A Year in the Life

I guess this makes me a cancer survivor now?  Shouldn’t that come with a medal or a cape or some sort of frame-worthy certificate, at the very least?

In case that’s too oblique, the PET scan results were good and there is no indication of cancer although there are a couple of caveats.  I’ll get to all that in a moment.

For the last several days… hell, for the last several months… I have been preparing myself for bad news.  As I’ve said in previous posts here, I don’t feel all that great most of the time and a lot of what is happening was troubling concerning my recent medical history.  Abdominal pain, weight loss, nausea, lack of energy, pain near a cyst on my back… none of these are good things when one has had cancer, especially the type of cancer I had.  It’s like when Wile E. Coyote is in hot pursuit of the Road Runner and they pass a sign that says “Bridge Out Ahead.”  You just know that the Road Runner will sail on across the chasm unaffected by silly things like gravity while poor old Wile E. will get about halfway out and then suddenly his body will drop and his neck will stretch out really long and then his head will drop and it’s dust clouds and stars at the bottom of the ravine.

Just to be clear, in this particular pop culture reference I am the coyote, only no one has ever referred to me as a super genius.

So yeah, my brain has been filled with doom and gloom.  I was even practicing how I was going to tell people that I was dying. That sounds a little sick, I guess, but as many of you know words are very important to me and when you have to impart news like that, choosing the right ones to use is critical.  You can’t just blurt out, “I’m dying.”  That would suck for everyone involved.  Besides, it’s inelegant and lacks a certain je ne sais quoi.  I don’t know what je ne sais quoi means, but I’m sure it lacks it.

That last sentence was totally meta, by the way.

Preparing for the worst and being surprised when it doesn’t happen has been my modus operandi for most of my life.  Some people might call that pessimism but I prefer to call it situational awareness.  I don’t want bad things to happen and understand that most of the time they don’t.  I mean, after all, the list of shit that could go wrong from the moment you get out of bed is epic and I have never been shot, stabbed, electrocuted, attacked by killer bees, mauled by a rabid ferret, drowned in the bathtub, hit by falling space debris, pinned under earthquake rubble, or run down by an ’87 Oldsmobile driven by an elderly woman who should’ve turned in her license ten years ago, to name a few things that spring to mind.  I don’t expect any of that stuff to happen but if it does, I would much rather be the person that knew it was a possibility than the dumbass laying in a hospital bed who says, “I thought the old lady was gonna stop!  I was in the crosswalk!!”

My problem is (and always has been) that while I am prepared for the worst, I’m not always prepared for the best.  Take now, as an example.  I don’t know what to do with “there are no indications of cancer.”  It’s good news; I get that.  Break out the champagne type of news.  Logically, I know I should be thrilled and yet here I am kind of… hmmm… what’s the word I’m looking for?  Perplexed, perhaps.  Perplexed and a little flummoxed.  I am at sixes and sevens as the Brits like to say.

I don’t know what to do with “there are no indications of cancer.”  I don’t know how to process that.  It just doesn’t compute.

Part of it, I think, is because of the aforementioned not feeling good.  I didn’t want cancer to be the reason for all that and as I said in my last post wasn’t actually expecting it to be cancer, but at least that would have been an explanation.  I can deal with anything as long as I know what it is but ambiguity and a lack of information makes me insane.  To be clear, I’m NOT saying that I’m disappointed that it’s not cancer causing all of this stuff, but I am disappointed that I still don’t know what is.

Another part of it, I posit (yes, is getting a workout today), is that I have been so wrapped up in cancer that I don’t know what I look like without it.  It’s been almost exactly a year.  I had my endoscopy on June 1st of 2012 and got the confirmation of the cancer diagnosis on June 13th.  A year of dealing with the having it and getting it cut out and recovering from the having it cut out and the maybe having it again and the on and on and on.  No matter how you deal with it, cancer, I have learned, is not lower case.  It is all-caps and strong punctuation: CANCER!!!  No matter what people say and how hard people try for it not to be, it is, in some ways, defining.  You are a person with cancer; it is quite literally a part of you.  And even though it’s a part of you that you don’t want, not having it anymore is strange.  It’s a good strange, I guess, but strange nevertheless.

While I try to figure out how to process all this, we should talk about the caveats.  First, I’ve got this cyst on my back and that needs to be biopsied just to make sure.  That will happen with a small surgical procedure that will apparently totally ruin my vow to not let people cut me open anymore.  Second, the PET scan did show “nodular thickening and hypermetabolic activity” in the gastric area where the original cancer and subsequent surgery happened.  Much like the stuff you see on Fox News, this is most likely inflammatory in nature and should be ignored but since the “possibility of carcinoma cannot be excluded” (taken from the report) they need to go have a little look-see.  This means another endoscopy, which will bring the whole thing full-circle.

So some more tests and waiting rooms and medical bills but for the most part this should mean that I am done with all of this cancer… sorry, CANCER!!!… stuff.

Okay… now what do I do?

(that’s rhetorical – please don’t send me suggestions)

Would You Look at the Time!

