Sleep was terrible last night. I just had the funeral dream. Again. The one I have not had in so many years. The red doors, iron bells and pallbearers who all wear my own face. This is an ugly and recurring slice of childhood psychology. Now more than ever, I am wide awake now to the unavoidable realization that I really, actually do have cancer. The word brews as much mystery as it does anxiety for me. But my basic reality is easily understood. Toxins are on the way. My bloodstream anticipates years of paranoia and fear surrounding the once lethal beast known as cancer and the harsh chemical warfare which follows in its wake. Well, at least my oncologist's name is Dr. Jolly.
Just mention of the word "cancer" splatters awful graffiti about the interior of my skull. My imagination flickers with black-and-white footage of humans with open sores and visible bones behind the wire fences somewhere between Auschwitz and Jacob's Ladder. Will I devolve into a corpse's stunt double? Soon, I too will look like one of those lost souls. Right? Circled eyes, shrinking skin and slowly approaching death. Or maybe not? The term "maybe" and the average of statistics and percentages is a new language for me these days.
"You have a 90 percent chance of completely beating this cancer," says Dr. Jolly. No matter the positivity and optimism. No matter the odds. I still have cancer.
A week earlier, I was found in steady panic. I had just drifted back toward Earth from a monthlong black hole of insurance company rejections and co-pay denials. In those moments, Valium comes in handy, but nothing in life really equipped me for this new cancer experience of mine. When scheduling my cancer treatment orientation, I was happily preoccupied by the name of the new doctor referred to me. What kind of a name is "Jolly" for a highly recommended physician? In my post-psychedelic mind, this name ranks right up there with the likes of Dr. Frankenstein, Dr. Who and Dr. Seuss.
Possibly Dr. Jolly is a descendant of famous popcorn manufacturing family? God help me. Certainly Dr. Jolly will not be some overzealous dork like Robin Williams in that terrible Patchy Poop M.D. flick or whatever the hell that horrible slice of Hollywood was titled. But still there's no avoiding the anticipation of a red foam clown nose. Will he look like Ronald McDonald? Will I be greeted at the front desk by Grimace and the Hamburgular? I pictured a giant red clown's afro wig and red striped suit professionally hidden beneath a pure white and sterile lab coat. "Hey, bend over and cough. Good, now have a super-sized box of fries and get on with this cancer business."
Imagination and reality have never been honest bedfellows in my life. And so I was happy to finally meet the man of mystery. Thankfully, the reality of Dr. Jolly is one of confidence and pure honesty. Not to mention that he's a nice guy, gleaming trust at first glance. Seriously. My life is in his able hands. And this opinion is coming from me - the cantankerous fellow who doesn't trust anyone. But Jolly is different. Humble, intelligent, informative and straight to the point. Every hair in perfect place above his bright white lab coat. There's an air of NASA in his presence, leaving me a bit more willful with thoughts of advanced science hovering around my troubled head like the dust rings of Saturn.
Midmorning found me in a crowded waiting room of elderly moaners. The ring of phone lines and name announcements played out like some B-Horror-Square-Dance. I tried to avoid reading the drug advertisements on the office walls by playing a game of guess-the-disease-with-the-face. "Certainly the old guy over there doesn't have breast cancer. Maybe she does. Oh, she definitely must." I am a veteran of doctor's offices by now, since my testicular cancer diagnosis on my birthday back on April 18th. Since then I have logged-in two surgical procedures, CT scans, pulmonary exams and endless amounts of blood work and paperwork to match. I am a professional patient now. Tried and true.
Upon our meeting at Georgia Cancer Specialists, Dr. Jolly informed me that I had two choices to deal with my problem. Cancer cells had spread from my left testicle up into my abdominal lymph nodes. The tumor is gone but the cells are still around, reproducing like wildfire. My choices boiled down to a radical operation where my abdominal lymph nodes would be physically removed, or chemotherapy. The lymph node operation only provided a 50 percent chance of full recovery, still leaving chemotherapy as the final phase. Such a surgery would find me in massive pain, only to, in most likelihood, serve me the final weeks of surgical recovery under the flow of chemicals. The decision seemed logical to me.
I'd step up to the plate for three complete cycles of chemotherapy and have a 90 percent chance of full recovery after only nine weeks of treatment. No cutting, no stitches and no restless nights doped up on painkillers. Only time will tell whether this choice is the easier route out of my medical hell. Again - like so many other times in my life - I walk blindly into a painful and dangerous predicament.
My chemotherapy treatment is going to be "radical" to say the least. I will sit five days per week averaging 300 minutes per day every 21 days for three complete cycles of heavy-duty-gauge chemo. During this time, I'll intravenously gulp a cocktail of hardcore chemicals known as Etoposide VP-16 and Cisplatin. I will go in every Monday for nine weeks to receive an hour's worth of a chemical known as Bleomycin. I was told by one of the other doctors at the cancer center that my current treatment is highly emetogenic - very likely to cause ill effects such as extreme nausea and vomiting. She went on to say that before anti-nausea drugs like Zofran were invented, earlier patients of this chemotherapy had to be placed into a drug coma to make it through the harsh side effects. The winds of encouragement filled my sails after that conversation.
Testicular cancer is a complicated monster. It comes in variables and stages and mixtures and forms. This is when advanced mathematics or at least a good New York bookie comes in real handy. Because one with such a rare disease must read charts bountiful with percentages of cell types and the ratios between them. Basically there are two common cancer germ cells that awaken like Harryhausen's Kraken in mankind's nether scrotal region. Seminoma and non-Seminoma cancer germ cells are these terrible little creatures of which I speak. Imagine a microscopic locust swarm rapidly plaguing the innards they encounter. Such an omen of horrible health is alive and well within my own body. Disease colonialism at its best.
So now begins my own personal feudalist era with non-Seminoma testicular cancer. The final battle has begun. One of us is leaving ye olde land. And I am absolutely confident that it will be me who walks upright.
Stay tuned for more poison.
To follow more of Jason's journey into the world of chemotherapy, detoxification and McDonald's hamburgers, check out www.mytoxiclife.com.
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