Sub-8 Mile's Battle-o-Rama
(maybe this story will, in some way, help someone you know; if so, that's cool. oh, and F Cancer.)
September 22, 2016
It’s 6am, the next morning after we began the infusions. The chemo, accumulating in my system, is about to kick in with its effects, but for now I’m fine. Well, considering. My breath is becoming shallow and wheezing.
Near-death notwithstanding, it’s a relaxed morning. No pain or discomfort. Just lounging comfortably.
The doctor, my main oncologist, has stopped by.
“What’s the prognosis?” I ask, cheerfully.
“Prognosis?” He can’t believe he’s hearing this question. “There’s no prognosis! There’s no such thing as a prognosis for your case. I’m sitting in the lunch room, showing your file to any doctor I see, to try to get some input. ‘Hey, have you heard of this guy yet?’ … Nobody can believe what they’re seeing.”
He looks at me. “Your case is an anomaly among anomalies. No one knows what’s going to happen. What we’re doing right now is trying to see if we can buy you some time.”
He leaves out the part where there is no chance in hell that I am surviving, in the end.
“OK,” I say. “Um … so what stage is the cancer?”
“There’s not really a stage for this,” he explains. “I mean, technically, we’ll assign it a stage, but this is … uh, past all the stages.”
F. My mood begins to turn.
“Well, what are the odds?” I want him to say it. Go on, tell me. I want to hear the words.
“The odds?” He pauses. “We don’t really have any odds for something like this.”
He’s not giving me what I want. I want a percentage. I stare at him defiantly, daring him to tell me zero. I wanna hear a f***ing zero. At the same time, I’m desperate. Could he just say 25%? 10%? Hell, I would love to hear 5% … that’s 1 out of 20. I would take those odds. Just gimme something … but he’s not saying any odds.
“The good part of it,” he says, circumventing the question, “Is that nobody would expect you to be here, now. You’ve already beaten all the odds. You’re beating the odds right now by having this conversation.”
I intently hear his words, maintaining eye contact as I wipe thick, oddly sweet-tasting, bloody, gray-yellow lung mucus from my mouth with a tissue. There are boxes of tissues in my room, which I assume are supplied for this purpose.
Observing my determined demeanor, the doctor decides to explain further.
“Here’s what’s happening right now,” he continues. “You have a tremendous amount of cancer, but somehow you’re alive; let’s just work with that. The most imminent threat is the cancer mass in your lungs. Those tumors are growing and multiplying. If they grow and multiply very much more, then you won’t be able to breathe at all. At the same time, we are infusing you with some very powerful chemotherapy. It will take some time for the chemo to begin working, but when it does, it will definitely break down some of those tumors and you will be able to breathe. And while we are waiting for the chemo to start working, the tumors are still growing.”
I get it. “It’s like a max/min curve?”
“Right, exactly. We can’t say what will happen long-term or even in the short term, but we do know that the cancer will be reduced by this treatment. Right now the cancer is increasing; soon the chemo will cause it to slow, and then decrease. We could graph it like you said, yes. The only question is does that maximum point …” he trails off.
“... Happen before or after I die.” I finish his sentence, matter-of-factly. He nods.
“So it’s a race.” I say. “Between the chemo and the cancer.”
“Yes, you can think of it that way.”
I like the idea of a race. But I don’t like being a spectator when I’m the one who will end up winning or losing.
“What can I do?”
“You’re doing it. You’re here. You’re breathing, your heart is beating, you’re fighting.”
Eh. It feels kind of passive. I mean, I’m completely relaxed while there’s a race to determine my life or death? I don’t get to do anything?
“Ok,” I say, a bit reluctantly. The doctor looks at me sagely, like he knows I’ll have my chance. If I’m looking for an active role in the fight, I’m about to get one. If I make it that far.
“We have never seen a human being with this much cancer who is alive,” the doctor states. The way he says it, I understand that by “we” he’s referring to the entire history of documented cases within the global medical establishment.
“But, you have an unusually strong will to live. Hold on to that.” He exits.
Several minutes later, a doctor, a nurse, and a technician arrive with an oxygen tank. They explain that one of the many sensors hooked up to me is monitoring my blood O2, which is dropping too low, so this will help me until I start feeling better. Their words are positive and friendly. They set it up and show me how to wear the O2 hose around my head and up to my nostrils.
This gives me a bit more energy, which really comes in handy as everyone is starting to show up.
Well, not everyone, but those who do show up arrive in ones and twos. I greet them from my bed, calmly oozing bloody grayish yellowish lung mucus from my mouth and continually wiping with tissues. There’s a wastebasket by my bed and I keep filling it.
I gotta admit to myself, I feel kind of dumb saying final goodbyes. I’ve already decided that I will be the foot and not the ass in this equation. So it seems sort of foolish to be saying my last words of endearment to family and friends, like some unnecessary melodrama. But I figure: well, just in case. It would be annoying to be wrong about this and to have missed the opportunity to say goodbye.
Those who don’t show up … wow. No show, no contact, no response. I have heard of deathbed abandonment, and here it is. Huh.
I find it … refreshing and freeing. Now I know that those connections were actually worth zero. OK, great! Without bitterness, I simply feel relieved to know. I wish I knew earlier, but now I know. Because when I walk out of here, I won’t need to spend one second on anything that isn’t real.
Not if, when I walk out of here. I have decided. I will kill this cancer.
But deciding is one thing. I could decide to run 800 meters in 1:36. Doing it is another. I guess we'll find out.
It’s 3pm. Today’s multiple bags of toxic chemicals have drained into me. The nurse removes the last empty bag for the day. She checks a monitor, looking concerned. She pressed a button; two more staff enter.
They turn up my oxygen to the next level. Hmm. Seems like so far, the cancer is ahead in the race.
Will the chemo catch up? This is almost irritating -- I’m just here, doing nothing, while it's the cancer vs chemo race -- but I've never been so relaxed and comfortable, almost floating. Everything is fine. I'm waiting.
It’s 8pm. They turn up my oxygen, again. Not good, but I'm fine. I sleep, deeply and comfortably.
It’s the middle of the night. They awaken me for a quick check. My O2 levels are low. They turn up my oxygen.
This should be worrisome, and it is, kind of. I feel peaceful.