Hello dear readers! I have been on hiatus, due to some much needed surgery that required general anesthesia.
As you may know, the after effects of general anesthesia are often more brutal than the surgery itself. Additionally, because the surgery was in my neck, the nerve blocker that they gave me (while effective at helping with the pain) messed with the coordination in my right arm quite a lot.
This became obvious when I tried to take my first post-surgery bite of food, and my hand holding the fork kept drifting away from my mouth the further I craned my (still very sore) neck towards the tantalizing clump of curry. It felt like a toned down version of the Prometheus myth- instead of an eagle eating my liver, I was unable to shovel delicious food into my face at my preferred speed. Not the worst, but suffice to say, I was in no condition to write about the nuclear waste/soiled plastic diaper combo dumpster fire that is American politics at this point in time.
And I won’t be writing about it today either. Today I’m writing about something a little more personal.
(That having been said, if you need your informative longread fix, here is an excellent article about the disinformation campaign that elected Trump- I know I’m a broken record about this, but the better one understands how online propaganda works, the less vulnerable one is to succumbing to it)
In Fall of 2017, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma while working on a master’s degree. In the middle of the chemo regimen to deal with said Lymphoma, my oncologist noticed a weirdly stubborn speck on the scan that later turned out to be thyroid cancer. Because you know, why not? Two totally unrelated pathologies at the same time? In a patient with good diet and exercise habits, with no other serious health problems to speak of? I’m just lucky I guess!
I should mention at this point that my awesome family was both willing and able to travel back and forth from Oregon to Georgia to help take care of me. That’s a relevant detail for later.
After 6 months of chemo, a thyroidectomy (the tumor was too big for a partial) a blast of radiation, a lot of playing Stardew Valley while high on painkillers, and struggling to complete music theory homework while enduring the chemo funk (NOT. FUN.) I was able to ring the bell, finish my master’s, and move on with my life.
You see, shortly after my cancer-ridden thyroid gland was removed from my body, my surgeon alerted my attention to a “spotty” lymph node in my neck area. The speck was too small to easily biopsy, and all of my bloodwork was free of cancer biomarkers. More surgery right away seemed unwise, as it would take years for the speck to do any real harm, assuming it was even malignant at all. Cancer treatments often leave scar tissue which might resemble tumors on scans and xrays, and because many cancer treatments actually increase one’s risk for more malignancies ever so slightly, over treatment must be avoided where possible.
In other words, in order to kill the cancer, you also have to make yourself more vulnerable to cancer. Whee!!!
Fast Forward to the end of 2019. I’m back on the west coast, getting my shit together, and loving life.
So of course, my new oncologist noticed something odd in my bloodwork.
There were special proteins present that could have come only from my thyroid gland, or thyroid cancer. As I no longer had a thyroid gland, we decided to scan and biopsy that “spotty” lymph node. Technically, the biopsy came back negative, but more of the tell-tale protein was present.
So we operated. And sure enough, the pathology report found cancer in the nodes that had been removed. Not much, but enough to really fuck me up if it had gone untreated for long enough.
But here’s the best part. And by best part, I mean the shitty part.
To prepare for the surgery, my doctors ordered some extra imaging shortly before the procedure to make sure that nothing was moving or growing faster than it should. And in addition to the lovely speck in my neck, they found a spot in my lung.
Yep, in my fucking lung. Because why not?
Is it malignant? No way to be sure yet. I’ll be seeing a lung specialist shortly to discuss possible diagnostics to investigate (it’s location makes a biopsy less-than-ideal). I also have another CT scan scheduled in April, to help watch for any changes. April feels like a long way away, but if we scan too soon, we won’t be able to tell if there are any real changes.
So if you made it all this way (bless you!) you might be wondering:
Why the actual fuck am I telling you any of this?
This blog is anonymous. Some of you know me, and some of you may never once meet me in person. Why would I share so many weirdly personal details in a space that doesn’t even list my name?
The answer is in the title of this post.
The common narrative surrounding cancer, that it is some sort of horrible disease that must be “cured,” is simple enough to help the general public understand. And it is somewhat true- the endlessly multiplying cells that make up tumors are a kind of disease, in that eventually they will harm you and possibly kill you.
Where this oversimplified narrative starts to deviate from reality is in the “after.” In truth, you are never really cured. You can potentially heal from most of the damage done by the cancer and treatment, but not all of it. And unless you want to risk an awful death, you’d best get your butt to the doctor ever so often for diagnostics.
But just as life continues on even after senate Republicans inexplicably crown an incompetent bigoted rapist as their god emperor, so does life continue on during treatment. And there were some good times too.
As I mentioned before, my family went into overdrive when I was first diagnosed. My father initially wanted to pull me from school and bring me home, but as that would destroy much of my degree progress AND cut me off from my student health insurance, I wasn’t too excited for that plan.
My parents took turns living with me, so that I’d have help whenever I was too drugged up to function. This was actually kind of awesome, as it presented an opportunity to spend time with my folks that I wouldn’t otherwise have gotten. My mother and I munched chocolates while watching various murder mysteries on netflix, and my dad and I went down the Ridley Scott rabbithole with some of my favorite movies (The Alien prequels, while flawed, are still far superior to 3 or Resurrection and this is the hill that I will die on).
My brother came too, when he could, and we would go for walks when I was strong enough. I would wear my mask to help compensate for my weakened immune system, and enjoy watching shoppers part like the red sea when I walked through the grocery store. Amazingly, creepy older dudes don’t try to get your number when you look like you’re about to head into a quarantine zone.
When I informed my closest friends and family about Thyroid cancer 2: Ha ha fuck you you don’t even have a thyroid gland anymore and you STILL gotta get surgery, I experienced a similar outpouring of support. Good times were had. There were jalapeno cheese bagels involved.
I could go on and on about everyone who helped me, and the fun that I had in spite of the cancer. In future posts, maybe I will. I’ve barely scratched the surface of what I learned from that experience.
But my main focus is this: Cancer isn’t neat and tidy. Rhetoric that invokes the word “cure” can actually be very misleading.
It’s not my intent to alarm anyone who knows me personally. I’m going to be fine. If the speck in my lung is malignant, I will get it out any way I can. If not, I’ll commit to more diagnostic work and get on with my life. If it’s too soon to draw a conclusion about what it is, I will pester my docs until they come up with a plan.
This is the part of the blog post where I usually tie it all together and make a joke, but this post isn’t going to follow that formula. Because it can’t.
The truth is that with cancer, the line between ‘survivor’ and ‘patient’ is always thin. The cost of survival is living with that uncertainty. It’s scary at first, but you get used to it. You find coping mechanisms. You keep living your life.
So in the spirit of uncertainty, I’m just gonna end this bit here. Peace. I’ll get back to analyzing the the cancer in Washington DC soon enough. Yes. I went there. Sorry not sorry.