Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Give a hypochondriac a cancer diagnosis...

(Note - this has been edited and augmented since I first wrote it, earlier this morning. Mostly that's a line here, a line there, but there's a chunk at the end that's new. Because - vanity, my name is Allan! - some of you are going to want to read this more than once, right? Riiight!

Give a hypochondriac a cancer diagnosis...

Actually, I'm not a real hypochondriac. I just have an active imagination, which sort of runs on automatic, in the background, all the time. I became aware of this when I had a herpes scare, about ten years ago - I don't have herpes, but I slept with someone who didn't tell me that she did (long before I connected with my fiance, you understand). Anyhow, every itch, every pimple, every unexplained blemish that I developed in the time thereafter, up til I got tested and cleared, I was convinced - terrified! - that it was herpes.

I was wrong. If there were a font called "Schwarzenegger," I would inflect this sentence to read: "It's not a herpe." I was very relieved when the tests came back negative.  

When I noticed a weird swelling in my throat, around the left lymph node, back in October, my imagination kicked in. Dad died of colon cancer (wrote about that a lot on my blog, in late 2009, if you want to read about it). Mom had had cancer too, some decades before, having most of her "female parts" removed. Plus I had been a fairly heavy smoker at one point, in my somewhat self-destructive 20's; I cured myself of the habit for good in 2000, but there were a few years where I smoked a pack-and-a-half a day. 

Anyhow, with a history of smoking and two parents who'd had cancer, I made a pest of myself, seeing the doctor about my lymph lump. "It's probably just a reaction to something else going on in your body." I had a throat infection around that time - in November - and then eventually the swelling went down, so I ultimately bought it; it's not like I wanted it to be bad news. (Plus at one point, in my panic, I put the pressure on to get a CT scan, and it revealed nothing. Great!).

Maybe if I'd been less proactive about that lump, I wouldn't have been hesitant to bug people doctors about my tongue, when it started developing symptoms of its own in early January?

In any event, I figured it was like my herpes scare - I was overreacting to a symptom. I put it on the same shelf in my head. 

But it doesn't cure me of overreacting (especially now that I discover in fact I was under-reacting). Now that I've been told I have cancer, some part of me runs wild with worry at each new symptom. My ENT said that the discomfort in my ear and throat are "probably" connected to the growth on my tongue; so now anything that feels weird or wrong in my body, I am inclined to run with it and connect it to my diagnosis.

The lump I had in October, that people told me was nothing? Cancer.  

The weight that I've lost over the winter, thinking it was because I was getting exercise at the warehouse job I was doing? Cancer. 

My left eye itches, feels a bit blurry? Cancer.

I seem to be using the bathroom an awful lot? Cancer. 

I have the makings of another cold again, feel kind of dizzy and weak? Cancer.

My appetite seems to be lessening? Cancer. 

I hope my cancer is less enthusiastic than my imagination - that it's just sitting there in my tongue (and related areas?) waiting to be cut out, not in any hurry (some part of me feels this superstitious dread that now that it's been named, it is off the leash and running rampant, trying to get in as much damage as it can, but that's just silly, right?). I mean, it might be easily treatable, I dunno; I know people who have had cancer in their tongues, and they're more or less fine now. But this is going to be a long week; as things stand - unless I can get the appointment moved up - there will be no further news til Saturday. Has cancer been running wildfire in my system since September/ October, when I started noticing symptoms?

Maybe. That freaks me out (in their rush to reassurance, a few people I've told have resorted to "at least you caught it early," but no, folks, I didn't. Or, more importantly, my doctors didn't, and I bought it). 

And hey, you want to really freak out with me, let's imagine the end results, once treatment is done. Assuming I CAN be treated - assuming, like, I'm not already down for the count, am I going to end up like Roger Ebert, missing a jaw, tongue, digestive tract and such?

Sorry, Rog, but - ecch! 

He got a lot of writing done, mind you. What's that Bruce Springsteen lyric - "you can get used to anything, sooner or later it just becomes your life?" Mostly what freaks me out in that scenario is Erika - I don't want to saddle her, my wonderful, beautiful, supportive bride-to-be, with a deformity for a husband, someone who can't comfortably go out in public with her. She would stand by me, I believe - but that's precisely why I don't want that to happen to her.

