One of my favorite movies is Parenthood. It stars Steve Martin and a host of other actors portraying an extended family and their growing up and older and wiser. In one scene, Steve Martin is ranting about something, and his grandmother comes into the room and talks about how her husband took her on a roller coaster when she was 19. I loved that story about how something could be so scary and so fun at the same time. A metaphor for life.
I used to love the roller coaster when I was a kid. Unfortunately, as I got older, my inner ears ganged up on me. Now I can't even look at a roller coaster without getting nauseated. But I still love the idea of the ups and downs that life can take, even if my days of actually riding roller coasters has been curtailed. And while I've been going through cancer treatment, it's helped me to see this as a dip in the ride.
This week after my by now routine chemo treatment, the Physician's Assistant at the oncologist asked to speak with me. Larry and I were puzzled, but we went into one of the exam rooms and waited. We haven't had a lot of dealings with this PA. Mostly we speak either to the oncologist directly or his nurse practitioner, both of whom are very laid back sorts of individuals. The PA came in and told me that the cancer markers in my blood were up, and he showed me a graph with lovely colors. Then he said my liver markers were also up, and showed me another graph. The implication may not have been that the cancer had spread to my liver, but where do you think my brain went?
"And?" I asked. "What does this mean? Why would my cancer markers be up if I am in the middle of chemo?"
The upshot of his discussion was that I needed to have a liver ultrasound, and they needed to do another blood test. The first test could have been an error, he said. The thought popped into my head while he was speaking that if the first test might have been an error, wouldn't it be better to wait until after the second test to say anything? We asked a few questions, and I suppose that we confused him, because he finally said that we should speak to the doctor, who wasn't in the office at that time. I made an appointment to talk to the oncologist on Thursday, and we left.
Of course we freaked right out immediately. I cried off and on for the rest of the day, finally taking a Xanax, because my eyes were getting all puffy and I didn't want Zane to see me. He already thinks that I look like a puffy Mr. Clean.
Once I calmed down a little, I started thinking about my liver. My liver and I have had a long and storied relationship. Over the years, through many alcoholic beverages, many migraines, and lots of chronic joint pain, my liver has struggled to filter my blood. It has done an admirable job, but the long term result of my hard living youth and middle age has been that my liver markers tend to be higher than expected. In fact, the last time I spoke with my family doctor, he mentioned that very fact. So what was different now? How did one leap from higher liver markers straight to cancer spreading there?
This was an extra dip in the roller coaster ride that is cancer.
I was torn between panic, hysteria, and my normal, healthy skepticism. My inner compass had been thrown off way back in September, when what I thought was no big deal turned out to be cancer. I was wrong then, what if I was wrong now? I was a mess. I spent most of my morning in my office, alternately sobbing and getting angry.
My husband, who is my champion in more ways than I can even count, was thinking the same thing. Except instead of sitting in his classroom and sobbing quietly like I was, Larry got on the phone and called the oncologist. He spoke to the nurse practitioner about what the PA said, and she conferred with the doctor. My test results were not significant for anything, they told Larry. I didn't need an ultrasound. I didn't need to come in and talk to the doctor. There was no problem. And as I had known, my liver markers had always been elevated, so that was not a big deal, either. Essentially, the PA freaked us out for nothing. I'd really like to throat punch him.
Larry texted me the news, which made me go from sobbing to euphoric. Sort of bipolar, I suppose. But at least the roller coaster is going the right direction now.