Getting this third opinion yesterday was a bit like being diagnosed all over again.
Except this time I knew what was coming, and I knew the lingo, and I don’t feel quite as sick as I did… but none of that made it any less difficult.
In my stack of medical records, this doctor chased down the sizes of my tumors and the dates of my surgery and biopsy, my chemo starts and stops, my scans, my pathology reports, and all of the other little numbers that are so important to my doctors but that don’t mean a thing to me. He re-stated the long string of familiar words that designate, specifically, what I have. He re-stated all that i’ve been through in the last year and a half. He was happy with some of what he saw and had suggestions for the rest. I have a lot of options. Other types of drugs. Clinical trials. Treatments and procedures that go by acronyms or end in “ation.” A transplant, if all else fails.
But in between all of my options is a lifetime of watching this and making sure it doesn’t start growing again. It doesn’t seem like enough, that this is all there is–this haphazard list of treatments that might work a little or a lot, for a little time or a long time. As promising and as hopeful as each of these drugs and clinical trials and acronym and “ation” procedures sound, not one of them is curative. The doctor left that part out. He made it sound easy, like you get four of these treatments. Period. Or you spend a year on this drug. Period. Or you get this procedure done twice. Period. Or you do all of the above. You can live for 5! Or 10! Or 20! years. But when I add up all these years of life that he threw around yesterday in my head, they never add up to that much.
I know I shouldn’t get hung up on any of these numbers. Or any of these words. Or any of this. If I continue to feel good, if my treatments don’t make me feel much worse, if the upkeep is minimally invasive, this becomes just like any other chronic medical condition that people deal with. I’ve been doing a pretty good job of dealing with this so far–what’s another 5 or 10 or 20 years? That’s the whole idea of my “i am a liver” mantra. But the problem is, it just doesn’t sound like any other chronic medical condition. It sounds like cancer. Cancer spreads indiscriminately. It kills people regularly. It inspired a book called The Emperor of All Maladies. Cancer is bad.
The doctor addressed this. He said, “We live in a society where when you say you’re diagnosed with cancer, everyone freaks out” and starts looking up on the internet how long you’re going to live. “We don’t know how long you’re going to live.”
He also said, “This is a little bit like being diagnosed with diabetes.” Diabetes doesn’t sound that bad. Lots of people get diagnosed with diabetes. Hell, I was diagnosed with diabetes after my surgery, and giving myself insulin shots and checking my blood sugar three or six times per day was a pain, but I didn’t worry that it would kill me. Maybe that’s just because I had other things to worry about–like cancer.
When I look forward, I want to be able to see the things I could always see before: the job, the husband, the house, the kids. When I look forward now, all I can see is how cancer could interfere with all of these things.