Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Another clean CT scan. Joy, happiness, relief

Had another cat scan last Thursday. As always, in the days leading up to the scan I become more and more anxious. Because of the type of Hodgkins I had (nodular sclerosing) it's pretty common to have scar tissue in the nodes affected by the cancer and the follow on chemotherapy. I also had an excisional biopsy in that area to diagnose the disease (look at this for the result of that little adventure) which probably caused some scaring. Because of all of this, the left side of my neck still feels a little funky compared to the right side of my neck. As the time for the next CT scan draws near, I start checking my  neck more and more frequently and any little twinges quickly lead me down a path of fear, uncertainty, anger, sadness and general emotional chaos that I have some more malignant cells growing in the war zone that is my left neck. I do lots of visualizations that my cells are happy, healthy and normal. But by the time of the scan, I'm basically a basket case, thinking through how great it will be to get good news and how I will deal with bad news. Good news = happiness, joy, relief, another 3 months of normal living. Bad news = a PET scan (to confirm hypermetabolic activity indicating tumor growth), followed probably by another stem cell transplant. This probably means another leave of absence from work and 3 months of tests, massive chemotherapy, stem cell transplant (basically a transfusion of your own blood), more transfusions for platelets and red blood, nausea, constipation, fatigue, hair loss, possible pulmonary complications and another step down the road of not living so long. In a nutshell, this is stuff that You Don't Want To Do.

As I lay down on the table prepping for the CT scan, I send one final message out to the universe. If you've ever heard of foxhole conversions, this is what happens to me. In the space of about 30 seconds I think about joining every possible religion on the planet and broadcast a heartfelt message to any deities (either at the cellular level, the spiritual level, the n-brane cosmic level, wherever and whenever I can get anyone to listen) that I would really, really, REALLY like to have a clean scan. The actual scan itself is pretty uneventful - it takes about 10 minutes and unlike an MRI machine, the CT machine uses a torus that's about 2 1/2 feet wide inside, so there's no feeling of claustrophobia. After a few minutes of lying there, you're all done.

And now the waiting game starts. The radiologist will read and interpret the scan in about 2 hours. So having had the scan at 11:00 in the morning, it's reasonable to think that by late in the afternoon both the radiologist and the oncologist will have done their thing and I'll get some news. Now the one thing I've learned in these situations is that you don't want to be popular and important. Similar to being popular and important in the ER, being popular and important to your oncologist usually means that Bad Shit Is Happening (To You). So as Thursday afternoon and evening goes by, I try to convince myself that not getting a call probably means good news. And then Friday morning goes by. And then Friday afternoon. Part of me just wants to call the goddamn fucking oncologist and say "WTF!!!!" Don't you know that I am a nervous wreck and that this waiting is turning me inside out. Have you no sense of compassion? Tell me WTF is going on. Or I will drive by your house and smash in all the windows of every piece of your property I can lay my hands on." Well, I didn't really think that but you get the idea. What I did think was that there are people in the same program I'm in that are way more messed up than I am and that probably (PROBABLY) everything is fine and I should just chill out. So I wait all weekend and do a pretty good job of not getting too spun up about the uncertainty. So Monday morning I finally crack and send a little note to my oncologist saying "hey, just btw, how did my scan turn out?" Cuz, you know, I am an uber-cool and with-it guy and I am totally not rocked by the fact that these test results will have a major impact on you, know, like THE REST OF MY LIFE. So you know, if you could just FUCKING LET ME KNOW WHAT THE FUCK THE TEST RESULTS ARE, that would be really, really nice. And 10 minutes later - bing! I see e-mail from my oncologist. So, with my junk pulled up into my throat, I click the link to read the message. And she says - "I'm not working today, I'll look at your results tomorrow." And I'm immediately relieved that at least it's not bad news. And then I think, wtf, wtf, WTF, WTF!!! Now I have to wait until tomorrow morning? Crap, shit, fuck, damnit to hell. I just want to know. But I sort of don't want to know. Because knowing could be really good. Or it could be really bad. So not knowing is sort of better than knowing because you can sort of trick yourself into feeling ok. But that trick doesn't really last long and then you're just back to being anxious and nervous.

So - sigh. Another night of waiting. I meditate before going to sleep and work to get centered and convince myself that whatever happens, it's really not the end of the world. There are lots of treatments still available to me and because I can't feel any giant lymph nodes, if there is some malignancy there, it's not super advanced. Surprisingly, I sleep pretty well  Monday night. Tuesday I am on campus doing some job recruiting and am just waiting for the damn phone to ring so I can get this chain off my neck. And finally, about 1:30 I get the call. And in 15 seconds I know that everything is good. No signs of abnormal structural changes, everything looks fine. And the world is suddenly a beautiful, happy, awesome place to be. Relief, joy, giddy happiness, exultation. And also emotional exhaustion. Worrying is really hard work! It feels like I just ran a marathon. And of course, you get off the phone and the world continues on like nothing has happened. Business meetings continue, people still type away at their keyboards and chat on the phone. Part of me wants to run down the halls at work screaming that I've just been given another 3 months of healthy living. But another part of me just wants to be a normal person at work. Of course, I can sit in a meeting, read my e-mail, do some work in my office and then drive home to dinner. I am a normal, healthy person. I can do normal stuff. I am not about to go through six months of invasive medical procedures that may or may not save my life. Nope, not me. I'm just an average guy with no life threatening illness sitting in the wings waiting to rip everything I hold dear away from me and plunge me into an abyss of - what? Nope, don't have to worry about that because That Is Not ME. Or at least not me for another 3 months.

So as crazy as these last few paragraphs sound, I believe that I'm relatively calm compared to some people in this situation. So know that if someone is waiting for these kinds of test results, they are undoubtedly a giant mess of emotional angst inside. So give them a hug, get them a beer or maybe give them a little break in life because trust me; if you've never gone through this, you have no idea how scary it is or how brave they are being just by putting one foot in front of the other and trying to live a normal life with this giant safe poised above their head, ready to either disappear or come crashing down on their head.

So, I'm doing well! Another couple of posts to catch up on some other thoughts but I'll stop this one here. Thx for reading and sorry for the foul mouthed potty words.


  1. I could hear your voice reading this blog; so happy to have the fiesty Pops healthy with a clear CT scan!!!

    1. yeah, felt good to write down some of the angst I was feeling. Helps clear the emotional pipes, as it were. Thx for reading and commenting!