All things considered

When I saw Dr. [name withheld] last week, he said to me, “considering what you’ve been through, you’re doing really well.” I took it in a glass-half-full way to mean, “you’re recovering well after harsh treatments and surgery, and better than most people in your place.” But it could also be taken in this way: “you are recovering, there seem to be no setbacks, but you have been through a lot of things that are not good for the human body and though you are doing well, you have a ways to go.”

It’s this second interpretation that seems most honest at this point.

Today, I went to see my Madison oncologist, my trusted doc, and to get my white blood count checked again to determine if I can begin the oral chemo. My WBC came in at 3.0, or 3000. Higher than last week’s 2.5, but not as high as they’d like it to be — 3.5 or higher.

The thing is, even if my WBC is up to 3.5 next week, the likelihood that such a low number will endure much of the VP-16 is slim. In other words, if my WBC is still trying to recover from all of that nasty high dose chemotherapy then it’s probably going to take a hit when (and if) I start the VP-16. A week, a day, a pill…and they’ll have to stop the drug.

So, what’s the point? That’s what I’d like to know.

This week has been sort of a rough one. I’ve been intermittently physically ill and in pain since Sunday night, and yet everyone still thinks I’m doing well. My oncologist said, in essence, that none of this stuff surprises him: not the low WBC, the low platelets, the illness, the pain. “Considering what you’ve been through…”

It’s funny. Everyone I encounter lately, from friends, to co-workers, neighbors, even doctors and nurses say to me basically the same thing: “You look great, Mike!” I take that to mean, “Wow, what a difference a little hair makes to one’s appearance!” It’s difficult to counter such a reception with something honest, like, “Yeah, I do look better, but man, I still feel like shit a lot of the time. How’ve you been?”

And so, I asked Dr. Arbaje today: “Doc, I have to live in this body for the next fifty years — is it wise to pursue more chemotherapy, and take the VP-16? Considering what I’ve been through, that my body is still trying to recover, that I am clearly not back to full health, and that some of the effects of all this treatment will be with me for a long time, perhaps even my entire life — I mean, how much more can my body take?”

“I don’t think we should make any decisions at this point,” he said, ever the even-keeled scientist.

And so there we are. My doctors telling me to follow the “maintenance treatment” route. My body telling me to cut it out.

Two weeks ago, I had prepared myself mentally (if not physically) to begin the three months of oral chemo. But then they gave me a way to squirrel out from under the plan — and now I’m not sure what to do.

For now, I will go and get the tests done, see what they tell us, and listen carefully to the opinions of my doctors. Either a continued low WBC will make the decision, or I will.


One Response to “All things considered”

  1. Even though I have mostly inspired this response myself, the fact that I did NOT lose my hair led people to assume I was in recovery when I was not. I mean, there have been ups and downs within the cancer, and I was kinda cancer-free there for a little bit, but I was still dealing with the treatment even then. It’s weird, though. People believe what they want to believe, and when people assume I’m well when I haven’t said so, it’s easier to let them believe what they want to believe–at least for me.

    But sometimes, when people are asking me to do stuff to help out in some way, I feel like saying, “I kind of need all the energy I’ve got for this health thing I’ve got going on,” and I do wonder (because I don’t talk about the cancer) if folks have forgotten. I have taken to joking about it though (as usual for me). I’ve gone to “You think you could ask someone who ISN’T fighting cancer?” Naturally, that is my own story–not yours. It is odd to have people tell you how great you look. Especially if you’ve just thrown up in the parking lot and haven’t been able to rinse your mouth out yet. That’s a moment. But I mostly let people enjoy how good I look.

    Feh. Do you realize that this blog is probably the only place I talk about cancer outside of medical offices. A tangent of sorts: When I was in my car accident and went to the ER, I made an executive decision not to mention the cancer. It would have taken forever to give my history, or worse, get my files sent over from the oncology building. I figured, let them check out the crash-related crap, let them prescribe stuff, and then I’ll check with the oncology team to see if I can take what I was prescribed. Best decision I ever made. We would’ve been there forever.

    Even though it’s in my nature to offer advice, I’m gonna refrain from doing so. I certainly know that the question of treatment approaches is a personal one. It doesn’t matter what I would do. It matters what you need to do, and eventually you’ll realize there’s as much information as you’re gonna get to make a decision. And there you’ll be.

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