God spoke, and sent me a sign even I... not the most religious person, especially lately... believe to be heaven-sent. 

Sunday, September 17, 2006

My Birthday Gift To Me

Sometimes, you just have to say "what the hell, if I'm going to have to go to the hospital I might as well have fun getting there." 

Tuesday is the day I go in for my PET scan. It's also my 31st birthday... and this weekend, I decided to treat myself, by purchasing the car I had my eye on the weekend before I found out about the possible cancer recurrence.

Well, this isn't the same car, per se... as that one was "Dark Cherry" red, had a moonroof, spoiler, and ground effects, and cost $2K more. For possibly the first time ever, I willingly moved downmarket to a) save money, and b) because I honestly liked this car better than the earlier one. This one still has the good stuff, though - 6 cylinder, a six-speed (!) automatic transmission (with manual shift control), ABS, traction control and airbags galore.

And it is seriously fun to drive. To quote Ferris Bueller: "It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up." Granted, he was talking about a 1961 Ferrari, but still.
I picked up the car Saturday night... and proceeded to drive around DFW for the next few hours. Sunday morning (before football) I drove back up to the dealership to get these shots of the New Car with the Old Car, my beloved Grand Am (and I seriously did love that car, flaws and all.)

There's a saying -- don't change horses in midstream. Well, here I am up to my neck in fast-moving water, lamenting how I never learned to swim... and I decide to get a new horse. I admit, there is little logic to it (except for the possibility that, should she need to come down here to stay with me during my treatments, my mom can drive the Mazda as it's an automatic).

But ya know something? Life isn't about logic, I'm rapidly finding out.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Happy Thoughts... And The Lessons You Learn

Update... the 19th is the date for my PET scan, with the results likely known the next day or Thursday. So, the birthday week will be an interesting one. I'm starting to REALLY understand why "may you live in interesting times" is considered a curse.

This week has been spent throwing myself into work, as I fight off increasingly common panic attacks. Nerves have taken their toll -- I registered a BP of 162 over 91 Tuesday on the tester at Kroger's down the street, after a particularly stressful series of phone conversations with doctors' offices, health clinics and Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Which still hasn't actually approved the PET. But I need it anyway... and sooner is better than later in this case. It will either be a $400 bill for me.... or $4000. Funny how money stops being a paramount concern in times like this.

While she's forgiven me, and said she understood, I still feel bad that I cursed at my oncologist's PA on Monday when I called. "You told me last month, 'we think you may have cancer again... come back in three weeks and we'll tell you for certain.' That's fucking heartless, Kathy." I immediately told her I was sorry, and I knew it wasn't her fault or Dr. B's. This is just the way it's done with insurance companies... and, fortunately, mine is not the highest-priority case out there. Even if I do have cancer, and it's spread in the past three weeks... this kind expends most of its energy in growing, and relatively little in sticking around. That's why drugs kill it quickly (a relative term.) Anyway, she said she understood completely... odds are, I'm not the first person to say that.

Through all this, a thought has entered my mind that's been kind of hard to squelch. Last year at this time, as I was on my high from preparing to leave AG for Aero-News (I put in my notice in one year ago today)... someone fairly close to me was going through Something Bad, and I turned a blind eye to it. A part of me knew something was up with this person... but I ignored it, because I was so focused on My Happy Life, My New Wondrous Adventure.

Events later showed that something WAS up... and we haven't spoken since. We probably never will again. If there is one thing the ordeal these past nine months has taught me, though, it's a greater sense of empathy. I always thought I had it... but you never really know how callous you can be to those you care about, until you experience a little of the pain they go through yourself.

And so I say to this person, if they happen to read this... I understand now what you were feeling... at least more now than I could have before. I know what it's like to live in fear of something inside you rising up, no matter how you may try to suppress it, impossible as that can be. I know now how you were able to hold it together to those around you... while inside you were terrified, and completely convinced no one else could possibly understand what you were facing... until you simply break down in despair. Only then can you start to rebuild yourself, and become strong.

To my once-friend... and someone who I still think of quite often... I am so sorry I fell down at being your friend when you needed one.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

I haven't posted anything new since I was told that my previous cancer may be back, this time in two swollen lymph nodes in my chest. Alas, that's because here we are, two weeks later... and I still don't really know anything new.

I have talked with the surgeon who would perform a biopsy, if one is needed. He recommended I first undergo a PET scan, which is like a CT scan but using a glucose-based solution (instead of iodine contrast) and that it is a full-body scan, unlike a localized CT. He recommended this step for a couple reasons. One, should the nodes prove to be suspect (the glucose causes them to light up -- show "hot", if you will -- if they're cancerous), the PET will give him a better idea which one to go after for the biopsy -- as neither is in the most accessible location (damn ribs and internal organs).

The second reason is one I'm trying not to read too much hope into. There's a chance... actually, a fairly good one... that both nodes will show up "cold", meaning it's not cancer that caused them to swell but instead something else. There are many things that could cause that to happen -- normal body stuff, for one, or perhaps an infection or inflammation of some kind. But we won't know for sure until I undergo the PET scan... and hence, the wait.

As it is an expensive test, we're waiting for insurance to approve it. Welcome to the modern healthcare system. As the request was submitted after Labor Day, it will likely take at least a week for an approval to come back. My doctor only performs PET scans on Tuesdays... which, unless something miraculous happens today, means my next chance falls on the 19th.

Happy fucking 31st birthday to me.

As you can tell, I'm bitter. I had a lot planned for the rest of this year, including at least getting my sport pilot ticket. Now, as occurred in January when this whole ordeal started, I'm in a holding pattern again. Except back in January, I had no time to be scared -- everything happened so fast, I had little time to contemplate everything until it was already over.

This time... I've had plenty of time to contemplate the various worst case scenarios (which, it's worth noting, are still better than many diagnosed with cancer can claim.) Chemo. Hair loss. Possible sterility from the chemo -- my oncologist is recommending the sperm bank again. (Gee, yeah, THAT'S what I feel like doing right now.) And, yes... my own mortality.

God, I wish they'd approve this damn test. Even bad news is better than none.