Well … What Do They Say About Two Out of Three?
Okay … I know that more than a few days have passed since I promised this post. But I’m here now with my heart in my hands and my thoughts well organized (I hope). During the last ten months (just counted them and absolutely cannot believe it’s been that long), I’ve had to defer or cancel a lot of plans and commitments that were important to me. And I’ve always found myself apologizing, which seemed to make me feel even worse. So I’m not going to do that anymore. I love my blog and those of you who’ve been with me since the beginning, as well as those of you who’ve stumbled upon the site and subsequently found some level of interest in what’s going on around here as time unfolded. And I think it’s enough for you to know that not a day goes by without my thinking about all of you and this blog. Hopefully, the writing will begin flowing again with some regularity. There won’t be any schedule that I’m holding myself to, though–at least not for awhile. I’m just grateful to be here in this moment, focusing on this post.
So, you ask, what the heck has been going on? Well, the cancer is what’s been going … and on, and on, and on … like a bug you keep squashing but, when you lift your shoe, the damn thing is still moving. And one more annoyance that’s been taking up space is a rather intense case of the blues–something that’s very uncharacteristic for me.
In a few earlier posts, I’ve explained that I worked very hard for the first two years of this blog to keep everything on this site closely tied to the original mission: tracking the “journey from publishing obscurity to somewhere else.” Whatever was going on in my life outside of the writing and publishing elements was not germaine. Yet, at some point last year, the lines between the blog’s mission and the rest of my life had become so blurred–and “the rest of my life” had so impacted my writing and publishing plans–that I finally caved in and began sharing some of the details. Now I believe that a more thorough update is in order, first because of my extended silence, and second because a key component of this blog’s mission has always been to offer information that would be helpful to others. Hopefully, the thoughts that have been rolling around in my head and that are now emerging in this post will hold at least a small amount of value for someone reached in the Web-o-sphere after I press “Publish.”
This new post–“Mortality, Cancer, and the Inevitability of a Writer’s Words”–encompasses three vast subjects that have been consuming an inordinate amount of my thinking. All three are now inextricably entwined for me–a writer who’s been a long-time purveyor of odd thoughts, fun fiction, characters, and conundrums. And after more than fifty years of putting words together, no obstacle or impossible set of odds has ever been able to make me stop my writing. Not until recently. Not until the very real possibility began encircling me that, within a relatively short span, I might not be here anymore to capture and massage the imagery and plots coming out of my head. Frankly, I think the fear I was generating for myself began to paralyze me.
This cancer problem actually began twenty-five years ago when I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That “issue” was found super early and, although the progression did get a little dicey in the late 1990’s, great health care and a new drug managed to put the beast back in the box. Now (and I’m knocking on wood all over the place), the lymphoma has been in remission and not making a pest of itself for more than ten years. This current situation, however, began very recently, in the spring of 2010. We started with breast cancer (immediately labeled as my second primary cancer since there was no connection to the lymphoma). Again, the little demon was found very early in a routine mammogram. I proceeded with an extremely proactive plan of action that included a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. While the process was painful, scary, and unbelievably inconvenient as I was trying to bring my second novel into the world, I felt very fortunate. Then, over the next year, things became wildly bizarre in short order. In another routine checkup in late fall of 2010, before my breast reconstruction was even finished, a third primary cancer was found in yet a different part of me. (The statement, “You have to be kidding me!” is the most vanilla printable version of what I said to that particular doctor.) Cancer number three was also an early discovery, which we ended up treating with radiation. And then, in a follow-up exam for the third cancer about six months later … yup, you guessed it … a fourth primary was found. (If I can’t print what I said upon hearing of the third one, imagine the degradation of my words upon hearing of the fourth!) I had become a walking, talking petri dish. And that fourth cancer was the first one to be aggressive. We’ve been dealing with the bad boy ever since.
After a gigantic six-hour surgery in September 2011, I began eighteen weeks of chemo in October (the day before my birthday). In December, mid-way through the treatment, a CT scan was done and showed a new lymph node that was bigger than it was supposed to be. But we kept on going with the treatment anyway, and I completed the six three-week rounds of chemo in early February. The requisite end-of-treatment CT scan was performed shortly thereafter, and the “new lymph node” was a little bigger than in December. So they did a biopsy, which showed that the node was actually the cancer I’d just undergone four and a half months of chemo to eradicate. Seriously? I felt as if the cancer growing during chemo was tantamount to flipping me the finger. Ugh! And now what, by the way?
