Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Weird Aniversaries (this gets a little graphic - avoid if you are squeamish)

It was 23 years ago today that I had the original biopsy. Today is very bittersweet. At the time, I already knew deep down inside that I had cancer, but had two more days to pretend I didn't. I still wonder what my life would have been like without the diagnosis and treatment of the Hodgkins Lymphoma. Would I have better lung function? Would my energy levels be more normal? Would I be more fearless in life? And more questions I will never have the answers for.

I am grateful that my surgeon had done some training in plastic surgery, so it lessened the visual impact of the big scars on my neck. This same surgeon later did my rhinoplasty after I had broken my nose in a construction mishap. Amazing doctor and an even better human being. When my mom and I (I was 22 years old and very single) met with him to get the awful diagnosis, he was crying right along with us. He said, "I was so sure it was benign when I was operating. It LOOKED benign." I am sure he is retired by now, but if he is not, I highly suggest Dr. Gozum in the Twin Cities area, if you ever need an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat specialist).

I wish I had been writing in a journal back then, I think it would be interesting to read about where my head was at back in those difficult days. I do know there were moments that I thought of ending it all, but I talked to the right people and got the help I needed to get over it. To be honest, I could not bring myself to do it. I do remember people trying to make long range plans with me. I had to tell them that I was unable to make long range plans, and could they call me right before the activity and I would tell them whether I felt up to it. I am sure it was frustrating for my friends. I know it was frustrating for me.

I remember losing half of my hair (I had radiation therapy and lost all the hair in the radiation field). I lost the hair from just above the notch on the back of my skull and down from there. Thankfully I had long hair at the time so I was able to "cover it up" well. It was a weird sensation when a fan blew up under my hair, to the skin that was not used to being bare.

The nausea during the second phase of my radiation therapy was more than unpleasant. All of my life, I have had a phobia about vomiting, and here I was, vomiting all the time. I still have that phobia. I will move heaven and earth to avoid puking. As a result, I have not puked since the early 1990s.

I still have the low blood pressure that I got during those days. I have to be careful when I stand up, so I don't pass out from the blood pressure dip. Funny story about that - I was at a club with some friends during my treatment, and someone walked up to me and asked me about how long the doctors gave me to live. I stood up too fast (deliberately) and fainted. Freaked the nosy person out, then I told them that I had at least 50 or 60 years left. If I could not laugh about it all, I would have been crying all the time. I also played a prank on my boss. When I was losing my hair, one day, my boss walked by my cubicle and asked me how I was doing. I grabbed a chunk of my hair, pulled it out, and said, "this job is driving me crazy!" He turned whiter than a twice bleached bedsheet, and said, "please tell me that was going to come out of your head anyway!" We had a good laugh about that. I had to find things to laugh at, while going through all of the crap. It was the only way I could have survived.

Obviously, it was not all fun and games. One of my friends had a "skating party" around Lake Calhoun toward the end of the first phase of my radiation therapy. So we went and rented skates (or Rollerblades for those inclined) at Rolling Soles, and proceeded to skate around the lake. I got about halfway around the lake and I could not go any further. So I had to sit and wait until someone had gotten back to the skate rental place, and pick me up in the car and take me back. I was such a buzzkill. I felt awful that I felt so awful that I could not get around the stupid lake. It is only 3.2 miles around.

OK, enough trolling down memory lane for today. Perhaps in a later post we can go into the dietary weirdness that was my life in those days.

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