First things first – in case you didn’t hear, I’m not dying. Suck it, Cancer. WOOT!
With the good news out of the way, I have to tell you just how miserable yesterday was. Apparently weeks of terror are hard on a body. I woke up this morning feeling like I’d drowned myself in a barrel of cheap whiskey followed by seven margaritas, consumed a meal of bad Indian food, and then repeatedly hurled myself from the top of the Empire States building while listening to a medley Rod Stewart’s greatest hits. Every single part of my body hurts…except my heart. My heart feels just fine.
I spent most of Monday alternating between weeping hysterically, laughing maniacally at bad TV, listening to Nina Simone in a fetal position, and yelling at Rocco for breathing. It would be a bit of an understatement to say I was not at my best. Things got a little better with the addition of some sedatives…and a straight jacket.
Yesterday morning I was surprisingly calm, actually. I managed to remember not to drink or eat anything as I selected clothing with no metal zippers, buttons, or other fasteners. A quick glance in the mirror reflected a girl ready for a funeral – black t-shirt dress, black hose, black clogs, and black under-eye circles. I frowned. Then again, I felt a little like I was headed to a funeral so maybe the ensemble was appropriate.
Rocco shouted from the living room that I was taking too damn long. Squishing my face, I stuck my tongue out at the reflection and caught a glimpse of my inner bitch (not that I keep her terribly repressed). I kicked off my clogs and rifled on my dresser for a ridiculous pair of sparkly green earrings that hung nearly to my shoulders. I slipped on my green and orange suede cowboy boots for good measure. Much better. Aloysius expects a little sass and as a general rule, I don’t like to disappoint anyone that’s ever saved my life. I breathed deeply and found I was much calmer than I would have expected.
At least I was much calmer than Rocco. It was his turn to randomly yell and loose his shit at the random commuters and the blocked traffic patterns that forced us to try and cross town at 34th Street at ten in the morning. He managed to yell only at those individuals outside Ginny, even though my costume change had delayed our departure enough to make him visibly twitch.
“It’s not like they won’t scan me if we’re ten minutes late, ya know,” I tried to calm him.
“I know. I just want to be there. With you. Not running around trying to find a parking space.” The sentiment was sweet, as Rocco is 90% of the time. Sadly it’s really hard to take him seriously when his giant Gay Porn Mustache (he’s growing one for Movember) bounces around as though performing an interpretive dance of Rocco’s dialog. I tried to stifle a nervous giggle.
We pulled up to Sloan-Kettering with three minutes to spare. I jumped out, and jogged into the building while Rocco P.I. began investigating “The Case of the Elusive Parking Deck.”
Mildly breathless, I stepped up to the receptionist’s desk and dug out my cancer card. (No really, they give you a plastic credit/card like thing the moment you become a patient. Literally, I can physically “play” the cancer card. Kinda cool, right? It’s not so cool you should go out and get your own, though…just borrow mine, k?)
“I’m here to glow in the dark.” I panted while attempting to smile.
“We’ve got the tools here,” the young girl smirked. She took my cancer card and started clicking away on the keyboard. “Actually, we only do PET’s here now, you need to head to the CT area.” I must have looked uncomfortable because she patted my hand and softly said, “Don’t worry, you’ll glow an even nicer shade with their contrast mediums.” Nice to know I’m not the only one who cracks inappropriate jokes, eh?
I guess I was knocked a little off guard, though. As with many of the cancer-related activities a gal (or dude) undergoes, there’s a great deal of comfort in routine. If you’ve lived through it once, you can live through it again. It’s always the first time for any new scan, drug, or treatment that is the hardest. I hadn’t banked on a different waiting room, different nurses, different technicians, and different tubes. I suddenly realized my fingernails were hurting the palms of my tightly clenched hands.
I smiled nervously and followed her gestures down a long corridor filled with gray, hairless bodies swaddled in white gowns and blankets. It was gray as far as I could see. The only color visible was that of the sky blue slipper socks the hospital provides. I caught glimpses of them covering the foot rests of the wheelchairs and peeking out from the ends of gurneys. I tried not to look at the people attached to those socks.
Accidentally, I met the eyes of a tiny, ageless woman lying on her side. I could see every blue vein on her smooth forehead. Her bright eyes followed me as I moved closer. I winked and raised my hand, crossing my fingers. She smiled ever so slightly and winked back. I just barely made it out of her line of sight before succumbing to the shaking, wiping my leaking eyes.
