Saturday, March 6, 2010

What the Well-Dressed Cancer Patient is Wearing

It began like any other crummy day. Three appointments at City of Hope, no food, a liter of contrast coursing through what's left of my GI tract, and a long-ass drive. I was late leaving and needed gas, more fool me. Roaring up the 605, I realized something inconvenient was going on with my ostomy and the chalky nectar of discernment I'd been forced to chug since the night before.

I arrived CofH in a fix. The worst had happened. I gimped around to my van's sliding door and clambored in the back. Bathing supplies: Cold tea; Taco Bell napkins.

There were some clothes. But they were MY clothes. My friends know what that means. I selected an off the shoulder black chiffon cocktail dress, sheath style, with a ruffle down the left. I topped it with an orange t-shirt, the only thing I had for a cover-up.  I made a slip out of a lime green undershirt...and why NOT wear clogs with a cocktail dress?

Thus assembled, I jogged to my first appointment, bloodwork. Uneventful, except for a lively chat in a cougar-ish vein with the phlebotomist. He's 30 but he's no dummy.

Now showtime. I strode manfully to the CT building.I waded through a blowsy, waist-high meadow the hospital had paid a lot to install. I deserved and had a hit of pot, worrying only a little about starting a brushfire.  I checked into the CT waiting room, just in time and in fine form.

It all turned to crud as the pot hit my brain, on top of the nerves, on top of the earlier ordeal, on top of the white chalky beveraes, and my empty stomach. I began to worry beyond relief that the day's news would be that I had a terminal recurrence. Sweating and probably Michael Jackson-white, I could hear my heart pounding from somewhere down the corridor.

People barf and leak madly at City of Hope, so dying quietly in your chair is not a big deal. I nonetheless signaled the clerk, Robert, that I was in trouble. My communication began with speech and ended with limp hand signals. Nice ladies took me to the PET-CT area to rest. "These people saved my life," I blurted, in reference to a fateful PET-CT scan, as I was led to a recliner to rest. Warm blankets and a few jarring cell phone rings later, I was led to the CT lab and rode the tube.

I knew that there was someone in the next room trained to look at my liver and essentially know how many more mortgage payments I would be making. I was glad there was giggling and gay chatter from the radiologist's station. They were comparing the current scan to the previous one; if all they wanted to talk about was happy hour at Applebee's, I felt good.

After the scan, I legged it in the Swedish footwear to Dr. Lim's clinic. Naturally, I was sobbing in terror when he walked in a few seconds later. He said in his direct Chinese way, "Why you crying? Already got results?" I came back with, "NO! Do you?," horrified by that "already," of course. He didn't have results of any kind.

The exam commenced. Dr. Lim palpated my liver, nodes, etc. He told me his mother had died that morning. (Again, it's a City of Hope thing.) I said I was very sorry, and added that she had had a good son. No, he said. Good doctor? I suggested. No, he rejoined. Okay doctor?, I tried. No, he countered. So-so doctor, he concluded. He likes to talk about Canada, and I had a new Vancouver Olympics pin in my purse, which I gave to him. It cheered him a little. There were marijuana crumbs all over it, though, and I felt I had to let him know. He said "I don't care," and pocketed the item, in his direct Chinese way. He'd kindly said something similar when I had apologized for an unfortunate stain on my lime green slip, "I don't care about that." I wanted him to divorce his wife and marry me at that point; a man like that is the only kind of man for me.

Then we looked at my scan. I decided to watch Dr. Lim's face rather than the screen. I am a social scientist, not a radiologist. He's impassive, of course, so I quit that right away and looked at the fucking screen. My liver with no unwanted white or black spots. Just my good old liver, as it has appeared since about June of 2008, after the first 6 Taxol/Carbo/Xeloda sessions. My pelvis showed nothing of interest, other than the absence of a rectum and anus. Dr. Lim said he saw showed nothing of obvious concern, and that I should check with my liver surgeon, Joe Kim, M.D.

I was then sent to have my port flushed. A stunning middle-aged woman did that for me. I noticed her Korean accent and ended up sharing photos of the Little Empress, my niece. She's half Korean.

So...does that tell the story?

Thanks to everyone who's here from the rare cancer group. My case is an inspiration...not me. My incredible good fortune.

The photo is of me when I got home. I call it, "What the well-dressed cancer patient is wearing," with gratitude always to PG Wodehouse. I read about that damned cow creamer for the 5th or 6th time on the night I got my first chemo. I see Bill at the foot of my bed, telling me that Dr. Hainsworth got a complete response in 4 out of 12 patients. Bill was impressed that John Hainsworth got a 30% success rate and wanted to try it on me. Later on, in the same chair, I see the nurse Erin in the dark, telling me about her absent breasts and her own prognosis and kid and her pets and ex.

Goddammit. No one else, please no one else.

And thus ends day number 849 of being a professional cancer recipient. The work sucks but the pay is great.


  1. I am so very thankful to read your news . The world is a better place with you in it....


  2. Replies
    1. Thank you. I am still thought to be free of cancerous cells! God bless you :)

  3. Replies
    1. Thank you. I agree, with humility, I HOPE. :)

  4. 上來逛逛,既來之,打聲招呼,留言支持一下囉!祝你一切平安! ..................................................