Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tom Petty Was Right

So it turns out that, after you live with a cancer diagnosis for a while, the challenge becomes wondering what the doctors will decide to do about it, not worrying about whether you'll live through it.  So, yes, the waiting is in fact the hardest part. 

I walked around for a while with a knot in my stomach as we waited to find out how to proceed.  Here's how it worked: Step 1: colonoscopy.  Step 2 (the following week): CT/MRI scans to determine whether this cancer has metastasized to any other organs, and 24 hours to wait for that answer (which was, thankfully, no).  Step 3: wait a few more days to let the surgeon consult with some other doctors to decide whether to operate immediately or start with a different approach.  Step 4, about two weeks after the initial news: meet with an oncology team to talk about strategy and scheduling.

It turns out that it's a pretty standard approach to try to shrink these kind of tumors before surgery if they have advanced past Stage 1.  Mine is medium-sized, and there are a few enlarged lymph nodes visible on my MRI images, so we're going to do 6 weeks of pre-op (otherwise known as "neoadjuvant") treatment.  I will have radiation 5 days a week, and will get to carry around a portable chemotherapy pump, which should make things interesting for a while.  I've put a moratorium on my internet reading from here on out, but the things I've seen so far make me feel pretty good.  If the tumor responds to the radiation and shrinks significantly, it looks like survival rates are comparable to those for Stage 0/1 tumors - in other words, high 90 percents.  I am choosing to believe that the radiation will zap this nasty thing away for me, and that I'll be just fine.  :)

After meeting with the oncologists to discuss the plan, I went in the next day for a CT scan to plan therapy and to get my little tattoos for the radiation itself.  Just 3 small dots, but the needles stung enough to make me confident that I will not be having anything tattooed anywhere else for now.  Next step will be having a chemo port installed.  That's a little line that's inserted under my collarbone to provide easy access for IV meds, saving my veins from constant punctures.  I'm a little squeamish about the idea of this, even though I'm not generally needle-phobic, and I remember my dad's port well (my parents taught me how to help him maintain it and even to help administer some of his meds).  Just need to get through that one.

I am feeling pretty good right now.  I'm not scared, just focused on getting this treatment started.  I feel fine physically, apart from a slightly sore rear after yesterday's poking and prodding.  I'm trying to continue running a little bit every day.  The team tells me I probably won't have much in the way of significant side effects during this 6 week stretch, apart from some fatigue that will likely hit towards the end.

Here's how I think about it.  February is pretty horrible anyway, so why not put the month to good use? It will give me something to do besides look out at the dirty old snow and feel desperate for spring.  May as well use the time to get myself better!

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