Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Bad News on My Block

Remember back in December when I told you guys that my friend Normal Neighbor was having a breast biopsy? She was very anxious about it but it came back benign, and we all breathed a sigh of relief.  Then I stopped worrying about her health and entered a pleasant holiday stupor, forgetting that her doctor had told her she was pretty severely anemic and needed to have a colonoscopy after the new year.

Then I was flying to LA.  You know how when your plane lands and your phone picks up service again, you get that avalanche of text messages? One was from her.  It said:
Bad news from the colonoscopy this morning. It is cancer. Not up to talking right now.
I just sat there staring at my phone. Cancer? I thought, "She can't have cancer because I didn't even know this was a possibility."  It wasn't on my radar screen at all. I didn't know the colonoscopy was to rule out cancer. She's only 45.

While I was snowed out of Atlanta that week, she was getting prepped for surgery, fast.  When I finally talked to her, the day before her operation, she sounded upbeat, surprisingly so.  I recognized her state of mind as that dazed, not-too-down, busy feeling you get when you're dealing with a new diagnosis, trying to learn everything, and getting ready for surgery.  The mind is an amazing thing. There's something about all the activity that insulates you from the fear, at first. But she told me a couple of things that gave me a feeling of foreboding. The surgeon thought a couple of her lymph nodes looked like they might be involved, and there was a suspicious spot on her liver.

I got a sinking feeling as she told me that. It sounded to me like we were talking about Stage III disease, right out of the gate.  I did a bunch of googling "colon cancer staging" and "colon cancer prognosis by stage" and sunk even further.  I just thought, "How could it have gotten this bad without her knowing?" It brought up a lot of my own anxieties about cancer and about how, with breast cancer anyway, once you cross over into metastatic disease, you are no longer "curable."  I thought about how your life can change in one minute.  I felt miserable and scared for her.    

I didn't blog any of this because the situation wasn't really stable, and it all felt too raw.  I thought about how my blog name for her, "Normal Neighbor," doesn't do justice to what a sweet and reliable friend she is. 

She had surgery four days after her diagnosis, while I was still out west.  They found two cancerous lymph nodes and took a biopsy of her liver.  By the time I made my way home, she was almost out of the hospital. She felt better than before the surgery, now that the large tumor in her colon wasn't making her sick. And what's more, she and her husband seemed happy, relieved she came through the surgery, and optimistic.

I said to Matt, in so many words, that I didn't understand why they were in such a good mood.  He said, "You mean you think they're in denial?"  I said I didn't think they were in denial, but it was like they had reached some advanced state of acceptance and serenity, way, way fast.  I told him that I didn't want to be the friend who shows up at your house and says, "Don't you realize how serious this is?"  He agreed that I should not be that person.  He said that he thinks of them as "here and now" people, and that they're just focused on getting her good care.

And in the last couple of weeks, it's funny: talking to her and hearing that she is not in despair and torn up with anxiety, that she feels her treatments will work and she will be fine, it has made me believe it. She will start chemotherapy on Valentine's Day, and apparently it's not the kind that makes your hair fall out, which is good. But I was ready to speed over there with my wig, Codi. You know I was.

I thought about that Stephen Jay Gould essay about survival statistics, "The Median Isn't the Message."  That's worth a read if you don't know it.  And I remembered what one of you sweet blog friends told me when I was agonizing over my own cancer staging and prognosis:  Even if you're facing something with a one percent survival rate, there is no reason to think that you won't make it into that one percent. Indeed, it's hard to live any other way.

So I am still just shocked about this turn of events.  Fucking cancer, I swear.  I felt the need to tell you guys because it's definitely something going on in my life and my 'hood, and this is where I talk about that stuff.  But I am hopeful, I really am. 

Let's be alert to our bodies, but without being anxious and freaked out.  I'm trying to strike that balance. And let's be thankful for every day we have health.


Roving Lemon said...

So, so sorry to hear this. And speaking of relying on statistics, while I was reading this I was totally thinking, "No way! SM just had cancer! No way should someone in her support network have to be dealing with it! That is so unfair! Do-over!" Which is, I realize, totally irrational. But also a typical response to @!#$?%& cancer. Sending good thoughts in your general direction.

InTheFastLane said...

I don't comment here often but felt I needed to chime in because my mom was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer just before Christmas and even though every one is different, they too think she will be fine. Not before she has some nasty treatments and a nasty surgery. But, she will get to keep her hair. Hard to know exactly how people deal with things, sometimes the hardest part is coming to terms with it in the first place, but I am sure you know that.

Lisa Lilienthal said...

So sorry, Becky, and so glad Normal Neighbor has you. said...

I'm really sorry to hear this, I've recently had two friends diagnosed with Breast Cancer and have actually directed them to your site because I found your perspective to be so even keeled and upbeat RE: The Big C. My husband works in the Coronary Care Unit and comes home every day not with sad stories about people dying but with the phrase, "Let's be so thankful for our health" on his lips, and here again I have to second it. This whole ride is fleeting, we've got to get it while the getting's good! I'll keep your friend in my heart and certainly send wishes for a speedy recovery her way.

janimal said...

Well that's just sucky sucky sucky.

Best wishes to your friend and her family.

Keely said...

