Friday, December 28, 2007

Week from hella



Stop the world, I want to get off. Well, not really, but I'd like to pause the ride for a little while.

Early on Christmas eve, I had a festive visit with Dr. K, the radiologist. Before I consulted with her, a resident took a history and examined me. "Dr. B did your surgery? Oh, he's good. His patients usually don't have much scarring." Afterwards, Dr. K came in to complete the examination, and to describe the course of treatment. I'll be getting six weeks of radiation, five days a week. Each treatment will take about fifteen minutes.

The first step was to create a treatment plan, part of which would be to determine if it was safe to zap the lymph nodes lying along my sternum. If the lymph nodes overlap the lungs, it's a no-go, since radiation can cause damage to lung tissue. Dr. K checked the schedule that day. "There's been a couple of cancellations. Would you like to get your planning CAT scan right now?" Six months of cancer treatment has taught me a couple of things. First, if they give you a blanket, do not give it up until they allow you to get dressed again. Second, if they offer you an appointment for the same day, accept it immediately.

Off we went to the CAT scan thingy. After looking at the images, Dr. K came in to speak with me. Unfortunately, my lungs were partially under my sternal lymph nodes, so she recommended against targeting that area. Instead, they would hit my axillary, mammary and clavical nodes. A technician tattooed three blue dots at target points on my chest and armpit, and then photographed my naked torso. Tattoos and nude photos all in one hour! It was like mini spring break, only without beer bongs.

I drove home and started cleaning the house in preparation for my in-laws arrival that evening. Christmas is sort of a mixed blessing for those of us afflicted with seasonal affective disorder. I could feel my mood darkening along with the days, but the flurry of activity preceeding the holidays kept me too busy for a free-fall into the Abyss. One serious misstep was, while shopping for gifts, to purchase the book Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person, by Miriam Engleberg. I had read about Engleberg's collection of cartoons a couple months ago, and all of the reviews were right on: the book was an often very funny account of what its like to be a cancer patient. However, I secretly hoped that Engleberg was not like me. You see, she died last year, after cancer spread to her bones and brain. As I read the book, I couldn't avoid noting the eerie similarities. She had the same type of breast cancer as me. She had a lumpectomy, with chemotherapy and radiation. In 1979, we both had a boyfriend named Roger. OK, I had a boyfriend named Roger in 1980, but you get the idea. If she were alive, we would be the same age.

After I read the book, fear lay in my heart like lead. Between her first diagnosis and death, Miriam had only five years. I am already enduring the bittersweet realization of midlife. Much is behind me, and what is ahead will pass quickly. What if the cancer comes back? In Greek mythology, the three Moirai, or Fates, determine the length of life. Atropos,"the inexorable," cuts the life-thread spun and measured by the other two goddesses. I feel like I've glimpsed the shears, still without really knowing the measure.

Like my father before me, movement through space provides me some respite. If my dad was anxious, sad or angry, he would drive and drive and drive until he put some distance between himself and his troubles. Being a city-dweller, the train is my neurotransmitter of choice. Pink Line, take me away...to Pilsen, which is where I took the photo above. Pilsen is an old Bohemian (as in Czech and Slovak) neighborhood on the south side of the city. It's now Mexican, with a growing art gallery district in its eastern section. The main drag, 18th street, is heartbreakingly beautiful. Tall Mittel-european stone and brick buildings line the street, while little houses off of it reflect a more peasant vernacular, with charming, crude flowers carved in the window lintels. One is prevented from complete transport back to old Bohemia by some of the eye-popping exterior paint jobs, mostly in shades more common to Oaxaca. The colors could cheer even Kafka. And so it did me.

4 comments:

Writer said...

Funny, I was talking about Miriam E. this week. I went to a session at the MLA about her and Cancer Vixen and dis-abled graphic narratives. It is scary to be middle-aged with this damn cancer stuff.
--cancer bitch

The Fifty Foot Blogger said...

At MLA? How interesting! I wonder if there are as many cancer blogs by men? Somehow, I doubt it. Men are supposed to bear it in silence.

pockafwye said...

Second, if they offer you an appointment for the same day, accept it immediately.

Isn't that the truth!

What a lousy week. I'd say something like "hang in there" but it sounds like you're hanging on with both hands already.

The Fifty Foot Blogger said...

Thanks pockafwye...got no choice at this point.