What I Got for Valentine’s Day

Two appointments were scheduled for Valentine’s Day (VD - who can tire of that short form?): a consultation with a radiologist, Dr D, and an appointment with my oncologist to review blood and the CT report. I was told they’d try to do them together so I wouldn't have to wait around between the first at 9:00, and the second at 11:00.

Cancer – a world of best laid plans.

I gave the kids some very early VD breakfast chocolates despite my long-held view that VD is just me being chased, and inevitably swallowed, by a massive pink-ribboned, chocolate-filled marketing snowball. (Yes. I’ve often been accused of lacking in romance.) Then I headed for the hospital.

One of the things I do like about VD is that everyone wishes everyone else a happy one. Nothing wrong with sprinkling the world with love. Especially the kind that doesn’t need to be wrapped.

The 9:00 am happened at 10:30, the 11:00 at 12:45. I spent 5 hours at the hospital feeling anxious, impatient and Valentine-conflicted.

The radiologist Dr. D was quirky and sweet. She bothered to pop by in person to let me know she would be delayed by an emergency. When she finally arrived, she didn’t rush. She told me her opinion about the mammography debate, palpated a few lymph nodes, then felt me up (her other specialty is breasts, so I got the 2 for 1 special). After that she sat me down and pitched her trade. Here’s why radiation is a good idea.

Dr. D was less committed than Dr J to the face/brain distinction. She did not see it as an impermeable barrier, a Berlin Wall in my head that was unlikely to let much slip through. Instead Dr. D was talking holes, like the US/Canadian border, porous and mostly unpatrolled.

The tumour in your head makes us nervous (Great. I love a nervous doctor.) because it can start growing and pressing and leaking through the holes, and then ta da, your eye stops working and your brain is full of it. These were not her words. This was what I heard, or chose to hear. Although she did say infiltration.

They radiate the parameters of the original tumours, which, I’m now told, were huge. I knew the hot dog was big but turns out it was less of a hot dog than an oversized Barbie dream house sofa. 10.6 by 6.4cm. The head tumour was pretty chunky too – kind of like a La-Z Boy, wrapped around my cheek bone and back up behind my nose.

Radiation ensures that the tumour will not grow back in the same spot, but does nothing to stop it from growing back right next door. I do not find this to be helpful information.

Radiation may cause loss of hair in the spots that are hit by the beam. She couldn’t say definitively it would grow back. Vanity, it strikes me, is a good enough reason not to move forward with radiation that can only guarantee limited success. Then there’s the secondary cancers, the risk of cataracts, the vaginal scarring – never mind the side effects. Shall I go on? I think you get the point.

So I sat with my bald spots, failing eye sight and atrophying vagina for 2 ½ hours until Dr J was finally available. Even his hug and excellent shrinkage news wasn’t enough to pull me out of the hole I was sinking into.

I drove home crying. While I’ve scored my share of emotional touchdowns, this disease is full of backsliding. It’s OK. It’s OK. I’m allowed to feel this bad for no good reason. No good reason, that is, other than fear, lousy news, and having cancer.

But my VD was also full of the gifts of listening, tolerance for my lack of forward motion, distraction, love - from my kids at breakfast, Brenda at the hospital,  Dr D,  Dr. J, Ingrid on the phone, my parents over Skype from Arizona, Bob long distance from Virginia, Doris and Jim over gin, and Fogel, my last minute VD dinner date. And that was only one day.

I’m a Hallmark poopoo-er, but for months now I’ve gotten Valentines every day from so many of you.

Love comes in more forms than I could ever have imagined.

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