Friday, November 12, 2010

As Rosanna Rosanna Danna used to say . . .

It's Always Something.

You go in to get an MRI for pain in your lower back, worrying it’s something more serious than arthritis – another disc problem, a fractured vertebrae - and you find out there’s something else, something possibly even more serious than you ever imagined.

“Enlarged lymph nodes in the retroperitoneal area.” That’s what my doctor told me over the phone last night. I shouldn’t worry that this has anything to do with my previous stage one breast cancer. But I need a CT scan, a scan, which in her words “carries a significant amount of radiation.”

My doctor, Dr. S., is very conservative. She hesitates to order tests unless she is absolutely sure they are necessary. I’ve had this lower back pain for almost two years. With my original complaint she smiled and told me this is a product of aging, recommended I take ibuprofen when necessary and sent me to a physical therapist.

Then the disc in the upper thoracic neck area ruptured and I spent a couple of months on morphine and medical marijuana, masking any pain in my lower back as a bonus. Now I am blessedly free of pain from the ruptured disc, and off all the heavy-duty medications. But right on cue, the lower back pain has returned.

At my yearly check up a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned I still have significant lower back pain so my doctor scheduled an MRI to see what’s going on. The result came back – severe arthritis. This wasn’t news as the x-ray I had last year picked that up.

But then, the shocker: Enlarged lymph nodes in the retroperitoneal area. I go in for the CT scan this Sunday.

Rosanna was never more right.

I wrote this over two months ago,  I was thinking about posting it and then just became overwhelmed by what was happening to me or rather by the medical conveyer belt onto which I found myself inextricably thrown.

In the past two months there have been visits to Dr. K., the oncologist, extensive blood work, a lymph node biopsy and in between, blessedly, a trip to Europe, which had been planned for over a year to visit friends and family celebrating my brother-in-law’s 60th birthday.  For those two weeks I was able to move fear out of my mind and focus on the moments of beauty in Vienna, the joyful reconnections in Berlin and in the back of my mind, hold onto the hope that these large lymph nodes were just remnants of a past infection from my days living in Africa.

Or . . .? 

But hopes and wishes rarely make correct diagnoses. This week I learned I have small lymphocytic leukemia and/or chronic lymphocytic lymphoma. The gist is I have lymphoma, cancer of the lymph system. That’s the bad news.

The good news is the pathologist used the word “indolent” – lazy, in no big hurry to do away with me just yet. And for now the only real symptoms I’m experiencing are being unusually tired (who my age isn’t?) and a whole new surge of what I’m calling ‘hot flashes’ – which may or may not be attributed to the node business. But I am, after all, years beyond those hormonal flashes, which we ladies of a certain age all endured to one degree or another. Whatever is causing them, they’re back.

Today I go in for my second CT scan, which will be used to stage my particular cancer. In December, Dr. K. will do a bone marrow biopsy to finish the staging.

In the meantime, I am working on platters in the studio.

Getting the wedged clay ready to roll into slabs.

Slab put on my makeshift 'mold'.

Platter with coiled handles drying into leather hard.

This is, after all, supposed to be about my life as an artist, not just my life as a patient.

But then, life has a way of drifting out of the lane just when you're sure you're driving straight ahead. No matter how firm a grip I thought I had on the steering wheel, this journey has just taken an unexpected turn.

And so the blog morphs into “my life as an artist who is, a once again, a cancer patient.”

Never more true, Rosanna. It's always something.

1 comment:

Ed Fisher said...

Well, you're right---I'm not big on the internet; but for you I took some time to look over this part of your blog. Now, I'm waiting for you to quote Rosanna...etc again with "Never mind!" I've had similar experiences with our much vaunted health care system & after awhile they just make you feel like a combination ATM / Cash Cow to help them meet payroll.Have you explored Cancer Treatment Centers of America? They advertise alot on TV & make some pretty impressive claims for the quality of care they promise. Sounds more compassionate than playing potluck with a bunch of uncoordinated tinkering! I can't decide if some of the pieces you displayed on this page are more like ancient vases discovered at an anthropological dig-site, or cracked eggshells left behind by some marvelous new birth! Anyway, Bobbi, as Humphrey said to Ingrid in that foggy airstrip in Casablanca, "Here's looking at you kid!" ---your old friend, Ed...