If I submitted the story of the last five weeks of my life as a soap opera script, it would probably be rejected as too ridiculous, so overloaded with cliched drama as to be utterly unbelievable. The good news is that it all looks like there will be a happy ending.
I'll tell this chronologically but keep in mind, it seems to be turning out well.
In the space of about two weeks, I was diagnosed with cancer, went through a hurricane, had a knife pulled on me and got subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury.
Within two more weeks, I've had surgery, seen an oncologist, started a five-year (!) daily drug regimen that's already making me a tad ill, and am preparing to start radiation.
The sequence was, roughly, this: I knew something was growing where it shouldn't, but ignored it awhile out of fear. Not a good move but I could rationalize it a bit by thinking about the several harmless cysts I'd had, including one that turns out to have perhaps saved me now. But the lump wouldn't go away, wouldn't take on the texture of a cyst, until one day in early October as I was mentally debating what to do, I saw someone on tv say about her cancer treatment, "I got sick and then I got better."
That statement did it for me and I knew I could take the next step, that I could accept becoming sick to become better.
So off I went to the hospital women's clinic, which produced an absolutely negative (as in horrible) report that had me wondering very calmly whether my life insurance would arrive quickly enough to keep my kid's tuition payments up.
Two days later, I was sitting with a surgeon who faulted several aspects of the report, big time, but wisely decided to do a biopsy on the spot.
Three days later, while working spin alley at a presidential debate, I got his call confirming it was indeed cancer, something ridiculously rare called mucinous colloid carcinoma. It is a cancer with an amazingly good general prognosis though I've since learned, the variables of cancer are endless. In my case, they are mostly good news.
After a couple of more tests, surgery was booked for Nov. 1.
From the moment I got the diagnosis, I began feeling like two people: this person diagnosed with cancer and then me, the regular me, who wasn't sick. It's a cliche to say that a serious diagnosis creates an emotional roller coaster. I felt oddly able to step outside myself and see how I was reacting though now I think I probably wasn't as detached as I thought. (The only other time I felt anything close to this was in the weeks right after Sept. 11, when I kept sensing the presence of another person standing very close to me, at my elbow, watching as I worked on stories. I have no idea what that was about.) But mostly I felt eerily calm.
As the surgery date approached, so did Hurricane Sandy, and so two days before it hit, the lumpectomy had to be postponed. And then the hurricane hell broke loose, with a loss of power that would last eight days, return long enough to allow me to write some election copy, and then fail again for two days because of the nor'easter.
But but! That's not enough, right? A hurricane, no power, a snowstorm and little to no fuel. I will explain in more detail, but the day after the hurricane was the moment the neighborhood trash chose to attack some good people over an imagined slight, slugging one guy in the head with a brick, pulling knives on us, etc. I will tell that story another time but the good guys have won that one, too.
After a second postponement because I had no power and no heat to come home to, I had surgery Nov. 12 and, at the hospital, the doc said, everything's normal, the malignancy removed, no metastasized cancer found in the removed lymph node.
Aha, I thought, returning home where I promptly began feeling like the bionic woman (it was the post-surgical endorphins, apparently.) Cancer defeated in less than a week! Criminals disposed of since they were finally evicted and we all have orders of protection! Hurricane gone and the heat back! Sure, I've got a couple of hideous scars but so what?
But. And there's always, always a but with cancer, I'm learning.
A week after surgery, I visited the surgeon whose opening comment to me was, "Well you're Stage I." It turns out that the experts test the removed lymph node (two, actually) on the spot but also look at it over a few days. And a couple of stray cancer cells were found. The doctors distinguish between stray, isolated cells and an actual metastasized cancer, so again, this is good news. Who knew?
Yet I'm in this weird grayish world of technically diagnosed with cancer but medically, it's doubtful that any cancer remains. And I'm not sick, or haven't been though, I'm starting to feel a bit weakened from a drug that is meant as insurance against a recurrence.
I have no grand statement on life, no fantastic insight
into the meaning of life. This is just something, well, several things,
that have happened in a very short amount of time.
And that's all I can write tonight. Please do not feel compelled to comment. I just need to write all this down.