It hasn’t even been two years since my diagnosis so maybe I just haven’t gotten there yet but I hope to reach a point where I can go an entire day without thinking once about cancer. Most days it just pops into my head without any warning or explanation. After all I’ve been clear since I finished chemo and I only get checkups about every three months. In between that I have a plastic access port in my chest that needs to get flushed—or, as I like to call it, any storm in a port—every six weeks. Oh yeah, I also have surgical scars and multiple medications that I take daily. But as long as there are no bumps in the road I can keep cruising along quite happily with the top down, the world’s greatest song on the radio, looking at cows and sheep and the occasional llama, at trees and billboards that tell me there’s a place just two miles ahead where I can buy firecrackers, stopping occasionally to grab a fish sandwich, get gas, and also put fuel in the car.
That metaphor got away from me.
During my most recent checkup my oncologist told me there was good news and bad news, and more good news—the bad news wasn’t really bad. The good news was most of my numbers looked fine. The bad news is my tumor markers were up just a tick. Oncologists, of course, measure tumor markers in small bloodsucking arachnids. The markers were still in the very low single digits and there was a strong possibility that it was a mistake and she was going to have the lab re-run the numbers to be sure. And let me be as emphatic as possible that even if the numbers are right the uptick is so small it’s nothing to worry about.
I’m emphasizing that because there was a moment where I emotionally slammed the brakes and came to a screeching halt, left skidmarks fifty feet long, did an impressive Tokyo drift maneuver across a stretch of highway, and blew out one of the tires. Fortunately I have a complete emergency kit including a can of that stuff you can use to temporarily refill a punctured tire so you can drive to a service station, although people passing by did wonder why I felt compelled to put out flares in the middle of the day.
Yeah, I really need to stop using cruise control with my metaphors.
It’s not been easy making the transition from “I never get sick!” to “I spent three months getting chemo for a disease that could have killed me and has affected the rest of my life!” The first phrase is easy, jaunty, and allows me to go on with my usual happy blind optimism and be the life of the party while the second phrase is clunky and long and doesn’t even begin to sum up just how complicated the reality is which is annoying because just by itself it’s enough to give me the fantods.
Rerunning my numbers required me to go in for a blood draw—meaning I had to get a second port flush in less than a week, which, by the way, was a reminder that even though I may never need chemo again it’s still too soon to get my port removed. There may not be storms but there are still squalls. And she wanted a urine sample too. And not just any urine sample. It had to be a first-thing-in-the-morning urine sample instead of a quick drink-some-water-and-fill-this-cup sample. I was given a specimen bottle to take home.
Almost every time I’ve been asked to give a urine sample I’ve been handed a cup or bottle to fill and it always feels like a missed opportunity to repeat a Groucho Marx joke. When he was called up for military service he and his fellow recruits were taken into a room for a medical exam. The doctor pointed to a row of bottles on the far wall and said, “Fill ‘em up.” Groucho said, “From here? Who do you think we are, firemen?”
Anyway I’d have to remember to fill the cup first thing in the morning, preferably after I’d taken the dogs out for their morning disembogue, and not join them in marking the tree. There was also a strong possibility—and it came to pass—that I’d have to make my passage before the clock crowed. In the event of that my wife suggested I put a note in the lavatory that read “CHRIS—PEE IN THE CUP!” She’s smart like that and through this ordeal has spent a good amount of time in the driver’s seat. So I took a heavy black pen and wrote the note. And then to sharpen the point I took a lighter pen and added, “Make it fun. Pretend you’re an astronaut using a zero-G toilet. And don’t spill any because if your urine’s floating around in zero-G the other astronauts will lock you out of the capsule.” I wish I could say it ended there but I went on to write more, referencing everything from the Apollo program to Quisp and the final scene of Dark Star and now I have to spend the rest of my life carrying a note reminding me to not drink and write notes, but that’s another story.
The real point is I can hopefully always get back on track, fueled by my sense of humor and the occasional fish sandwich.
Update: My oncologist has already gotten the new results back. Everything is back to normal and Beatrice and Benedick lived happily ever after.
Whew! I was so glad to read that update sentence at the end! Glad it was just a minor squall and that it has passed. Trying to think of something funny to add but I’ve got nothing. Well, there’s this. Regarding the urine sample, for whatever reason, my kid refused to give them during annual checkups. When he was younger that is. He’s 8 now, so hopefully we’re passed that annoying phase in our lives. Anyway, let me tell you that the time you spend in a tiny bathroom holding a urine cup in front of a little boy who refuses to pee in it (EVEN THOUGH IT’S FOR HIS OWN GOOD!) will be the longest minutes of your life.
I had just put the finishing touches on this post and scheduled it when my wife showed me the test results so I had to go back and add the update. I really didn’t expect the results that quickly and also I thought there were some good jokes in there so I didn’t want to throw the whole thing out.
And I can’t imagine what it must be like holding a cup in front of your child getting him to pee in it. As far back as I can remember I was always allowed to fill the specimen cup by myself, although my first doctor used paper cups and if I didn’t get them back quickly they would break open in the hallway.
Glad to hear your numbers are good and sorry for your scare.
I like to make samples fun too. Usually by eating a massive plate of beets the night before.
Eating a massive plate of beets sounds like a brilliant way to have fun with the samples. This is purely apocryphal and probably made up but I heard a story about a ship where the night before the sailors were supposed to take a drug test the cook slipped pills that turned urine different colors into their food. The next day the doctor lined the rainbow colored cups up on the rail, said, “I’ll be back in a week,” and threw the samples overboard.
I’m so happy that your test turned out to be a false positive–keep getting healthier every day!
Thank you–I’m so happy too. False positives are yet another thing I have to get used to as I deal with my complete lack of experience with being sick or needing extensive medical care until almost two years ago.
The last time I went to the OB/GYN she had me pee in a cup and told me to put it in a little cabinet. Later, she asked me if I had and I said “Yes, along with all those other ones”. Not good, apparently. They got backed up and we all had to have a do-over. Peeing on command is one of my best talents, so there was that.
Medical stuff. The scariest stuff ever. Glad to hear good news.
Peeing on command is an extraordinary talent–especially given your other issues.
And, yeah, medical stuff is always scary, especially after a lifetime of never being sick.
I’m glad you’ve cleared up Chris and are feeling better!
Thank you–every day gets a little bit better.
Thanks for the journey, Chris. I’m so glad where it ended up. <3
I’m glad you ended up here.
I’m so sorry to hear about your cancer…and your scare! That sounds like such a general thing to say, but I really AM sorry to hear about your cancer. I’ve seen so many dear people in my life suffer from that awful disease and have a very general (albeit very outsider) idea of how hard it is to go through. I appreciate how you write about it–the honesty, the perceptiveness, and the wit. I hope you continue to have good, clear results!
Thank you, and sometimes the general thing to say is the right thing to say. File that under “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.