Since my chemo ended in Dec. 2013, I’ve seen my oncologist every three months. This is so he can find out through blood tests how my body is recovering and rebuilding from what turned out to be predictably onerous side effects of strong chemotherapy, and whether or not the cancer has returned.
On one visit, I asked the doctor what would happen if the cancer did return. He said changes in my body would tell me sooner than any medical test could, that the cancer was again on the move. Fluid would begin accumulating in my abdomen, and I’d have a growing belly. In that event, he said I should get to his office quickly for a CT scan.
Some things you don’t have to tell me twice.
Since that visit, I’ve been checking intently for an expanding abdomen, looking at myself sideways in the mirror every morning and evening. It seemed things were “flat”, and with that, so were any concerns. Until recently. I began to detect more shape in the southern hemisphere than before. My clothes began to fit a little tighter, and my concerns grew commensurately. So, a couple of weeks ago, I called the doctor and expressed my worry.
They had an opening that day, and there was time to get to San Antonio from Beeville, so I took the slot and headed north. I had time before my appointment to run to Discount Tire and purchase a tire warranty on the new BMW I’d just bought. That, however, took longer than I thought, and suddenly I was about to be late for my critically important appointment with the oncologist!
The adrenaline began to pump. I got in my car, pulled out of the Discount Tire parking lot and was almost side-swiped by another car, forcing me into the curb. Alas – one of my tires and expensive wheels took a severe scrape…thank goodness I’d just bought that warranty! But, nothing like adding a heap of nerves on top of more nerves…on top of MORE nerves! I recovered from that trauma and made it to Cancer Care Centers of South Texas in the – pardon the expression – nick of time.
The familiar routine ensued…sign in, have a blood draw, take vitals, and see the doc. Apparently, I’d calmed down, as my blood pressure didn’t break the machine. The doctor came in and after a brief visit, he said he wanted a CT scan now…not so much that it was an emergency, but that I’d driven 90 miles to be there and if they could do it right then, so much the better.
The insurance gods approved the test, and I entered the cold, dark, white room containing the doughnut-shaped CT scanner. I removed jewelry, changed clothes, and got on the table. Since I’d just had a blood draw, the CT tech was going to use the same vein to inject the contrast solution. So she put her needle in and tried to make contact with my blood stream…wasn’t happening. But that didn’t mean she didn’t try, and try. If you’ve never had the irritating and painful experience of someone digging around unsuccessfully to stick your vein with a needle, it is pretty horrible. She finally gave up and went for – you guessed it – the hand.
By now I was fairly agitated, and having the distinctly unpleasant sensation of a needle going into my hand didn’t help. But, at least she found the vein! So, here we go with the scan. I was rolled into the doughnut and out, and in, and out, with a strangely God-like booming voice telling me to “Breathe In! Don’t Breathe!” I felt like yelling back, “Don’t Worry, Your Tech Took Care of That!”
Then came time for her to start the contrast flow into my body that would light up my innards and let the doctor see what was going on. Well, when that crap began flowing into me through my poor little hand, it hurt like absolute hell, like someone lit my arm on fire. I guess the sound I made was a little alarming, because that tech came running out of her booth and began squeezing my arm to see if the contrast missed its target. I was secretly glad she was rattled…kind of evened things out.
So, she confirmed that the contrast was flowing properly and admitted that it can hurt going through hands. Really? The test continued, and in and out of the hole I went. And about one minute later, it was over. All of that pain and frustration for one minute.
I got dressed and got the hell out of there. I was supposed to return the following Monday to see the doctor and get results, to find out if the cancer had returned. I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope with the anxiety, but somehow I managed to put it out of my mind. Then the next day, the doctor called. When I heard his voice, I immediately assumed the worst and my body reacted accordingly. I braced myself for the news.
In a phrase I’ll never forget, with his Indian accent he said, “Everything looks fine, but you’re really constipated.”
With that, I was practically overcome with relief and then, embarrassment! The doctor took it much more seriously than I, and proceeded to suggest how to get things moving. With all that was suddenly running through my mind, I barely heard him. However, he said something I actually did hear, which was that the tumor marker number was excellent…no reason to think there’s any cancer.
I’ve implemented the prescribed constipation relief measures, and my girlish figure has returned. I feel a little badly that the insurance company was saddled with a bill for an expensive test, only to find out that I was constipated. But I guess there’s no shame in being vigilant to some extent, like dialing 911 if you really think there’s trouble.
I can never forget that the cancer can return. With that, I seek to live a balanced life, one where I relish moments with people I love, but act with expedience to get things done, for time might one day be short. In fact, it is short no matter what.
Next time I think something is amiss, I’ll do exactly the same thing, prepared for whatever the outcome may be. But for now, this was truly one time that it was a welcome thing to be full of shit!