FUCK. “Where is this alleged CT area, goddamnit!” I hissed under my breath.
I found it eventually, and without further incident. I checked in, filled out my forms and texted Rocco with the new room number. Only moments later, I sat through the normal speech about how much contrast medium to drink and how quickly. As always, I questioned the nurse relentlessly so we could determine the best time to take my Lorazepam. Personally, I like the needle sticking to coincide with the peak o’ the pill, so timing is critical.
Back in the waiting room, I snagged a seat with a table for my innocent looking glass and liter of red toxic tastiness. My nurse dragged an older gentleman into the prep room and I sipped patiently until Rocco arrived. The older gentleman came back into the waiting room with his matching glass and liter of red toxic tastiness. He propped the items in his chair while he grabbed the leg of a loose table and attempted to drag it nearer to his chair. The noise of the legs screeching on the linoleum made us all jump. Sheepishly he lifted the table from the floor and carried it to his seat.
I watched him rearrange his items onto his newly procured table and settle into the vinyl covered chair. Once he finished rearranging his coat and briefcase, he leaned forward to retrieve his glass. Reminded that I too was on a time table, I brought the straw back to my lips. The movement caught his attention and we made eye contact. With a wry smile, he raised his glass in my direction, as if to toast to our health.
I silently nodded and continued to suck at the straw. In the background, Whoppi Goldberg recounted some tale of Paula Deen getting struck in the face with a ham. “I got hit by a hog, y’all,” Whoppi imitated repeatedly.
I finished my first glass and poured another. “Take your pill, Hon,” Rocco reminded me. We both knew all our lines by heart. We have this routine down to a science. I placed the tiny white disc on my tongue and swallowed more of the slightly viscous, cherry flavored fluid.
Too soon, they whisked me back for the IV. I took one look at my nurse’s shaking hands and cursed silently. This was going to SUCK and the pill had not kicked in. I followed as he walked to a closet full of hospital gowns and reached for a delightful number in the shade of death. “I don’t need one. There’s no metal on me, I’m golden.” He looked doubtful. “I promise. Say, do you mind if pee before you take away the use of one of my hands?” He looked a little surprised, ready to launch into an explanation that I would still be able to use my hand once the line was in. Cutting him off before he could begin I continued, “Pantyhose – they’re a real bitch even when no needles are involved.”
Of course I was stalling, but I had also just consumed most of a liter of disgusting. Me and my tiny bladder both agreed it was better to be safe than sorry.
I felt another wave of nausea and horror as I caught a whiff of my strange smelling urine. That smell was coming out of ME. That smell I can only describe as a blend of chemicals, sterile hospitals, rubbing alcohol, and terror. The smell took me right back to the fourteenth floor of that very building and the days I had spent there collecting and measuring a whole mess of urine that smelled creepily similar. I looked at the “pull for help” string that hung from the wall for several long minutes.
I flushed before standing, hoping to flush away the disturbing smell, too. The tasty beverage was not settling well in my previously empty stomach. Once I was sure my legs would hold me, I pulled up my hose, washed my hands, and went back out to see my new boyfriend, Captain Shaky Hands.
He had to be new. He just had to be. He was nervous as hell and even I noticed the other nurses peeking around the curtain at the door, surreptitiously checking his progress. Despite being claustrophobic, getting the IV line is actually the hardest part of the whole process for me now…too chemo-esque these days I suppose. This guy was not instilling me with confidence. Yay for pills.
Interwebz, if there’s one thing cancer taught me it’s the value of pharmaceuticals. There is NO REASON to brave that kinda of shit without a “Momma’s Little Helper.” Forget all that bull they told you as a kid – just say YES to drugs.
I’m going to skip over the next part of the needle story because none of us need ever relive that, k? Suffice it to say the crook of my elbow is an explosion of colors today, but he did get the line in and no one was permanently scarred.
My pill kicked in and by the time I walked into the scan room, my shoulders had relaxed enough to hang below my ears. I supposed I was still shaking a little, as I shook the technician’s hand. “How about we warm you up with some contrast dye?” the technician smirked.
“Yum,” I responded shakily and climbed onto the machine. My boots clanked against the inside of the tube. I might have kicked it a little for good measure. Fucker.
