My last journal entry ended with the discovery that I had a malignant lymph node. Now I'd like to share with you the testing which determined the extent of my first cancer's growth.
I wish I could say that when I learned I had cancer I instantly vowed to fight the disease with all my strength and will. But it didn't happen that way. Instead I started sleeping almost around the clock; I probably wanted to escape from life for a while. Krissy would call me several times a day to see how I was, and to urge me to see an oncologist about the cancer, but I kept on sleeping. Finally Krissy and a friend of mine made an oncology appointment for me, got me out of bed, and pretty much dragged me to see the doctor.
Dr. W. gave me a thorough examination which was painless. He had studied the pathology report on my malignant lymph node, so he knew what he was looking for. He told me that I had a lymphoma, and explained in general terms what that meant, but without committing himself to a detailed explanation. I suppose he wanted more information first. He then scheduled me for five things: blood tests, a biopsy of the lump on my neck, a CAT scan, a bone marrow biopsy, and another appointment with him to hear the results of all the tests.
The blood work was a piece of cake. I had had blood tests before and wasn't at all concerned about being stuck in the arm. The needle barely hurt, and after drawing blood for two minutes or less, I was done.
Before doing the biopsy of the lump on my neck, the pathologist asked me two questions; he was hoping to find out why I had developed a lymphoma. He asked me if I had ever been a coal miner, or if I had ever worked in a uranium plant. My answer to both his questions was "No." He explained that he had asked because links had been found between lymphoma and a prolonged exposure to carbon, and exposure to radiation. Aside from those two, no one knew what caused lymphoma, at least at that time.
I was a bit apprehensive about the neck biopsy itself. I had the impression that the pathologist would cut out the whole lymph node which caused the lump, but my fears were unnecessary. He pushed a rather thick needle into the lump to extract a sample. The pain was worse than a flu or tetanus shot and lasted considerably longer, but I was relieved to find it bearable. I'd actually been worried about that biopsy. After all I've been through with two cancers, it's embarrassing to look back on myself in 1998 and realize what a novice I had been.
The preparation for the CAT scans of my abdomen, pelvis, underarms, and neck started with no food or liquid after 12:00 AM the night before. My scan was at 8:30 AM, but before the scan I had to drink two quarts of barium in a short time. I could have easily believed that I was drinking Sherwin-Williams house paint. The radiology technician told me that drinking it cold with strawberry-banana flavoring made it taste better. "Better" must have been a relative term. Drinking large quantities of cold paint for breakfast on an empty stomach put me in immediate danger of throwing up and possibly ruining the CAT scan. Somehow I kept it all down, but just barely. The scan itself was an anticlimax, except for the dye they injected into my veins. This caused me to have an intense sensation of heat everywhere, as if my body temperature had jumped to 120 degrees. But now that I think of it, most of you have probably had CAT scans already, so I don't need to go into too much detail.
Dr. W. saved the bad test for last.
This story is getting too long for one journal entry, so I'll continue it tomorrow.