Wednesday, February 17, 2010

5 years from my 10/2

Nike makes a LiveStrong shirt with 10/2 on the front. I'm actually, quite unintentionally, wearing it as I type. That date represents the date in which Mr. Armstrong's life changed forever. The date when he got diagnosed with testicular cancer.

February 17, 2005 in my 10/2.

I remember first reading one of the biographies written on Armstrong. I had always been a fan of him, and even had a US postal service hat when I was 19 way back in 1999. I think that hat blew off my head when I was sea kayaking in Patagonia in December 1999...anyway, back to the subject. When I read the book on Armstrong, I think it was 2006, almost a year after my diagnosis. At that time I had, moved from Boulder back to St Louis, underwent 2 total neck dissections with something like 70 lymph nodes and my thyroid plucked from my neck, and had 4 radioactive iodine treatments. When I read that Mr Armstrong had his last treatment in December of the same year as his diagnosis, I laughed and declared (in complete sarcasm and in jest) that "Lance is a wuss".

Now it is 5 years later and I have my health but have still never been in remission. We could talk all day about the importance of health and that 'remission' doesn't actually mean much...but then I'd just keep coming back with the cold, hard truth that there's a metastasis in my vertebrae. Not having ever been 'in remission", I've never had the feeling that I 'beat cancer'. However, for that matter, I've also never really felt like I was 'fighting' cancer. Maybe I'm just playing semantics and over-thinking the issue, but my experience has felt as though I'm being watched or stalked, not in a fight. Most of the time, I'm able to ignore being watched, other times, it feels as though I'm alone in one of those police interrogation rooms knowing that behind the tinted glass, are eerie sets of eyes (my cancer even has histological nuclear features of 'orphan annie nuclei' under the scope! that was a joke). What a mental game this experience has been. The only time I've ever felt sick has been when I've underwent treatment. Otherwise, I feel fine.

This Friday, after exactly 1 month from initially learning about the vertebral met, I'll find out my doctors' plan. I imagine that it will involve either a different (and much more serious) kind of radiation treatment or surgery (which would suck, because they'd be cutting out a piece of my vertebrae). Until then, at least the Olympics are on!

Bicycle-wise, I'm having to take some time off the bike. There's a couple of reasons, the most immediate of which, is a nagging bit of pain in my right knee that I want to nip in the butt before the weather gets nice. In the meantime, I'm dreaming of warm places and mountains (I just registered this morning for the Firecracker 50!!!!).


Magda said...

You've come a long way in the past 5 years. And there's a long road ahead...keep that chin up. :)

Casey Ryback said...

Magzorz is correct - there is a long road ahead, but given that, I might think that you are in a fairly decent place to handle it. You seem to have a good support system around you consisting of people whom would be more than willing to let you lean on them when needed. It feels good to be needed. It feels even better to compete in a race held in the fucking mountains. The Firecracker 50 doesn't even know what is about to drop on them.

Broen said...

August 17, 1998 is my 10/2.

My experience is different from yours in many ways. At the heart of it all, they're both cancer treatments - it's a lifetime involvement. Lifetime commitment. Though, different from you, I had a finite amount of time from start to finish. They felt my neck, they ran a gallium scan, they made a body mould, they laid me down on a gamma ray machine. Zap! 6 Months later, I was done. They showed me my final scans, nodes couldn't be found anywhere. In that sense, I got the feeling that "I beat cancer." It was short lasting.

Don't get me wrong - I got sick during treatment. Really sick, really really sick. But then one day they said "you don't have to come in tomorrow for the gamma rays." We threw a party for those involved in my treatment. I ate a few bites of salad at the celebratory dinner. I couldn't swallow much with the condition my oesophagus was in. A sunburn, so to speak, on the inside of my throat. Nasty. I narrowly avoided a feeding tube, partly due to strong will. Celebration. All done! A little healing time and my emaciation won't be noticed at the mall. No. About 2 days later I got PCP pneumonia. For those not as familiar with diseases as Dan, PCP pneumonia is one of the really nasty ones. Check out Wikipedia. We're talking moms crying all over again, IV's when you thought you were finished. That sort of thing. Seems like cancer, even when you think it's finished, brings with it a load of its friends - all nasty and threatening. There's always that sneaking feeling that you didn't beat anything. That feeling is made scarier, perhaps, by the fact that you already know and have endured the process for treatment. Go through it again? Sometimes you think it's not so crazy to point a hang-glider at a volcano, romantic and deadly, and leave shadows on the sand as you fly over the nice notes you wrote to all your family and ex-lovers.

