Saturday, June 23, 2012
….but smaller and coyly called “a recurrence.” Cancer, it seems, is tricky, sneaky and amazingly resilient. A bit of it showed up again in my bladder some six months after the twin operations that were supposed to have rid me of malignant cells, and four months after the surgeon and urologist declared me cancer-free. This latest development was feared but deep down unexpected.
The first time I was diagnosed with bladder cancer, I walked home from the doctor’s office and stopped four times to eat. I’m sure there was something symbolic about this but it escaped me then and still escapes me now. This time, I played tennis with a friend for about a half-an-hour until the record-breaking heat broke us. Then I went home, starred at my pond for a while, fed the fish, watered plants. I spoke to a couple of people, read a book about Dr. Petiot, the serial killer who held Paris in thrall during the German occupation. I fixed a salad and picked at it, played a couple of games of solitaire and studiously avoided working on a book that needs work. I tried and failed to take a nap. In the end I watched three episodes of Wired which didn’t help one way or another but made me glad I didn’t live in Baltimore.
The doctor who performed the cystoscopy yesterday is the same one who has operated on me twice. The probe showed something only he could recognize, and he sought to reassure me by calling the growth ‘trivial,’ which somehow is not a word I would ever associate with cancer. He will operate again, he said, in a couple of weeks, as soon as he returns from a conference to be held in France. The humor of his travel plans—he’s going to Paris, my home town—is not lost on me.
I wasn’t particularly friendly to the doctor when he came into the examination room. I’d been prepped by a disinterested nurse, an experience I am now used to but one that remains demeaning. My blood pressure was sky-high, a not uncommon thing when under stress. I watched the clock on the off-white wall; saw the seconds, then minutes tick away. Time being relative, I felt I waited an eternity, though it was only a half-an-hour, and my brain did its very best to conjure up the worst possible scenario: the cancer had spread to other parts of my body and I was going to die a horrible death probably even before getting home to feed the cat.
So when the doctor arrived, I may have growled at him. He smiled hesitantly, said, “You’re always glad to see me, aren’t you?” I bit back a stupid reply, asked about the blood tests. My kidneys, he told me, were fine—no renal failure on the horizon, but as he manipulated the camera in my bladder, I saw him pause and knew something was wrong. He went “Hmm” a couple of times and it is never good when a doctor goes “Hmm.” Never.
He told me the news and tried to reassure me. The next operation would be a walk in the park, he promised, five minutes and I’d be as good as new but I knew this wasn’t entirely true. He’d said that prior to the second operation and that was as nasty a time as I’ve spent. So I’m not all that confident.
The feeling of somehow being visibly soiled has returned. Yesterday I left a gathering of friends early; today I blew off breakfast with people I have known for years, and a solstice cruise on the Potomac. I am wondering what my body is doing and why it is manufacturing harmful cells.
Crap. I’m scared again…