Third Times a Charm

November 25, 2005

So there I was, O Best Beloveds, minding my own business, which included the usual work and school (right; for those who didn’t know, I went back to school to get a Ph.D. in philosophy), and I thought “I really should send around one of those nifty mass emails, it’s been awhile, and I could tell everyone about how our house did during Katrina–” (right; for those who didn’t know, Steve and I and some dear friends bought a house in New Orleans a couple of years ago) “–and Phreddie was asking about food porn, and it’s been four years in full, non-chemo taking remission, which is really quite good, but I’d hate to get everyone all alarmed when they see the Merry Maladies email…” and then I sort of trailed off and got distracted and busy, and as we know, life is what happens to you when you are busy making (or executing) other plans. And so Dr. Waisman, hereafter known as Dr. Party Pooper, called.

Hey, those tumor marker blood tests I did a couple weeks ago? The ones I do every three months? The ones that should be 0-40 to indicate all is well and normal? 125. Given that I just had a nice clear mammogram, this means it’s probably elsewhere again.

Ah, for crying out loud, I said. And I just cut my hair for the first time since, I think, 1998, too. Had I but known, I would have kept it long. I was wearing braids, even.

There was no time to explore the implications of all this, as about two days later, I was off to NYC for a long-planned, and as it happened, most timely trip with the Marymount Girls, designed to show the town to Debi, who had never been before. (Also know as “Marymount Girls take Manhattan, One Cupcake at a Time.) This was most excellent, as I could put looming dread aside for a last set of normal days, which included the best company, and plenty of food porn. (Here! Food porn to relieve the tension! A pastrami and chopped liver sandwich from 2nd Avenue Deli, which Debi described as the best deli sandwich of her life, frozen hot chocolate from Serendipity 3, three pieces of Junior’s cheesecake, four cream filled cupcakes of various flavors and a small chocolate bundt cake filled with chocolate icing, very very little of which remained after seven Catholic school girls took them on; handmade linguini with mushrooms and truffle oil from Trattoria Dante, everything bagels stuffed with lox from Bagel Buffet, and so much more.)

Back at home by 10pm Tuesday night, off to USC for tests at 7am, which is a serious buzz kill. First up, MIR, and a guy who couldn’t find a vein and said “No” when I asked if he could at least leave the IV in for my next test, which also needed one, and “No” to a bunch of other things, and then left me on a gurney to fret while he went to find someone else to help with the vein hunt, saying it would be some minutes and no, I couldn’t join Steve in the waiting room, and I said something a bit rude and got up and left anyway, because I’m afraid I’ve a little bit had it this time around. They became much more solicitous to me after that, and the MIR and subsequent PET scan (my favorite, because it involves Valium and napping) went routinely.

Then it was up to Dr. Party Pooper to call at 7:30 to run down the results, as follows….

  • Three spots in the liver, “trivial” in size. Lymph node involvement around the stomach, liver and pancreas. This is more than I had before. No bone or lung involvement.
  • Weirdly, this is good–well, relatively–news. It’s not a new area, and so “The cancer hasn’t learned to spread, it hasn’t learned anything new.” It’s still doing what it was doing before (I’ve had lymph involvement from the very first go-around), and that sucker was knocked out with ease before. Dr. W. has now told me this news three times, and so I’m familiar with his vocal tones, and all I heard was disappointment (just two weeks ago, we were doing a happy dance around his office, because I had made it four years, and what a very very clever cancer doctor he was) that it wasn’t gone for good, not fear or doom. I asked him about this interpretation, and he agreed. I said I was okay with it all, I figured all along I would probably have to do this every few years, and each time, he would have something new that would knock it out for awhile, and on we go until I’m nice and old. He listened patiently to this and said “Yes, that’s all very well, but I remain committed to curing you.” In other words, getting rid of it for good. “And that’s why we love Dr. Waisman,” said Rick.
  • Dr. W has a new chemo combo that “will be AT LEAST as effective as the last one, if not MORE effective.” The first chemo is related to Taxitere (which I did last time) and the second is brand new, and so far, the duo is proving highly efficacious in other patients. He also says it’s going to be much much easier on me this time; none of that weird hand stuff, no nausea, possibly some body aches (my favorite symptom, because I get Vicodin and a medical excuse for lying on the couch doing nothing). Hair loss for sure. No word yet on weight gain, but I’m assuming so. He says he has one patient who has been on the stuff for nine months and she goes water skiing every weekend, so it’s entirely possible I won’t be slowed down all that much, though I’m working under the assumption I will.
  • I get the goop once a week for three weeks, and then one week off. lather, rinse, repeat six times. This plays hell with all sorts of things, not in the least because Dr. W. is now down in Torrance, which is hardly a convenient drive. He and I are trying to think of compromises, but he has to have a relationship with a hospital to order meds, and so I’m probably stuck. (As is Steve, my ride.) It likely means we have to cancel this year’s trip (Montenegro, Serbia, Albania) over New Year’s. BUT if I’m doing the math correctly, my two weeks between chemo rounds exactly covers Jazz Fest!
  • “I will have you in remission by April,” says Dr. W. “Then you go on the breast cancer vaccine, and once chemo is done, on a new hormone injection once a month.” And then maybe this time, gone for good.

I don’t know when all this is going to start; while I still have some further tests Monday and Weds, Dr. W. wants to get going on chemo right away, and since my preference (“never”) isn’t a practical option, I think Thursday works nicely in terms of various bits of timing. I will know more when I speak with him early next week and will send along information as I get it. I’m hoping to stay more active this time around–studies have shown regular exercise helps with chemo tolerance–and a friend who is a yoga instructor has offered to do regular at home sessions with me. As always, emails from you help like you would not believe. And Steve–if you want to do anything at all, do it for Steve. I’m well set up; I’ve got the best in Western medicine, a couch, and him, but poor Steve doesn’t even have baseball season.

So there you go. I’m not in the least bit worried about the obvious, since I always have my priorities skewed. Instead, I’m anxious about dealing with school and work. I’m disappointed about our trip (I was so looking forward to a couple of pleasant weeks of wandering around old cities.) I’m seriously bummed about my hair. I really like having hair, ya’ll. I was so enjoying putting it up in braids. But the big stuff? If Dr. W. thinks it’s going to be fine, then it’s going to be fine.

Still, though, between hurricanes and cancer, I think that’s enough Biblical-style excitement for awhile.

Drawing the line at frogs and locusts,