Monday, July 30, 2018

Cancer: A Slight Hiccup


Cathy started chemo last week, and it was as weird and off-putting and uncomfortable as everyone said it would be. It would appear that the number one concern for our clutch of Doctors and Nurses is the fear that Cathy might become nauseous.

We grew up with stories of people undergoing chemotherapy and throwing up and being sick all the time. It was part of the drill that came with fighting cancer. But apparently in the last decade or so a side industry has emerged to attempt to pharmacologically deal with every symptom you might experience while in the midst of chemotherapy.

They gave her four medicines and a regimen for dealing with chemo: one pill in the morning, two at night. In between, if she has any nausea for any reason—if she even thinks about throwing up—here’s a third pill to take. It will give you a headache, sure, but it beats throwing up. Only, if the headache persists, let them know. They have a pill for that. Okay, so, after taking the third pill, it should kick in within fifteen minutes and be good for six hours. After that, if the nausea comes back, you can take it again, but if it ever doesn’t work---if you take it and still want to throw up, then there is a fourth pill you can take. It’ll make you sleepy, but it’ll work for 8 hours. If THAT pill doesn’t work, call them. They have a fifth pill they can give her.

Any other symptoms? Let them know. They have a pill for that. I think if I called the Nurse and said, “Cathy’s head just fell off, and is rolling around on the floor like a spaghetti squash,” the Nurse would say to me, “Okay, that’s a really rare side effect, but we do have a pill for that. I’ll write you a prescription.”

So far, we’ve only had to enact the DefCon 4 Protocol as a precaution; it's shaking, but holding. Cathy’s taking enough pills to make Elvis jealous, but she has not thrown up. I was a little worried when she started hiccupping, though.

Okay, worried is the wrong word. I think I was more delighted. Overjoyed. See, Cathy hiccups in a sequence of three. The first hiccup is a normal “whiccu” sound, like anyone would make. It’s almost a burp, but it’s more musical. You know what I mean.

The second in the sequence is the silent speed bump, always in the middle of whatever sentence Cathy’s desperately trying to get out before the next hiccup happens. She sounds exactly like Foster Brooks. I try so hard not to laugh, but it takes me right back to every single Foster Brooks moment stored in my brain. This is when she looks at me and plaintively cries, “It’s not funny! I have the hiccups!”

I will start to apologize and that’s when phase three hits: a powerful, full-volume eructation that’s part honk, part yelp. It sounds an awful lot like one of our dog’s squeaker toys when you step on it. This third one always makes the dog look up and cock her head at Cathy, as if to say, “Are you chewing on my toy?” At this point, I have to be helped back into my chair, as I have fallen out of it. Then the cycle starts over again.

It started on Monday night, after the first treatment. When it carried over into Tuesday, my pop culture-addled cranium instantly sprang to one of the funniest things I ever saw on The Simpsons, made funnier by my friends’ ability to leverage it into real-life situations.  My explanation of this joke, weirdly, did not help Cathy to feel any better about herself or her plight. We agreed to disagree.

Eventually, in an unrelated call, Cathy asked the Nurse about her hiccups and was told, “Oh, that’s a side effect. We have a pill for that. I’ll write you a prescription.”

On the one hand, I’m grateful that Cathy’s discomfort has been alleviated. On the other hand, what the hell, Big Pharma? Part of the fun of hiccups is watching people do the Stupid Human Tricks like drinking water with a spoon in their mouth or scaring the shit out of them as they come out of the bathroom. That’s how you deal with hiccups. Not with a pill. You stand on your head and hold your breath and recite the alphabet backwards, as God intended. We have truly become a nation of snowflakes.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Cancer: Platitudes


As much as I am a social creature, I have a love-hate relationship with platitudes. Most people don’t realize that the question “How are you doing today?” isn’t really a question so much as it’s an acknowledgement; i.e. “I see you and recognize your presence. Let us now conduct our transaction.”

George Carlin used to riff on the word “fine” and out people would sort of bleat it out when they say it, suggesting they are anything but. Now, I know Carlin was doing a bit and it was funny, but those platitudes “How are you?” and “Fine, thanks,” are actually a kind of social armor, as well. It’s that verbal handshake that keeps you from really getting an earful: “Oh, let me tell you, my corns are killing me,” or “It’s so hot I’ve got jock itch,” or “my wife has cancer, you bastard, stop smiling at me!”

