Q: How did you get your cancer?
A: Please pay attention here. This is not MY cancer. This is HODGKIN’S cancer, remember? HODGKIN’S … not mine. My cancer would be much nicer and involve ice cream and martinis at a much higher level. And it wouldn’t kill you, it would just stop by for a quick visit on the way to the store to pick up that yummy fudge you can heat up in the microwave and drizzle over cookies. No, not MY cancer. I’m just, uh, being forced to watch it for a time being. Sort of like your neighbor asking you to watch his house and water the flowers while he’s gone. You never wanted to agree but then again, you didn’t really have a choice – and the house can kill you. Sort of like that.
But to answer the question – who knows? No one apparently. My doctor shrugs when I ask and makes a pffft sound when I suggest that maybe it has something to do with my father having cancer. There is some research that shows a link between this cancer and persons who test positive for the Epstein Barr virus at one time or another in their life. “Are you familiar with Epstein Barr?” asks my doctor. “Is that that little Jewish place on 43rd?” I ask. And we all get a good chuckle. Oh Cancer Girl, you are soooooo funny!
Q: How did they find it?
A: By “it” I’m assuming you mean My Cancer, right? The short answer is they did a biopsy on a lymph node and it contained Reed-Sternberg cells. Short, but unsatisfactory. The somewhat longer answer is, remember that lump on my ankle? The one I laughed away and said “oh it’s nothing!” well well well … turns out it WAS nothing. However, it was also an indicator of something else and hey howdy, that something else was cancer. The ankle bump (officially erythema nodosum) was the first thing that popped up. Then I noticed an enlarged lymph node just above my collarbone. Eventually, other lymph nodes popped up too and they were different, not like normal nodes that pop up when you have a sore throat or the neighbor's cat scratches you. No, these nodes were hard, calloused, mean. They wore their size 40 jeans really low on their hips and had chains on their wallets. I should have known they were up to no good. Eventually, after much persistence on my part and a visit to the ER, one of the angry nodes was forcibly removed and sent up river to do time. I had hoped the different nodes were just misunderstood ….but it turns out mother was right….where there’s stink, there’s sh*t.
I’m kidding. My mother never said that. (She did say, however, the one who smelt it dealt it – which I’ve found is often true).
Interestingly, during this time I had to have a complete physical with complete blood work. It all came out perfectly clean. Moral of this story? If you feel like something is wrong, it probably is. You are your responsibility. So eat right, sweat once a day and check your lymph nodes. (note to men ... those AREN'T lymph nodes)
Q: What’s the prognosis?
A: Please note the wording of this question. It is the proper way to ask “are you going to die and if so, can I have your Cancer Purse?” I actually have had only one person properly ask this question. Only one person that has looked me in the eyes and said “…and the prognosis?” Everyone else that has asked hasn’t really asked. They’ve hinted. They’ve hemmed. They’ve hawed. I would actually prefer an outright “is it fatal?” or “will you die?” to the hemming and hawing. I would prefer someone say “are you coffin shopping?” to the “soooo, do you expect … um … things to go …well?”
The answer to the question is the prognosis is very very very good. I’m very lucky. This truly will be a small bump in my road only as large as I choose to make it. I posted a while ago about 100 Guns and I still feel that at times. There is always the lingering fear. Like when you wear white pants on the last day of your period. You know what I'm talking about.
Q: Do you lose your pubic hair?
A: First, let me point out that this is another question that is asked, but not directly. It is a question people, women mostly, are dying to ask. But who wants to say the word pubic anyway? You can hardly blame people for wanting to dance around this one. But as they say curiosity killed the .. (ahem) … cat. So people usually end up asking. Or trying to. The conversation most often goes like this:
“Will you lose your hair?”
“All your hair?”
“ALL of it?”
“Like you know, ALL of it?” (quick circular motion around the nether regions)
(Matching the circular motion but more dramatically) “Yeeees!”
And here is the prime moment for someone to say something stupid. Something usually about Brazil. And something usually about how lucky I am. And I counter that by pointing out that I haven’t found any pubic hairs anywhere yet but since I know I’m losing them I may just be tossing them out the bottom of my pants legs when I walk about their living room. That usually shuts them up.
Q: How much chemo will you have?
A: This is an easy one. 6 rounds of ABVD. ABVD is the type (4 types actually) of chemo I take. It is given in rounds. One round is two doses given 14 days apart. There is a 14 day waiting period between rounds. Gosh, I guess this isn’t so easy after all. Basically, 12 treatments given over 6 months. I’ve completed 1 round (or 2 treatments). After 1 more round (2 more treatments) we will redo the PET scan. My doctor expects to see a clean scan at that time. That however does not change how much chemo I will get. Even with a clean scan, I will still have to complete the full 6 rounds. That’s my “just in case” chemo. I’m thinking it’s going to be pretty tough mentally to complete all those treatments after I see a clean scan. The old “out of sight out of mind” thing but then again, it only takes one bad cell to spoil the whole bunch so there’s reason enough to complete my treatment.
Q: How are you doing/feeling?
A: This is a tough one. The answer can change in an instant. I can go from feeling fabulous to ferocious in less time than it takes for you to ask me if I’m doing okay. I have this amazing ability to go from zero to pissed off in under 3.3 seconds. And likewise, I can go from the depths of despair to glory hallelujah with a single scoop of ice cream. This may be why my nurse practitioner keeps suggesting a mild anti-depressant. The weird thing is that I feel obligated to feel good. I feel like if I don’t tell you “I’m doing good!” you’ll be upset. I feel like I have to say something positive. And well, I don’t always feel good. Sometimes I feel downright poopy. But I don’t want to tell you I feel poopy because then you don’t know what to say. And it usually leads to the next question.
Q: Is there anything I can do for you?
A: Yes. You can check you lymph nodes often. You can tell your spouse you love him or her. You can be grateful for the little things. You can make a donation to your charity of choice. You can smile at the bald woman at the mall. . You can count your blessings. You can stop taking everything personally. You can stop worrying about if you have the right dress or the right shoes or the right car. You can listen to someone when they are talking – really listen. You can tell your child it is okay to ask questions to the lady that looks different. You can give someone a second, third or 70th chance. You can hug your kid when she spills chocolate milk on her t-shirt. You can tell your dad thanks …for everything. You can send someone a card the next time they are going through something and just say “I don’t know what to say but saying nothing isn’t an option.” You can tell your mom you are proud of her. You can open the door for someone else. You can remember that we are all connected. You can ask for what you want instead of complaining or pouting. You can stop trying to be who you aren’t. You can say thank you to the waitress, the doorman, the person who holds the elevator. You can give someone else a break. You can worry a little less and start living a little more.
You can do all these things for me. And I’m going to try to do them for myself.
That’s all for now. Other questions? If so, email or comment. I’ll answer. I promise.