Monday, August 09, 2010

Thoughts on An Unsatisfactory Victory

I’m pretty freaking lucky. Sometimes in a gruesome way, however. One of those ways is the way my cancer was discovered in 2006. The short version is this sequence of events:

1. A kidney stone forms in my urinary tract.
2. I pass said kidney stone.
3. Not being an imbecile, I see my doctor, who schedules a CT scan
4. CT scan reveals I have ruptured my appendix; emergency surgery follows.
5. During the surgery, an unexpected mass is found in my abdominal cavity near the appendix. The mass is removed and sent for testing. The tests come back malignant.

So, in a span of a few days I went from being an annoying, overweight white guy to passing a kidney stone and breaking my appendix, to being diagnised with cancer.

Everything changed. For a while. I quickly experienced a range of emotions and discoveries, including an unprofessional oncologist and a surprisingly compassionate insurance company, but in the end I escaped major surgery and got to keep my hair.

Turns out I’m lucky, really lucky. My cancer was fond during surgery and oh-by-the-way I not only live in a city with one of the leading research centers on cancer, my surgeon sent my tissue samples to MDA for the initial tests.

I revisted my situation after reading about Christopher Hitchens’ own battle with cancer. It’s clear we are very different men. Mr. Hitchens is a very successful writer who has had to deal with a much harder situation than I have had to face. And yet, he too seems to be luckier than some. In my visits to MDA, I regularly see patients and their families, who are facing a much bleaker prognosis than even Mr. Hitchens has had to endure. And knowing this, I regularly face a kind of survivor’s guilt about my own good fortune. No major surgery, no chemo, no nausea, while everywhere I meet and see patients whose future is unknown, who must endure pain and doubt and the threat of death, and whose families suffer along with them. I want to help somehow, but I feel very helpless, and sometimes as if I’m wasting the time and resources of the doctors and nurses who should be focusing on people who really need help.

I have felt well for so long that by mid-2009 I began to worry that I did not have cancer at all. My oncologist ended that idea by showing me exactly where my tumors are residing; just because they’re not causing trouble at the moment does not mean they aren’t there. So while I feel like a normal person, my doctors make sure I never forget that I’m not just like anyone else. And because PMP is rare, with an unknown cause and with a very limited amount of clinical research available, there’s no guarantee that my present well-being will be permanent. That leads to some concern every time I have an unexplained pain in my abdomen or difficulty in urination or defecation. I find myself swinging from thinking that I’m overreacting, to worrying that I’m not telling my doctors something they need to know. This is important for another reason – since my cancer was found early, the doctors have been keeping records on me in hopes of learning more about PMP in the early stages. I can’t say that I’m doing much to help, but it’s better than nothing and just maybe something will come up that will help someone.

My point here is threefold – sometimes I need to vent, first of all. Second, never assume things will always be what you expect them to be, and three, there’s a reason for everything but that doesn’t mean everything will make sense when you try to figure it out.

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