The world spins on a dime — a tired cliché perhaps, but little seems more fitting to describe the moment that my world turned upside down. Saturday, July 13 is a day that I will remember for the rest of my life. That mid-afternoon call from my colorectal surgeon, I knew, could not be good.
When removing an internal hemorrhoid only several days before, he had said he noticed something small, dark and hard at the end of the hemorrhoid. Probably nothing, he said. But he thought a biopsy was in order.
Scared? Not at that moment.
My mother had died only three months earlier. My sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer in June. Surely, the family could endure no more. I forgot that bad things come in threes.
Squamous cell carcinoma, the good doctor informed over my cellphone as my husband and I were on our way home from at outing to Costco. A skin cancer. And there is enough skin just inside the rectum to host such an unwanted guest. Great. The out-of-body experience was so real that I could see myself sitting in my car on my cellphone speaking to the doctor. I, of course, was several yards above looking down.
Eventually, my feet reclaimed terra firma. My heart, on the other hand, was racing at Secretariat speed. Oh my God. What did this mean? How bad could it be?
We called my husband's son, an MD with degrees from Harvard and the University of Virginia medical school. He went to work researching the subject. Sunday morning, when I awoke, I went straight to the computer and there was his email with a link to an M.D. Anderson study. Worst case scenario — colostomy.
I am falling over the kitchen counter, sobbing, distraught beyond distraught. Vainly not even giving a thought to life or death. A colostomy, that was bad enough. Never mind that my nephew had undergone the surgery in his early twenties and is doing fine and just had a beautiful baby.
Surely, the family could endure no more. I forgot that bad things come in threes.
Moving on, a consultation with my colorectal surgeon revealed that the cancer had probably been caught early, no more than Stage 1, probably. That treatment would be the standard radiation and chemotherapy for a certain number of weeks, perhaps six to eight. I would have to wait until my tests at M.D. Anderson to determine the full course of treatment. Radiation/chemotherapy — those two words beat like an endless drum through my mind most of the day and all night.
Radiation/chemotherapy! Radiation/chemotherapy! Who is going to ever sleep soundly with that unholy rhythm resounding through the blood stream?
We've all seen the misery of the poisonous cures for cancer. Little is more frightening. I sobbed in fear. A non-deserving Christian, I prayed for strength. Each day, I feel as if I am falling deeper into Alice's rabbit hole.
Preparing For The Fight
In somewhat of a zombie state as far as this journey was concerned, I went about my work, had dinner with friends, had lunch with girlfriends, even had six close friends to our home for dinner. My husband and I had decided that we could let no one know until we knew the full consequences of the disease. We told my internist and two friends who could help us at M.D. Anderson. No one else.
Today, I begin 25 days of high-dose radiation and chemotherapy.
Things progressed. I had CT scans of my chest, abdomen and pelvic area. Praise God, no sign of trouble. No swollen lymph nodes. The M.D. Anderson surgeon, the oncologist and the radiation doctor conferred over my various test results. The prognosis is very good, they said.
Stage 1 caught very early, no sign of recurrence. The radiation oncologist placed me in the 95 percentile for cure, my response, thank you Grandma Galila (my husband's late mother who was a tower of strength and a woman of deep faith) and God willing.
And so, today, Thursday, Aug. 8, I begin 25 days of high-dose radiation and chemotherapy. Chemotherapy infusion for several hours each Monday and a chemo fanny pack to be worn five days a week. Radiation every day. Weekends off from radiation and chemo. If all goes well, I should be finished with this regimen Sept. 13. Give me two weeks to recover from the side effects and I'm back on the dance floor, pen in hand, ready to take you all into media immortality.
Actually, today, I traded in my primal fear in exchange for boxing gloves as I face this challenge head on, even as much as I would rather hide under a blanket on the floor of my closet and make this go away.
I am blessed with so many things — my loving husband who is my rock; my family; my loving friends; my access to M.D. Anderson; my doctors; health insurance; my family at CultureMap — I am beyond grateful for the bountiful blessings of my life.
If you are so inclined, please do not send flowers or gifts to me. Send me your love and good vibes. Rather direct your generosity to M.D. Anderson or other medical entities of your choice. Please do not inquire about my well being either in person or via email.
I need some privacy during this trying time. However, I will intermittently keep you posted on my progress.