Tag Archives: Lymph nodes

Living with Cancer

The diagnosis that transformed my life came five years ago today.

I was vacationing, driving east on I-10, toward Tucson, when my cell phone broke the monotony of interstate pavement. It was the urologist who had done my prostate biopsy; we had played phone tag for several days, the apparent lack of urgency giving me a confident calm. I took an exit ramp, pulled to a stop and, old newspaper reporter that I am, began taking notes.

“There’s a little bit of cancer,” he said. 

Those words came back to me today, fully 10 years after I first posted them. This time, I was marking 15 years, not five, of living with cancer — they had, after all, unexpectedly found cancer hiding in my lymph nodes at surgery. Thus, 15 years of treatments, 15 years of periodic check-ups, and, inevitably, 15 years of fearing what those check-ups might reveal. Good news? Bad news? A mere muddle? In my 15 years, I’ve heard them all.

I know ‘scanxiety’ well, that feeling cum fear that your life can abruptly be challenged by one scan, one blood draw, at one appointment, on one day. That all your effort, all your diligence, all your sacrifices will be for…naught. Will it be today? It’s real, scanxiety is, and too many non-cancerians don’t fully appreciate that. It’s like chemo-brain: No one ‘gets’ it until they’ve got it.

But…

But there’s really no alternative, is there? 

There’s no real choice with cancer, when you’re living with cancer. Check-up scanxiety? Just one more of life’s impositions: Like growing old, it beats the alternative. 

So another toast: Here’s to 15 more!

Waking NED, Divine!

My quarterly PSA tests have always exerted a gravitational pull on me well beyond their intrinsic strength. That’s because they tell me how well I’m doing in fending off my Stage 4 prostate cancer. Call them my report cards. And yesterday’s test had no more, no less gravity than any of the 22 other PSA tests I’ve had since surgery.

But the results, so patently unexpected, took me with such surprise that my reaction sounded, even to me at the time, more like a shrill complaint than an outburst of innocent incredulity. “What?” I said. “Can that be right?”

Indeed it was. My PSA was “undetectable.” And that’s good.

PSA is a biochemical indicator of prostate cancer, so whatever PSA there might be in me, it’s an amount so scant, so negligible that it just doesn’t show up in the test (my lab can detect only 0.03 ng/ml or more of PSA). And this “undetectable” was down from July’s reading of 0.03, which was itself down from April’s 0.04. And the lower the number, the better.

So what to make of it?

As we say in the cancer community, I am — at least for now — NED, no evidence of disease. You can poke me, you can scan me, and you’ll find not a farthing of evidence of prostate cancer.

We hurriedly improvised at dinner: cheap champagne that was on hand in the fridge.

True enough, I’ve been down this “undetectable” path before, only to see my PSA return and signify cancer’s recurrence. So while we toasted this one test result, I’m taking no victory lap, flying no checkered flag; the race is not yet run. At surgery in 2007, remember, pathology found cancer in two of my pelvic lymph nodes; my cancer metastasized long ago, and it’s virtually certain that some cancer still remains somewhere within me.

Or as my oncologist once told me: “We’re not trying to cure your cancer; we’re trying to manage it.”

“Undetectable,” though, is as good as “managing it” can get, and I’ll take it — gladly — even though I can’t say how, exactly, it might speak to the longer term. The only thing certain is that we’ll test again in January.

And as any cancerian can tell you, the most important test is always your next one.

Freakin’ Radiation Conundrum

With the early return of my prostate cancer, my oncologist has raised the option of rad treatment to the pelvis — even though there’s *no certainty* that all of my cancer resides there. That’s thanks to the freakin’ tumors the pathologist found in two lymph nodes snipped out at surgery. I mean, once it’s in your lymph glands, where else has it gone? My armpit? My leg? What I’m grappling with now are unknowable trade-offs: How much good stuff happens? How much risk of nasty side effects? I don’t know squat yet — will see a rad oncologist April 4. Stay tuned.

But should I proceed, radiation would be my third cancer therapy in four years — yikes! — and it would also be the most visible to others and the most disruptive to daily life. It finally became time to talk about my cancer more publicly. Ergo, a blog, My First Cancer.