Saturday, June 1, 2013

Cancer Diva Adventures: Getting Slammed

Dear bloggees,
I have two themes in this post, and I will tell you these themes up front, rather than making you wait til the end, or guess.   (like a Hollywood film, I will assume some readers need to be told rather than pick up on subtleties, and will also assume my writing isn't strong enough or edited enough to accurately convey these throughout.)

1) Per conventional wisdom, one of the ways of dealing with long-term challenges in life is to live in the moment--take each day as it comes.  Most often, for me, this is easier said than done.

2) Sometimes getting slammed is a surprise.
Other times, the surprise can be not getting hit hard at all. 

So, here we go.

Last week, I initiated another appointment with Dr S, as I did not fully understand where I stood medically and why certain next steps might be chosen.  I know, I need to be agile and ready to jump this way or that.  Chemo! No chemo!! Clinical trial! Turn right. No, veer to the left!  I'm trying to keep up, but often the knowledge gets ahead of me, and only a day or two later do the really good questions come to light. (Don't you hate that? Oh, when he said X at that party,  I wish I'd thought of saying Y . . . )Fortunately, unlike social situations where you only get one chance,  with Dr S, there's always another opportunity, and rock star schedulers M & L are willing to squeeze me in for something as lame as "I have questions" or "I'm confused."  (Apparently my confusion is quite evident.)    And this time, the questions were pivotal.  Why are we planning to stop chemo? When & how do we get rid of the nasty 20% of the cancer that just won't move out? Do we just let those cells stay as squatters for awhile while we try something investigational, not yet proven to effectively evict them? Why not switch to other chemo drugs first?

This time, BFF D accompanied me, as we were unable to meet for lunch, so going to my oncologist's office was the next best quality time I could offer that day.  Plus, she lives nearby, has been a cancer patient, and oh yeah, also is a  bioethicist.  That combined with the promise of post-appointment drinks made it a good deal all around.

We waited for over an hour in one of Dr S' well-appointed treatment rooms  I seriously do not mind waiting at all, given that while I flip through a magazine, he has seen three cancer patients, and such discussions should not be rushed.  Dr S strode in apologetically, as energized and impassioned as ever, with extremely clear responses to my concerns.  "No one knows what this cancer (pointing at me), in this Sandi Dennis, in this body (gesturing), with this arm (yeah, the lymphedema wrap), this . . . (hmm, where might he be going with this?) . . . will do, what it will respond to.  If anyone claims to know, they're full of it."

"We could hit you hard with more chemo--I could give you [drugs A, or D, or M]--and they would damage your stomach, make you sick, you'd lose your hair.  I'll probably have to do that later.  (Lovely.) So let's keep you strong for the long haul.  I think we have better options now.  We have a reprieve. Let's try something else, a vaccine trial, if you can get in.".

Dr S drew charts, similar to those he's drawn before, but this time he made a point of drawing them in my trusty spiral notebook, so I wouldn't lose them, like I do with the usual torn out pages.  

Somewhere in the discussion, Dr S uncharacteristically employed a sports analogy.  Boxing!  Although he indicated that he is not a boxing fan, he told this tale of Mike Tyson, Buster Douglas & Evander Holyfield in great detail.  I tried to look like I was paying attention, but my brain glazed over, just as if he were discussing the inner and outer loops of the beltway.  I  jotted a few notes, specifically "Tyson", "Hollyfield",  "Buster Douglas",  and "????".   All I actually grasped was that one of them beat Tyson, then never won another fight.  I'm quite foggy on all of this, but perhaps Mike Tyson represents my cancer and the other guys are the chemo drugs.  Maybe we want to save the strongest one for later, in case it only wins once?? I'm not clear on this, so THIS IS an EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY for sports-savvy bloggees to COMMENT!  I also recall an ear biting incident, but I don't think Dr. S mentioned that.

Despite the boxing story, I was convinced. I understood.  I was on board. After all, in addition to being wise, this man has seen me, both inside and out.  He has seen my lymph nodes, my liver, my aorta. 

BFF D & I left Dr S' office in silence and headed around the corner to the nearest trattoria.

