a tale of two cancers 11

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Alright, then, back to the first bout. As I mentioned earlier, my first time down the rabbit hole that is the world of cancer care was pretty much a simple process. I was diagnosed once the lump that I first noticed seemed to go away for about half a year only to return in August of ’99, and when it did I called up my surgeon and he had me on the operating table for a biopsy within a week, in early September. The day after surgery I was doing push ups with one of my daughters on my back, just to give an idea of how quickly my body was able to begin healing itself, which is why I was so shocked to be told I had Hodgkins when I went back for my post biopsy appointment. I didn’t think it was possible given how good my overall health was at that time.

After I left the office and began the bike ride home tears began to stream down my face as the information settled into my consciousness. Once home, I told Caroline (my wife) the news and she, too, was flabbergasted, and together our minds were reeling with the news and with thoughts of what would happen next. I had never been close to anybody who had been through any of the series of steps we were about to embark upon and had no idea of what was involved in the process of treatment. Within a month or so, however, a friend of our was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, which was a bit unnerving since she also had a young child, a son the same age as our older daughter, which is one more reason Caroline and I were more than a bit freaked out, because all of a sudden you’re dealing with not only a potentially life threatening condition but also the realisation that you have to 1) keep your head on so as not to scare the hell out of your children and 2) wade into a confusing medical world that moves quickly and 3) watch a friend in similar circumstances go through the same thing, which had the effect of bringing home the gravity of the situation because you can see how this affects the people close to you in an eerily mirror like fashion.

Well, soon after the first diagnoses we met with the local oncologist (I live in rural Ontario where there is an acute shortage of doctors), who was to do more tests in order to find out what stage the disease was at so treatments could be fashioned with more accuracy. At first everything went smoothly. I went for CT scans and bone marrow scans, in which a radioactive dye is injected into you and you then come back for a series of CT scans over three days. Let me tell you, it’s an unnerving experience to watch somebody take a needle out of a lead lined box and proceed to inject it into your blood stream, but as I was to discover, this was only the beginning of unnerving experiences.

The next big test was the one I was scared shitless of, because I had a real phobia about needles (now gone) and this sucker is the mother of all needles : the bone marrow test.

My doctor was an older gent and being in a rural area he was a bit behind the times. When the day for the test arrived, I was already in a state of apprehension, and when I walked into the room where the test was to be performed, that state increased exponentially as I saw the array of needles arranged on a tray. In this test, the doctor must insert a needle into the center of one of your bones in order to extract a sample of the thick, viscuous stuff that is your marrow. And in order to do that he must first freeze the muscles in the area with one injection and then freeze the surface of the bone with another. Sounds like fun, no ?

But that is just the lead up to the biggie. My wife once described the needle used to access the marrow as “more like a screwdriver than a needle”, and that’s a pretty accurate description. The freezing of the muscles was fairly effective, but the bone freezing was less so. And get this, the place the good doctor chose for the test was on one of my lumbar vertebrae because it apprently has more mrrow per cubic inch than any other in your body. As I was to find out, it is also just about the hardest bone in your body and has long been rejected as a testing site due to the difficulty and pain involved in getting a sample because the bone is round, which makes it extremely tricky to gain the kind of purchase necessary to then go into the middle where the marrow lies. And at the best of times and sites, it is a “blind” test, meaning that the doctor must proceed by feel rather than any reliable visual guidance.

So picture this : I’m lying face down on a gurney at roughly a 45 degree angle while this doctor proceeds to begin a series of “tappings”to get the big needle into my spine, with no effective freezing at this point. BIG ouch ! I lost count after nine, yes nine, attempts at getting into the marrow, and after a few more tappings I was in more pain than I’ve ever thought of experiencing, howling like an animal must when in a leg trap.

The next thing I know, Caroline has burst into the room telling the doctor to leave me alone, her face a reflection of the horror show I was going through and that she had been listening to out in the hallway. Unbelievably, he tried telling us that he had to continue as a bone marrow test is necessary in order to stage the progress of the cancer, and then he began advancing toward me. By this time, I was a blubbering mess on the floor, adding humiliation to the worst pain in my life–and I’ve broken a lot of bones and been cut up by everything from knives to rusty metal not to mention a few concussions.

And still this bastard is making moves to get me off the floor so he can have another go at me !!

Fuck this, I thought, and through tears and snot, I looked up at him and said “Listen you fucking cunt. If you touch me once more, I’m gonna find out where you live and kill you in your sleep”, which is when he finally backed off.

Needless to say, the test was never completed, and when I told the people in Kingston who would become my oncology team of this episode they couldn’t believe what they were hearing. As they told me, nobody tries to get a sample from vertebrae any more, precisely because of experiences like mine. They now do the procedure on the hip bone, which is relatively soft and flat. I was asked if I would submit to another test done as they described, but both Caroline and myself said no thanks, we’ll take our chances.

Fortunately, the folks in Kingston were very understanding of my resevations and agreed that we could proceed without the bone marrow test.

They then told me I was at stage 2A. They described the staging system as such : there are four stages they use to identify how far the cancer has spread, and each stage is subdivided into two sides, A & B, and that the A side is less advanced than the B side. At stage 2A, my chances of survival were somewhere between 55% and 70%, so I had fairly good odds going in. They also explained that Hodgkins lymphoma is a form of cancer that is good to have if you’re going to have it at all because they don’t know what causes it but they know how to treat it effectively.

Then they asked me what the guy in Peterborough had advised as a course of treatment. I told them that he wanted me to do 10-12 rounds of radiation and then 12 rounds of chemotherapy. My doctor in Kingston just laughed and told me that the best course for my stage would be to do 12 rounds of chemotherapy and then get some imaging to see if radiation was necessary, and that if it was, then 4-6 rounds is probably what they would give me.

They then asked me which course I wished to go with and where I would prefer treatment to be done. I said that I would like to take their advice and get treatments in Kingston if I could. I also asked when I would begin treatment, and he replied “How about one week and two hours from now ?”

Giddee up was my response.

Next time I’ll tell you about how the treatments went and how the people in our community surrounded us with love and action.

See you then

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~ by Rocky Green on May 8, 2007.

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