Sunday, February 17, 2013

The News

Been a while since there was an update. It's not as easy to share bad news, especially when the information comes in slowly and always feels uncertain. We took our planned month-long trip back to the US, where we had an incredible time visiting family and friends in Florida and California. Mid-December to mid-January. But just before we left Menorca, I (Ramona) went to the doctor for the annual lady visit. And before we came back all plans were changed again.

The doctor knew we were going to be in the US, so he said he would send test results to us by email rather than waiting for us to get back to Menorca - because further testing and treatment would happen elsewhere. And he sent that email between Christmas and New Years, while we were watching the rain on Redwoods, taking long, misty walks among the big trees, listening to crashing Pacific coast waves wearing down the coastline, working our way through jigsaw puzzles, and laughing to tears over family jokes and board games. I can still make myself laugh out loud when I think back on some of those moments. The test came back positive for carcinoma - the scary "C" word became part of life. Just a little bit of cancer.

The doctor said that there was no reason to rush for treatment, so we kept our flight and basked in the joy of reuniting with good friends. Our trip back to Menorca was punctuated by a stopover in London, so we went directly from London to Berlin. With German residence last year came mandated health insurance and challenging monthly premiums, so we started down the path toward a treatment plan in the cheapest city in the country. Berlin rent is 33% cheaper than Frankfurt, 35% cheaper than Hamburg or Munich. We are paying rent for the first time in two and a half years, in a lovely, airy flat that is nearly empty. Everything has worked out as well as it could, considering.

The hope is that this is early, that those devilishly clever, mutated cells are just hanging out in one place. And actually, that place is now a lab, because last week I had surgery to remove the tissue (tumor). My incredible doctor (oncologist) happens to be one of the only people in Berlin who also moves ovaries laparoscopically, upward and out of the way in case radiation becomes part of the treatment plan. The radiation decision was to be based on the lymph nodes that he also removed during surgery. One little bugger tested positive, so we go back on Tuesday to discuss radiation. One out of about 30. Good news and bad news.

view from the hospital bed after a snow

Cancer is no longer the death sentence it used to be, thank goodness, but treatment is no picnic. Recovering from surgery takes patience and tolerance. They kept me well drugged in the hospital, a ten day stay, but now that I'm home I'm taking much less. I trust pain and I want to hear what it has to say. I'm taking things very slowly, but feeling better, stronger every day.

and when the sun was shining

I read The Emperor of All Maladies with a hunger for clear information, and it did not disappoint. Treatments are getting more precise, less invasive, more successful. I have been doing the right things. I don't mind the treatment, as long as I keep living. I think most people diagnosed with cancer feel the same way - do your worst, doc, but keep me alive, okay? There may be some trade-offs, some non-negotiable deals, but the goal is clear.

What a coin toss. Both being diagnosed and undergoing successful treatment feel random, especially with a form of cancer that is unusual and relatively un-studied. Mine is a case of vaginal carcinoma - usually metastasized from cervical carcinoma, but in my case the cervix is clear. Good news, very good news. It's fairly likely that I will recover from treatment and cancer will not have gotten the better of me. There's no guarantee, but it's worthwhile to be hopeful and to make plans. Prepare for the worst, expect the best.

I want to write a longer, more in depth ramble about the experience, but instead of doing it as a post I'll create a side page, kind of like the broken foot page. There has been a lot of uncertainty, an unprecedented amount of humor, and surprises of all kinds. In the meantime, know that there will be more information soon. And don't worry. And don't be shy about being in touch.

Your hopes and thoughts help. At every step, I've had to share this information with more and more people, in an ever widening circle - starting with Joshua with tears, my parents and sister, extended family and friend-family. At first it was just: I have some cancer, sorry that's all I know. We had way more questions than answers. Each step of the way it has felt like I am pushing a burden on the people that I love, and it has been hard. But each piece of the burden that I pass along makes it a little lighter for me to carry, so I hope you don't mind.

Thank you to those of you who have already offered support. We are doing okay.

For future updates, visit the And Cancer page.