Tuesday, January 15, 2019

DAY 056 -- "One Incomplete Sentence?"

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) today of my brain (or what’s left of it after surviving decades of sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, Hula Hoops, Richard Nixon, Silly Putty and lots of eldercare, hospice and other bedside nursing care disciplines.)

Speaking of humor, my Docs ordered the MRI after finding those cancerous cells (See Day 055) active in my world-premiering lung lymph node --- cells that weren’t there three months prior.

I’d been through the MRI tube o’ terror before, so I was ready going in: pre-medicated with a hefty dose of benzodiazepines, comfy sweatplay pants, a pair of xxx-large hospital Pillow Paws booties and a johnnie gown Baby Huey could swim in.

The MRI tech/nurses were built for comfort and speed but also slow-going when needed, and with me today, I appreciated the crawling pace they used helping me to get my mind right for that crawling space they knew I dreaded.

If you’ve had one of these tests, you know the drill and you can skip along until the text starts to feel new again.

If you haven’t … well … hmmm … how to best describe getting an MRI of the brain in one incomplete sentence?

Supine on a hard table, head in a mold, arms pillow-propped and positioned, legs/knees blanket-gatched, heated blankets applied, earplugs and headphones placed (one for songs, one for silencing) IV for contrast medium inserted, and all fine until the Hannibal the Cannibal hockey mask is clamped down over your face.

But, luckily, because I’d already experienced the hostile arms of the horizontal Iron Maiden once before, I’d insisted on getting my mind right ahead of the procedure (per Dr.’s Rx, of course). I’d wanted and demanded to be stupefied with tranquilizers. If they’d slipped me inside that raucous, vibrating squeegee sleeve chamber without my pharmaceutical friendly fire, I would’ve freaked out.

Another fast forward (I’m assuming this is a recreational read for you, so I’m trying to keep it moving): Forty minutes later, after a couple of ins and outs for logistical tweaks, and several slam-banging mechanical interval audioblasts, tolerable (doped or not) only because they were somewhat muffled by the headphones, I was sucked out of the big plastic donut hole of death intact.   

Later, in his office for the preliminary review of the results, my oncologist, to his great credit, managed to not suppress a laugh when I told him my best doctor joke.

I told him right after he told me that yes, he’d just consulted with the radiologist, and yes … I did indeed now have cancer in my brain.

So, I caught him flat-footed and responded by asking him before he knew how not to react, if he’d ever heard the one about the difference between doctors & lawyers?

“No?” He said, unsure of where it was going, and with me knowing that he’d never heard that old chestnut.

“Lawyers rob you,” I said, “but doctors rob you and kill you, too.”

He laughed frowning, then laughed grinning. My mission accomplished. It’s my goal to be an exemplary patient.

So, today, anti-heroes that we are, we went looking for any renegade cancer cells which may have scaled those cellular walls, broken out of the host prison on their own, and headed out on the lam for who knows where.

Trouble is, we found ‘em, right where we’d hoped we wouldn’t: in one of my head’s hideouts. Yes, we’d hoped to find nothing in my head, but hope springs. Best leave the rest of it there.

Now, I’d sure like to know who provided the getaway car.

When we thought the cancer was only in my chest, the course to healing was clear. Now that we’re faced with outliers, all the treatment options must be revisited.

Surgery, radiation and chemo now will be shuffled into spaghetti strand degrees of optimums, maximums and minimums, tossed against the wall, and we’ll see which stick.

Of course, there’ll be a bit more applied science than that, but I can’t resist a juicy metaphor.

Then, as we’ve gone thus far, there’ll be more as we go, El

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

DAY 055 -- "Where's Baby Doll?"

No kidding, there I was, coming back around to consciousness from general anesthesia after today’s post-op EBUS (Endobronchial Ultrasound) biopsy. I am a sucker for images like this. Raw as it gets, there’s no hiding in manipulation, and one picture is worth a thousand pictures.

