The following is a commentary from Morning Edition, July 24, 2006:
It's the waiting that's the worst. Or maybe it's the fear of the unknown that's worse. Maybe it's all just bad. The life of someone who has cancer plays to a very different rhythm. You go from one cycle of chemo to the next. You don't know if it's working. It just takes on a life of its own. You get a little shortsighted, counting the days until your next break.
In some ways, taking chemo is an act of faith. Until the doctors take a look, you just have to hope — or maybe even believe — that it's working. Because as unpleasant as it can be, it would be doubly unpleasant if all the nausea, all the fatigue, all that was for nothing.
Now there's a blood test for a cancer marker that you take every couple of months. When I started chemo, I had a score of 21. Then it went to 14, and then seven. Zero, of course, means no cancer. I was excited, the doctors were excited. Everything seemed to be going in the right direction. Until they did the scans. No change in the tumors. That blood test can mean a lot of different things. In my case, it meant nothing.
The scans are the real markers. Those you have every couple of months, too. They're painless, except you have to drink a really foul mixture of chemicals and raspberry-flavored drink. I assume someone at the hospital thought the raspberry drink would make the concoction go down easier. It doesn't. Trust me.
Basically you get run through a machine for a while. And then the games begin. The technicians are instructed to tell the patients nothing. Trained radiologists have to read the scans, and they don't want a technician to give the patient bad information. The official results don't come in for hours. So of course, you, as the patient, try to trick, beg or grovel to get some kind of hint. You try to look at the screen over the tech's shoulders, as if you had any idea what you were looking at. You ask if they see anything big. Usually, though, they go by their training and give you nothing.
And then, after hours that seem like days, the doctor will come to tell you what he or she saw. Again, you're desperately trying to read the clues, sort of like in a poker game. Except it's a game where the other player has all the cards. The doctor knows.
And then you know, for good or bad. And even if the news is bad, it really is better to finally know. At least that's what I tell myself. These days, I don't really get nervous until the doctor comes in. The news is usually so uniformly bad that every time, you just hope for a little bit of hope.
Why am I thinking about all this? Because I have my scans next week. And maybe there'll be some good news, right?