Suddenly, my cancer treatment plan is murkier than the water I swam in for the Jordanelle Triathlon this summer. Two days ago, my surgery margins were clear, except for a few cells that were broken off from the mass, and 5-6 weeks of radiation would be the end of it. I think I even called it “easy” this time around. I should probably not say things like that aloud. Because now, the spectre of poisonous, toxic, hateful, debilitating chemotherapy is raising its ungodly head. Again.
My Huntsman Cancer Institute Oncology team and my Florida Hospital Oncology team have reached very different conclusions, when it comes to interpreting my pathology and proposing a treatment. The Huntsman team thinks the bad cells were way too close to the surgery margin, the “ink,” as Dr. Kokeny calls it. Thymic Carcincoma is also fast-growing, and rare, and yesterday, Dr. Kokeny broke it to me that chemotherapy is a”reasonable course of action.” I knew that’s where she was going as soon as she sat down even as I was being blindsided by her words. Of course, I was on the phone to Dr. Shroff in Orlando before I got into my car to drive home. I am still hopeful hopeful hopeful at this point that something got lost in translation between Orlando and Salt Lake City… someone misread a slide or didn’t put that line in the Florida Hospital Tumor Board report that I DON’T HAVE TO HAVE CHEMOTHERAPY AGAIN. I want Dr. Boyer, the surgeon, to convince the Huntsman team that everything was fine. I want Dr. Shroff to say, we didn’t want or ask for your stupid second opinion anyway. So far, that’s not the way it’s going.
Now what? Two respected cancer institutes are suggesting two wildly different treatment plans. It’s not like they’re disagreeing over 4 versus 6 weeks of radiation. Now in play is a full course of chemotherapy, probably three months worth. Let me refresh your memory, in case you knew me when I did chemotherapy in 2001. I suck at it. I am good at a lot of things, but for chemotherapy, I simply have no talent. I got so sick that we called an ambulance to the house after round one. For rounds 2-4, I actually had to check in to the hospital, so I’d be closer to emergency help if I needed it. Then came 5-7 days of eating absolutely nothing, once a month, so I was weak and stupid (nothing to feed the brain synapses) and an unearthly shade of yellowy green. (Why didn’t anyone tell me??) My chemo appointments were pushed even further apart because I was so bad at tolerating the drugs. If it happens now, the chemo would come at the same time as the radiation, which pretty much will blow my life to smithereens through January. Right to the foothills of my Livestrong Kilimanjaro trek. Is it overkill? Insurance? Will it make a difference? We already know it won’t be a guarantee that I’ll never get cancer again.
I am distraught in waves. Not a place I usually find myself. I know it won’t be paralyzing, as there are big brains with opinions I still want to hear and big decisions to make, like would I go back to Orlando if I do have chemo? I am still holding on the the very real truth that had I been treated in Orlando from start to finish of this, the end would have been radiation. There would have been no second opinion. This is all new territory. In 2001, my Florida Hospital team and my Mayo Clinic second opinion lined up nicely. Everyone was on the same page. Now, it seems like we are reading two different books.
I have no nice wrap-up line for this post. Nothing funny or witty or heroic. I know lots of people do chemo lots of times. I’m sure they were filled with similar dread (but I’m sure I’m dreading it more.. I’m kidding). I want to say that I just can’t do it. But of course I can, if I have to. I just pray that I don’t. For now, I wait for more information, to make what I hope will be the right decision. And, I keep on living the shit out of life. My morning was a peaceful, beautiful break from the turmoil. On a newly-discovered trail. On a mountain bike. On one of my few rides with no crashes. Hoping that’s a sign. (P.S. I’m still not afraid, but COME ON!!) (P.P.S. The significance of 10/2 is that October 2 was Lance Armstrong’s cancer diagnosis date. He celebrates it as his birthday, and it has always been a rallying point for Livestrong.)