by Chris Brewer
My cancer came back, sort of, after just over 13 years since diagnosis. Now for those of you who know me, relax, I do not have cancer again. But of course there’s a story behind this odd statement, and it all started with feeling full?
On October 16, 1996 I was diagnosed with moderately advanced testicular cancer (yes, 2 weeks after that guy who’s a little more well known around here, he beats me at everything). A couple of surgeries, some chemo, and 3 months or so later and I’m done with the treatment side of cancer; or so I thought.
Flash forward to 12 years post treatment and I find a bulge in my upper abdomen that was basically like a small balloon. No worries, my doc says, you had a big abdominal surgery back in the day and sometimes sutures fail. An hour or so of hernia surgery soon after and I was good to go.
But this time around it’s a little different. I was never really hungry, felt full all the time, and I have another unexplained bulge in my upper abdomen. Add in that my brother Robin died from stomach cancer three years ago, and now you have the makings for full on concern (stomach cancer is one of those bastards that grows inside out, and you often don’t even know you have it until it’s Stage 4). I tried to reassure myself that his form of disease is very rare in men my race / age. A quick search on the internet of my various symptoms and I find I could have anything from gastritis, liver or kidney disease, a hernia, a blocked intestinal tract, and yes, cancer. I have yet to become reassured.
I started out my trek back into the possible cancer world by visiting my family doc. He agrees I do have the symptoms, pokes and prods and says (of course) we need to do more tests, blood and an ultrasound – but he doubts I have cancer. Of course I can’t help but recall this was how things first started back in 1996 with essentially the same test regimen. Reassured? Not even close.
This time after much blood is drawn and the magic wand is waved around I pulled the tech aside and asked for his opinion of what he saw. He gave the stock answer that only the radiologist could say for sure, but he didn’t see any large masses that would indicate the Big C. This is much better than back in the day when the tech almost dropped his probe to go and get the radiologist, and so began my cancer journey. I’m a little more reassured, but now the waiting begins.
About a week later I go see my GP and he confirms the ultrasound was fine and so were all the blood tests, but then he pokes and prods again and says that something, or maybe some things, were not right. From his end he starts treating me for gastritis but says I need to go see my surgeon for a higher level look-see. He’s out of his league and testing capability, so another week’s wait before I can see him and that equals more time to think about things, bad things. Dreams have an interesting way of telling you what your true inner psyche is concerned about.
I see my cutter and he agrees that there’s something wrong, but he can’t tell what from just feeling about. He suspects either another hernia or the previous repair has gone awry, but he can’t rule out anything else, either. Only a CAT scan can tell, and I get scheduled for one in a few days and a follow up in a week or so.
Now I’m a veteran of CAT scans and while it’s certainly old hat, it doesn’t mean it’s any more fun, either. And this is also where the crazy cancer smells and experiences kick in, too. I think for any cancer survivor there are sensory things that take you back in a moment to some of the worst times of your life. For me it’s things like the metallic taste in your mouth as the iodine is infused into your IV, and the mechanical voice over the CAT scan intercom that says, “Take a deep breath and hold it. Now breath normally.” My mind is flooded with thoughts of surgical recovery, chemo bags drip, drip, dripping interminably, and long walks down hospital hallways dragging my IV stand along for the ride. Hell, just writing this brings back a lot of those thoughts, let alone the hum of being scanned for the umpteenth time!
- Note to the marketers who brand the Barium contrast: it doesn’t taste like a vanilla smoothie, I don’t care what cute graphic you put on the label. I’d go with ‘chalk mixed with Milk of Magnesia’, ugh.
And so another few days begin, waiting and worrying what I will have to tell my wife, family, and friends, before I get back to my surgeon and the definitive diagnosis: a hernia, and no cancer. He’s not sure what kind of hernia it is until he goes in, but it’s not serious and I should also continue my medication for gastritis. I can go about my life as normal and we’ll fix this thing in the Spring, have a nice day.
And now I am reassured, but I had to go places I haven’t been to in a long time, i.e. my cancer experience came back full force. There’s a line in the LIVESTRONG Manifesto that reads, “we know the fight never ends. Cancer may leave your body, but it never leaves your life.” My story is just one example of this truth, and the reason we’re here fighting for you every single day.