The thing itself was “uneventful,” as we’re fond of saying in nursing. That means that the operating room wasn’t rocked by an earthquake as the flexible tube went down my windpipe, I didn’t roll off the table, and the procedure was successful, securing the biopsy needed to determine the nature and nasty factor of an outlaw lymph node.

The results … well … here we are.

Pre-operatively, there were nurses and doctors and techies, oh my, all reviewing my history and prepping me for the morning’s events: inserting IV’s, electrode stickies stuck, assuring themselves that they knew that I knew what they were about to do, getting me down to underwear/flapping johnny and those one-size-fits-all ribbed slippers, on with my nursing bouffant cap, dentures out, jewelry off.

Diane sat next to me, and as usual, filled in the blanks where my mind drew them. There were many, as I was having trouble processing it all. (The brain has a wonderful capacity for performing a magician’s sleight-of-head under stress.)

The oncologist explained everything expertly, using a great metaphor/analogy of a tree and how its encircling bark mimicked the big doings in my chest interior. He did this while again showing us the offending lymph node on the computer screen, scrolling through the scan slices for a compelling trip around my heart’s descending aortic arch, and a bunch of other cool et ceteras.

The anesthesiologist, when she wasn’t distracting me with the facts of what would happen under her applications, talked about her winter power walking adventures with a like-minded Diane.

I felt quite pampered and reassured by it all.

Then, off we went through the maze of hallways to the operating room (everything’s a maze when you’re being wheeled around on your back).

Fast-forward: someone hovering behind me said “Here we go,” and the next thing I remember is where I am in that picture up there, emerging into a muddle head.

The nurse later told me that when I was returning to wakefulness, I kept asking “Where’s Baby Doll?” and everyone in post-op was hoping that I meant Diane. Ba-da-bing.

Another post-op nurse, in sworn secrecy, also said that the first thing I slurred/blurted in my anesthetized fog was “I told you God was a woman!” I vaguely remember a chorus of laughing female voices, but I could be wrong.

It’s why I became a nurse decades ago, just to embrace humor like that.

As for the the results? Well … preliminarily, not the best.

“Abnormal” cells found, and after my “tumor board” meets in the next couple days and fully evaluates the results, we’ll discuss options: revisiting chemo, radiation, possibly surgery.

I know what you’re thinking: should I buy season tickets to Fenway?

(See what I did there?)

More as we go, El


Wednesday, January 2, 2019

DAY 054 -- "Those Certain Uncertain Biggies"

I've now had my last immunotherapy infusion of the calendar year. Useless and meaningless trivia, but that’s just fine with me for now, because I’ve had enough profound, life-altering, on-your-mark-get-ready-set essential bulletins in the last few months to last me another lifetime, which it may well have to do.

(That’s an inside cancer joke.)

Today’s treatment was uneventful: the nurses know me and my rolling veins well enough now to never miss the puncture, and they always give me the right chair. I must have my back against the wall if I’m going to be sitting in public for a while. It’s the Wild Bill Hickock Syndrome.

Maybe that will change in this new year, as I’m more concerned with the killer in front of me than the one coming up on me from behind. Plus, I'm playing crossword solitaire, not poker.

(Another cancer joke, truly awful, but my license).

And, just incidentally, in my nursing career I’ve always given my patients the needle on “two” during a called three-count. “Ready? Okay, on three, ready? Now … One … TWO!” This way, the patient is in pre-flinch mode. Less tension, less pain, less chance of missing the mark. (You won’t find that method in any of the manuals.)

My oncology Doc checked in as usual during treatment, reviewing the latest labs, checking vitals, doing Doc stuff. At my request, he also brought up my new mystery lymph node image (see Day 052) on the computer to show Diane, who came along today to help hold up my fuzzy-saggy head. I again asked the Doc, as I always do, all the doomsday and V-Day hypotheticals.

Diane asked him, in her best fellow research biologist-speak, “When you do the biopsy, will the analysis be similar to the staging that was done on the subclavicular scan?”

