Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mother Nature Mothers

Super Tuesday eve lit up with tomentous storms - clouds of every shade of gray, every tempting depth passing each other like freeway traffic forming fat genies to slip down to earth and destroy. Weather wreaks havoc and claim more deaths than some diseases. No wonder weathermen are making money on Mother Nature with their bright red, yellow, green, pinks and white lightening boards. These aren't her subtle colors. Heated air, turbulent and nasty in mid winter, out of sync with nature, where does it come from? When icy air tries to reclaim its bed, then wars of the heavens begin and Thor and thunder and black tornados and line winds and torrential rains get our attention and breaks lives off in white twigs. But the muddy Mississippi begins to spill over its borders to enrich the bogs of Arkansas and Tennessee. And spirits spin out of control.

It’s odd how something can enter your body and in a snap completely rearrange your life, scratch off your goals, make flour of your routine. I guess being shot or having an injurious car wreck would be similar. Cancer is like a small terrorist entering your body and trying to blow it up on every corner. This is happening to me. A winter of my discontent.

Monday was my re-assessment with my surgeon. I was waiting half hour before the door opened, as usual. An African American lady with a cane was waiting too so we talked about our children and showing up, getting there, getting normal as well. My gentle surgeon laid it out on the Gurney, showed me pictures, explained how the breast works and why there was more to come. (You’d think we’d know this, but unless you have this kind of experience, you are a piker.) He would have to re-enter the breast to clean out pre-cancerous cells collected in the ducts where the tumor once hibernated. These cells need to be removed prior to radiology. Ok. Let’s do that. It’s a kind of cleaning up of what wasn’t removed in the first place because the tumor had to be tested before these things show up. He’s go through the same cut used the first time.
Then there was good news, hopefully.

Dr. Patterson explained I was a candidate for a different type of radiation therapy that cannot be offered in all situations. Depends on the location of the cancer cavity and the size of the breast. It’s called Mammo-Site-5. It involves the injection of a small balloon (inflatable) in the cavity where the cancer and its friends had been partying, and over a period of five days, twice a day (six hours a part), radiation beads or seeds or particles are inserted into the balloon for about five minutes at a time. (that is determined by how long the radioactive materials have been stored - the newer takes less time than those that are a bit older. I guess it’s like milk and barbecue ribs and other perishables. Read the expiration date.). These radiate out and kill all the cancers in that zone. The more common radiation therapy which takes six weeks of five days a week treatments covers most of the breast and can do damage to other organs in some cases. The Mammo-Site 5 is an alternative for busy women with fires to burn, I guess. I thank God for making me a contender. But the final word comes from the radiologist.

Actually I was living on pins and needles for 24 hours waiting to meet the radiologists, who is Korean, and to see if he would agree that I could try this method. It sounded like my kinda challenge, and the best part is it takes, to be serious, about 10 days (some of that is waiting period) and then it’s over. Only five days of going to the radiation center twice a day. I can do anything for a week. And then I’d be free to get back in shape and prepare for my trip to Nepal-Tibet. Whoopie. I had to want this terribly, imagine it, release it and let the energy move out to do the work to let it happen. Sigh.

Well, I’m going for the MammoSite-5. It was weird yesterday, waiting, storms whipping up a licorice meringue outside the picture windows of the radiology waiting room. I had to wait and wait and fill out more papers and sign documents that it would have taken me days to read. I just have to trust the system. I was twitchy - the frapaccino I had just purchased. No one in their right mind drinks coffee in the afternoon. Everyone was pleasant, casual, not at all premonitionary. People, many crippled and in pain, came in and out of the room, sat in furniture upholstered in brown maroon and gold stripes, squigglies, checked and patterns. Ugh. In the inner sanctum the nurse gave me the n’th degree interrogation: like did I have the chicken pox? (Who remembers that? Or wants to dwell on illnesses?) And do I sleep well (No, never have and especially now I had to stop the hormones. Grr. Now I’ll be concerned that I’m not sleeping well when it had become something I put up with.) She also asked if I had any thoughts of harming my self or suicide? What? I think I was shocked at that questions. Did I sound suicidal? My Gosh. I’ve been so positive about this whole experience and being able to share it through the blog and through emails with others, why would I want to do myself harm? I believe in God, in my doctors, and in myself. I’m actually enjoying my own energy and umph. I feel useful, and that’s all I asked for. Maybe if I had suicidal thoughts I’d be a better poet. I think about death a lot but because its something to consider, handle, and write about. Not because I want to rush it nor try to outrun it.

Finally I met Dr. Lee. He is Korean. (I thought it deja vu, a sign that my late brother was named Lee, and so was my father, my grandfather, etc. A family name.) For a moment I felt I was being out-sourced, like calling Bell South or Western Union. But he was a serious man with serious intentions and for seven years he’s been the chief radiologist at this major hospital. I knew I was in good hands, if only because my surgeon named him for me. Dr. Lee had to tell me all the bad things that could happen, although he had never had them happen to his patients. They are in the literature, he apologized, and he has to tell me about them - like if the balloon is too near the ribs, I could get a broken rib somewhere down the road (I guess it would weaken the rib) or if it was too close to my lungs, I could get a strange kind of pneumonia. I said I had the pneumonic vaccination, but that doesn’t cover this. But these are rare and strange occurrences.

He also explained that when the balloon is inserted on the Friday following my surgery on a Tuesday, there would be an MRI. And this would make the decision, the final answer, if he could continue with the treatment. He says very few of his patients who have been candidates for this radical radiation have been denied it. So I’m thinking positive, tossing out that desired energy into the pool around this situation. I have big boobs, after all, with lots of room. That must count for something, no? If I’m not operable, then all the balloons come out and I start the more common six weeks of radiation on the following Monday. Horrors. That can warp a spirit and a body.

Then the nurse arrived with a box of booklets and a demo of the balloon and how it deflates and inflates and depending on how deep it is placed, where they would cut it off, and then tap it off for the time in between treatments. The radiation particles are sent in and out of the balloon by a guide and supposedly sits in the balloon (which won’t break, I’m promised) about five minutes. Each treatment is preceded by an Xray to see where everything is. Only the radiologist and his staff of assistants will do the work. I will have to live with this balloon about 11 days since the radiologist must go out of town on what would be the fifth and final day of treatment. So I live with it three days over the weekend (the tennis tournament starts that weekend), and Monday the 25th will be the final day. Finally, a shower. (I’ll have to use the bath tub in the guest bathroom down on the first floor. Odd.) The radiologist will pop the balloon out of my boob and I’ll be done. Hallelujah. That’s an anticipatory Hallelujah.

I don’t think my surgeon would put me through all this misery of balloon inserting if he wasn’t sure I’d work. The radiologist pointed out that the surgeon sees with his eyes and guestimates, so to speak. The MRI is exact and reveals truth. Oh well, I’m sure everyone has to be covered just in case. I left exhausted to face a night of tornados and water innundation.

Artwork by the late Ted Faires, an old friend and teacher.

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