Broen said...

Even when your treatment is for a finite amount of time, and "finished" on paper, there's never a day after your initial, glorious 1-hour reaction, when you wake up and feel that "I beat cancer." Even when they can't find any nodes. Even after you've thrown that party with your doctors. Even when your health is considered strong enough to play collegiate soccer. Sitting on the sidelines with scar tissue. There's that pill of Synthroid swallowed every day to remind you. What's happening with my thyroid today? How much damage did those gamma rays actually do? Is it going to come back? It can come back. I have a higher risk than others. It's just hiding and biding its time. When was the last time I saw my doctor? Thinking these thoughts every day. Imagine running a 5 minute mile. You're more fit than most of the world, faster, an athlete. Still, you could wake up the next day and not leave your bed. Doesn't matter that you're in incredible shape. Nodes acting up. Sick again. Nasty. Unpredictable. Yet, Dan, I see you riding bikes on hills that I can't climb with a harness. I see you smiling for the camera. I see your body looking strong. You have found a way to not let this impact your life. That's hard to do mate. An impressive feat.

Maybe you can beat this for good. For now, you can sure as hell push it off the hill for a while. What's "beat it" mean? A long, long time? Imagine not having your blood drawn again till you're 97 years old. Could happen. Remember worm wars? It's our job to make sure that cancer doesn't pin us down again. Sounds dumb, doesn't it? Most important job of our lives. You can't see it, but you know it's out there somewhere. Fight and fight and you'll feel it and pin it. We may actually have learned a lot from our early adolescence. I learned, at least, that even though it sucks, it always helps to put your feet on the floor and get moving the next morning. You're always winning that way.

You can always call me if you're feeling down. Get Skype, calls to the UK aren't bad.

For the entire duration of my treatment, which has been infinitesimally shorter than yours, I never felt like I was fighting cancer either. Fighting happens with a sword, right? Bruce Lee belting screams, black belts. Or fists. Or nasty words between lovers. Whatever the fight is, at the end the credits roll. You stand, you brush the popcorn from your lap, you reflect on the feeling that the moving pictures gave you. Now, in my story there was no fighting. There was listening. Acceptance. Next steps. I'm not a doctor. I couldn't make out what the doctors were talking about when they showed me the scans. I didn't see the biopsy. I just heard about it on the phone, or in room 203. Room xyz. I couldn't pay attention. I woke up next to nurses reading magazines. Slowly stuttered "my chest", got the morphine, and sank back into the bed. I never "saw" cancer. I couldn't picture it in my body. I just knew that I had to visit the hospital every day at the same time and get a zap of another something I could not see, but which made me nauseous. This was the routine - and I didn't question it. Wake up, sit up, hospital, throw up. Done. Next day. That's not fighting - that's falling in line. Military kids do it all the time, and sometimes they have hot nasty rotating metal flying at them, who am I to complain? To break from routine, I tried to drink the free hot chocolate in the waiting room. Usually my throat didn't let me. I let the Styrofoam cup warm my hands as I talked to Muriel, the 86-year-old woman sitting there ready to remove shirt and have breasts zapped. Everyone in the radiology department was old. What, exactly, was up with me?

Broen said...

Dan, I'm impressed with your attitude. I'm impressed with your life. You found a way to bury these everyday thoughts. You went and got married! You had a child. You (present tense) read medical journals and understand words I probably cannot even pronounce. You still ride your bike down practically impassable hills. It's incredible to be into a hobby as much as you are with yours - and I know it's not the only one you have. I see people shouting at you in your photographs, encouragement, hazing, either. A good group of people, and you looking happy. If even for a moment. It does a childhood friend's heart good to see that.

Even though we don't talk much, and the last time we saw one another we were doing handstands on Conor's couch in downtown Denver, I think about you quite a lot. Not as much as, say, a stalker ex-girlfriend. Not as much as, say, a grandfather wondering what his grandchildren are up to. But, more than the average kid who shared chemistry classes with you. The average kid who shared a disease with you, for a little while. The average kid who played a backup Stratocaster for your shirtless Red Hot Chili Peppers renditions. The average kid who hopes you're hanging in there. The average kid who knows you're going to do it.

Take care of yourself brother. And, keep it up.