She is my pearl. My sheet music. My lava flow. My sticky note. I love her. The Doc said great question, and gave her an answer that blew by me like a comet brushes by the earth, as my eyes shut down my ears. I’m okay with just watching the burst and receding flash of light and letting it go.

Much as I want to know everything about everything, I don’t have to.

Yes, yes, I know the Doc would rather not talk about what would happen if this happened when that happened, should the other thing happen while the first thing is happening … but that’s because he’s a good doctor.

Still, he also knows my mindset, and allows my always wanting to know the “best- and worst-cases,” obliging me the best he can. Yes, he’s concerned about the image, which is why he and his fellow consulting Docs want to get the biopsy next week, so we can rule in or out the goods and evils based on hard evidence.

Meanwhile, not knowing where things stand plays absolute hell with my imagination, but isn’t that common in all of us? Don’t we all let our minds run wild when it comes to those certain uncertain biggies in our lives?

Yes, we can and do conjure up most anything when we labor over what might be coming next in love, sex, death and where the fuck are the car keys.

More as we go, El

Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Getting Cancer Disintegrating Boogie Blues

Time out of this diary for a note-worthy flashback:

I wanted to musically (and raucously) make an audio interpretation of what happened inside my head when I was told I had cancer this year.

There I was, boogie-bluesing along nicely in life, la-dee-do-dah, when ... POW! I have WHAT?
(Not to worry, I'm mostly back in my groove now, but my internal tunes did go off the rails for a while, and there just might be something to knowing how to play it right before you can play it wrong. I don't think Picasso could've gotten away with sticking an elbow out of an ear unless he'd first expertly placed it in the middle of an arm.)

This is also dedicated to dahlin' aerial-dancin' daughter Erin Lovett Sherman. When she was little, she thought I was Jerry Lee Lewis. Ah, the innocence and purity of youth. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

DAY 053 -- "No Floating Pea"

I watched the Doc sift through the slices of my innards imagery, reviewing the results of the PET scan. When he nudged the trackball, dimensions of my organs and all their connective circuity flowed in and out like beach waves.

He gave me an analogy of a pea floating in soup, and because my attention span warps when it’s stressed and in the grip of my overactive imagination, I heard it in pieces. What did register and take hold in my head was that it’s better to have no floating pea.

My original tumor (soup) appeared to be pea-less. Good news, but the appearance of this new pesky lymph node seen in my recent comparative CT scan, remains the bugaboo.

Is it scarring? An anomaly appearing now as collateral damage from my course of Rad/Chemo? Is it a threat? Malignant? My Doc, in consult with his fellow oncologists, wants to get the biopsy as scheduled “to know what we’re dealing with.”

The image was ominous, a skyscape of jutting and sloping contrasts, rows of little devils moving through weeds of thick--- oh … wait ….

That’s a picture of my inside windshield when I was going through the car wash today. Sorry.

Even cancer sometimes needs a comic gotcha headbutt when you're looking the other way.
Meanwhile, back at the rest of my other whole body, he was pleased that I’ve dropped a couple of pounds, that I’m using the new elliptical, eating better, not quite as fatigued, and not picking at the sporadic and migrating skin eruptions. The latter is difficult, because when I was a kid, I kept a scab collection in a jar. It was fun looking at scraps of me flitting around in there when I shook it.

Later in boyhood, I added some dead moths for balance.

I had the same feeling today watching him scroll through my sub-layers, though he presented them with a bit more diagnostic sophistication.  

We did review my list of side effects (from Day Fifty-One) and he attributed them to the illness, the treatments, aging, a thousand or so other possible causes, and the maladaptations that can come with healing. We tweaked my uses of lotions and potions to ameliorate, perhaps even eliminate some of these sideshows as we continue this grand experiment.

Today, I’m feeling like what happens when Frankenstein teams up with Monty Hall in the funhouse mirror.

Somewhere in here, I'm behind one of those doors.

More as we go, El

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