Friday, February 19, 2016

Just Happy

The days leading up to the contrast I drink and the circular machine my body is sent through leave me with anxieties that would cause my body to explode if that were possible. I hate it. But it must be done. I want to know.

Scan day on Monday came with a treacherous drive to Chapel Hill. Two cars were flipped outside of Raleigh, and several more were sitting on the side of the interstate after hitting an icy spot in just the right way. The journey was slow. I called to make sure the hospital was taking patients. They were. I was told not to worry if I was late.

The travel to the hospital was worrisome. Worrisome because of the freezing rain, but also because this scan seemed different to me than others. Of course I am always scared, but this one came with such high hopes. A radiologist in September believed radiation could get the 13 mm nodule in my right lung under control allowing me to stay on my current treatment, TDM-1. It makes me feel far less sick than my previous ones, so losing it is a big deal. Others that follow will physically alter my quality of life in a bad way.

Cyber-Knife radiation ended in mid-November. During that time I did not receive any other treatment so my cancer cells were free to do what they will with no TDM-1 to smack them back. Soon I would know how my tiny tumor responded to the radiation and how any other mutated cells settled in my tissues were behaving.

Walking down that long hall to the place that would reveal good news or bad, I felt that sensation again. The one that makes me think: is this how it feels to walk to a place of execution? That is extreme I know, but my mind goes there. 

At 2:00 pm, Greg and I were sitting waiting for my Physician’s Assistant to give us the news.

Will her words leave me shaking violently as I continue walking on this tight rope of life? Staying balanced is hard.

The quiet knock on the door came. Bracing myself with a deep breath, I looked in that direction.

The door opens and the tiny person I am so familiar with these days appears. She has a smile on her face. Not just a smile but a big, genuine, every muscle used kind of smile. Her smile was directed at me.

I waited before saying anything hoping what I was seeing was not my mind playing tricks on me.

“It is good news!” she said.

“Yes!” I screamed, arms raising above my head, hands soon cradling my face incredulously.

How could it be possible that I was getting such good news?

For a few minutes the three of us celebrated. We looked at the scanned pictures. My lungs were clear. My body was clear. 

Then she says, “This is a preliminary read from the radiologist.”

My endorphin levels began to drop.

"There is a 1-2mm hypodensity in your liver. I don’t want you to worry about it. It is something we will take a look at in three months”.

Not worry?  

Uh, sure, okay . . . I don’t think that is going to happen.

That is one of the hard parts of cancer. There is always something to worry about. Whether it is white blood cell counts, platelet counts, the liver or the kidneys failing, or crappy little hypodensities that may not be cancer, but are scary nevertheless.

With this news from the best scan I have had in almost three years showing the fantastic result of Cyber-Knife radiation and what it can do to cancer, it might be expected that I would walk out of that hospital with no other thought than this is one of my best days ever! Of course, it is a great day. But, great days never seem to have that feeling of long-term elation that I imagine. It might be similar to how an Olympic gold medalist or of someone who wins the Super Bowl possibly feels. The person works so hard to accomplish a goal, but once they get there it is not as they expected. The reason? There are other feelings accompanying great events. Happiness of course, but fear, sadness, more pressure to perform, and guilt are all part of that package.

For me, such news doesn’t block out those emotions. Fear is never gone. Like the fear of a crappy little 1-2mm hypodensity—that may be nothing at all, but still. Guilt remains present because so many people have not had scans like mine. Then there is this one: the gut-twisting confusing feeling that comes after advancing to the next round of this game of Russian roulette. This game is tiring. Good results simply mean that in three months I have to play the game again. The tremendous anxiety, the fear of a bad result must be played-out all over again. Can’t it all just go away?

Emotions that negate happiness are made real especially when your PA says to you, “We know cancer is there. We just can’t see it.”

All my hopes of being cured—if that were somehow possible, but I keep hoping—were washed away by those words.

So, while people might think such wonderful news as this should leave me with a permanent smile on my face, my brain can’t let go of the other emotions--the guilt, the sadness, the fear--that wrap around me as I go from one scan to the next.

I am happy. Please don’t think I am not. It plays a bigger role than the others right now. But, it would be such a different world for me if I could be just plain, unadulterated happy without all the other emotions seeping in to take away what really is . . .