Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A Nasty Little Thing

Seen on the high-definition screen in the hospital examining room, the tumor is an ugly little thing, a malevolent growth like a tiny sea anemone emerging out of the wall of my bladder. It is several shades of red and pink with a crenelated top and a darker colored center. There is, luckily, only one this time, but its presence will require yet another bout of surgery, the seventh, I think. By now, I am familiar with the drill.

“I don’t know what you did in your earlier life,” says the urologist/surgeon who has just finished performing the cystoscopy, during which a tiny tube with a camera at its tip was inserted in my urethra. “Your bladder seems to be a garden for tumors.” Just my luck, a poetic surgeon with horticultural insights.

The surgery no longer frightens me. It’s a simple procedure. I’m knocked out and the surgeon goes in, chops the thing out, and washes my innards with a solution that will hopefully kill any stray tumorous cells. If, after a biopsy, the tumor is found to be cancerous, I will go for a six-week BCG course, during which my bladder will be flooded by a solution that includes sheep tuberculosis cells. No one quite knows why this seems to work on bladder cancer, but it does.

It’s no fun, though. The treatments are usually performed once a week in the morning and burn like hell. They leave me wiped out, and the rest of the day and the following a.m. is pretty well shot too.  Still, the alternative is even nastier. “We’ve had people who get operated on and then don’t come back for the check-ups as they should,” said one of the urology nurses. “A year later, they’re in crisis and we have to take out their bladder.”

I was a mess prior to the latest cystoscopy, having somehow persuaded myself that the next prognosis would be dire. Two surgeries ago, the situation was a lot more dicey; the doctor had found three tumors growing close together, and he thought the cancer might have invaded the muscle walls, which would have made recovery unlikely. He did what surgeons do and managed to excise everything nasty, but, he told me later, it was touch and go.  This time around, he thinks, should be fairly minor compared to earlier procedures.

Still, as much as I hate to admit it, I am getting reconciled with the fact that tests, surgery, and recuperation, might very well become a standard part of life. Neither the exams nor the cutting bother me as much as does the healing, which seems to take a little longer each time.  In fact, it seems I’m not completely mended from the last operation, which was in late September, so I’m hoping that I’ll be given a little more time before the seventh intervention.

Oh, before I forget. A main cause of bladder cancer is smoking. I stopped smoking 16 years ago and still got it. So if you’re smoking, just stop. Now. Really.

And one more thing. The person with the illness or affliction is allowed to say, “It could be worse.” You cannot, so please don’t succumb to the temptation. You can agree, nod your head, mutter encouragement, put a reassuring hand on a dejected shoulder, but those four particular words, in that given order, are not for you to say. Never, ever. Got it? Good.

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