This week I traveled to Houston to follow Dr. F's advice: "Get to MD Anderson as quickly as possible."
My parents live only about 20 minutes from the MDA campus, which is very convenient. The day before my scheduled appointment, Mom and I were reading through the pile of reports that summarize the last pitiful nine months of my life, when a great idea struck me: I could try to load the accompanying imaging discs (PET and CT scans) on the laptop and maybe I could see with my own eyes what is going on in there.
My mom, for the record, thought this was a terrible idea.
I was never that great at biology, and I couldn't decipher the CT slices. (Yes, slices. That is not a typo.) But my most recent PET scan....well. That's a different story. It was fascinating in a creepy kind of way. I watched as the screen slowly revealed my brain, my head, my spine, my arms, and my legs. It spun me around in a perfect 360 degree rotation. With a few lucky clicks here and there, I was able to dissect the images until I was staring at IT. Like a terrible Rorschach print, The Sickness--my cancer--seemed to glare at me witth the blackest, angriest eyes I have ever seen. In that second, it went from being an obscure thing to almost taking on a personality. He is angry. He is fierce. He is scary. He is tough.
I call him Monster.
One look was enough. The next day I delivered those discs, along with the written reports, to Dr. B. My curiosity, if that's what you want to call it, is satisfied.
The appointment at MDA went as well as it could have, under the circumstances. I learned that without a doubt, Monster is classified as "chemo-resistant." Um, yeah. I have gone through five chemo drugs in five years, and he keeps finding his way back. There will be no more chemotherapy from this point on. That feels good, because chemo is miserable, and it feels scary, because chemo is how you fight cancer.
I also learned that Monster should not be treated with radiation or further surgery, at least for the time being. Both are high-risk and present opportunities for new difficulties to arise. Surgery, in particular, would be nothing less than life-altering, and still, there would be no guarantee for a favorable outcome.
That doesn't seem to leave many choices, does it? That's what I was thinking. I told you that Monster is tough. Here's the plan: I am returning to MDA next week for further testing. Those ultra-specific scans will tell Dr. B exactly where Monster is in relation to certain things so that she can make a decision about treatment that will (hopefully) not cause further damage to my insides. Make sense? I know. Sigh.
There are, according to Dr. B, a few medication options for treatment. One that she is considering attacks the blood vessels of the cancer cells. Another one is a type of hormone therapy. Really, though, there were two main things things that Dr. B said to me during our visit that mattered significantly. She said:
"How are the boys?"
"Don't give up."
Don't give up. That was just seconds after she informed me that Monster's main body part (he has about 4-5) is the size of a baseball. Minutes after I told her that I can, for the first time since 2007,
feel the cancer inside my body. I wonder if she could look into my eyes and see how tired I am. I'm sure she could see straight through my brave facade and knew how sick I am of being sick. But maybe, mom to mom, she understood that every breath, no matter how hard it seems, is one more I get to share with my boys. For them, the fight goes on.