My team of doctors took my case to the “tumor board” (at Sloan-Kettering in New York where I’m being “handled”), and the fabulous surgeon who did such a phenomenal job with my September surgery said he wanted to operate to take out the lymph node. After an appointment with a great radiation oncologist, they agreed that they also wanted to do interoperative radiation, where they would actually give me radiation in the operating room. (Amazing stuff!) I thought their plan sounded like a terrific idea! But first … my surgeon wanted to do an MRI to get a clear picture of where the node was in relation to blood vessels, etc. Okay. And then … uh oh. The MRI showed two more lymph nodes. Excuse me??
That news came on a Wednesday. The surgery/radiation combo immediately came off the table, and I was back in chemo, with a different drug, the following Monday. The protocol this time has been three full chemo days in a row followed by a fourth trip into the city on Thursday of chemo week for a shot (called Neulasta) that keeps my white blood cells from bottoming out. After a total of three weeks, the cycle repeats. Unfortunately, the combination of all the drugs plus the shot was totally flattening me with lots of pain and a low grade fever that would not let up. That dismal situation went on for the first three rounds–a total of nine weeks. And that was the period of time when a deep-seated case of the blues took over with gusto.
Fighting cancer has been part of my life for twenty-five years. But, with the exception of intermittent surgeries and/or treatments, I’ve always been able to continue living my life while I was fighting. Bringing out my second novel, for example, was a top priority that was methodically woven into all the breast cancer surgeries. This time, however, I was unable to do anything. And when the body isn’t able to do anything, the mind goes into overdrive, especially when a tough cancer is part of the mix. Then suddenly the critical ability to fight begins to feel compromised. And that’s when things can really get scary. So I was determined to find a way to get up and moving again.
At the start of the fourth round (three weeks ago), I had a long conversation with my oncologist and a doctor who works with her about all of the difficulties I’d been having. To make a long story short (too late for this post, I know … …), they came up with a plan that involved my taking something as simple as ibuprofen (a drug I’d been told not to take previously) beginning the morning of day four, following the three days of chemo but prior to receiving the big shot. The ibuprofen was supposed to continue every 5-6 hours through day eight. Well, I’m here to tell you that, after adhering to those instructions, I’ve had only a couple of small problems that were easily remedied. I’ve been up and around since that first weekend, slowly regaining my strength. And now, three weeks later, I’m almost back to normal in terms of my schedule. I still get tired by early evening, which is normal with chemo. But otherwise, my life is getting back on track.
Additionally, the CT scan performed four weeks ago showed that the cancer is stabilizing. Nothing new showed up this time, thank God! And now the plan is to do another CT after round six (in August). If that still shows the situation to be stable, they will put the surgery/radiation combo back on the table. Meanwhile, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to be feeling more like my old self. And imagine my (and my family’s) surprise that such a huge difference could be made by something as ordinary as ibuprofen. (Apparently, there are recent studies that show the benefits of administering the Neulasta shot in conjunction with ibuprofen. Wish I’d known about that before I spent the better part of nine weeks being such a mess!) One other piece of good news is that I will have an extra week of reprieve this round. Normally, I would have started round five on Monday, July 2. But since this treatment involves three consecutive days and a fourth for the shot, I would have been hooked up all day on July 4. Consequently, round five will begin on July 9–seven extra days to feel wonderful!
This blog post has been forming in my mind for a long time, and hopefully I’ll be able to start posting more frequently again now that the flood gate has opened. I’m also ready to resume work on my third novel, which will be a sequel to my second (Separation of Faith). Since I’m always the happiest and most content when a new story is coming together, I’m anxious to see/feel those words pouring out of me.
And that brings me to the lesson learned from all of this. Cancer is certainly a big meanie and shoves mortality flat in your face. Yet mortality is something we all have to deal–some of us just sooner and more graphically than others. Meanwhile, we all have life to live and joy to discover. Much of that life and joy, for me, comes through my wonderful family and amazing friends. But, again for me, writing is what helps keep the blood flowing through my body. And giving birth to a novel comes from a deep passion that is almost impossible to explain. So, it’s true–one day I won’t be here anymore. Hopefully, that day will be far off in the future. If I let this cancer (or any other obstacle) silence me, though, my words will be history way ahead of schedule for the rest of me. That train of thought means there wouldn’t be a third novel–and that means some of my readers would thus want to kill me.
Therefore, I hereby resolve that, even if no one ever reads a single thing I write, my words are going to keep flowing despite the challenges. And if the blues show up again, I’ll simply write straight through them! Some things that are inevitable are good. Let’s celebrate those!
My best to all of you! “See” you soon!