Friday, October 03, 2008


Famous last words: "It's not my plan to let cancer take over this blog." Unfortunately, cancer took over me and I decided to spare you the minutiae of my misery. It's been quite a while since I last posted, though, so I'll give you to a brief update.

The process was agonizingly protracted. I had a diagnostic mammogram and on-the-spot biopsies on August 1. Immediately scheduled for a mastectomy, a subsequent CT scan ruled that out. The CT scan revealed a suspicious area in my lungs. One test after another followed.

Have you ever watched a Zamboni machine clear ice? It's a large, lumbering contraption that moves slowly around an arena, scraping, spraying, and resurfacing the finish. Waiting for the endless tests, I felt like I was lying on the ice, hearing the machine approach ever-so-slowly, knowing it was about to run over me. Then I had to lie still and wait for the next pass. Pass after pass. Unpleasant, and finally quite morale-destroying. There was a bone scan, a heart scan, ekg, and numerous blood tests. Chemotherapy treatment was scheduled and then re-scheduled when I told the oncologist that I'd been coughing for twenty-five years and that only last year I'd had lung function testing and an x-ray. The old x-ray threw enough mud onto the picture to prompt another chemotherapy re-scheduling in order to allow time for a bronchoscopy. Now that was an unpleasant test! I saw the respirologist for a post-op appointment yesterday and I think he explained it partially as "You have an interesting redundancy of cartilage..." Whatever, they couldn't get a sample in the area of interest. The I.V. drugs administered are supposed to render one unconscious and unable to remember the procedure. The I.V. was placed in my arm at least three times; I guess I coughed it out at least once because I have a distinct memory of waking and looking at a screen that resembled a simulation of the Martian landscape. I also recall choking and gagging. End result of the test, an inadequate sample but nothing abnormal in what they did retrieve. I came away with giant cold sores on top and bottom lip, across my tongue, down my throat and possibly in the lung. I'd also bitten my tongue rather severely. I ran a fever of 39.7 C and had serious failure in my ability to concentrate. That was September 23. Perhaps there was a lingering effect of the 'forgetfulness' drug because I really wasn't thinking straight again until the 30th. I visited the oncologist again on the 26th and at least had enough of my wits about me to enquire if the bronchoscopy might have suggested sarcoidosis. (My mother had had sarcoidosis and there's some suggestion of a possible familial connection.) Sarcoidosis isn't malignant. (I don't have a clue what it is, but it's not as intimidating as lung cancer.) Finally, after considerable discussion back and forth the oncologist (Dr. Vanessa Bernstein) announced that for the moment "we're going for the cure". Future events may change that, but right now the chemotherapy is tailored to hopefully eradicate the cancer.

There's a long haul ahead - about fifteen months to begin with. Months of chemotherapy, followed by radiation plus chemotherapy, and finally a mastectomy and lung biopsy.

I had the first chemo treatment on Tuesday, the 30th, and am pleased to report that it wasn't too traumatizing. The anti-nausea regime available today is truly wonderful because I've had very little discomfort so far. On days seven to ten post-chemo one is apparently at great risk of infection due to suppresion of the immune system, so I'm nervous about that. And my hair will be falling out in about a week. Could there be more fun?

Ah well, I've got my wig on hand. When the hair starts coming out in clumps I'll make an appointment to get the remains shaved off and have the wig fitted, steamed and styled. It's not a bad match to my current colour and not too 'wiggy' looking. I also bought a cute little sleeping cap, a cloche, and a variety of pirate-style bald-lady scarves. (If I have the courage I'll post a picture later.)

And as Forrest Gump would say: "That's all I've got to say about that."

I'll try not to put you through too much more of this in the future.

Bright Sides

My dear family has been wonderfully supportive. Every vaguely positive medical report has been greeted with enthusiasm. My little girl drove all the way from Los Angeles to be here for me. My neighbour Rose, an ER nurse, came off all-night shifts and insisted on accompanying me to the surgeon and the first chemo appointment. I've had lovely surprise packages from Sharon and Ute, Debra and Maxine and Clare. Debra's little girls sent me delightful 'get well' cards. And I have some hope that this ordeal won't kill me.