Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Done... Right?

At this point, I thought there was nothing the oncologist could say that would disturb me. I’m in the final stretch, after all. A month ago, perusing the mail, much less responding to emails, was overwhelming. My to-do list was a reproach on paper, for I had not the energy to visit the attic, much less sift through old paperwork, organize shelves and haul bags of cast-offs to Goodwill. I would make it through my workday and head home exhausted; running errands or attending a meeting afterwards was not a possibility.

Gone now the lethargy of those chemo days. I’ve straightened the attic and made that Goodwill run, relishing the pleasure of pounding feet and powerful legs with each dash up the stairs. After a day of work followed by a trip to the dry cleaners and the grocery store, I can’t help but smile when I arrive home, sling my purse over my shoulder, grab a shopping bag in one hand and a full complement of clean shirts in the other, then nudge the car door shut with my hip.

But for my edgy-lesbian butch hairdo, I’m back.

This busy, competent Lea is a much-missed old friend and oh, I welcome her! My chemo treatments ended in November, thank god, and the Herceptin drips, which will continue until August, have no side effects. I feel great and, to all intents and purposes, I am done with this cancer.

So I thought.

During my last visit, Dr. Lawden called me from the infusion room into his office for a consultation. I sat in a beige chair, my IV stand with its bag of fluid tethered to my chest by a thin plastic tube. The doctor asked about neuropathy, or numbness of the hands and feet, which I was delighted to report, was not an issue. “Still active?” he asked as if perhaps, despite his directive that I exercise forty-five minutes a day, I’d opted for indolence. I nodded, masking a mental eye-roll.

We discussed diet and sleep patterns and he checked my fingernails. I haven’t bitten my nails since I was a kid, but another charming chemo manifestation is wavy, peeling nails. Who knew? I find myself gnawing away like some anxious teen and my nails look awful. “Part of post-chemo recuperation,” he said.

With mutual smiles and the closing of a manila file, we wrapped up. I was on my way down the hall, pushing the IV stand before me, when he called, “Lea! Wait! I forgot to discuss the main purpose of our consultation.”

I had no reason to be suspicious.

“We need to talk about hormone therapy once your treatments are over,” he said.

“Hormone therapy?”

“Yes. Chemo is generally followed by a course of Tamoxifen.”

I’d heard of this drug, but it had nothing to do with me. I was done. I thought that after surgery and chemo any cancer that had a chance in hell of causing a problem was banished. I should have learned from all of this, however, that nothing is certain.

I am not one to talk back or question, and certainly not to a doctor, but I’d had enough of bad news and flattened spirits. “No one mentioned further treatments,” I said, my arms crossed defiantly across my chest.

My tone must have given him pause, for he said, “I thought I’d covered it; sorry if I didn’t. You’ve had a lot to absorb. I’m going to research your case some more. Weigh the risks and benefits…”

“Risks?” I cut in.

“Yes, well. As I said, I’m going to study your case and then we’ll review the specifics of maintenance.”

Maintenance? Damn.

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