Substance of Things Hoped For

October 27, 2006

It’s always a good day, O Best Beloveds, when one can use the word “penultimate” in a sentence, and particularly good when said sentence is “I had my penultimate chemo yesterday.” Maybe even the last one, but unless my blood takes a serious dip over the next week, my bets are currently I make it all the way through. Just as well; when we last checked tumor markers, prior to this round, they were at 39.7. I was completly disappointed–shouldn’t they be at 32 by now? But everyone else, Dr. W., Chemo Nurse Lisa, Dr. Port Installer, Steve, pointed out the direction is still down, the numbers are still falling, and slow tapering off is not unusual. Some folks never get quite to normal, I’m also told. But I’ve always gotten to the normal range before, and under the circumstances, I won’t be fully comfortable until they are. Besides, it’s totally unfair–if Dr. W. were still at USC Norris, those numbers WOULD be normal! (0–40 is their range.) How often am I told in class that so much depends on your location–in this case, literally! Dr. W. had something amusing to say about this when I saw him last week, but I was on drugs and promptly forgot it. Luckily, the hilarious Claire was there–Chemo Road Trip!!–and when I asked him if I didn’t make it to 32 by the end of this round, would he try to sneak more in, and he denied it, she said “Now, can I get that in writing?” and did! He wrote in her notebook that “on my honor as a physician” I would only have to more doses of chemo. Good thinking, Claire!

So. One more week. As you can imagine, it can’t come fast enough. At the same time, for the first time that I can recall, I’m a bit trepidatious; it’s going to take some rounds of normal monthly blood tests before I feel comfortable in remission, I think, given these recent circumstances. With Cancer: The Beginning, there was no blood work, just an end date to chemo/radiation, with Cancer: The Return, the tumor markers were normal for some time before we stopped chemo, plus I was normal for years, which lead me into a false sense of security that I wonder if I will ever get back. Given the aptly named Cancer: The Extended Dance Remix’s sudden April upswing, I wonder if I will ever be that nonchalent about tests again. Certainly not right away.

Which is not to say that I don’t still treat this as just big incovenience, a very time-consuming combination of an annoying cold and an obligation that must be dispensed with but is finally nearly over. I’m very good at staying in that mind set as long as there aren’t things to remind of the reality of the alternative, like the obit this week for the woman who wrote the recent book about how cancer made her a shallower person. Not much older than me, considerably funnier, breast cancer mets (and she belonged to a group of similar woman, a number of whom had died this year) and she even managed to do a few cartoons about her turn for the worse, that sweet funny thing. Anyway, for a moment, it broke though my shell of complacency and possibility shivered down my spine. But instead, I just got mad at their doctors; don’t they know things are changing? Couldn’t they have made it change for these women, too?

Speaking of shallow, and with an eye towards lightening the mood again, my hair is coming in in a controversial way. It’s not very thick, since it’s growing on chemo (remaing follicles should start to appear around mid-Dec, or six weeks after final chemo), nor curly (I can’t remember if that happens later, or if its a further sign this isn’t exactly “normal” hair growth yet) but it is getting pretty long, and so may be long enough to cover up the scalp that way, not as bad as a true comb-over, but same principle. And so debates rage–cap or no cap? Most are voting in favor of no cap, but I’m generally going with some kind of modified covering that lets some of my fungal follicles stick out. The hair’s a little too thin to be effective as the weather cools off, and a hat may be necessary anyway. Also, my eyelashes are falling out again, not entirely, but enough that the “I have eyelashes, just really skimpy ones” look isn’t as effective any more. Phooey. My nails finally look normal again, though my big toe nails aren’t fully grown in yet. Stomach issues are ever-present during the couple days past chemo, but water-down chemo seems to be helping as always.

Plus, I only have to do this one more time.

Rounding the home stretch,