05 December, 2007

The real effects of cancer

Lance Armstrong said it right in his book, It's Not About The Bike: My Journey Back to Life.
When you have lived for an entire year terrified of dying, you feel like you deserve to spend the rest of your days on a permanent vacation. You can't, of course; you have to return to your family, your peers, and your profession.
Now granted, I haven't gone through anywhere near the ordeal that Mr. Armstrong did, and I am eternally grateful for that, but the same thing still applies. You see, when I was first in Dr. Glenn Rothman's office and he told me that I had cancer, I had no reaction. None at all. I just said, "Okay. What do I do now?" as though it were an everyday thing. I said it the same way I would place an order for food. No emotion, just a routine piece of conversation. This was my personal form of shock. Any and all emotions I had in reaction to what I had just found out went straight to the back of my mind, locked away in a little box, marked "Do not open."

Eventually, however, as this whole ordeal unfolded, that box did come open and I did start to react. I think one of the biggest triggers was when I started reading Mr. Armstrong's book. In the beginning of his book, he recounts his initial trip to the doctor when he first found that he had cancer. Not only did he have testicular cancer, it had metastasized into his lungs. Reading this piece, seeing another person's situation, his reactions, his emotions, was just too much for me to handle. That box opened wide and I finally reacted. I cried. This is cancer. This is serious.

The quote I cited earlier is so true it hurts. After you have cancer, no matter what form, no matter how curable, everything else seems inconsequential. It doesn't matter how successful you are in life, cancer can take all of that away in one fell swoop. So what's the point? These are, in fact, thoughts that I am still fighting with. It's made especially difficult by the fact that I am currently without any thyroid hormones; I was taken off of my pills in preparation for my radioiodine treatment. This has put my entire chemical balance out of wack. Earlier this morning, I was freezing cold... now I'm sweating. I had to fight myself for a half hour to even open my eyes this morning, when normally I jump out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off. Another unfortunate side effect has been my mood changes. I have begun to experience mood swings so bad that I would be labeled as bipolar. All of this is still just the tip of the iceberg though. Needless to say, this has been quite a trying time.

One thing that I have learned from this whole ordeal, however, is more patience... if that's even possible. Since November 23rd, I have been on a special "low iodine" diet. Essentially, I have to cook all of my own food. I can't trust almost any processed, packaged food to be free of iodine. As another nice side effect, this has gotten me into the kitchen much more, and I have been becoming much more handy at cooking. In addition to the diet, I have also been, as I mentioned, off of my medication since November 29th. This is all in preparation for my radioiodine treatment which will be, I am hoping, on December 11th. This is supposing that all of my blood tests come back with the desired results.

The way this whole thing works is, on December 11th, at 11:00am, I will go in to my doctor's office and he will give me a pill. I'm somewhat fuzzy on the exact details at this point, but I'm fairly certain that I will wash down this pill and head home. Now here is a bit of frightening information. For 72 hours after I take this pill, I can not be around infants or pregnant women, as I could cause irreversible damage to the underdeveloped thyroids. It is also recommended that I keep at least a one to two meter distance from other people, just to be safe. Once I have received this pill, 7-10 days later, I will go see the doctor again for a body scan to make sure that the radioiodine was sucked up and is doing the job that it's supposed to be doing. At this point, I will finally be able to go back on a normal diet (first thing I'm eating after is sushi!) and will start taking my medicine again. This will be a glorious day, I assure you. Just in time for Christmas vacation as well! Of course, this is all assuming that the TSH levels in my blood are at an appropriate level, indicating that my body is severely starved of iodine.

So now, this whole thing has been going on since August, when I first went to see Dr. Smith. The main part of the treatment will be finished near the end of December... but it won't really be over. I'm going to be taking pills for the rest of my life, to replace the hormones that my thyroid would be producing. I am also going to have to go in for yearly body scans... meaning that I will be dealing with this diet and no medicine again, once a year. If I ever move, I will have to get copies of all of my medical records (which I have been keeping a personal copy of now anyhow) and find a new endocrinologist immediately near my new home. Then again, Dr. Duick is, in himself, a reason not to move. From everything I have heard and experienced so far, he is one of the best. Hell, when I scheduled my first post-op appointment with him, I wasn't able to get in to see him for over a month! That says something about his demand, for sure. What are the chances that I can find somebody as good in a new location?

I said before that all of this has taught me more patience, and it had. That's not the only thing it has taught me though. Through all of this I have gained more humility, awareness, compassion... and certainly knowledge. You don't go through something like cancer without learning about exactly what is happening to you. I ask the doctors and nurses about everything; what they're doing and why, what they are looking for when they draw my blood, what the results are and what ranges they are looking for on everything. Cancer is certainly not something I would ever wish on another living being... but it is most definitely a growing experience which most people would benefit greatly from. A bit of an odd sentiment, I realize, but very true. Here's an even stranger way of putting it: I think that society as a whole would benefit, and be much better for it, if everybody had to go through the experience of dealing with cancer in some way. Then again, we may just end up with a society full of lazy people, never wanting to work again...


joe said...

My thoughts and prayers are with you.
I can't even imagine what going through all of this must be like - and reading the quote keeping your situation in mind... having been through a bout of depression myself... I know the first thing that would kick my ass would be the "what's the point, anyway?" feeling...

You have to know that you have touched peoples' lives, and continue doing so no matter your situation. For example, my reaction (and others') in reading your latest post.

I see some of my 'friends' on a regular basis who "are unable to work" due to various (non-real and manufactured) excuses (please understand I am drawing a distinction between those with real problems and those just too lazy to work, on section-8 or other aid, and are enjoying the hell out of living on the tax dollars I pay).

If I could, I'd ear-mark my contributions, as oh-so-many like me would, "to be used for genuine cases," and I assure you that a genuine case would be TIME OFF and PEACE and SOME GODDAMN FUN AND RELEASE TIME for people dealing with things like you're dealing with.

That said, check into FMLA... you might score some well-deserved paid leave?

I know it would be harder to face if it actually happens, but I keep telling myself if I find myself in a perilous or life-threatening situation in the future, I'm going to use the remainder of my time here, or the time I can spend even if things turn around and get better, to kick AS MUCH ASS as I possibly can. Find all the f#$k-offs and locate their asses and kick them. repeatedly. for fun.

because even if I have to ever ask "what's the point?" and can't think of an immediate response, there's always some dumbass's ass to kick so someone else doesn't have to be bothered by them... ?? i guess.

Maybe I just really want to kick people's asses right now.


anyway... seriously.. my thoughts are with you, and I enjoyed your post.

More please!


Stephani said...

You're strong...you'll breeze right through this!


Donnyboy said...

I am a pregnant man - you cannot hang out with me for a couple of days?

You know this already, if you need anything holler.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your insightful posts. I have just had my thyroid removed due to thyroid cancer and I am awaiting the radiated iodine treatment. Thank you for sharing your experiences in such helpful, positive, and yet realistic manner.