a happy ending
March 19, 2007 § 28 Comments
On the occasion of my last chemo treatment, all set to break out the champagne, my oncologist casually announced that surgery might not be necessary. In most instances this is terrific news. It could mean the tumor vanished, or that I was magically cured. But it was neither. He suspected the cancer had migrated to my bones and offered that there’d be no benefit to surgery. In essence it was too late.
I’m no expert, but I do know that breast cancer is lethal once it abandons the palpable breast for un-chartered territories like the brain, liver, or bones. In these instances, there’s a 3% cure rate and for the other 97%, a life expectancy of 2-3 years.
My Oncologist went to Switzerland. My primary care physician called in a script for Ativan. My surgeon called me at home. It was after 9pm, her son was on her computer, so she asked if I could call up my reports and read them to her.
Vague sclerosis was the fiendish phrase that had my entire medical team convinced my cancer was aggressive and had spread.
How could vague be so definitive?
Dr MJ was compassionate. I was speechless. She wanted to make sure someone was with me. Deanne was, and has been from the beginning. Time to update the definition of friend on Wikipedia.
What was I doing in this Telenova? Single mom, young child, in-operable breast cancer, too many tears and sick to my stomach.
I was scheduled for a bone scan the following day. I would demand every test possible, another MRI, another biopsy. I wanted to look under the microscope and see the cancer cells for myself.
Something about bone scans. First, you get injected with a radioactive substance. Then, you drink as much fluid as possible to flush it out of your system. No matter what you drink, your bones absorb the glow in the dark juice and three hours later you’re back in for pictures by a camera that resembles a sci-fi docking station. The final images look like Halloween decorations.
11:00 – check in with Nuclear medicine 3rd floor West campus BIDMC.
11:15 – injection of green stuff. It doesn’t hurt, but it’s stored in a lead container and that’s alarming.
11:30 – I start drinking; carrot juice, water, more water, I water down the carrot juice.
12:00 – I meet with my attorney. I try to remain dry eyed. I fail. We make sure my will is in order, signed notarized, guardians and executors assigned.
All I can think about is Frannie. Orphaned, not once but twice. How can I do this to her? Can my guilt keep me alive?
I think back to my trip to China 7 years ago when I vowed to take care of my daughter forever. I promised the Chinese officials I would never abandon her. I promised Frannie I would always be there for her. I’m on target for a train wreck and my daughter certain debris.
I tried to make myself feel better. I had an OK life insurance policy. Her guardian was wonderful, my executor, sharp. Suffering could make her stronger. I was desperate. My attorney came in with more paper work and two associates masquerading as witnesses. I signed a health care proxy and moved on.
2:00 – back to nuclear medicine and my boney photo shoot. I lie on the table and think positive thoughts. No hot spots, no hot spots. Healthy healthy healthy. I listen to my ipod, I relax, I breathe, I pray for perfect pictures, flawless films and I fall asleep. I take solace in the fact that I have always been photogenic.
Marty was scheduled to deliver the keynote at a conference in Puerto Rico two days later. Months ago accompanying him to the Caribbean seemed like a splendid idea. We’d celebrate my last chemo and enjoy the sun.
Now, nothing was a splendid idea.
Did I want to leave Frannie for a weekend? For even an hour? Would it be good for her to get use to my not being around? I could take the weekend and make a plan. I’d make a list of all things I wanted to do and all things I would not bother with. I’d make the most of whatever I had left.
As a Nor’easter was zeroing in on the city I flew off to San Juan.
Marty picked me up at the airport and brought me back to the resort. It was lovely, but I was numb.
We were in the room for 5 minutes when my cell phone rang. One bit of good news that week; my Cingular service was perfect in San Juan. Even better than it was in Coolidge Corner. It was Dr MJ on the phone. She had a few minutes between surgeries and wanted to share the results of the bone scan. I didn’t anticipate hearing back from her so soon. I wasn’t prepared for the call.
She had good news. As a surgical Oncologist, she never passes up an opportunity to call someone with good news. I love that. The scans were virtually identical to the set taken last November. There was nothing new to report. No new hot spots. No new cancer. While we’re not sure what was going on with the cat scan, for the time being, we can rule out metastatic disease. I love everyone.
I had regular stay in the breast cancer and it was the best news of my life.
This news anywhere, and it would have been paradise. But we were in paradise, complete with palm trees, and freshly pummeled mohitos, tepid seas, and swimming pools with bartenders. Everything was perfect including the flood in the bathroom, the room swap at midnight and the juicy pineapple.
We’re just giddy around here. OK, we could have lived without the scare, but on the flip side I have a great plan for the next couple of years.
A death sentence lifted offers an incredible relief. But it’s not for everyone. A cold martini at the end of the day is a decent option as well.