|Seidman Cancer Center|
Some things always precede these visits: blood tests, worry (maybe even a little terror). Last week I had my quarterly blood draw to test my level of Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA). We all want that number to be as close to zero as possible because, as readers of these posts know, I shouldn't have any PSA at all: I had my cancerous prostate removed in June 2005, then, when the cancer returned a few years later, underwent daily radiation treatments for a month at the Cleveland Clinic. The radiation seemed to have stopped it. Then the PSA appeared again and started rising at an alarming rate. Lupron treatments commenced about a year ago. Lupron--a drug that stops the production of testosterone, the "food" of prostate cancer. But there are side effects to deal with, none more odious than the loss of libido. And I mean the loss of libido. The other things--spells of sweating (sometimes heavy, sometimes not--about once an hour), weariness, depression, etc.--are minor in my mind.
Normally, I wait only about a day for PSA results. This time, it was two days. And guess who was becoming more and more frantic with every passing hour? (Why aren't they posting the number? Why haven't they called me?) I imagine, of course, the worst.
But then my oncologist called. PSA remains undetectable. My liver numbers are a little elevated, but that's somewhat "normal" for me. He'll keep an eye on it. (He asks if I've been drinking lately; I tell him I haven't had a drop of alcohol since the summer of 1993, the summer I went into training to get in shape to climb the Chilkoot Pass, the trail that's prominent in The Call of the Wild, the pass separating Alaska from the Northwest Territories and the Yukon Territory.)
So by the time we were driving up to Seidman Cancer Center yesterday, I had somewhat simmered down (remember the old SNL skits featuring "Simmer down now!" with Cheri Oteri?). I knew there was (probably) no grim news in the offing.
When we arrived a little before our 10 o'clock appointment, we saw, as usual, that the parking lot was crammed. We found a space in the next county, walked to the reception room, signed in, and I was once again humbled by the dimensions of the suffering I saw in that room. So many people dealing with so many versions of this disease, versions that are so much worse than mine.
They checked my insurance card, collected my co-pay, and I sat with Joyce for a bit. Then a nurse called me (a new young woman I'd not seen before), and back we went into the warren of rooms and hallways. We somehow found a place where they measured my height (sadly, I'm still 5'8" and have not yet experienced my Growth Spurt), my weight (none of your beeswax). Then to an examination room where she checked my BP (a little high ... I wonder why?) and asked me the routine questions (Are you in any pain? Have you had any falls recently? She did not ask one I've heard recently: Do you feel safe at home? That one is easy to answer). She told me the doctor would be in shortly--shortly, a word that can mean one minute or thirty in a cancer center. I never complain about waiting. My oncologist is a "people person," and I know he's "behind" schedule as soon as he meets with his first patient. Am I going to hassle him about spending too much time with someone else who's suffering, probably far more than I am?
Eventually he arrived, and I gave him the "Happy Lupron Day!" greeting. He laughed, as I said, said he might use that line later. (I told him that's probably not a good idea.) He wanted to know how I'm doing, asked me some more questions about my general health. He wondered if the BP number is his fault. Absolutely. Then I was up on the examination table, where he ... examined me (does anyone else have as hard a time as I do about holding so many consecutive breaths?) He noticed the rubber-band bracelet I wear (which my grandson Logan made for me), and we talked about kids' fascination with the Rainbow Loom (his young son has one--makes all kinds of things). He was happy with my weight (holding steady at ... none of your beeswax): Those receiving Lupron are prone to putting on pounds. I've been trying to eat sensibly, exercise often. It seems to be working. I'm keeping most of my muscle tone, too--which he was happy with. (He reminded me that exercise is good for my immune system, which, so far, is fighting the cancer well.)
I did confess that Joyce and I had gone to Stoddard's recently. New to northeastern Ohio, he'd not heard of this gem of a frozen-custard place. He was very interested in its location.
After the exam, we talked some more. Joyce asked about recent research, and he told us about some new drugs that look promising--but are not yet FDA approved. I asked about gene-targeting; he said he'd like to think that would work, but cancer is such an unpredictable foe: The genetic structures of the cancer cells--even in the same body--are not the same. It's complicated ... in my bones the cells would look one way; elsewhere, another.
He asked me about my blog (he reads it now and then) and about my mother (who's turning 95 this summer) and our travel plans. We told him about our annual Stratford, Ont., visit, coming up soon. Anything else?
I wondered why I'd had to wait so long for the PSA results. He smiled, said under 48 hours is not all that bad, is it? I said, it depends on who's waiting. We all smiled.
When he was sure we had nothing more, he headed off to help someone else. And I waited for the nurse with the needle.
It was about a fifteen-minute wait (okay with me!), and then she arrived with a most expensive injection. I (partially) dropped trou, and the needle visited my right (rear) cheek. I could feel it. It took awhile. Midway, she asked how I was doing. Okay.
She asked if I wanted a band-aid. I did, I told her, because, I told her, I'm a stripper and need to keep my look. I said this with a straight face. She looked at me--realized it was a joke (how could it not be?), laughed, said, You're funny. (Joyce seemed not so sure!)
Out we went to the scheduler. A little wait. I saw, working nearby, the mother of former student Ashley Quentin (now Ashley Quintin Hejmanowski). She always says hello. Waiting, I chatted with another nurse, whose last name is Westbrook. I told her she has a famous name. She said she knows (mentioned former Tribesman Jake); I told her that Percy Bysshe Shelley married Harriet Westbrook; she hadn't known that connection).
I finally saw the scheduler. We'll be back at Seidman on September 22. A week before that, PSA tests. Around the Autumnal Equinox.
Until then, I will try to forget, will throw myself into work, into my life with Joyce, with my son and his family. Even Facebook helps And--except for those dark, dark times--all of this will bring me peace.