by Belle Piazza
I always know that my scan is bad when my oncologist comes into the exam room, grabs his chair, and gets right down to business. If the scan was good he’d come into the room, shake my hand and instead of talking about the scan, he’d ask me how I’m doing and talk to me like an old friend rather than a cancer patient getting their scan results. Eventually he gets to the scan, which I’ve usually forgotten about by then, knowing the news is good.
My last scan was not good. A new spot on my lung plus two lymph nodes in my chest that hadn’t lit up in over two years were glowing again. Not good. I’m finally having to confront my reality, which is that “cure” is pretty much off the table and “more time” is my best hope. It’s a lot to get my head around. My husband wants to know “how long” but I won’t let him ask the oncologist this question. It’s just too morbid – I won’t go there.
So once again, it’s time to regroup, pull out my toolbox and take inventory. I need all the tools I can to deal with this latest development. Friends tell me “if you want to talk, just let me know, I’m here for you”. And as much as I appreciate this, there just doesn’t seem to be a lot to talk about. I can tell by the way a person says these words whether they’re really prepared to hear what I have to say or if they just say it because they don’t know what else to say. And really, what is there to say? “Wow – it sucks to be you….” – that about sums it up. My Colon Club friends rally behind me, as they have always done. They are my safety net, my security blanket. When times are darkest, I know they will always shine a light for me.
When Gaelen was near the end of her life, I noticed a marked increase in her anger and frustration levels. I was surprised to feel both of these feelings rage inside me these past weeks. I’m not an angry person by nature, but suddenly I felt both anger and frustration – with the disease, with society, with researchers who don’t talk to each other and share information, with doctors who don’t have all the answers. Anger that it doesn’t matter what you eat, what you juice, what treatments you receive, how positive your attitude or how much you pray – in the end, if cancer decides to take you – you’re outta here! Katie Couric recently stated on her show something to the effect of “the cemeteries are filled with people full of hope and positive attitudes”. Amen to that. It doesn’t matter whether you’re young, old, man, woman, husband, wife, mother or father. Cancer doesn’t care if you’re black or white; Christian, Muslim or Atheist. Cancer doesn’t care if you’re a good person or a worthless bum. Bottom line – cancer – doesn’t – care.
I get a second and third opinion, both of which offer me nothing more than my current oncologist can offer me. More chemo. And no more “chemo lite” as I call it, but the really nasty stuff that makes me sick as a dog. Since I’m considered terminal now, my oncologist will prescribe medical marijuana if I want to try it for the nausea. Great, I think, I’ve been dying to try that stuff.
I remember the advice I’ve given others. If one day at a time is too much to handle, then take it one hour at a time, or one minute, or one second. Break things down into smaller pieces that are easier to manage. Breathe in, breathe out. I use my anger to fuel my presentations to our State Senators and Representatives in Washington D.C. during Call on Congress. Suddenly my message seems so clear, so blatantly obvious. You either catch cancer early and prevent it – or catch it late and spend millions of dollars on a patient just so they can have a few precious years left before the disease takes them down.
I’m tired and I’m scared. I’m really, really scared. They say there are no atheists in foxholes. When hope is a rare commodity, we tend to find religion. I don’t pray for a miracle or a cure, though I’d take either one if there’s an extra to spare. What I pray for is strength. Strength to handle whatever path is before me. Strength to not let all this completely paralyze me with fear. Strength to continue speaking out about this disease and how easily it can be prevented to anyone who will listen until I have no breath left. Strength to continue living and loving my life, my friends and my family for as long as I possibly can. ‘Cure’ is indeed a four letter word and so is ‘fear’. But so are ‘hope’ and ‘love’. I’ll try hard to focus my mind on the latter.