I went into the office today for the first time in nearly a week. Between MLK Day and the sick time and working-from-home time necessary for “Matt Takes Tests” Week, it felt a little unnatural to board the Metra and head downtown in the chilly morning air.
It felt great though! Unlike seemingly the majority of the working world, I happen to love my job, and one dislikable result of the Lumpy Effect has been the disruption of my work routine, just as we’re working on unveiling a newly designed website, celebrating our 110th anniversary and launching a social media campaign that I’m really excited about. Today was also our quarterly full staff meeting, which hammered this home a bit more. Catholic Extension President Fr. Jack started the meeting with a prayer and called me out as a special intention, which I perceived to cause a bit of a confused rumble, as not all of my coworkers were aware of my diagnosis. It was not a secret, it’s just not something I wanted to coldly blast across my cubemates’ inboxes, either. This worked out really well, as I was able to share the news with everyone before I gave my dazzling report on the exciting world of digital communications. I appreciated the chance to tell the whole office at once, rather than having people be confused about why I was missing so much work or what was going on with me. I also appreciated the concern they showed after they found out. I’m truly surrounded by wonderful people everywhere I go. You can’t buy these kinds of blessings.
A long meeting made for a short work day for me, as Theresa picked me up in the early afternoon to head down to my alma mater’s nemesis, the University of Chicago, to get a second opinion. This may seem strange to you, dear reader, since I just completed my tests yesterday and we technically haven’t gotten a first opinion yet. That’s because we scored an appointment with a U of C oncologist who was highly recommended by my doctor friend in Baltimore–and every other doctor she consulted on our behalf in the Chicago area. This woman is truly the Rolls Royce of cancer doctors.
Unfortunately, Rolls Royces only come to those who wait. We found some sweet free street parking (U of C has a valet service otherwise…), but had to wait about an hour and a half before we were actually taken into the office. From there, a nurse came in and took my vitals and asked me slightly horrifying questions like, “Do you feel safe at home?” and “Have you been hit or bullied recently?” Spoiler alert: I have not. Sometimes I think things are happening to me just so my blog posts will be more interesting.
Eventually a U of C fellow came in to go over the results of my tests with us. First I gave her the entire History of Lumpy in Under Two Minutes, from discovery to diagnosis to tests I’ve taken, then she started sharing her news. I had passed my pulmonary function test (lungs) and my MUGA scan (heart). The PET scan showed that the cancer is concentrated in my neck and nothing is below my diaphragm. That’s excellent news! They also noticed that both my spleen and my liver are enlarged beyond normal limits, but there was no lymphoma present in either one, so it might just be genetic or have some other cause. It was a little shocking to me that my liver could be 7 centimeters too big and not be visible through my shirt. As if to test that point, the fellow put me on the examination table and tried to feel for my enlarged organs through my skin. This ended up feeling more like a tickle fight to me.
The fellow left to go discuss the test results and my history with the lead oncologist, so we were left alone to wait again. Eventually a staff member came in to sign me up for a study that would allow them to take extra blood, tissue, and other unmentionable bodily excretions from me during standard tests so that they could do research on the causes of lymphoma. (Are the stool samples to be delivered by mail? Or just left in a flaming bag on U of C’s doorstep?)
Once I ensured that these would not be extra withdrawals of blood, I readily signed up. There was also a long questionnaire to fill out, which was a gift from God, because it helped me and Theresa to kill the next 45 minutes until the oncologist finally arrived.
Thankfully, she was as awesome as advertised. I knew I was in good hands when it came up that she completed undergrad, medical school and her residency at–you guessed it!–Northwestern University. Wildly talented Wildcats are everywhere–even in enemy territory.
She went over my history again and took a turn
tickling examining me herself and said she couldn’t feel my spleen or my liver. Our long wait was a blessing in disguise, as the results of my bone marrow aspiration came in while she was with us. The marrow was free of lymphoma! She also told me offhand that, as of summer 2014, they really don’t tell people to get bone marrow aspirations as part of the initial diagnosis. It’s just not really necessary.
After I picked myself up off of the floor, she walked us through all the various potential stages and treatment options and finally gave us the long-awaited second opinion: I have Stage IIa “non-bulky” lymphoma. This basically means I have “the best stage” of “the best kind” of cancer I could get. Hurrah! Let’s break it down a bit more.
Lymphoma can be in early stage or advanced stage. I am in early stage. (Moral: If there’s a weird lump in your neck, check it out!) Given the size of the swelling, I qualify as non-bulky as opposed to bulky. These are the actual medical terms, apparently. The upshot is that 90% of people with my stage of lymphoma are completely cured after undergoing treatment.
She told us about the treatment, too. There are basically five different chemotherapy and radiation treatment options floating around right now. All of them are effective, so it can be difficult to decide which option to pursue. All of them involve ABVD chemotherapy, which is the gold standard that has not been improved upon since its inception in the 1970s. This is also the chemo that can mess with your heart and lungs, thus the MUGA scan and pulmonary test.
The first option is six months of ABVD. The second option is four months of ABVD followed by radiation treatment. The third option is ABVD for two months followed by low doses of radiation, but this was just something that some Canadians tried and there wasn’t a big enough trial for her to feel comfortable with it yet. She recommended a fourth option: ABVD for three months, followed by a PET scan to ensure that Lumpy has left the building, then one more month of ABVD. I will go for chemotherapy treatment once every two weeks. This means that I could have this all wrapped up in time for the late spring/early summer. Sounds great to me!
Chemotherapy sounds less great, as I will need to get a chemo port installed on my chest (Iron Man-style) and she mentioned a lot more side effects than anyone beyond Dr. Google had ever mentioned to me before. There’s a good chance I will lose my hair (but that’s been happening naturally for a while now…), lose my eyelashes (!!), potentially have nausea, heart issues, lung issues, sensitive nerves, and a compromised immune system. That’s a far cry from “you might feel a little tired.” Initially this was really getting to me, but I can’t let myself forget that these are all only possibilities and, among cancer patients, any of my complaints basically amount to saying that my golden shoes are too tight. As usual, Matt is blessed beyond measure.
Tomorrow we will go back to the original oncologist and see what he has to say. I feel very confident in this diagnosis and treatment option though, so we will hopefully continue to have her guiding the treatment, while I receive the treatment at a much more desirably located hospital.
All in all, I’m so relieved to have such a positive complete diagnosis. I got more good news today as well, as Theresa was able to buy tickets for me to see Billy Joel play at Wrigley Field in August! Seeing the Piano Man in concert has been on my bucket list almost since I was a two-year-old singing “Uptown Girl” while my Mom gave me a bath. (True story.) It’ll also be a fantastic way to celebrate being cancer-free!