Archive | January, 2014

I Live to Scan Another Day

16 Jan

Erik Hat

 We return to the central narrative…

An emergency room CT scan intended to locate a kidney stone (my first and hopefully my last) uncovered a large mass near my left lung.  Within days a Spiral CT revealed the growth to be a cyst, but a series of enlarged lymph nodes and an enlarged spleen suggested something more sinister.  On to an oncologist appointment and a Petscan, all intended to prove my doctor’s suspicions—that I had some form of lymphoma.  Though the radiologist for the scan asserted that I most assuredly had lymphoma, only a biopsy could provide some certainty and tell us what type.  I received a CT guided needle biopsy, waited one week for the results and….no cancer…a big ole thing in my chest, yes, but no cancer….a bunch of enlarged lymph nodes, an enlarged spleen, and a higher than usual metabolic rate yes, but (say it with me now) NO CANCER. 

Off I went to live my life (perhaps more mindfully and somewhat improved) and to await my next scan.  Two months flew by and there I was, again, me and my tumor, under the CT machine (which looks like a giant donut).  I take some radioactive sugar.  They take some pictures, and one week later, the results show…..

Good news and…. Well, still pretty good news.  The tumor is stable.  Some of the lymph nodes have reduced in size.  Others have seen a drop in metabolic rate, and my spleen has reduced down to just a few centimeters over its normal size.  This is good.  But what to do about all this?  How do you deal with an 8 cm mass in your chest and enlarged lymph nodes? Well we had a bunch of choices, but as any of you who have talked to me these past few months know, this was all headed in one direction, a surgical consultation.  I want to know if we can get this thing out of me without too much trouble, and if they can, they can grab a lymph node while they’re at it and see what it has to say.  If not, we scan again in three months.

In the meantime, I continue my efforts at behavioral reformation, active health, and spiritual peace of mind.  I can’t say for sure that my steps towards a healthier lifestyle have helped, but they surely haven’t hurt. 

Thanks to everyone for your good wishes, your kindness, and your continued indulgence in reading my blog.  You are all too kind.

Stay tuned.


Where Things Stand Two Months In

4 Jan



In mid-December I received my most recent referral for a PET/CT scan. Very soon  (January 9th  to be exact) I will go through another scan—another day of avoiding carbohydrates in preparation, another moment to ingest and be injected with radioactive sugar, another week-long wait for my doctor’s appointment with the results, and hopefully another moment of simultaneous confusion and relief.  Two months have gone by in the blink of an eye, and I find that in some ways I am as scared and uncertain as I was when I first took these tests a few months ago.  Then I was told in no uncertain terms that I had Lymphoma—a diagnosis that turned out to be false.  Now, I don’t think anyone really knows what’s going on.  When last we looked, I had a benign tumor in my chest (which I swear I don’t feel at all), several enlarged lymph nodes, and a slightly enlarged spleen. Now…..who knows?  Only the scan will tell.  I am right back where I started.  Well, in truth, not right back where I started.  As I’ve noted in other posts I have tried to use my bizarre circumstances to motivate me to pursue greater active health and peace of mind. On some counts I’ve succeeded, or at least started down the path to success.  In other ways I have been less successful….I think.

On the success side I have put a great deal of effort into my fitness and my diet.  I go to the gym often and have even started taking Tai Chi class.  Tai Chi is not new for me.  It’s something I pick up every 5-10 years or so, like trying to read all three volumes of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.  As with reading Proust, in the past I have embraced the study of Tai Chi with a zealous passion only to abandon the practice about 6 months in.  Actually I tend to abandon reading Proust much sooner than that.  This time feels different, though.  My interest in Tai Chi this time is not about a fleeting passion, but instead a genuine belief that I should find as many reasonable and affordable ways as possible to stay physically active and mentally calm.  Tai Chi seems to fit the bill, and I hope I stick with it.  As for my diet, I have tried to adhere to the anti-inflammation diet.  I avoid most processed sugars (except for a few weeks ago when people flooded me with their holiday wishes in the form of cookies).  I eat a lot more fish and vegetables than I used to, and I think I’ve eaten red meat just twice in the past two months (maybe three times).  We cook a lot more. I feel a lot better, and while I have not lost any weight (not a friggin’ ounce!) people tell me (without prodding, mind you) that I look lighter.  I’ll take it!

Less successful, I think, has been my ability to, as the internet meme demands of us, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”  In truth, my efforts to attain greater peace of mind have improved.  There’s the Tai Chi, the meditation (once or twice daily), the continued, single daily dose of Ativan, and a general effort on my part to appreciate what I have and to keep it together.  And yet, as I get closer to my next scan, I can’t help but freak out a bit—not all the time, of course, but a little more often than I care to.  It creeps up on me when I least expect it.  For example, lately my daughter has developed a particular fondness for the BBC cult classic, Dr. Who, a show I never really cared for all that much, but which really gets under my skin these days. Merely hearing the theme song is enough to agitate me, and a cable channel’s recent New Year’s Eve marathon, which I watched a bit of in an attempt to find some common cultural ground with my teenage daughter, left me profoundly unsettled and unhappy.  At its core the show contemplates the vagaries of time, and for me uncertainty can be an alarming state these days. 

Uncertainty is the tough part about my current condition.  It is vague, undefined, and in some sense unknown.  Left to my own devices my mind will attempt to end the uncertainty by filling in the blanks with a series of scenarios, some pleasant and some terribly frightening.  I have tried, with varying degrees of success, to keep my imagination in check and follow Peter Pan’s advice to “think lovely thoughts,” but sometimes I grow tired of constantly reminding myself that there’s nothing to be afraid of unless/until there’s something to be afraid of.  I am trying harder than I ever have in my life to live day to day, but sometimes I am so desperate to know my future that it consumes all of my intellectual strength.  Naturally I long for good news, but deep down, something inside of me craves certainty just as much. Put simply, living in limbo can be exhausting.

I recognize, and have blogged about, the fact that we all live in limbo, that none of us can predict our futures with any real certainty, that, as my Tai Chi teacher has observed, the past and the future are figments of our imagination.  Most days that’s works.  Still, I do wonder whether I will ever be fully comfortable with that concept.  Just days after my positive, though, uncertain, diagnosis I asked the question, “Can I feel better?” Could I turn my recent tribulations into a catalyst to live a healthier life?  In many ways the past two months have shown me that, yes, it is possible for me to live healthier and to even enjoy doing so most of the time.  Now, just a few short days from my forthcoming travails, I wonder, “Can I train my mind to live life in the moment?”  Can I end one of my most notable habits of mind (my unique talent for worrying)?  Can I replace loathsome thinking with lovely thoughts?  Can I somehow learn to appreciate Dr. Who? And is it possible, is it even remotely conceivable, that I can “Keep Calm and Carry On?”  Your guess is as good as mine, and your tips and suggestions on how to achieve that state are actively sought and deeply appreciated—save for the Dr. Who thing.  Seriously, I have never liked that show.

P.S. I promise to post about my next doctor visit (January 16) as soon as I can.  Thanks as always for reading, and a belated Happy New Year to all of you.