The past month hasn't been easy. In fact, it's been mostly lousy. My family vacation in the south, that I had imagined being so wonderful and restful and full of days resting on uncrowded sandy beaches with azure blue waters before me and all the sunshine I could want, turned into me having some sort of new pain in my right side and my appetite tapering off (so much for all the Pastis I had planned to drink) as I spent more and more time in bed because it was the only place I felt even a little comfortable. Phone consultations with my GP in Paris were only partially helpful, as without seeing me in person, there was not much he could do in the way of diagnosing or treating what might be wrong. Here I was, taking a welcome break from the chemo where I should have had more energy, and yet I felt worse where I had expected to feel better. I wanted to be out with Georges and our boy, and all I could manage was to send them out to enjoy each day and smile when they came back to tell me about it -- it was the boy's school holiday, and Georges had taken two much-needed weeks off, and they deserved to enjoy themselves even if I couldn't go along with them very often.
We eventually cut our vacation short by a day, traveling back to Paris on the May Day holiday, so that I could get into my doctor's office on Saturday to get better medication for pain management. (What a relief THAT was!) We got appointments for a blood workup and a CT scan on Monday afternoon, and a follow-up on Wednesday with my surgeon who wanted to see for himself what was still going on with the scar. These were tests I was going to have anyway, prior to my upcoming next oncology appointment, which is now set for next Monday. And this was "the BIG scan", the one we've been awaiting with bated breath since I started chemo in February. THIS was the scan that was going to give us the good news - that the chemo was doing its job and there was no further spread of the cancer.
Because THIS was my plan (in my own mind, at least) as to how my treatment was going to go: straight, direct, no hitches or curve-balls, everything falling into place perfectly, the chemo "getting it right the first time", and within a year or less I would be pronounced "cancer-free".
Except. Except. Except that from the beginning, my cancer journey has never been on the straight and narrow, if I'm being honest about it. Who the hell was I kidding with this idea of a direct point A to point B treatment? From the outset, every day or week seemed to bring another bend in the road, another detour: the blood clot that (thank God!) the doctors spotted before my surgery, and needing to block it while also stopping the internal bleeding caused by the kidney tumor. Finding out that the cancer had already jumped to my lungs after a second scan, just before surgery, and knowing this meant the fight could be a longer one than I had anticipated -- but still having that straight-line graph in my head anyway. Yes, I know I haven't mentioned this little wrinkle before, but I figured why tell everyone when naturellement the chemo would work perfectly the first time and get rid of that little bit of rogue cancer in my lungs.
Then there was needing blood thinner injections 3x/daily for weeks after surgery. My scar being slow to heal (I am just a slow healer where surgical scars are concerned; maybe it's the pale Irish skin I inherited from my Nana). The first attempt at chemo proving to be too strong a dose and being unable to eat or taste, and having more problems with my scar as a result. Tweaking the dosage and rhythm of the chemo for the second round, but still having some of the same side effects as in the first round; then being told to take anywhere from 1 to 4 weeks "off" the chemo to allow my body to heal before we tried a new schedule -- something that would have started about 1-2 weeks ago, had it not been for the sudden appearance of the sharp pain in my right side during vacation.
Given the actual trajectory of my cancer journey thus far...
... it somehow was not such a surprise to me when we learned that this particular chemo drug didn't work at all. Not one little bit. My lungs still have some spots on them (about the same amount as before the chemo). And... so does my liver, which is is something new and not something to be happy about. The spread to the liver has most likely caused some enlargement, which is causing the pain, swelling and discomfort in my abdomen (there is no sign of internal bleeding, fortunately) and also some problems with a small internal rupture along the scar line.
Yes. I know. I know. This is not great news. But it's not all bad, either. Heart, pancreas, spleen, bones - all looking good. Except for the liver enzymes, my lab work was pretty good, too, nothing to worry about. We won't know the full story until we meet Monday morning with the oncologist, but my surgeon feels sure that the medical team will recommend that I go immediately back on oral chemo, obviously a different drug than this first one. He says there are many other drugs to choose from; all oral, too, so that means no IV chemo. The cancer is still very much beatable, according to him. I may, at some point, require further surgery, perhaps to repair the internal scar or to remove that enlarged lymph node, but the chemo has to come first if possible. (At least, that's what he told us on Wednesday. By Monday, we may hear something completely different so we're preparing for anything.)
So, I can beat it, and I intend to keep fighting. But this does mean I have to let go of my imaginary straight treatment line, and accept that, as usual, I never go about things in the easiest way possible. When I stop and think about it, my paths in life have always twisted and turned in unexpected ways, and this has taught me to handle the unexpected and to give up being so attached to having things turn out in a specific (i.e., my) way. Becoming cancer-free is apparently just one more of these looping paths in my life.
I will still win in the end, but seems like I'm going to have to take the scenic route rather than the super-highway.
Thanks to author Liz Gilbert for sharing this image on her Facebook page recently. It resonated with me immediately. And thanks to Julia for drawing it.