Tuesday, April 29, 2014


So, it's that time again.

Tomorrow, I head up to Durham for my biennial labs, CT scan and meeting with the oncologist. I have no reason to believe that anything's wrong, and the odds are that everything's all right, but still.

I'm remembering the last appointment, when the oncologist's perky new assistant said, "Preliminarily, everything looks okay, but the radiologist hasn't reviewed the scan yet, so we'll call you tomorrow if anything's wrong."

Then she called me the next day.

And talked for about thirty seconds before she got to the buried lead: no evidence of cancer. I had to have her go back and repeat what she had said before that, because I had been so paralyzed by fear, since she said she would call if anything was wrong, and here she was calling and talking about low-attenuation lesions. What the hell are low-attenuation lesions? I will tell you: they are boring cysts which mostly go away on their own (and did). But I did not know this at the time, because I am not a medical person, and lesions sound like disease to me.

So after Count Perkula finished assuring me that the cysts were no big deal, and that there was no evidence of cancer, I allowed as how she was new at her job and so she might not know this yet, but most people who have scans to see if their cancer has returned to kill them would like to know the very first thing that everything's okay. In other words, do not bury the fucking lead. I did not intimate to her that if she ever pulled that crap again I would become her life-threatening condition.. But only because I was too shaken at the time to form threats. Or, you know, coherent thoughts.

And now here we are again. I've done a really good job of containing my anxiety until now, but the workday is done and my appointment is tomorrow, and I am scared that this is my last night of being an ordinary crabby housewife, mother and writer, and that tomorrow night will be my first night of being terminally ill.

It probably won't. But it could.

One of my friends once posted a rallying cry on Facebook for her "prayer worriers," and I wondered what that was for a moment until I realized it had probably autocorrected from "prayer warriors." And then it hit me. I don't think my poor, thin little prayers qualify me as a warrior. But prayer worrier? I am all over that.

Whichever category you fit into, I'd appreciate your prayers for a good outcome tomorrow. I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Of Two Minds

It occurs to me since my post last week that many people think I'm closer to death than we have any reason to believe I am in fact. I can tell because some brave folks actually come up to me, hug me, and ask what they can do for me, instead of just gazing dolefully at me from a distance with Sad Cancer Eyes. I want to clear a few things up so that people neither think I'm being attention-seeking (more than usual) nor that they need to organize me a spaghetti dinner fundraiser.

Thing #1: The tumor may have grown a little bit, but then again, it may not have. 
When I pressed Dr. M. for details, he said the increase in tumor height appeared to be 0.1-0.2 mm. That could represent something other than active tumor growth, like a measurement error or non-cancery swelling.

Thing #2: If the tumor has grown, there are treatment options.
The most likely first option would be transpupillary thermotherapy, or a laser beam aimed into my eye to incinerate the tumor growth. This is an outpatient procedure. I would not especially enjoy having to have it, but it would make me feel a little badass, so there's that.

Thing #3: You can still feel a little sorry for me if you want, because I will probably have to have a needle full of expensive cancer drug injected DIRECTLY INTO MY EYEBALL.
That would also make me feel a little badass, but it's expensive medicine, and, hello, NEEDLE IN EYE. Also with upsetting, and non-glamorous side effects. If it made my eye glow, that would be cool.

Thing #4: Even if the tumor has grown, it doesn't necessarily affect my chances of metastasis, which are based on the genetic makeup of the tumor.
This is according to Dr. M. He said this development does not increase the chances of metastasis, which are roughly 21%. So, if you want to believe someone who's been practicing medicine at a world-renowned hospital for less than two decades instead of someone who's been an experienced hypochondriac all her life, you go with that.

Thing #5: I'm still going to talk about death and grief and anxiety and fear up in here, because 21% > 0%.
It's just how I process things. While the chance of death from metastasis of this tumor is about 21%, the chance of death from life is 100%, so I'd be foolish to ignore it entirely. I am, necessarily, of two minds. It is likely that I still have a good bit of life ahead of me, I must live it, or else I waste however long I have. But there also exists a reasonable possibility my life will be significantly shortened, and if I ignore that, I risk avoiding the planning and processing that will make things easier and better for me and my family.  I'll be doing some of that pondering in this space, so if it freaks you out, I'll understand if you don't want to read it. If it makes you feel any better, I wish I didn't have to write it.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

How I Met My Favorite TV Show (and How it Broke My Heart)

Back in November of 2012, when I had my five-day inpatient radiation for my ocular melanoma, there wasn't a lot I could do for entertainment. I couldn't have visitors for very long for fear I'd irradiate them. I could and did read with my good eye, but you can't do that all day, every day. So I went for the occasional stroll around the unit with the rest of my eye patch posse, and I watched a lot of TV. In the process, I discovered two shows I'd heard a lot about but never seen before: The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother. I fell in love with Big Bang because I love me some quirky smart boys. But I grew to love HIMYM even more.

Part of it was that the gang on the show seemed to get along so well, you wanted to be friends with them, too, to be in on the inside jokes, to have a special bar and a special booth and people waiting for you there who just got you. But as I realized some little while later, the show also appealed to me for a different reason.

At that point in time, so much in my life was uncertain. I didn't know if the radiation would shrink the tumor. I didn't know if my vision would return. I had no idea what lay ahead. And here was this TV show from the future. No matter what happened in the episode I was watching, whether Ted had a horrible blind date or got left at the altar, I knew things would turn out okay for him. Because the episode was being told from the vantage point of Ted in 2030, speaking to his children. Who could not exist if he hadn't met "The One" and gotten his happy ending. So as I lay there in my hospital bed, surrounded by scratchy, wadded-up hospital tissues and my uncertainties, I knew one thing Ted didn't while he looked for love: everything was going to be just fine in the end. When I got out of the hospital, I watched reruns of the show on my lunch hour until I'd seen them all. Every Monday I waited eagerly for the next new episode. And I clung to the certainty of that happy ending like a life raft.

Here's the thing about life rafts: there's never room for everybody to fit on them.

(In case your TV and internet are broken except for the eye tumor channel,  here's your spoiler alert.)

The Mother is dead, of some unspecified "sickness." She's been dead for years. Ted got ten wonderful years and two beautiful kids with her. But then she died. And it looks like Ted finds happiness again, with his children's encouragement, with the girl he fell in love with in the first episode of the show. They didn't work then. But time moves on, and people and circumstances change. So now, maybe they do.

I'm not going to lie to you: I was not pleased last night when I watched the series finale, even though I predicted something fairly close to this. But I was hoping for a sitcom happy ending: Marshall and Lily stay happy, and so do Barney and Robin. Ted meets Tracey, the Mother, and they stay happy too, and everyone is happy together.

That's how it works in sitcoms. But that is not how it works in life. So the writers of the show did something brave. Everyone in the show got their happily ever after, even if for most of them, it didn't look like they imagined. But they did not get their perfectly ever after. Because in life, really, who ever does?

I don't attach any predictive value to what happened in the show as regards my own situation. I might die, because cancer. Also, I might not. But the show gave me faith in happy endings when I needed it. And when I needed to be reminded that happy doesn't equal easy or trouble-free, it gave me that, too.