Friday, August 24, 2012

Red, Red Go Away

When the doctors and nurses told me about the immediate side effects of radiation, no one mentioned the fact that I would start to look like the Batman character Two Face.

Currently, from my chest to the bottom half of my face, my skin is raw, peely, and a range of blotchy shades of red, white, and tan.

So not a good look.

I know this is temporary and if it means Little Hodgy is gone for good, it's totally worth it, but I'd really rather not spend the final days of summer hibernating because I scare away all the children I come in contact with.

I'll spare you pictures of what I currently look like, but here are a couple pics of the radiation room where I received my daily treatment:

The evil machine that made me look like Two Face

Me, in the radiation machine

Friday, August 17, 2012

Radiation, Check!

Today, after 4 and a half weeks of treatment, was my last day of radiation. 

I have to say, the process wasn't terrible. I've been a little more tired than usual (but that's what afternoon naps are for), my throat has been extremely sore, and my skin looks like I fell asleep in the sun, but nothing too unmanageable.

Like most things with cancer, it's the emotional toll that was the most taxing. 

Everyday for over four weeks I had to go sit in a waiting room with women more than twice my age. Not once did I ever see any patient under the age of 60.

This, frankly, is a constant reminder that I shouldn't be dealing with this.

What should I be doing? I should be finding my dream job. Or I should be traveling the world. Or, hell, I should be having babies (or at least another puppy). But early in this process I learned to give up on the idea of "shoulds".

As we all know, life doesn't always obey our "shoulds."

The mere fact that I had to start every day in a hospital took its own emotional toll. It's hard to move forward when your wake-up call is a daily dose of radiation.

But today, I am finished.

Now all I have to do is wait...

And wait..

And wait.

What will inevitably feel like a lifetime (aka 6 weeks), is how long I have to wait to learn if the radiation was even successful.

Everyone, keep your fingers crossed...

Because you should!

I certainly hope so!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Difficult Patient

It's a strange feeling going through a treatment plan that no doctor completely agrees with. I disappointed the conventional docs when I chose to go to Arizona for IPT and I have now disappointed the alternative docs with my choice of radiation. Between my two choices, I have managed to alienate, in some way, every doctor I've spoken with.

Sorry, docs.

I'm not trying to be difficult (despite what my doctors might think). But cancer is tough. Some people die and some people live - regardless of the path chosen.

Recently I read a book called "Love, Medicine and Miracles" by Bernie Siegel. I avoided reading this book for almost 9 months because, honestly, a book about love and miracles seemed a little too new age-y for someone who believes in the facts. I didn't want to read another book about "visualizing" or "finding my inner goddess" to rid myself of cancer. Plus Mamma Bear really wanted me to read it (I currently have four copies, all from her) and I guess that stubborn "parent pushes/child pushes back" relationship doesn't necessarily go away as we age.

Eventually I realized that the book was written by an oncologist who decided to study (with facts!) the success stories of his patients; instead of studying why treatments were failing, he began to study why certain treatments, or more importantly, patients, were succeeding. (Siegel might want to consider changing the name of the book to "How Cancer Patients Succeed").

If two people are given the same diagnosis, why does one live and the other die? Why do certain people defy the odds even when the odds are stacked against them? What makes a patient thrive?

Siegel says there are three categories of patients.

"About 15 to 20 percent of all patients unconsciously, or even consciously, wish to die. On some level, they welcome cancer or some other serious illness as a way to escape their problems through death or disease. These are the patients who show no signs of stress when they find out their diagnosis.

In the middle of the spectrum of patients is the majority, about 60-70 percent. They are like actors auditioning for a part. They perform to satisfy the physician. They act the way they think the doctor wants them to act, hoping that then the doctor will do all the work and the medicine won't taste bad. They'll take their pills faithfully and show up for appointments. They'll do what they're told -- unless the doctor suggests radical changes in lifestyle -- but it never occurs to them to question the doctor's decision or strike out on their own by doing things for themselves that just "feel right." These are the people that, when given a choice, would rather be operated on than actively work to get well.

At the other extreme are the 15 to 20 percent who are exceptional. They're not auditioning; they're being themselves. They refuse to play the victim. When acting out [the role of victim], patients cannot help themselves, for everything is being done to them…Exceptional patients refuse to be victims. They educate themselves and become specialists in their own care. They question the doctor because they want to understand their treatment and participate in it. They demand dignity, personhood, and control, no matter what the course of the disease."

What's up now doc?

Turns out I'm exceptional. And according to the book, the patients doctors deem most difficult end up doing the best over the course of their treatment. The difficult patients are the ones who live.

So go ahead: call me difficult, stubborn, and controlling.

The truth is, I've struggled a lot over the last 10 months over this idea of control. Who do I listen to? Who is the most knowledgeable? Do I trust my gut or theirs? Who has ulterior motives? Who sees me as Dana Frost, the person, not case number 347?

But what I've realized is that none of these doctors have all the answers. In their own way, they all want to help me, and help get rid of the cancer. But patients die at the hands of the alternative doctors and they die at the hands of the conventional doctors. The reality is, there is no right answer (if there were, 30% of the world wouldn't be suffering from cancer).

So, I'm stuck listening to myself. And as someone who was average at best in science class, and in no way an expert in the field of medicine, it can be quite a discomfort putting my opinions ahead of those of the doctors. And because of this, I am considered a difficult patient. I ask questions, I refuse treatments plans, and I change my mind - often.

There are times I wish I was more of an average patient. It would certainly be easier to be one of the 60-70 percent of patients who never questioned and just listened. I can imagine the relief one feels when they are told what the decision is and they never have to think about whether or not it's the right decision. And I'm sure it's easier to play the role of the victim. To wallow in this terrible thing that happened to me. To give up any sort of control of the outcome. There are days I wish I could be more like that. Days where I could just give up control.

But that's just not me. Besides, who wants to be an average patient anyway?

Call me difficult. Call me demanding. Just don't call me average.

And whatever you do, don't call me a victim.