Dying Young

[A quick update on my upcoming exploratory laparoscopy – I got a call after publishing my last post informing me that Dr. D.L. wanted to move my procedure from Thursday to first thing Friday (Halloween) morning, to ensure that I wouldn’t be the last surgery of the day and wouldn’t spend all of Thursday waiting indefinitely for the OR. Josh and I will have to be at the hospital by 6 a.m. Awesome… On Monday afternoon, I went to Mount Sinai Hospital for pre-op (where they take your vitals, ask a bunch of questions like if you’ve ever had a bad reaction to anesthesia and do blood work) and was told by the anesthesiologist that a procedure like mine usually takes about 45 minutes and that I would be in the recovery room for about two hours afterwards. He expected I would have minimal pain. I saw him, an internist and a physician assistant, and they all seemed to be scratching their heads as to why I was undergoing an exploratory laparoscopy when the notes indicated that I seemed to be clean. It reinforced to me how unorthodox this surgery is. Even these medical professionals who understand the deceptive nature of cancer were swayed by how I looked like the picture of health and breezed me through the pre-op process. I didn’t even have blood work done because I was able to pull up my most recent lab results from NYU through the online patient portal, which was acceptable for their purposes. When I got back from the hospital, I found a letter from my insurance company in my mailbox informing me that the exploratory laparoscopy had been approved. So there should be no hiccups. Barring some horrible outcome, I should be home in time for trick-or-treating on Friday evening and have lined up my sister to help out in case I’m not feeling enough Halloween cheer to accompany my girls Thank you for all your messages of support and concern. Now, onto the real point of this post.]

Two weeks ago, I went to Washington, D.C. to attend the Chris4Life Colon Cancer Foundation’s fourth annual Blue Hope Bash. It is Chris4Life’s signature gala event, where in one evening, against the posh backdrop of the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown, the organization raises hundreds of thousands of dollars. I had attended last year’s Bash when I was still a newbie in the world of colorectal cancer and knew no one. What a difference a year makes! Whereas last year I stood awkwardly in a corner like the proverbial wallflower, this year I was a virtual butterfly, fluttering here and there, talking to fellow cancer survivors/patients, grieving widows, hopeful doctors and a random assortment of other people who had gathered to show their support for a cause that desperately needs more supporters. More

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Second Look

This Thursday I will be undergoing an exploratory laparoscopic surgery (i.e. my surgeon will insert a camera into a little incision made at a prior incision site) to see whether there is cancer in me, whether the clean MRI results from three weeks prior were accurate. Yes, I have chosen Option #4 as per my prior post. It’s called a “second-look laparoscopy”, something that has rarely been done, and pretty much never done in the colorectal cancer context. I consider myself very fortunate to have this available to me as an option since my HIPEC surgeon is conducting an unprecedented study at Mount Sinai Hospital to determine whether such second-look laparoscopies affect survival outcomes. Although the study is yet to be formally underway and the ultimate findings are years away, I would think such a procedure can only improve survival outcomes, and that belief is exactly why I’m doing this.

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Gratitude, Scan Results and More Decisions

Almost a month ago, right after the Cleary fundraiser, I walked into the NYU Cancer Center for my 11th round of Folfiri and 24th round of chemotherapy overall, still floating on the golden cloud of success and support from that evening. My usual nurse practitioner was out so I actually got to see my oncologist, the man himself, Dr. A.C. Instead of discussing what would come next after I finished the current cycle of chemotherapy (which I suppose I should have done) – he had promised 12 rounds of Folfiri and then we would reevaluate – I bragged about how much I had raised thus far for my research fund. He gave me a big thumbs-up and told me I was his only patient who had ever tried to raise money on such a scale. He told me a funny story about a former rich patient who had undertaken somewhat misguided philanthropic endeavors through NYU and I wished how such rich people would donate to my research fund. We briefly talked about the status of my list of side effects. Oddly, many of the most troubling side effects I had complained about in An Intermission and which I had expected to worsen, had in fact stopped; the hives ceased appearing, my hair stopped falling out and in fact seemed to be growing back with a vengeance even though I was still on the same regimen that had caused it to thin in the first instance, and my blood pressure, while somewhat inconsistent, still did not need medication. As we were wrapping up, I returned to the subject of fundraising and finding a cure for colon cancer, ranting at the severe and unjust lack of funding and my fervent belief, based on my understanding of the history of cancer treatments and the trajectory that that history implied, that it was entirely possible to find a cure for colon cancer. And with my back to him as I picked up my bag I’d dropped in the chair reserved for patients’ families and friends, I proclaimed, “And I want to be around when that cure is found!” It was a proclamation made as part of my impassioned rant and speech, not something for which I needed or expected a response. Even so, Dr. A.C. responded, “I think you will be.” I hadn’t asked him for his opinion about my prognosis. I hadn’t even been looking at him. Dr. A.C. is a man who is typically so careful and deliberate with the words he chooses but yet also, according to others, known for his honesty; such care and deliberation mixed with honesty are almost prerequisites in his line of work and an indication to me of his years of experience and compassion.

I went off to my infusion, thinking about his unsolicited, simple yet loaded, almost off-handed statement. I realized that my oncologist believes in me. He believes he can get me to a cure and he believes that I have what it takes to mentally and physically get to that cure. Maybe, that belief is based on the fact that from a clinical perspective things aren’t as bad as they could be and, in fact, one might even say things have really gone almost as well as they possibly could have gone until now, from the way I’ve responded to treatment to, despite my Stage IV status, the minimal amount of disease found during both surgeries. Maybe, he’s just human and his belief is based on a desire to see me cured even though he knows it’s against the odds. Whatever the bases for his belief, all I need to know is that he, my oncologist, the man who is quarter-backing my war against cancer, has that belief. Dr. A.C. doesn’t know what the future holds, nor do I, nor does anyone else, but to know that my oncologist believes in me strengthens and comforts me in a way that nothing else could.

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