It’s been a week since our last post, all because of our third Double Whammy session 5 March was followed by a radical drop in our blood hemoglobin levels, leaving us feeling, well, utterly devastated and incapable of focusing our thoughts to the degree required by coherent writing.
A day after the session, whilst undergoing a new regimen of IV fluid replacement [two liters for each of three consecutive four-hour daily sessions] tests revealed the blood crisis, and on the following day, last Friday, two pints of red blood cells were added to the fluids.
We felt better for a day. But just a day. That old cisplatin, the heaviest gun in our chemo regimen, knocks us on our ass every time, with impacts greater after each successive round.
By yesterday, when it came time for our gemcitabine-only chemo session, the hemoglobin was still well above the red line minimum, while new anti-nausea medications were added to the regime, along with more bowel-stimulating meds to counteract the effects of the anti-nausea drugs and two-and-a-half liters of more saline solution to keep the fluids up, another anti-constipation measure.
Oh, and just for the record, the constipation increases the nausea. . .
So that’s the way it rolls here in ChemoLand, where first surgery [removing bladder and prostate], then chemical assault, have been deployed against that aggressive ["high grade" in oncology-speak] and relatively rare micropapillary carcinoma discovered last October after a bit of blood appeared amongst the urine in the toilet bowl,
The irony, of course, is that we didn’t experience the slightest pain until we were catheterized for the first look inside the bladder, where the camera spotted an ominous form and a remote-controlled blade sliced off the hunk of growth that would firm the worst.
Then came the surgery, five hours or so, including the temporary emplacement of another catheter, with the pain partly abated by a Fentanyl spinal bloc that spared us much of the pain.
We were sent home with a whole raft of Percocets after a short but disastrous nursing home stay. We took none, having discovered that our level of pain tolerance, previously low, had risen considerably.
But then, just as we were finally recovering from the surgery, came the chemo. . .all because that nasty little cancer had escaped to one of the twenty lymph nodes taken during the surgery.
Dispelling a rumor
We’re somewhat bemused by the words we hear a lot these days, wherein people say they’re confident I’ll beat this thing because we’re so strong.
Other words we’ve heard are “courageous” and “brave.”
Our initial response was self-deprecating, the sort of thing expected of someone raised in a Calvinist household in a small Kansas farm town on the very first year of the Baby Boom.
We came to see that we are, in a peculiar way, strong. “You’re a pig-headed little Dutchman,” Dad used to say in frustration. So if strength equates to stubbornness, that’s probably true. But it’s also not a matter of choice. Nor is it always pleasant for those nearest and dearest [as when we walked away in anger from Sacramento Bee after they killed stories about political corruption in California, leaving our then-spouse and new mother of two to play wage-earner.]
Sure, we fought for the stories because we felt they were important enough for the public to know. But mostly we fought because we had no other choice. It was, quite simply, in our nature to do nothing else but fight, consequences be damned.
But courage and bravery — really?
We’re thought about the labels as they apply to our current, carcinomous episode, and we reject them.
To our mind, courage and bravery imply an element of volition, a choice. But more that that, they describe actions taken on behalf of others. Actions embodying the very thing Ayn Rand so vehemently despised, altruism.
Heroes, to us, are those who risk all on behalf of others. Our battle with cancer is strictly personal, waged on our own behalf. We just that pig-headed little Dutchman a few years on. There’s no volition involved. It’s just what we do.
A reporter who covered the White House back when Lyndon Johnson ruled the roost once told me that First Spouse Lady Bird Johnson once told him “Politicians should be born foundlings and die bachelors.” Perhaps that’s true of heroes as well.