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Monday, December 30, 2013

Two Surgeons For Every Boy

Today would have been my final pre-surgery meeting with my surgeon, but as the fates would have it, I now have two surgeons, and one can't make it to the meeting today so I have to haul my mass (get it?) back to Walnut Creek a second time after this in order to meet with my newly appointed Lymph Node remover.  See, because as it turns out, cancer in the Thyroid just isn't enough  - no no no no no.  No Sir!  It has to go into my Lymph Nodes and create more problems.  The "good news", if you can call it that, is the type of cancer I have - Papillary Carcinoma - is slow-moving, which sort of makes it the retarded little brother of other cancers.  Normally when you have cancer in your Lymph Nodes, you are Stage 3 and it's really serious.  With Papillary Cancer, you are still at Stage 1.  Like I said, good news ... sort of.

So I have two people now that will be inside my neck during the same operation - one to pull the Thyroid and the other to pull the offending Lymph Nodes.  What this means is another time in hospital, more pain management, and higher bills.  Can't wait.

I can see why cancer patients can lose hope - this is really depressing stuff.  You feel as if your whole life has to be put on hold until you deal with your illness and the bills it creates.  Taren and I were couch shopping the other day.  We found one we both loved but had to pull back from the purchase because I have yet to receive a bill from the first round of tests, and there is so much we don't know about the surgery costs and hospital stays.  How do you justify spending more than $200 on something for your ass that at least doesn't go inside of it, when you know you have this looming gray cloud of future, unavoidable debt over your head?  It's not easy to want to get out and have fun.  Every expense becomes a question without an answer, you know?

When I first was watching Breaking Bad, for example, I thought about how large a stretch it was for this guy to go out and cook meth for cash.  I mean, come on, dude, you can make it work, can't you?  Sitting here and thinking about the setup of that show and the pain and the bills ... while I can't really relate because my situation is different, that show seems a bit more real to me now.  A bit.

So that's the latest.  I've pretty much just spent my time reading up on this stuff and trying to reassure myself that things will work out somehow.  Part of me wants to know how much this will cost me, and part of me doesn't.  Because what will that do - it will worry me needlessly before the surgery, and it's not like I can go flip through the phone book for a better deal.  I don't even know what a phone book is.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

No Really, Merry Christmas

After a long two days of driving and visiting family for Christmas, you sort of realize what's important in your life, right?  I'm not saying my newly-found cancer is some form of mutation that granted me super powers or anything, but sometimes all you need is a little perspective to right your world.  I have never been close with my family - a gift from my Father to all of his children.  My brothers are almost 15 years older than I am, which has a lot to do with it maybe.   Overall, I just always felt left out of the party because I was (and still am) socially awkward with anyone and everyone.  Especially family.  Not in the normal, every day way.  Like, bizarrely and staggeringly uncomfortable.   My brothers and their kids are all great at sports and I'm awful, so when we all used to get together, I'm the goofy ass-face trying to fit in with the football team, essentially.  Of course this is all in my head, but you can't tell me that.  I love my brothers and nieces and nephews, and I constantly blame myself for not being more involved.

But lately this year - and even more so since this whole diagnosis thing - I've let all that go and tried to connect to my family, and it's been great.  Today was a different Christmas in that it was so much more than gifts and driving and putting in time.  It was about these people around me, enjoying their lives, watching them be themselves, and just sort of taking that all in.  I'm not saying that now thanks to cancer, I have perspective on life; this is something that has been building for awhile, but the cancer certainly has advanced it.  I want to connect with my family, because you never know when all that could end.  And they are all nice people who actually like me back.  And laugh at my jokes, which never hurts.

The constant theme with this cancer has been trying to downplay it, because honestly it feels like I'm walking into the ER with a nail in the foot  - it's not a big deal but it IS a big deal at the same time. The wound won't kill you ... but it also has the potential, right?  Infection and all that. The type of cancer I have is called Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma and it's the most common and the most easily dealt with ever in the world ever.  Like, ever.  So on the one hand I think I sound like a winging baby, but on the other ... I have fucking cancer.

And that's really where I'm at right now with this whole thing; how do I put this into perspective?  Do I really need to?  Honestly, the only thing I'm scared of is dying on the operating table and missing out on my family.  The cancer doesn't bother me, it's just this mental block of finding the right way to look at my newly mutated cells.  Will it kill me?  No.  So don't call me a fighter or anything.  This is like me going to the elementary school and punching a kid dead in the face - it's not a fight at all.  I just have to sit and wait it out, and then get better.  Will it be tough?  Sure, but what isn't?  Besides punching kids in the face.   That's both easy and hilarious.

