Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Testing, Testing...

So this is when I start getting scared, five or six days before the next cancer checkup.  I feel good but I’ve learned not to trust my body.  I’ve felt great in the past as, unbeknownst to me, the disease progressed.

After three years I should be used to it, but I’m not. My blood pressure will soar when I get to the doctor’s office (I’ve learned this is called ‘white coat syndrome’), and the nurse will admonish me gently, tut-tutting as she suggests I close my eyes and imagine a peaceful scene. I try. A morning at the beach. A walk though Paris. Breakfast with friends. Lying in bed with a loved one. That lowers the bp a little and the nurse feigns happiness.

 I take my clothes off in the examining room. The nurse gives me a large antibiotic pill to stave off possible infection and slathers my crotch with sticky orange goo.  The doctor—the surgeon who has operated on me—threads a tube up my urethra. It’s not pleasant. There’s a tiny camera at the end of the tube, and my innards are displayed on a large screen above my head. I don’t look, even though I’m invited to do so every time.  I clench my teeth and ball up my fists. The procedure lasts a few minutes. The doctor renders his verdict.  If I’m clean, he congratulates me and I’ll see him for my next test in three months. If I’m not, he says uh oh, which is something you never, ever, want to hear a doctor say. Uh ho means I’ll be back on the operating table within a couple of weeks and the entire process will begin again.

Bladder cancer is neither sexy nor high profile. It’s an easy subject for jokes, of which I’ve been both the originator (I’ve threatened to name my next band the Bad Bladders) and the butt. It’s not necessarily lethal, but it did kill my oldest sister, as well as the husband of a friend, and a few thousand more.  And Andy Williams; mustn’t forget Andy Williams.

In the back of my mind, I always suspected I would get some form of cancer because my family has been riddled with it—mother (liver), father (prostate), sister (bladder), grandfather (lung), and great aunt (pancreas). I’d seen what it did to my dad, who recovered, and to my mom, who did not.  Neither was pretty. So when I was first diagnosed and after the initial shock, I thought one of two things would happen: I would get operated on and be cured, or I would be operated on and not be cured, and I’d die. I’ve been operated on—eight times to date; I haven’t died; I haven’t been cured.  I’ve been told three times that I was now cancer free and seven times that the cancer had returned. I am almost certain that the panic attacks that hit me with regularity are somehow related to pre-test and post-surgery anxieties.  I’m pretty sure I’ve taken a hit square in the self-esteem. Cancer makes me feel soiled and terminally unattractive. Psychologists agree such feelings are common if rarely discussed side-effects of the disease.    

I get to---quite literally---gird my loins.

Ha. Actually, that’s pretty funny!  





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