(She's got an active imagination, too, alas). 

And selfishly, there are other things that worry me almost as much. What if I lose my tongue and can't speak? Goodbye teaching jobs. What if I end up unable to taste food? (I love food!). What if I lose part of my hearing? (The inner ear on my left side has long been a trouble area, actually - I have long had to vent my eustachean tubes by holding my nose and blowing, periodically, to clear fluid that builds up, compromising my hearing on one side. But what if I flat out LOSE those tubes? Goodbye stereo!). 

Anyhow, my friends are all being really reassuring and supportive - not one of them hasn't said "if there's anything I can do." But, you know, alas, none of them are kickass oncologists, so... (depending on how grim my prospects look there may be a big sale of DVDs and LPs and CDs at some point, where buying my stuff might actually help me out, but don't get too excited yet, you vultures! ...certainly my illness calls into question the wisdom of the stuff I've been accumulating all these years). 

Meantime, Erika has found stuff online that suggests married cancer patients are likely to live longer. That the survival rate for men goes up something like 27%, was it, if they have a loving and supportive partner. So depending on my prognosis, we might be moving up our wedding (but doing it on a smaller scale). It will probably be on the island, still, I'm afraid, so my friends over here might face challenges getting over there, which are understood - I mean, we live here, and you can congratulate us in person after we get back, if it ends up that way.

There's the added wisdom of getting married while my suit still fits. If I end up in chemo, well... I saw what my Dad went through. He ended up bone thin, eating sour cream and cottage cheese and sometimes ice cream, which were about all he could stand. 

Anyhow, breakfast is ready, but that's my head this morning. Meanwhile, I am busy writing about music, and will have some music blogging up soon, because there's stuff I want to put online before... in case... well, you know...

Post script:

Spending the morning on the phone making inquiries - money matters, medical... I feel like I need to get my ducks in a row. Have I worked enough hours since my last EI claim ended to apply for benefits? I need 600 hours. Between on-call ESL teaching, freelance writing, and warehouse work... I might have, but I doubt it. Guess I gotta find out.

What other sources of income are available to me?  Social Services are designed to be useless in a case like mine - if the maximum benefit available to me (under $900) is less than my spouse's income, I receive zero. Well, thanks.

CPP might be more helpful but my work history includes a few years out of Canada, not making payments, and long periods lately of not contributing much or anything, as I muddle by on odd bits earned here and there - mostly freelance writing. Funny thing is, they're not all that easy to talk to. I'm in queue now, but I made about ten phone calls earlier this morning where they went DIRECTLY from the "your call may be monitored for quality assurance purposes" to hanging up on me. (Now that's quality!).

MSP have good news - they already have reduced my monthly payments to $11 a month. The guy emphasizes that squeaky wheels get greased, in situations like this - "you gotta push" - but the (friendly and helpful, calm and professional, and actually rather pleasant) receptionist on the phone at my surgical oncologist's office really, uh, seemed to want to discourage that avenue of approach (I inferred her recoiling in horror at the thought, because I suspect she is surrounded by squeaky wheels).

What else can I do to be proactive? Make a will? I dunno. I'm struggling to finish my now-cold oatmeal (too lazy to heat it up). I have friends I haven't told yet, who probably haven't read this.

("This is attention-seeking behaviour, Allan," a little voice whispers in my ear. Damn straight! My Dad was stoic and patient through his medical ordeal, and all it meant was that the system ignored and overlooked him until it was too late).

Did I take a shower yesterday? Maybe I should start there...

2 comments:

Allan MacInnis said...

Talked a bit more to my GP - the verdict was apparently squamous cell carcinoma or somethin' like that. It tends to stay in one place and spread slowly, but it CAN metastasize (I always feel like I am spelling that word wrong). He really doubts it connects with my swollen lymph lump from last October, because, I mean, that lump DID go away... but it was also he who said that lump wasn't serious, so he might just not want to be WRONG, y'know?

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