I smiled wryly, amused by the relentless “friendliness” of the machine. As I watched the tube enclose my shins and knees, a mechanical voice said “inhale” and I looked at the panel above my waist. A cartoon face with an open mouth shone in bright green. “Hold your breath” cooed the machine and the cartoon of a close-mouthed, puffy-cheeked face blinked in red just before the machine pulled me too deep into the tube to see the cheesy illustrations. I couldn’t help but laugh a little as the green cheerful face came back into view. Say it again, Interwebz – yay for pills.
“Ready for the dye?” the tech asked.
“Shoot me up, Scotty,” I replied.
I always thought the tech held my arm during this part of the scan because I looked scarred shitless. Not true, apparently. It turns out they hold your arm because occasionally the contrast medium blows out the tubing and spills all over the table instead of into your arm…like yesterday, for example.
As they pulled me out of the tube and started mopping up, I tried to explain to the tech we could keep going. No matter how much dye was on the table, there was definitely dye in me, too. I could feel the warmth working down my abdomen and taste the funk at the back of my tongue.
“Not enough, Honey,” the tech said. “We’ve got to do it again.”
I don’t know exactly what happened next, but I do know there was a whole lot more jabbing, moving, and other upsetting activities inflicted upon the arm stretched above my head and out of my sight. Soon enough a second wave of warmth spread all the way to my numb toes and the red face blinked his Satchmo-esque cheeks at me. Then it was over.
“Any more tests today?” the tech cooed sweetly.
“GET IT OUT,” I responded. “I’ve got three hours before my date with Aloysius and it feels like I’m going to need all that time just to pee all this out. Get that tubing out and set me free, damnit.” I wiped away the tears eeking from the corners of my eyes and the poor tech thought I was itching due to an allergic reaction. They were as ready to be rid of me as I was of them.
After watching me weave and then bounce from one side of the hall to the other, Rocco took my arm and escorted me out of the building in search of some lunch. I was nauseous, but conceded that was probably an upset stomach from fear, hunger, and contrast medium – food was a good call.
We ordered and I pounded the fluids. I’m a huge believer in returning to a normal radioactive level as soon as possible, so I’m downright compulsive about flushing out the chemicals. Before the salad arrived, I’d made it through both my glass of water and iced tea. I was hit by another wave of terror and…well…I guess I’ll just be honest here, Interwebz – I literally shit myself. Yes folks, I managed to get myself THAT worked up. I suppose a reaction to the contrast medium or dye might have also been responsible, but the result was still the same – not good.
Fortunately the damage (and offending material) was very minimal – hardly noticeable, but disturbing all the same. I slunk to the restroom to do damage control. Growing up in NC, I doubt I could have imagined standing in the marble bathroom of a New York City Italian restaurant with my bare feet on squares of toilet paper as I washed out my panties in the sink, waiting to find out if the creeping death had returned. I mean, maybe change “waiting for the creeping death” to “recovering from a crazy night of drunken debauchery with a roller derby team” and I could have believed it. But that setting of lunch time on the Upper East Side? That’s just crazy talk. Regardless, yay for panty hose. Turns out wearing underwear was overkill anyway.
Back at the table, I polished off another glass of ice tea, three more glasses of water, and a few slices of pizza before we trudged back to Sloan-Kettering to wait for results. I made a new friend, enjoyed some more needles, and waited for my turn with Aloysius anxiously. FINALLY, my favorite aid led us back into the examination room. Aloysius beamed as he entered the room.
“How’ve you been?” he asked as he placed a hand on my shoulder.
“You tell me!” I barked. “What’s the news? Do you have the results? What, what what?!?!”
“Hmm, I only saw the bloodwork so far. Let me see if the scan is here yet.”
He patted the exam table and turned to look at Rocco. “Wow, Rocco. That’s an interesting ‘stache you got going on there. A few more days and you and I can work the Starsky and Hutch thing!” Even I had cracked a smile despite my near hysterical state. Seriously? How could I not love my oncologist?
“AHEM!!” I tapped my cowboy boot pointedly.
He turned his back to us and clicked the mouse several times. I chewed through my bottom lip while waiting for an eternity. He turned and smiled, his teeth nearly as white as his spotless lab jacket. “Happy one year anniversary.”
“…as in I’m FINE or do you have a weirder sense of humor than I do?”
“You’re perfect. Happy first year in remission.”
“Fan-FUCKING-tastic!” I jumped up and down. “You may now continue with whatever other idle conversation you would like. I can now pay attention.”
“Congratulations. Now how’ve you been?”
HAPPY MOTHERFUCKING THANKSGIVING!! Break out the Cheerwine!