I don't have enough expletives for this. I'm glad they're staying positive and that she has you to help her through it.

Megan said...

Oh, Becky, I'm sorry your friend and her husband are going through this. I get so angry every time another friend or acquaintance is given the news that cancer has crept its insidious way onto the scene. It does sound like they're focused on the positive, though, which is so admirable. At the end of the day and whatever the outcome, would they prefer to spend their days in fear or in hope and happiness? It's not that simple, of course... wish it was. Much hope and love coming their way.

Kelly said...

%&$@ing cancer is right. Sending prayers her way =(

Aimee said...

Cancer Sucks. It SUCKS.


I love their attitude, though. You have to believe it's going to work, that you'll come through with flying colors, because if not...well, what's the point?

As I tell my kids when they're moping: choose happiness. It goes for hope, too.

Big hugs. :)

Lena said...

You are a bad news bear, indeed.


My dad had colon cancer at 47. Which he ignored until it was too late. (And I do mean IGNORED. He had many symptoms.)

But, I'll always remember what his doctor said, and I quote, "colon cancer is the most curable cancer up until the very end".

I know that the liver being involved is very...not good. But, this isn't The End. And that's a good thing.

Can we rename her? Something cheery?

Amy said...

Praying for NN. I'm sure she's glad to have you on her team.

KathyS said...

I really hate the terrifying randomness of cancer -- yes, I know, it's not exactly random in that biological predispositions can and do come into play.

But my sister's ex-husband, who is only 45, just had his thyroid removed because of thyroid cancer, and is midway through radiation therapy; it's so rough on this throat that he can barely eat anything and has lost 20 pounds. The guy is a marathon runner! Mr. Healthy! And, as far as I know, no instances of thyroid cancer in his family.

How random, how unfair. But how comforting to hear the stories of people who've soldiered through their own Big C experiences, and come out strong. Thanks, SM! And I wish lots of love and strength for Normal Neighbor.

Marsha said...

To the extent that the prayers of total strangers might be helpful, please know that she (and you) have mine.

Veronica said...

So sorry to hear this news. All our best wishes being sent to your 'hood!

Cassie said...

Oh, man. I'm so sorry, Becky. Hoping and praying for the best possible outcome, and for lots of peace along the way. For NN and for you.

Jenni said...

Well, shit. That's just shitty.

But also, those are some wise words, my friend. I also struggle to find that balance. xo to you and NN.

Ginny Marie said...

That really stinks. I'm glad you're on her'll know exactly how she's feeling.

Elizabeth said...

Despite dealing daily with a daughter with severe developmental disabilities and seizures, I often take my health for granted, which I know is stupid and ridiculous. Stories like this are sobering, and I will continue to pray for your friend and her family. I can honestly say, though, that being mindful is the key to sanity -- and that mindfulness meditation, coupled with humor, keeps me going. It sounds like Normal Neighbor is instinctively mindful.

The Stiletto Mom said...

I hate to hear that. I will keep her in my thoughts and prayers, and she is lucky to have a friend like you who has been there.

Michele said...

So sorry to hear about Normal Neighbor. What grace she and her husband have displayed. My thoughts are with them.

Beth said...

That blows. Was the liver actually involved? It sounds like maybe they have reason to be upbeat, that things could go well. I know you would've given her Codi in a second, cause that's just how you roll.

Becky said...

Thanks guys. The liver was inconclusive and she's having a PET scan tomorrow. In any case the next move is chemo, which will last until October. October!

Fast Lane, thanks for commenting. I'm sorry your mom is dealing with this--I hope she's bearing up under the yucky treatments.

Flora Fauna Dinner said...

Fucking cancer is right. So sorry to hear this and hope it is the best of all outcomes. xxx

Michele R said...

NN has been given so much high and low news over these past two months. She seems so strong and what an amazing person she must be. Thank you for sharing--sending many positive thoughts.

Amy said...

Well, suck suck suckity suck.

Wow. I just had this realization that it's actually quite bizarre to feel connected to NN, just through reading about her for a couple years now... but I do, and my heart goes out to her, and the concentric circles of people around her touched by this.

We all know she's lucky to have you for a friend & neighbor, for all kinds of reasons.

Only 45. Ooog.


Fantastic Forrest said...

I know it seems ludicrous to believe that a positive attitude can defeat cancer, but I do think it can provide a real booster effect to the other treatments. I'm glad NN is optimistic. And I know you will be there to listen and comfort if that optimism flags.


Formerly known as Frau said...

CANCER does suck! I'm praying for your friend I hope she is a fighter and wins this one.

Bee said...

Fucking cancer is right.
The Guardian (English newspaper) did a story about cancer a few weeks ago and it suggested that we are just going to get used to its ubiquitousness . . . that implanted in our genes is the tendency for cells to turn malignant . . . and obviously we have unleashed various environmental forces which are exacerbating the whole process.
This is the first year (in five) that I haven't had a friend undergoing the treatment for breast cancer. 1 in 8, they are now saying.

Sending you sympathy.

Aspenchick said...

My uncle was diagnosed with colon cancer, stage III, liver involvement a couple of years ago. He had surgery, took a pill form of chemo which was mostly well tolerated and he is 18 months out and all of his scans are clear. I wish the best of health to your friend!