Friday, September 10, 2010

Endless Opportunity

I had an MRI earlier this week, the first since June. I think three months was maybe the outside Dr Jason wanted to wait, and I kept that in mind and called to make sure I would get something scheduled, because as we know my life over the next few months is taking place away from here at least as much as it's taking place here. At my last visit with Dr Specht, she'd mentioned that she and Dr Jason hadn't been talking about me much recently (always a good sign for me, but it meant trouble for somebody else), but as much as I wanted to just run with it and let them remember me sometime, it seemed to be a good idea to take it upon myself to get on the schedule.

Well, I got on the schedule at 7:30 in the morning on Tuesday—which is pretty much a guarantee that I'll have no conflicts, provided I'm in town—and after the usual 20+ minutes of sound-battered somnolence in the MRI tube, I headed over into the examining room to meet with Nurse Sarah and Dr Jason.

I passed all my neurological tests with flying colors—I am incredibly strong, and balanced, and clear-headed—and I've been feeling really well lately (aside from a pudgy ring finger, but that's rather inconsequential in the scheme of things—and, in fact, not being able to get my wedding rings off really shouldn't make me feel panicky when Ian is so A W E S O M E) . . . and yet, when I went with Dr Jason to look at my scan, he pointed out a new spot in my brain that first appeared in June and seems to have not quite doubled in size since then. It's still very small—smaller than a pencil eraser; larger than the nib of a pen—but my brain at the moment isn't showing any signs of irritation at it (that's up to my consciousness, I guess), and so we're going to watch and wait. Because I'm planning a trip to Africa in a month, I am going to be having a spinal cord MRI (this one scheduled at 8pm, which seems sort of pleasingly atypical for scans) to make sure I'm not likely to suddenly lose the function of my legs whilst climbing one of the Seychelles' granite mountains—a precaution taken at this stage only because of the travel, therefore, I say, a small price to pay. There are no current plans to deal with the brain spot—it's too small, and too single, to cause much concern (on the part of Dr Jason) at the moment.

Yesterday during my extra long infusion, however, I got my CA 27 tumor marker score back and I'm now better than normal—40, when the top score really should be only 37, up from 30 in May. From my experience with my own body and this particular test, anything over 25 or 6 means scan-readable cancer in my body somewhere, and so 40 presumably means scan-readable cancer in my body in more somewheres than just one.

This slightly elevated tumor marker, much lower than the 1009 original from 2008, has been slowly rising since going on the Xeloda, which is a chemotherapy that is supposed to be slowing it down—ideally reducing it back to normal. This reversal of hope and expectation is not something I want to see, and herein lies my opportunity.

My first response to these bits of news is, of course, entirely human, and entirely knee-jerk (although I think various chemos in my past have long-since destroyed that actual physical reflex in me). I am angry, afraid, frustrated, annoyed, and, damn it, PISSED OFF that I can't just go to a tropical paradise with only the glowing equatorial sun hanging over my head. But no, I go with my mortality hanging over my head.

On the other hand, as Ian points out, and as I know from personal experience, I am one of the strongest, fittest, wellest, people I know—and the only reason I don't feel that way right now is the fear. And fear is, in fact, something I can, theoretically, control.

So, what if I get over my knee-jerk reactions and, instead, learn to blow the fear off? The thing about cancer for me is that it's going to be perpetual and endless, and if I don't want to crash every time a scan implies activity, I'm going to have to figure out a different way to process my life. A more thoughtful way, perhaps. I'm going to have to learn to focus on the certainties—that I am strong and talented and smart and, yes, healthy—and let the uncertainties take the bit parts, the cameos, the walk-ons, that they deserve in this drama of my life.

I have an idea that it's going to take me some time to master this new art—of brushing the fears aside and focusing on the obvious truths of how I live, how I LIVE, but fortunately the cancer seems to be awarding me endless opportunities to practice.

So, Thank you, Cancer. In your face.

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