On December 31st, 1996, I recieved news that the lumps on the side of my neck, biopsied two weeks prior, were malignant.
I had just turned 25.
The visit with the doctor was brief, and not prepared, I had no questions. All I got out of that afternoon, sitting there on the paper covering the exam table was “Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma” and “We’ll have to perform more tests to determine the stage of the disease.”
When folks first hear about cancer (including myself) eyes blank as caskets are mentally selected. Time fast forwards and pauses at the same time.
The next few months I would get the opinion of two oncologists and undergo a series of tests, prodding, pricks, and glowing enemas under CT Scanners… The CT scan is an exercise in breath control while electric fluid courses through your veins—like jumping in a pool of ice water with your innards.
The spinal tap was by far the most physically painful. The test that would reveal involvement of my marrow, an indicator the disease was at it’s most advanced. The dreaded Stage IV.
The final word was that this NHL was “Agressive and indolent.” A bittersweet pairing meaning the disease was all over, but slow growing.
This, the disease that took my Grandmother.
By my third oncologist, I felt confident of my course of action: which was to do nothing. I knew this lack of treatment would be met with quizzical expression. “Watch and wait” they call it.
I get regular bloodwork and CT-Scans. We look out for the symptoms that herald an aggressive treatment: Any drastic weight loss? Night sweats? Insomnia?
I am the same.
I went through militant holistic dietary changes with supplements that filled my hand with dozens of vitamins at each meal. I grew wary of that lifestyle, and selected the parts that made sense.
Every small choice I make, whether to refrain from caffeine for the meal, or nap at leisure, I deem proactive.
When I get something as small as a papercut and it starts healing, I remind myself that my body still works. Even though some cells are way too excited and grow abnormally.
At odds with myself, I tend.
There was no immediate reckoning.
Just the knowledge coupled with hope that all our advancements, all our technology, all the data—the sheer amounts of data that is not collected or organized… Will be organized.
And with it, answers will be found.
UPDATE: March 2010
Six months ago I had my first not-so-great checkup with the oncologist. My bloodword suggested something afoot and with further testing determined I also have a bit of Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia to go with the Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
The two blood cancers are very much related, hence the joining of the Leukemia & Lymphoma societies a few years back. However there are unique symptoms to keep on the radar: anemia, tiring easily, excessive sweating. Sadly, I have not experienced any of this weight loss they keep mentioning with both conditions. My pear shape is still in full effect.
The good news is that I’ve gone all these years (over a dozen) without chemo or radiation. We’re still on the “watch and wait” plan and monitor everything closely, which works dandy for me as I tend to procrastinate.
All of this borders on miraculous though, and there’s few moments when I don’t feel tremendous gratitude for every. single. day.
Well, I try at least. Some days just are crappy and that’s okay too.
Just gotta try to make the next one better.