Having invited you all into the saga of my wife’s cancer (if you have no idea what I’m talking about, you might want to see On Colons, Cancer, and Courage), I’ve realized that I haven’t provided much by way of updates, aside from on the FNFF Facebook page, where I euphorically announced that she was “100% CANCER FREE!!”
In June I told you all that I was, after a long hiatus, back in the blogging business. Then I went silent. If you’re still with me here on FNFF, thanks so much. It really does mean a lot to me. I wasn’t blogging because I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. But now I can. So here we are.
On a sunny Friday in June I dropped my wife off at her hospital in Barcelona, because after her appointment she was headed to Budapest for the weekend on business. She called that afternoon in tears. An MRI had revealed a new tumor on her colon, where she’d had a section previously removed. The cancer was back. That was bad enough. Unfortunately, they had also discovered that the cancer had metastasized and was now creeping around in her liver. Discouraged and disappointed are words I would not use here. We were gutted. She continued on with her planned trip, and I got online. Which was a mistake.
“In nearly all cases, once a primary cancer has spread or metastasized to the liver there is no cure,” I read.
In colorectal cancer “involvement of the liver is associated with poor survival,” I read.
“The 5-year survival rate is about 10.7%,” I read, blurrily. I have to admit, I saw it as a death sentence. My wife was going to die. But.
Her doctors assured us that this was something they could fix. So after long batteries of tests, she went under the knife again. I sat in her hospital room, waiting. Four and a half hours later, I got the call to go down to the operating floor to meet with her surgeon, a man I’d never met.
You sit on one side of a long white wall-to-wall table in a stark white room, and you wait. There is nothing on the walls – everything in that room is an achromatic blankness, a hollow, echoing nothingness. Florescent lights thrum overhead. You sweat. You think, Put up a goddamn poster of a kitten hanging on a string that says ‘Hang in there, Baby’ for chrissakes.
Then the surgeon comes in through a different door. The long white expanse of the table separates you. He shakes your hand and says, “The intervention went well.” Then he turns to go. You stop him, because you have, uhm, a couple of questions.
Ultimately he told me that they had removed my wife’s sigmoid colon. See you later, Siggy. Or, actually, no we won’t. They also removed a portion of the liver about the size of an orange but much more cancery. His tone was wearied but breezy. Do this sort of thing every day. Not to worry. Yes, fine, but my wife doesn’t do this sort of thing every day. And I am worried.
She never came up to her room that night, as I’d been told she would. She was in the Intensive Care Unit – standard procedure I was informed. Which was bullshit, because she hadn’t spent any time in ICU last time around, and besides I’d been told repeatedly that she would be returned to her room a couple of hours after surgery. We’ll never know what happened that night, but my wife has vague, nightmarish memories of waking up and being terrified.
Anyway, her recovery went well. Better than expected, in fact, and she was back home in under a week. We spent much of the summer at home together while she recuperated. By late August she was well enough to allow us to take a holiday, well enough to go hiking in the mountains with our boys. The crisis, it seemed, was over. But.
That MRI that had found the recurring colon cancer and the related liver cancer had also turned up a nodule on her thyroid. Yes, you know where this is going. Pathology indicated that the nodule was cancerous, even though in 95 – 99% of cases these nodules turn out to be benign. Once again, my wife refuses to follow the crowd. So it’s a different kind of malignancy, unrelated to the colon or liver. Are you shitting me? How many cancers is one girl allowed to have?
Back to the hospital, back to the tests. We’ve met with her oncologist, the last time just yesterday. The thyroid’s gotta come out. Probably a complete thyroidectomy, which means, since the thyroid produces hormones that regulate essential body functions, oral hormone treatments for the rest of her life. Now the good news.
Survival rates for thyroid cancer are extremely high, nearly 100% in cases like hers. Not only that, but she won’t have to undergo another round of chemotherapy. Sure, there’s the radioactive iodine treatment, after which “your body will give off radiation for some time.” But then I’ve always thought that my wife’s body gives off radiation. In a good way. Generally patients need to stay in isolation in the hospital for a few days, “until your radiation levels have fallen. A radiation monitor (Geiger counter) may be used to check your levels of radioactivity or test anything that is taken out of your room. Some of your possessions may be kept on the ward for a couple of days if they show any radioactivity.” Yikes. The kids won’t be allowed to visit, but most likely I’ll be allowed in for a short period each day.
To give you an idea of where we are at this point, we took this as most excellent news indeed. No chemo. No new cancers. The thyroidectomy is a relatively simple procedure, requiring only an overnight stay. Whoo-hoo! Top of the world, baby.
My wife, as always, has faced all of this with courage, humor, and optimism. I can honestly say that I can now share that outlook.