It seems like just yesterday I was complaining about how long I had to wait before I could get my next set of tests – you know, the ones that would (in theory) tell me if I’m living or dying. There’s no way I could wait until June, I thought. That seemed entirely too far away for something as big as that.

But then I went and blinked and look at that… it’s June, already. As Kathy Najimy says in one of my all-time favorite comedy sketches, “Time is rocketing.”

I feel that lately; time, rocketing. I don’t know if it’s because I was so keenly aware of this metaphorical clock, loudly ticking down to the thumbs up or thumbs down verdict that will come with this set of tests, or if it’s just the inevitable thing that happens when you get older. Time seems to go by more quickly than it should or at least ever did when we were younger. How could it possibly be June already? How is it even conceivable that we are halfway through 2013 already? Who could possibly imagine that I am 46 years old, facing the possibility that I won’t make it very far into 47. Weird.

And if I do make it into 47, it’ll be time for my 30 year high school reunion next year. Weird again some more.

This came up during my recent trip to Chicago, or rather a side trip I took to Dubuque to see a friend from childhood, Patty. Patty and I knew each other mainly from choir and various plays we did together like the musical version of “Some Like it Hot” called “Sugar.” She played bandleader Sweet Sue while I failed miserably in my one attempt at drag with the Tony Curtis role of Joe. And while there were video cameras and an appearance on the local morning show in 1983, no, there are no videos of it on YouTube – I checked.

Patty, myself, and another friend Tasha also went as a threesome to our senior prom. We had burgers at the Tic Toc Lounge and went bowling before the dance and, if I remember correctly, also visited a friend in the hospital and ended up at another friend’s farm. Welcome to Iowa.

Sometime after bowling but before the farm.

The photo gives me pause as many from this era do. With that much hair – more than either of my dates, it should be noted – how could anyone not have known I was gay? Including myself!

During my go ‘round with cancer last year, Patty stepped up in a way that moved me, sending a steady stream of laugh-out-loud cards and gifts to keep me amused. When I complained on this very forum about not being able to eat pizza anymore, she sent me a pizza shaped Christmas tree ornament.

I met her at the Dubuque Maid-Rite shop and had one of my favorite sandwiches from childhood – still just as good as I remembered – and then the two of us went to the charming little town of Galena to watch a friend of hers play ukulele in this offbeat little bar. We joked and laughed and did remarkably little reliving of old times, thankfully. I don’t have the fondest memories of childhood so I’m perfectly content not to rehash it.

One the way over there, I engaged in some other reminiscing as I played out some bits and pieces of my Plucky Survivors adventures with Mary. I counted cows of course (she would’ve won) and even took an unscheduled side trip when I saw a sign for the Woodbine, Illinois Glass Museum. It was a building that wasn’t much bigger than a converted two car garage (which may in fact have been what it was at some point in its life) with a gift shop and a one room “museum” filled with all manner of glass vases, bottles, sculptures, jewelry, doohickeys, doodads, and more. The story, as told to me by the jovial older gentlemen that got up out of his recliner to give me a tour, was that his wife had started collecting glass trinkets decades ago and it had grown to this, with thousands of pieces from around the world.

It was the perfect Plucky Survivors roadside attraction – an even blend of silly charm and breathtaking beauty. I mean, it’s a garage full of glass but some of it was so intricately, artistically created that it almost hurt your heart to look at them.

Friends (both real and imagined), a Maid-rite, a ukulele concert, and a roadside glass museum. Perfect days like that don’t come along very often, I have to say.

But the point I was getting at was the whole passage of time thing. Both Patty and I don’t think it’s possible that next year will mark 30 years since we graduated from high school. I can’t figure out how more than three years have gone by since Mary died. And I certainly can’t believe that it’s June already and now I have to go get a little test done.

That test – the PET scan – is scheduled for this Thursday, by the way; results by next Monday. In theory, one of two things will happen. If the spots that were there in the last PET scan either aren’t there anymore or haven’t changed since that scan, then I don’t have cancer. What is causing the spots will still be a mystery but if they haven’t gotten any bigger or spread any further then it isn’t cancer. I’ll probably have a biopsy of the cyst-like object on my back to be sure and will probably go in to see Gastro-Guy to try to figure out the abdominal pain I am having, but cancer should be off the menu at that point.

If the spots have gotten bigger or there are more of them, then it is cancer. And not just cancer but stage 3 or 4 metastatic esophageal cancer, which has roughly the same chances of survival as those given to people who fall into industrial meat grinders.

I really don’t think that’s going to be the case. As I have been stating for quite some time now, I think something is wrong but I don’t think it’s terminal cancer. I don’t feel good, by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t know what terminal cancer feels like, specifically, but I don’t think it’s this. My guess is that Dr. Wile E Coyote will give me a passing grade on the cancer part but it may not end the “What’s Wrong with Rick” poking and prodding.

But if I’m wrong… well, let’s not go there quite yet. Let’s watch Kathy Najimy instead, shall we?