Archive | September, 2011

Gross Anatomy

26 Sep

I’m sitting in lecture.  Right now.  Don’t worry, I don’t really need to pay attention, I sat through this lecture one year ago.  Last night I was back in the gross anatomy lab for the first time in a year, watching the sun set over the lake.

This day, the 26th, one year ago, I had a CT scan.  I was in Connecticut, visiting for the weekend.  It was a Sunday.  I was hungover.  I had an appointment at like 7:30 AM and was drinking that godawful barium sulfate suspension on an empty stomach.  An empty, hungover stomach.   I was mildly wondering if my scan would look different because I was so hungover.  Would my liver look somehow distressed?  Maybe they would teach me this kind of useful thing in med school.  I had about 36 hours of my life as I knew it left.  The night before I’d lain on Chris’s living room floor and, laughing, made my friend, Erika, poke the lump in my lower abdomen that was the reason I was having a CT scan.  The lump was almost certainly a cyst and at worst a nuisance.  We drank wine and smoked cigarettes on the porch.

The friendly X-ray techs chatted with me about medical school while starting my IV and injecting me with iodine.  They joked with me about being friendly to radiologists when I was a doctor, how much easier it would make my life.  The whole process took maybe 15 minutes all told?  I still wonder what those friendly techs saw when they were in that little room behind the glass.  Did they see the grapefruit sized mass looming just to the right of my uterus?  Did they see bright lymph nodes and an ambiguous flash on my liver?  Were the looks they gave me as I got up off the table and got dressed again, the kind of looks you give a 24 year old you think has a death sentence?  I’ll never know, but there’s a good chance those smiling techs watched me walk out of their office that day and thought to themselves, “Holy shit.  That kid has cancer.  I’m glad it’s not my job to tell her.”

Tomorrow, the 27th, is the one year anniversary of  the phone call I got at the UVM bus stop.

The 28th I met Dr. Great.

The 30th I had surgery.  My scar is a year old.

I woke up this morning at 5:45 and couldn’t get back to sleep.  I’m so excited.  I’m so nervous.  I’m so grateful.


The Funny Thing About Cancer

7 Sep

There isn’t only one funny thing about cancer, but the one that’s on my mind lately is how terrifyingly little we know.  Let me explain.

First of all, I’m back at UVM.  And I literally, could not be happier to be back.  This is where I belong.  I’m sure of it.  I love my new apartment.  I love Burlington.  I ride my bike everywhere all the time.  The welcome back I’ve received from both students and faculty alike has overwhelmed me. These are good people here. People that care.  They cared when I left.  They cared while I was gone by sending me gift packages and cards and emails and notes that lifted me up when I felt so sick.  They care now that I’m back.  I basically find myself jumping into the arms of every former classmate I see. It’s thrilling to see their wonderful faces.  And my new classmates?  Marvelous. Everything about being back here reaffirms my conviction that this is the right school, the right place for me. This reopening of a new chapter in my life is also colored by the fact that I’m now a single gal.  Yep.  Don’t kill me for holding out on you, bloggy friends, but Chris and I split back in May. It wouldn’t be fair to blab about it here, but know that I’m doing great and truly enjoying my independence and moving forward with my life.  It makes coming back to school feel just that much more cathartic.

I have new doctors too. I am both medical student and patient here.  It’s an easy commute.  I walk through the lovely light filled tunnel that hugs our medical library, past the coffee cart and into the hospital.  The infusion center I visit once every 3 weeks is right there, I don’t have to take an elevator or anything.  It’s a lovely center with big windows facing a hidden garden. I like my new doctors a lot.  I do miss my original people…especially my irreplaceable, one of a kind chemo nurse…but I’m pressing on.

Ah, but to tell you the funny thing about cancer.  Let me start with this photo.

i particularly like the toe marks

That is a picture of my shoe.  Well, it was my shoe before I took a major cycling digger in Portland, OR.  It could have been way worse…I almost rode in flip-flops.  Also I wasn’t mushed by a car and I didn’t take out any fellow riders.  That said, I skinned the hell outta my knee and sprained my foot something awful.  I’m fine (Mom…I really am) and I had an amazing time in Portland with my long lost West coast loves.  But.  I could have gotten hurt.  Cyclists snap collarbones all the time.  I could have broken my foot.  I could have gotten slightly to a lot run over by a vehicle. I could have hit my head.  And.  I’m still taking Avastin.  Hence my thrice weekly trips to the infusion center.  Avastin.  Not so bad when I compare it to Carboplatin or Taxol.  I’ve had virtually no side effects in my day to day life.  But, Avastin makes you bleed.  And it’s the kind of bleeding they can’t just reverse or fix up with medication like they can if someone was taking heparin or something. If I started to bleed, a lot, it’d be a situation.  I wear a bracelet everywhere now detailing my medical history and current medications, so that’s good.  But my doctors made it clear to me that if I got seriously hurt, it could be bad.

Now, clearly I’m taking Avastin because people believe it will punch my cancer in the face.  It will really fuck cancer’s Christmas up and prevent it from coming back to the New Year’s party.  That’s what the study I’m in hopes anyhow.  So that seemed to make it an easy decision – of course! Give me the Avastin! Kill the cancer!  But.  I have a new doctor.  And here’s where we get to the funny
thing…sorry for circling like an airliner around JFK…my new doctor thinks my cancer ain’t so bad.  In fact, after reviewing the CT scans and pathology report and whatnot, some people decided I don’t even really belong in the study I’m in. They’re letting me continue because that only seems fair, but basically they think I’ve been overtreated and continue to be.  It might be better if I stopped the Avastin.  It might not be doing anything other than putting me at an increased risk for bleeding.

So do I stay on Avastin?  I’ll only be on it until December, but I’m not going to stop riding my bike or driving my car or skiing.  I’m
careful.  But shit happens.  Plus, even my most minor scrapes heal strangely and I bruise very easily.  I’m not exactly a delicate lady so for these past few months my scrappy side has really been showing as I always have fresh and fading bruises and scrapes thanks to Avastin.  Is it worth the risk?

So, this is a new cancer reality.  This grey area.  I’m pretty comfortable with uncertainty.  I think it’s an honest state to be in.  I believe most people are really muddling through this life the best they can.  I think this is especially true with medicine, more so than any of us like to believe.  Even with cancer.  Especially, perhaps, with cancer.  I think most people hear cancerDEATH! There. I couldn’t even squeeze in more words. It’s just cancerDEATH!  Sometimes all you get is canDEATH!  But it’s tricky.  It’s complicated.  My cancer was tricky.  We took out my ovaries, my uterus, my cervix and a softball sized tumor that was cramping everyone’s style.  But what really was it?  My new doctor put it this way.  In a med school way.  My classes are pass/fail.  If I get a 70% say, on a test, I pass.  At the same time, if I get a 100% on a test, I also pass.  A 70 is not the same as a 100, but both pass.  My cancer was the 70 of cancer.  It’s still cancer…but it’s not the same as getting 100%.  I suppose overall this is good news, but I’m not taking much comfort in that.  The same pathologist can look at the same tissue in the morning and in the evening and see two different things.  So which side of caution do I err on?  If I was overtreated can I expect side effects further down the line?  If I choose now to give up on Avastin – will my cancer come back because it is actually worse than my new doctor thinks?

Muddling through yet again,



*****SIDE NOTE*****  If you’re poking through old posts, that is awesome but I’m hearing that for some reason for some people the photos in my older posts aren’t working…apprently it’s just a bunch of the same (the first) photo in each post.  Sorry about that.  It’s not supposed to look that way.  Hopefully it will just fix itself because I don’t know how to fix that.  That is all.

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