TL;DR - SAM DOESN'T HAVE CANCER AGAIN! asdfhaslkdjhfasdkfhasomgwhut
WELL. THAT WAS A GODDAMN ROLLERCOASTER.
Four weeks ago I had my second post-treatment PET scan. My family and I were shocked when the doc came in and said "YOUR DISEASE IS BACK." On the PET scan were 4 globes of light, 3 in the lymph nodes where my disease originally started, in my left armpit, and 1 in my spleen, where tumor burden was extremely heavy before my treatment.
The doc wanted me to go straight into therapy. Salvage chemo, it's called, using a regiment called RICE which would put me in the hospital for 3 days every 21 days for 3 or 4 treatments. This would be followed by a bone marrow transplant of my own marrow and another massive dose of chemo, lovingly referred to as BEAM. That would be another 3 weeks in the hospital.
Post self-transplant I'd get full body radiation 6 times, then ANOTHER stem cell transplant, this time from a donor. Another 3 weeks. At the end of it all, we realized we were looking at another 6 months of treatment of a considerably more damaging sort, followed by probably 6 months to a year of recovery.
I'd been feeling so good that I couldn't hardly believe it. My dad went to battle for me and demanded we get a biopsy, a tissue sample, of the lymph nodes in question to see what in the hell was going on before I submitted to 6 months of treatment and potentially life-threatening side effects.
Two weeks ago we did just that. I went in and they took a needle that looks like a pipe and prodded it into my chest, guided by ultrasound. 5 times they shoveled little stripes of tissue, called cores, into test tubes. We waited.
Three days after that biopsy I was supposed to be admitted to begin my first round of RICE. At 3pm, just 2 hours before my date with the hospital, the doc called and said she had news. The cores their pathologist looked at didn't have any cancer cells. But cores are only a tiny strip, she reminded, and they only got one of the five. The gene institute got the other 4. She was trying to get ahold of them to figure out what they had seen, but told me to unpack my stuff in the mean time.
I was extremely happy. I mean, damn. Prognosis gets worse with any recurrence, and the treatment had so many possible, horrible side effects that I was genuinely dreading it. A crack of light started pouring in again. We tentatively celebrated.
The next day she called and said the gene institute confirmed that they did, in fact, have cancer cells sighted in the cores they had. I cried. I wanted to rip a tree out of the ground. It took me the day but by the end I was, again, ready for battle.
And again, dad went to bat for me. He pushed that we do a full biopsy of the lymph nodes, surgically remove them and slice them into tiny layers to see just what in the hell was going on in there. The doctor agreed, having seen the weirdness of the first cores, and we scheduled surgery.
Last Thursday I went under and got 3 more lymph nodes cut out of my arm pit. They went in through the same scar from when I had my first, kidney-sized tumor removed. I ran 2 miles immediately after the surgery with some friends, because I have things to do.
The doc went ahead and scheduled my hospital stay for yesterday. We hadn't heard any different in the intervening days, so I packed my bag up in the morning and walked around the house anxiously. At 10am a nurse called and said that I wasn't going into the hospital today, but that the doc was considering another biopsy.
Another biopsy? At first I was hit by a blast of optimism - maybe they didn't find anything, so they're going to try some other tissue. Then a huge wave of pessimism - it's more likely they found something ELSE, maybe some other cancer, and they need more clarity before going down the RICE salvage pathway since there are other options for other cancers.
I told my fam, and while we all had a glitter of optimism, we were generally preparing for the worst. Things hadn't exactly been going well.
We get to the hospital and sit down with the doc. She was wearing a lively red and orange floral dress - perfect for the 70 degree and gorgeous day. She seemed very upbeat, but I was cautious.
"We got the results of the biopsy back, Sam. Pathology cannot find any evidence of cancer cells."
My heart exploded out the back of my body.
Evidently the cores that the genetics team had deemed cancerous were, in fact, not cancerous, just abnormal. They had eyeballed them, not stained them, and further analysis with a number of more fine-grain tests revealed that while what's happening in my body is totally abnormal, there's nothing malicious. That inflammation is what was picked up by the PET scan. It wasn't cancer. It was my body, working.
The doctor has only seen this twice, in the hundreds, if not thousands of patients she's seen. Both those patients remained clear of disease at the 3 year mark. She and the pathologists don't really know what in the hell is going on inside me.
But I do, and that's just fine by me.
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