Saturday, September 15, 2012

Optimism on steroids

I got a 'resin composite' temporary filling yesterday - a layer of mild acid to help with bonding, a layer of bonding, and a slightly colored top layer, with no anesthetic. It hurt a bit, that searing, nervy coldness you can feel only in your teeth at the dentist, and it is only at the dentist that you mustn't move any part of the inside of your mouth when you feel it. I think when he was doing the acid, he told me not to move my tongue, which was difficult. Apparently my tongue had been flying all over the place. It's so incredibly awkward having someone plumb the depths of your mouth - with all that weird equipment, weird sounds, smells and pain. Anyway the whole deal lasted only 30 minutes, and now the upper left side of my mouth feels way less sensitive than it has for a long time. I will need to get a crown eventually, but this filling will last years. My dentist, Anson Louie, is a very sweet man. He seems upset by my cancer, and to know nothing about it.

My capacity for medical details has greatly increased. I don't have to write things down so much anymore.

This morning, my alarm clock did not make any noise, so I randomly woke up at 8:35, ten minutes before I was supposed to leave to get to chemo. It takes me more than ten minutes just to rally the various aspects of pretend-hair I have going these days. I don't like being late for appointments.

Chairs facing the window
I'm in the infusion center on my own today. Julie is sick and I decided to use the hours here on my own so I could catch up on various things I need to write. I'm in the group room, mostly buried in my laptop or a magazine. The other patients are primarily older men, except one woman, ah, her and her friend just went to the private room. That's one advantage of having someone with me! The woman who replaced them mentioned her 50th birthday is coming up, so it's not all oldsters, the definition of oldsters being, of course, older than my current age. She has multiple myeloma in her mouth/teeth, for which she got radiation, horrible!

After around two or so hours of the Taxol infusion, my face goes pale, and I get super spacey. Walking and dragging around my chemo cart helps. And it's great to get some stuff done. I've written 12 emails into my Outbox folder, so far. Also read The New Yorker and The SF Examiner...and some of Time which says that,  every day, one soldier or veteran in the U.S. commits suicide...

Yesterday I had a skype call with Pasadini – whose self and cat have on several occasions rocked the photography on this blog - and who happened to have been diagnosed with follicular thyroid cancer on that very day. She's a good friend anyway, but there's something about talking to someone with cancer that is additionally satisfying. She hasn't talked to an oncologist yet; possibly she will only need surgery to have the lump removed...I hope so. It seems to me, so far, that the Cancer 'meme' is far heavier than the actual experience...But people (older people, unhealthier people?) often have more trouble than I...I think that the severity of side effects are always going to be relative, to some degree, to how bad you imagine it to be. I thought I was going to be deathly ill. For several weeks I was in a lot of pain from having my entire pelvis burnt outside and in, and I have many side effects, but so far, especially this round, nothing too severe. I think in this country the biggest issue is money/medical insurance. If you don't have it, or you have shitty insurance, it's financial - if no other kind of - ruin.

For long infusions like mine, they don't use needles that are metal anymore. It gets put in via a very small sharp metal prong that punctures the skin, then the metal part is pulled out. The tube penetrating my skin for six for so hours is plastic and very small, so I can type, for example, and not feel it. My onc (pronounced 'onk' as in 'honk') nurse today, Karen, seems to be better than David at non-bruising, and now there is hardly a mark on my hand.

Karen gave me some more detail white blood cell counts. The five different kinds of white blood cells correspond to levels of maturity. Neutrophils are the most immature, so they bode well for the future! But my overall white blood cell counts dropped a lot in three weeks. If the “absolute white blood cell count,” calculated by an algorithm using total white cell count and neutrophils, is less than 1.5, they usually postpone chemotherapy. Mine is 1.4, dang (but of course Dr. Nelson said I could go ahead, which is why I am here, yay!) So I'll be giving myself the daily shots (Nupogen) this time, the bone crusher (hopefully not) to help with blood counts. I might have to do it after my last chemo also. Last round, I kept wanting the treatment to be postponed. This time, having reached my potentially penultimate (thanks for the vocab Dhi) chemotherapy session, I will do whatever I need to do to make sure it happens, so I get to finish and go to Mexico for three weeks!

Cancer Central in San Francisco,
the view from chemo room
Found out today that there are many research facilities, studies, pharmacist trainings, and teaching hospitals here, such that I was correct in thinking that I am lucky to have gotten cancer while in San Francisco. The national nursing shortage does not apply here, where it's very hard for nurses just out of school to get jobs.

Is Obama secretly in town? The drive to Misha's was nightmare, as my Russian friend used to say. I felt capable, not too spaced out to drive, but downtown was a sardine can. I thought I had picked the perfect route (Geary to Stockton, simple!) but it seemed that every street I turned on had a detour. I haven't driven in traffic that bad in a long time. Next time, either drive home and take BART, or cross Market street sooner rather than later, avoiding downtown. According to google, it's 2.6 miles. It took me almost an hour. Mercedes, who works at Misha's, said that when that happens they often find out later that Obama was in town.

I told her a little about the talk about herbs with Dr. Nelson. I said, But Misha is kind of famous, isn't she? Mercedes said, She's a legend. Vicky Austin from Zen Center said today, she's the best. I am so grateful to her.

orange jet smoke
Line of sunset-infused jet smoke, and beneath it,
some interesting, if barely visible, lines, and
Sutro Tower in the distance, wearing its skirt of fog
I smoked some weed tonight, which made me ravenously hungry, and not sleepy. So I'm going to lay off the stuff for a while, that is NOT what I need. Kathy warned me not to bring marijuana to Singapore. Apparently whenever they come across a medical marijuana card, they set it on fire.

A note about the post title: Putting together my upgraded bed, I was reflecting on my Skype conversation with Kathy earlier tonight. I spoke with great ardor on this round of treatment, and my optimism about outcomes. And about how kind of odd it feels to be optimistic, either because of my formerly nihilistic tendencies, or perhaps from having experienced as an American too much forced optimism. I feel very optimistic about Pasadini, too. And all this optimism is on steroids right now.

I wonder of all the people in the US who get whatever kind of cancer, how many of them die within 5 years? A great many people recover from cancer, Lance Armstrong isn't the only one...


  1. I quilt with several ladies that are post cancer survivors over 10 years now.. Keep up the good work, have hope, and optimism.