I dunno.  Sitting here with a glass of port and listening to the last night of Christmas music with Taren, the tree lights, and reflecting on the nice day we had got me all introspective about family and friends.  I've always been a loner with regards to relationships.  Just a few close friends, any more than that and I get uncomfortable within my own skin.  I'm fighting that more than I am this cancer.

This Christmas was a good one, and I really needed it.  I hope yours was good, as well.

Happy Christmas, friends.

One of my favorite Christmas songs ... 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Christmas ...

What I've tried to do with this blog is to make it an extension of me, of my personality, and the things that matter to me.  I've tried to at least keep it humorous and somewhat informative, though I'm not sure I really did that in the way I wanted.   I like to make people laugh, so much so that I tend to say things at inappropriate times because the first thought I have usually is, "How can I squeeze a laugh out of this person?"  It's something I have always done - in school, with friends, on the air.    Growing up you get asked "What do you want to be when you grow up?", and thinking about it, maybe I actually am doing the only thing I have ever wanted to do in life.  Entertain people.  Hence my post on a very personal issue - I simply can't keep my trap shut.

A lot has happened to me over these last few weeks.  Most of it is very private, so not many people are aware.  Which is interesting, because I have had to squash this need to over share and actually keep stuff to myself, or at least in my inner circle.  Another anomaly: I have an inner circle.

Recently I was diagnosed with Hyperparathyroidism, which really means nothing, other than one of my parathyroid glands located within the Thyroid itself is over-active and is producing too much Calcium.  This leads to kidney stones and eventually a lower bone density as the hyper gland pulls Calcium from my body and into the blood.  Typically this requires surgery to remove the hyper gland, of which your Thyroid has 4, and all is well.  They gave me a Nuclear Medicine scan to isolate the over-active gland and bam - I suddenly had a surgeon.  

Going to an appointment with my surgeon is when things got, well ... real.  She did an ultrasound to locate the gland and to talk to me about what it meant to undergo surgery like that, taking still images of my Thyroid and the glands within it.  She takes a printout and tells me she wants to show this one segment to her partner for a second opinion.  5 min later she says she wants to do a FNA, or a Fine Needle Aspiration.  Meaning, she wants to stick the Thyroid with a bunch of real small needles to pull fluid samples because it might be cancerous.  But it's more than just a simple poke to the neck and off you go with a pat on the bottom. I got a local anesthetic, but it was more for the gland I think.  The surgeon inserts the needle and it keeps going and going - naturally its a long needle because it has to get from the side of your neck to the middle.  This intense pressure came on as she pressed the needle deeper into my neck.

Feeling a long, sharp, metal object pushed into a gland in your throat - even through the anesthetic - is a bizarre experience.  Because you aren't really feeling pain so much as pressure.  Take your index finger and place it about 2 inches to the side of your voice box.  Then push in slowly, as far as you can. Then start poking yourself, moving your finger into and out of your flesh.  This is kind of what it feels like to get a FNA done, although much worse.  The whole thing was fairly traumatic.  I could see the surgeons hands as they moved the needle around rapidly within my thyroid and I could feel my neck give way each time and all I could think of was, "This is how a chicken feels when you cut it."  Whatever the hell that means.  At one point I began to cry - again, not due to the pain so much, though there is a lot of that - but more because of that pressure on my neck and the visualization of what is going on inside me, combined with the possibility of what this test could reveal.

Done.  I sat up, tear-stained and feeling violated.  The rest of the visit was a blur.  Suddenly I'm in my car driving home, crying.  Why?  I can't say.  There isn't one thing I can point to, it was just the entire experience of going in to see a doctor for a pre-surgery visit and then to come out with a swollen neck and the fear of the unknown.  Plus the surgeon's hands moving up and down as she stabbed me over and over didn't help.

This was on Friday.  By Wednesday I got the call.

I officially have cancer.

How did this happen?  What does this mean?  How does this feel?  These are the questions I have and the ones I'm going to explore, sort of taking you on the mental journey that I'm now forced on.  I want to let you know what it's like to hear that you have cancer and how that changes the way you think about everyday little bullshit that normally doesn't phase.  Little things become bigger, and big things that once consumed you don't matter any more.  And yes, it's only Thyroid Cancer, which I'm told is just about the easiest form of cancer you can get, and it's super treatable, and everything is fine.  But it's CANCER, right?  It's SCARY and FUCKING SCARY, even if it is localized and contained.

Anyway, this is now my cancer blog.  So if you want to know the weird things that go through an idiots head on the subject, now's your chance.  I plan on being as open as I can about this whole deal, and hopefully the end result will be the spreading of knowledge about Thyroid Cancer and how you can get screened for it.  Even though it's a fairly simple cancer, if unchecked it will spread, and that's never good.  Unless Cancer is a stripper.