Monday, July 23, 2018

Cancer: Dark Thoughts

At the hospital, waiting to be called. It was 5:30 AM.
We were both drunk on no-sleep and fear.

I used to think I had a dark sense of humor. But there is nothing in the world like a potentially terminal cancer diagnosis to send you rocketing into the basement of your brain, in the darkness, where you think you’re at your most grim, and then a firepole opens up underneath you and sends you into the earth’s core and you realize you’ve not been all that dark, after all.

It was a month between us being told “We’re pretty sure it’s cancer,” and being told definitively “It’s cancer, ovarian. Stage 3.” I wouldn’t wish that month on anyone else in the world. There may be nothing worse than being told you might have something that will kill you, but before we can tell you that, you gotta go jump through these hoops and make these calls and drive to these appointments, and then, only then, four weeks later, will we let the other shoe drop.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

...In Sickness and in Health...

Us, about four weeks ago, trying not to think
about what was going on. I almost managed.
I apologize for the seemingly distant and impersonal announcement, but I honestly don't know of another way to do this without a freak out or a melt down. Sometimes distance is better. So, here we go.

About four weeks ago, Cathy went to the doctor complaining of abdominal pains. They took some scans and promptly freaked out. They took more scans and then sent them to a specialist in Wichita Falls. To make a long story short, they quickly determined that she had cancer. It was somewhere in the reproductive system and it was big enough to send us to an oncologist. We spent a month imagining the worst, but we finally have a diagnosis: ovarian cancer, stage 3.

This is both good news and bad news. Ovarian cancer is one of the silent killers, in that it's not detected until it's stage 4 and metastasized. Sometimes it's caught at stage 1, and the doctors perform a hysterectomy and that's it. They either literally nip it in the bud, or they tell you to make a bucket list. In our case, we lucked out, in that stage 3 ovarian cancer is treatable, if we hurry. But the treatment will have to be extensive, involving chemotherapy, and then surgery, and then follow up chemotherapy. And here's the best part: even after all of that, there's still a 40-50% chance it will come back.

We are, understandably, in shock. And because the cancer is where it is and is where it's at, the doctors have been moving fast and talking even faster, which is freaking us out even more. We finally got a gyno-oncologist that could calmly give us the info we needed. Not that it helped, not really. We're still looking at each other and wondering what the rest of the year is going to look like. What next year is going to look like. We don't know much of anything right now. It's all day-to-day appointments and stuff to deal with. These last four weeks have been rough. One minute we're laughing at some really dark, black humor and the next minute we're sobbing in each other's arms. It's emotional whiplash.

Backstage at the Backdoor
Theatre, during the run of
Sexy Laundry. We played
a married couple. It was
a stretch.
I'll tell you what it's going to look like. The next three months is going to look like a donnybrook as we knuckle up and gird our respective loins to fight this. And we will fight it, but it means that, among other things, the rest of my life is going to take a backseat to Cathy's--and by extension, my--health. I may be out of pocket, or completely unavailable, for days at a time. I'm going to try to keep the people that want to stay informed as up-to-date on things as possible. I'm also going to want to take a break from cancer and talk about movies and comics and goofy stuff.  This blog is going to get really weird for a while. Fair warning.

I will attempt to mark future entries with a notation in the title, for those of you would like to skip the cancer bulletins, or for those of you who'd like to read them, whichever. I urge you to subscribe if you want to keep up, as I may not be making Facebook posts about what's going on personally. I also completely understand if you want to step away for a while. You do you.

I want to talk about this. I need a place to put my dark and off-kilter thoughts. I can't give that energy to Cathy. She needs love and peace and laughter and good vibrations and all of that stuff. If you're friends with her on Facebook, feel free to send good thoughts and funny cards and messages of encouragement to her.

As for me, I will be okay. I am in a pretty good place, mentally speaking, and I'm ready to support her in whatever she needs. I've been doing some work, getting healthier both mentally and physically. It's still a work in progress, but it is progress and you can see it. Now we're going to put it to the test. Oh, yes we are.

October will be our fifteenth wedding anniversary. You know, when you say those vows, there are a few of them that you mouth out of tradition, not imagining in a million years that one day, that check will come due and you've got to reach for your wallet. With some care, and a little luck, and a lot of drive, we will come out of this stronger. We've got to. She's just got to.