BFF D: Wow.
CD: I know.
BFF D: Omg!
CD: I know!
BFF D: I've never met a Dr llike him.
CD: I know.
BFF D: I've never met anyone like him!
CD: I know.
bFF D: I'm going to send my friend X to him.
CD: good idea. . . . . . .Hey, did you get the boxing analogy?
BFF D: No.
CD: Me neither.

Continued conversation I either forget or cannot share. you pick.

Two rounds of drinks, salad, and a plate of calamari later . . .

BFF D: Wow.
CD: I know.

So, I came to terms with the strategy of not hitting me hard at this particular time.  I get a reprieve, hopefully try something new & cutting edge, and I can "look forward" to getting "hit hard" later on.  Perhaps I'll wear ear muffs to those chemo sessions.

Several days later, I was innocently driving from PT (for lymphedema arm) to meet BFF J4 for lunch. (And no, I do not go out for lunch or drinks every day! These are occasional and much-needed respites between medical appointments, with supportive friends.) I was driving my trusty 2008 VW Eos hard-top convertible right by Dr S' office, and stopped at a light (just steps from the above-mentioned trattoria). I heard honking, a siren somewhere, then felt something hitting me hard, the crunching of metal . .  . I turned and saw a very large blue van sideswiping my passenger side, half in the road, half on the curb, and then he zoomed ahead, across the District line . . . leaving me, my shmooshed car, and seven MD police cars (that could not cross the line into DC) in his wake.  Mr driver of stolen van perhaps overheard the dr-patient discussion of "hitting me hard", but missed out on the "later" part.

I pulled around the corner, got out shaking, and ased bystanders and police officers WTF Just Happened??  It was quite a scene for a bit, lots of talk about the five or more miles police had chased him, officers asking if I'm ok "I think so, I mean I do have stage 4 cancer . . . " Maybe he slammed it out of me?   And seriously guys, if I learned nothing else in law school, I am not going to tell you right now on the spot whether or not I am injured.

I called BFFJ4, sorry I'm  late for lunch . . . She immediately stopped trying on new nail polish colors @ Bloomies (one block from the crime scene), and dashed over.  It is heartwarming to have such great friends.  BFF J4 took some pics"for my blog." 

I'm the one NOT wearing a police uniform. (in fact, it was a mild Spring day, and I had chosen J Crew khakis, a J Crew pale peach T with bright pink dots (hard to see in this pic), new blue Bjorn sandals (that match my favorite new OPI nail polish: "You're such a Budapest" (periwinkle-ish) and carrying my J crew Tartine satchel in pale pink and black colorblock.  (See, my fashion friends, I'm trying to weave some style into my blog . . . And yes, I do own some clothing that is not J. Crew).

Following this excuitement, BFF J4 & I still had lunch (hey, we were starving, and life goes on, right?  I then  drove my shmooshed car to the nearest VW place and BFF J4, a true savior, met me there and drove me home.  Car is in body shop, waiting to be insurance assessed and made pretty again.  (No, no loaner fancy new car, not even a rental, not even for cancer patients who need to drive to Baltimore the next morning--trust me, I tried to play the C-card.)    If  only there were a place that could fix me up in a week--now that would be worthwhile insurance.

Is there a fitting metaphor? Or moral? You might get slammed when you least expect it? Stay out of Montgomery County car chases, especially near the DC line? Or perhaps, I can get slammed and get up and walk away? It could have been so much worse.  What if my top were down? (on my car, I mean). 
 I later texted Beautiful Older Sister (BOS) the exciting news of my involvement in the car chase and she was appropriately concerned.  A day later, she texted to ask how I was feeling.  What huh? It's just a Wednesday . . .why do you ask?  I had forgotten tbe whole car thing.  Spent the morning at Hopkins, then drove to the beach with Lovely Daughter (LD),  in her unsmashed VW Jetta.

Perhaps I am learning to take life a day at a time.

Yours, in the moment,



  1. Happy June & Carpe Diem back at you. K

  2. Thanks Kathy! Informal law school reunion 2014--30 years (can u believe?) --im starting the buzz. You must come thus time!

  3. I admire your ability to fit a trip to Johns Hopkins hospital, a trip to the beach, a car crash, Mike Tyson, and chemo into one blog post. Love your spirit and your writing, Sandi.