Friday, July 3, 2009

1 - Six Months Later It Seems Like a Bad Dream


For my sixtieth birthday, I got cancer. This is a journal of my trip through the treatments and the effects of the treatments. It's just a journal, a diary, and some observations along the way. It is not a tale of heroic struggle or community or spiritual growth. I just plodded through the sickness because there was nothing else to do. You can't just lie back and let it run you over. You do whatever it takes to get through it and keep on living.

I took notes at the time, while all this was going on. I turned the notes into prose a few months after it was over, when I had recovered some strength and gained some distance. It is years later now and I can view this all with detachment. I have survived four years -- so far -- past the diagnosis. Still doing follow-up CAT scans and blood work and examinations, of course, but less frequently. It's time I let go of the secrecy that I clasped around that part of my life. Maybe a record of the experience of one lucky person can help someone else understand the process and make better decisions than I did. May you be luckier and better informed than I.

Six Months Later, It Seems Like a Bad Dream

I lost a hundred days. My memories are broken and stirred in a way that's hard to comprehend from today's perspective. There are a few small, shiny pieces, images reflective and clear, colored like today, like a few shards of broken mirror balls in an otherwise gray soup. They used to cast coherent pictures, distorted out to the sides but clear. Disconnected now. If I hadn't kept some journal at the time, if I hadn't insisted that my sweetie take notes of all the meetings with doctors, I wouldn't be able to put anything in sequence.

Here's the short version. Last August, I got a really, really bad report card from my doctor. One day I have an examination that the doctor says "doesn't feel right." He says that it doesn't feel normal, or good. He says that we ought to do a thorough examination. So we do it on a Friday a couple weeks later. Then Tuesday, at work, I get a phone message. It's the doctor. Not the nurse, the doctor. That alone is out of place. "You must come and see me, today, without fail." Scares the bejeezus out of me. I call Ms T for support. Over to the doctor's office we go.

Yes, it's cancer. This type, this place, this spread, this treatment.

Doctors seem to have a ritual for such situations. The first conversation with the patient must contain the words "malignant," "lethal," "fatal," and "deadly." The first four doctors I talk to all use the same mantra. Malignant, lethal, fatal, deadly. I think that they do it to get the patient's attention. Slap 'em with the wet fish, so that the patient can't slip into denial, which is the only thing a sane person could do under the circumstances. But after the first onslaught of those words, I can't concentrate to hear anything. Good thing Ms T is taking notes. She does this a lot over the next four months.

The treatment, from four doctors, includes surgery (a little), chemo (a little), radiation (a lot), and time. Takes almost four months overall. Follow-up visits, CAT scans, and examinations will continue for another, oh, two years. The prognosis at the end of this first phase is "Clear."

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