I opened up my email this morning to these beautiful words from my bff Marnie Leonard Fender. We’ve been pals since middle school:
My heart is broken to hear the test results. You are so special to all that know and love you and I wish that this wasn’t the fight that it is. I couldn’t respond to your one line blog… the one line said so much about how you must be feeling. We are normally graced with many words of inspiration – and the lack of prose from my dear friend, the most talented of writers, hit like a freight train. The impact of just a few words….the implication of your sorrow. Please remember the impact of other few words….you are loved…God is with you…hope returns. I am hopeful about your talks with the doctors.
Monday and Tuesday this week were like night and day — and I can’t help but think, no, believe, that the power of prayer was responsible. First there was the sudden collapse of my right leg in a Kohl’s Department store. “Was it pain that kept you from walking?” the doctors asked me at the ER.
No, it wasn’t the pain, I assured them. I can walk through pain. My leg just simply gave out, couldn’t bear any weight, wouldn’t work. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.
Don rushed me to the University of Michigan ER as my instructions from my medical team at Beaumont were: Get to the closest ER. Doesn’t matter which one. Just get there.
Don wheeled me into the ER and there I was, sitting in this rolling chair, wearing a mask for protection, tears streaming down my face at such a high rate that the top of the mask was soaked and clinging to my cheeks. I was immediately sent for a veinous ultrasound (this was a first for me), which checks for blood clots. Thank God, the test result was a negative.
Next, I was sent for a complete MRI of my back, from my neck all the way down through my tailbone. I laid in the MRI tube for a full hour. When they finally pulled me back out, the techs asked how I was able to remain so still. Apparently, a lot of people can’t and have to go under anesthesia or simply can’t complete the test.
I told them my strategy. I pretended I was an astronaut in a rocket heading into space, and that I had been well-trained for the mission. The headphones meant to protect me from the loud noises of the MRI machine were, in fact, my communication to and from Ground Control. I imagined how, once the rocketship burst through the atmosphere and I got the green light, I’d be floating around the cabin of the shuttle, gazing at the beauty of earth from space, mingling with my astronaut companions, trying to decide which freeze-dried meal would be dinner. Beef jerky? Chicken? Yes, I know; my strategy is way out there, but it worked.
And so did the tests. My ability to lie that still gave the doctors the best possible images to work with. They returned to my room at the ER within 45 minutes of the test — a very quick response. They closed the door. Closing the door always means something serious is up. The doctor began by explaining that there was no disc compression, no pinched nerves. That was the good news.
The bad news was that there were multiple lesions in my back, near my spinal cord. But that was as far as he wanted to go. The ER docs simply recognized the complicated nature of my diagnosis and that truly, it was my oncology team that needed to look at the films and interpret them. I really respected them for that.
On the ride home, I sobbed. Wracking sobs. I looked at all of the houses that dotted the landscape, brilliantly lit in the dark of the night with strings of Christmas lights, nativity sets on the lawn. I thought this new development meant I was a goner. I felt quite certain of that in those moments and sobbed at the thought that my life was coming down to one last Christmas.
Not so, my oncology team told me yesterday, after reviewing the films and tests from the University of Michigan. They had studied those films earlier in the day, while I was going through a PET Scan. There was very good news to be had. VERY GOOD NEWS.
NONE of the lesions were touching my spinal cord. My spinal cord was completely clear. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, and I could see it all over my oncologist’s face. This was the piece of information that would change everything. Yes, there is cancer in my back, and that’s a new development, but it’s in my vertebrae and very treatable. Right then and there in the office, I was given a shot of a second chemo agent called Xgeva (pronounced X-Geeva), to go with my Xeloda (Zeloda).
The combination of these two chemo agents has proven to be very successful in treating breast cancer that has mestastasized to the bones. And, as I began the Xeloda a week ago, my oncologist noted, we were already ahead of the game. We should see some improvement within three to four weeks on this new regimen.
That’s a long time to be as debilitated as I have been in the past few weeks. And the last two days, I’ve spent most of my time in a wheelchair, unable to walk for any length of time on my own. That’s due to the inflammation in my back. So, my doctor is putting me on a round of steroids and I should get relief within a few days. I should be back, up and around and WALKING again very soon.
So, there was indeed a silver lining to my test results. Would I have loved to hear that there was not any cancer in my back? Of course. But my oncologist was steady, confident and calm as she walked me through my options and told me that this is indeed treatable and that we will get it under control. Maybe we’ll even get rid of it. She still maintains that I have years ahead of me. This is not my last Christmas.
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson