Thinking Through the Fog

I’ve long thought that my wife and I both should have documented our experiences in dealing with her breast cancer fifteen years ago. I’m sure I’ve written, since then, about that time in our lives when our world was turned upside down. My impression then was that she was far better equipped, emotionally, to handle her diagnosis than I. But I don’t know with certainty. She’s never been one to share her emotions on matters so consequential, even with me. I know I was a wreck. And it’s probable that I was a wreck who wasn’t particularly supportive at a time when support was extremely important to her. We don’t talk about that much. Ever. It’s part of a dark history that neither of us documented. I wish we had. I’ve always wished we had documented the emotional roller-coaster that brought both of us face to face with mortality so directly. I remember my panic at the prospect that I might lose her.  I realized how crucial she was to my identity of myself; without her, I knew I would have drifted into a spinning fan blade that would cut me to pieces. That was a bleak time for me; bleaker still for her. She wrestled with whether she would undergo treatment or let Nature takes its course. I was selfish and insisted that she had no choice but to deal with whatever she had to do to ensure that she would remain here with me. I’m glad I was so insistent, but she’s never said how she felt about my selfishness.

Now, thirteen hours after the conversation with my doctor about the results of my CT scan, I’m more conscious of my choices than I was about my wife’s fifteen years ago. I still don’t know, and won’t for a few days yet, whether the 6 cm mass revealed on the X-rays and, then yesterday, on the CT scan is a malignant tumor, but I’m assuming my doctor is right and that it is. I need to know what the tests reveal about its nature, its likely history, and how quickly it is apt to increase in size and scope. And, of course, how far it has come thus far. Maybe it’s sitting there in my lung, as yet alone and unconnected to the rest of my body. Or, possibly, it’s already spread its reach beyond that 6 cm space and has reached into my lymphatic system and my liver and who knows where else. No one knows yet. But the radiologist’s comments in yesterday’s report suggests evidence that it may not yet have metastisized, if the results of my research into the language of the report is correct. I read “No suspicious mediastinal adenopathy” to mean the CT scan image didn’t reveal evidence that nearby lymph nodes showed evidence of malignancy. But, of course, I didn’t ask my doctor yesterday about that; I didn’t know questions to ask until I had wandered the length and breadth of the internet, attempting to learn for myself what no one yet actually knows. For the record, here’s the report from yesterday’s CT scan:

Exam: CT chest with contrast.
CLINICAL HISTORY: Pneumonia, unresolved or complicated; Unresolved pneumonia; Chronic cough
COMPARISON: Chest x-rays dating back to 9/7/2018.
TECHNIQUE: Axial images were obtained of the chest with contrast.
Interpretation: The heart is normal in size. The aorta is normal in caliber. No suspicious mediastinal adenopathy is identified. There is a rounded mass in the right lower lobe measuring 6 cm in size. There are a few air bronchograms centrally. There is a minimal amount of pleural fluid on the right. There are postoperative changes from CABG
1. Rounded mass density right lower lobe measuring up to 6 cm in size.
2. Imaging characteristics favor malignancy rather than pneumonia.
Biopsy recommended.

I remember my father’s death from lung cancer. He was in horrendous pain those last few days, helped only modestly by the morphine injections we administered that last horrible day. That was a long, long time ago. Today, it would have been different. Today, his pain would have been drawn out by days, weeks, even months, thanks to the wonders of modern medicine. I know very little about the extent of his cancer, nor the stage it had reached. By the time I knew he had terminal lung cancer, it had reached a point beyond which there was no return, no recovery. My situation is different. For one thing, I don’t even know with certainty that the mass in my lung is cancerous; so far, the radiologist and my doctor only suspect it. And treatments have changed dramatically since 1985, the year my father died. There’s virtually no realistic comparison between the two of us and our situations. He was 81 years old and had smoked two packs of cigarettes a day since he was a kid. I smoked for many, many years, but I stopped when I was 51. Ach. I could go on and on. The differences between us are so great there’s no point, though. And, frankly, it’s morbid to dwell on this stuff. Especially at this early stage, when I know damn near nothing about whatever it is in my lung.

Given all the “ink” I’ve used in connection with an as-yet undiagnosed condition, one might assume I am deeply troubled by something about which there are few hard, cold facts. But, in fact, I’m not. I’m more interested in it than troubled by it. I’m curious and admittedly a little nervous about what the future holds, but I’m not off-the-rails-afraid.

Just curious. I’m awake at 4:00 a.m. and have been since 3:00 because that’s who I am and that’s what I do on occasion. It’s not because I’m struggling to deal with my mortality. I’m not. I’m really not. But I do feel a little pressure to become my own copy and content editor, just in case. I haven’t spent the last umpteen years pouring my soul into my writing just to let my words disappear into oblivion without a fight. My legacy. There it is again. What will I leave to the world that the world can’t live without? Hah! We shall see.

I really do wish Janine and I had written contemporaneously about her  experiences in dealing with her breast cancer.  There were lessons learned during what was far more trying for her than whatever it is I’m dealing with is apt to be for me. But we didn’t. She had excuses. She’s not one to journal. But I didn’t have much of an excuse. I just didn’t do it. Nor did I write much, at least at the time, about my bypass surgery or, for that matter, all the hospitalizations and surgeries I had related to my Crohn’s disease. Maybe that’s for the best. Nothing puts one in a morbid state of mind more than page after page after page of detail about one’s illnesses and experiences with the medical-industrial complex.

I promise myself that I’ll document my experiences surrounding this latest medical issue of mine. I suspect I, and anyone else who stumbles across this blog, will find what I write boring in the extreme; I’ll do it anyway, so I won’t curse myself years hence for failing to have done it.

I’ve been writing for the better part of an hour and it’s only 4:20. I should go back to bed, but I won’t. With that, I guess I’ll make my first cup of coffee of the day.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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