Over the last few days, I’ve been put on some heavy drugs to manage the pain and although we think we’ve finally found a good combination of meds, plenty of the old stuff lingers in my system. I’ve been in the hospital for four days, although I’m going home tonight, and it’s been a bit of a sleep-test-talk-canwegetyourvitalsignsagain whirlwind.
With a couple of wonderful moments. Like crying with my mom blogger friends. Like hugging my moms club friends goodnight. Like relaxing and chatting late into the afternoon, and quiet hours with my husband as we waited for the next test – the next procedure – the time that it would take to see if the next meds to take effect. Like listening to the earnest and sincere voices of the pain doctors spoken so highly (coincidentally) of in Susan McCorkindale’s new book, 500 Acres and No Place to Hide, and meeting oncology nurse after oncology nurse who really, sincerely, wanted to help.
At one point, I asked about the rules for visiting hours, as two friends were on their way to keep me company in the wait. “The hours are 9 to 9,” she said, “but they are not always enforced on this floor.” Why? I asked, standing for the first time all morning, what floor is this? Oncology, she said, with a sad smile, and she helped me unhook my IV for the short walk to the bathroom.
And so it was that I discovered that although I had been admitted to the hospital for serious pain in my left rib and back of my pelvis area, that I would stay longer for a more serious reason.
Oncology. My PET/CT scan from Friday and the follow up x-ray on Monday did not show a broken rib. They showed instead several dozen bad spots: cancer in the spine, the ribs, the top of my legs, and other bones in my torso that could only be cancer eating away at my bones or areas of healing from cancer that had been there in the very recent past. It was cancer, my oncologist said, and we would have to start treatment right away.
I didn’t understand at first, through my morphine-addled haze, but it was explained again to me later. Cancer. Several dozen spots, entwined through my spine and on my ribs and tops of my legs, that was causing me pain either directly (as in my neck and upper tush areas) or indirectly as the bones squashed the nerve roots coming out of the vertebrae, signaling a break that wasn’t there. And the only treatment options were which kind of chemotherapy to start first.
There are 20 chemos to choose from, she said, and I was happy to hear that, but all of them require a port.
So yesterday, after a day and a half of waiting, I was taken to the interventional radiology room where they sliced open my upper chest with a 3 cm horizontal line, making a pocket in my soft tissue, and they inserted a port that could be used for future infusions instead of always poking me in the hand or wrist with an IV. They laced the port’s tubing through my veins and dropped the end just inside or just above my heart, so that the chemical (the chemo-part of chemotherapy) would have a short, direct flight to my heart, where it would be pumped quickly throughout my body and sent on its mission to kill the cancer cells, in the tumors in my spine, in my ribs, in my back, and in other places to small to be seen on the PET/CT scan.
I will have chemo pumped into my port and thus, my body, every week for a while, with the third week off for good behaviour as long as it still works and I can tolerate the side effects. I will have this chemo for as long as I can stand it and it makes a difference. When it stops working – and it will – we will switch to another chemo, then another, then another. Some will work and some will not. All of them are the product of nationally, federally funded research as well as research grants funded by private foundations or wealthy individuals. All of them were discovered by men and women working hard to make a difference, and urged on in their work by the pink cheerleaders and thoughtful dissenters, all advocating for the end of cancer through more research, more learning, more clinical trials. More light shed on this disease and its spread. We must —
And you know that. You have heard this here and other places many times.
Earlier this year, it was Sarah who struggled on the changing chemos, who had to make the decisions and muddle through as they searched for an answer to her cancer. Then, Judy. Now it’s my turn for another go at it. Every day, it’s mothers, wives, daughters, and friends fighting breast cancer and ever so many more types of cancer. Cancer sucks. Cancer kills.
Tonight I will be home, resting in my own bed, recovering from the chemo they gave me this morning through my lovely port as my husband and a friend kept me company in the tiny room, trying not to think about the many chemos to come, willing them to work even more than I dread their infusion. I am as grateful for their existence as I hate the fact that they are needed. But all of that is just talk.
What matters is that I get up and go to my chemotherapy each week, and that I show my family and friends and colleagues just how much I love and respect them in the meantime. I think now’s the time for me to finish that book, too. Procrastination just doesn’t make any sense anymore.