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(Phoebe Snow reference)

Thursday before last I had a CAT scan done, covering the head/neck and the lungs. The iodine dye injection, of course, and a couple of rapid exchanges, so that they could get it all in without stopping altogether. What that means is that my hands started out protecting my genitals, more or less (please, please, no snickering), and ended up over my head as if I were trying to dive into the tube, as the nurse rushed out from behind her barrier and had me shift position quickly before she ran back to protection.

I was not. Trying to dive, I mean. I am not up for diving into tubes. But I will say, if you are new to the tube experience, the CAT scan is probably the easiest if you are claustrophobic in any way. You are pretty much in the clear most of the time, and the time you spend looking up at the ceiling of the tomb, um, tube I mean, is relatively short-lived. At least in my experience. Even the PET scan is better than the MRI.

Perhaps I like the CAT scan because it talks to you, and even shows you pictures of a little smiley face either breathing or holding his breath. I can think of better visuals, and I’m fairly certain the inventors had some other ideas too, but sometimes you have to go with what society considers within the limits of good taste. Still, the guy telling you to breathe in and then breathe out, with his little smiley-faced helper, that is better than sitting in the MRI tube, your head sort of strapped down, trusting some total stranger who assures you he or she will let you out immediately if you freak out.

They don’t. They say, can you hang on just a bit longer, and you sigh or shrug or wet yourself, depending on the degree of your phobia, and you stay there.

I’ve done them all. (Not the wetting yourself and all of that; I mean the scans :)).

Three years now since the first announcement that I had cancer.

It’s been a wild ride.

But, to be honest, in the week I had between scan and getting results, I did not worry. I didn’t. Not so that you would notice. It crossed my mind, I suppose, more than once, and I may have even mentioned it to one or two people, but it really did not consume me with dread.

I knew, or thought I knew, that it was all 0’s and 1’s, black and white, yes and no, off and on. If they found more cancer, I was in deep, probably back to June 07’s prediction, and this time an accurate one. If they didn’t, then I was going to be free of it. At least for now.

For some reason, I did not fear the former, although I dared not hope for the latter (but did).

This past Thursday, after a week of trying not to think about it and doing a good job of that, I went back to the Chemo Palace for the results. First, of course, they stuck me again. This was the third time in a row in the same place, already bruised from the first time and then this bruising compounded by the second, but when the sticker asked if she could use the same vein in the same spot or would I prefer another spot, I was happy just to get it over with. At this point, I was thinking of the meeting to come, and any pain or discomfort beforehand seemed rather insignificant, although I will say, again, that it hurts more and more, the more times they do it.

Once again, they took four vials rather than three and then took the slender vial in the TB tube as well. I am no longer worried about TB. I figure that if they were really checking for TB they would not need to do it two weeks in a row. It has to be for the I&R as my wife calls it: the check for the blood-thinning going on. When she (my wife) later asked if I asked this time why they were using the TB tube, I answered quite logically that I did not, since, as I have explained to you, it clearly is not being used to test for TB. She accepted that response with reluctance, but she did accept it.

In any event, I was then ushered off to one of OncoMan’s clinical cells, despite the fact he is on vacation. Now, I admit, by now I was starting to worry just a bit about the results. The nurse, my beautiful friend who knows my name (that counts for something, doesn’t it?) took my vitals and flashed my paperwork around but would not let me see the paperwork, and then took it with her, telling me that OncoMan’s PA (physician’s assistant…should probably be AD…almost doctor) would be in soon to see me.

I am always happy to see her, as she is a gentle soul, reminding me, in fact, of a humanized Bambi, as if I could just yell at her that I didn’t have cancer and she would be frightened into agreeing and my cancer would be gone, although I have not yet tried that and never thought to in the past, because I am too kind to frighten Bambi OR Cora, my PA.

I got to wait some more, as Nurse took the paperwork with her, as I said. The good news is that I was in a new room, one I had not been in before, one I had not received horrible news in, one I had not barfed in. A new room, with new garage sale art.

The bad news is that the art was hard to interpret, and I was trying to interpret every move by every person, examining all potential motives for every single thing going on around me. Why, I asked myself, am I in the room with the single painting of two rocking chairs on a porch? Does that signify that the end is coming and that I should relax and live with it as calmly as possible? Or does it mean that I am going to live for a lot longer and will be able to afford two rocking chairs and a porch such as the one in the painting, and even have time to sit in one of them from time to time?

Tough questions at a tough time, and, of course, OncoPA was taking her sweet time getting to me. Taking enough time, in fact, that I was able to examine the artwork. Taking enough time that I considered getting on the computer, which showed my name and required only a password, and entering likely passwords to see if I could get to my file, things like my birth date and, in particular, my social security number, which I was certain would get me in (but imagining she would walk in on me and I would have a hard time explaining, even if I WAS going to be told I was dying).

Taking enough time that I sat on the stool and rolled around and didn’t fall off and wondered what all of the fuss was about, rebel that I am.

Apparently you DO NOT have to go to medical school to master the stool! Still, I do not recommend it for my readers, as I am now a trained professional. Please email me for prices and available training slots for learning how to ride the stool without risking peril.

I DID hop off of the stool after a spin or two, and hopped back into my chair. OncoPA came in, followed by my wife, and they sat (neither on the stool…it is a dangerous vehicle, I tell you!). And OncoPA had my paperwork in her hand and I was as worried as I have been in a long time, all of a sudden, and not because I feared being found out re the stool experience.

No. While sitting there, while considering the art, while riding the wild stool, while sitting in my chair with nothing to do but worry, I worried. I really had not worried for a week. Not much, anyway. But suddenly, it was one of those two-minute warning situations and I was on my own one-yard line. Things didn’t look good. I KNEW bad news was coming, even though I had convinced myself previously that I was in good shape.

It is that piece-by-piece business. I have had a couple of big rounds with cancer, and I suppose at that moment, with my wife sitting across from me (she doesn’t think my cancer is contagious — that is just the way the chairs were set up…something else to worry about) and OncoPA sitting on that ever-present examination ‘bed’, I got the news.

Cora (OncoPA) said, “I have some good news” and I expected her to add, “and some bad news”. It is that piece-by-piece thing. You know it has had its way with you and that it is not done. You know that every time you come to see these people they seem to have something else negative to say to you. You know that this time they are going to tell you that you are dying. Tongue and neck cancer, lung cancer, what next? Blood clots, blood thinners, bleeding in your sleep. What next? Eating through a tube, waking up without a tube. What next?

Losing 50 pounds and then losing another 15 or 20. What next? Looking like a scarecrow, a balding scarecrow. What’s next?

YOU ARE CANCER-FREE.

YOU ARE CANCER-FREE.

I sat there and heard that and shrugged. I didn’t believe it. I believed OncoPA. I did. She had no reason to lie to me, obviously. And there was no “But…”. That was it.

“You are cancer-free.”

I asked her to read it to me, the report. After all, a report back in June of ’07 said I was dying in a fast way. She read significant parts of it to me and asked if I wanted a copy. The significant parts said I was cancer-free. I said, “Yes.” I wanted to take that puppy home, the report. I wanted to examine every word in it, even the ones I would never understand, even the numbers that would have completely no meaning to me. I wanted to see where the loopholes were, if there were any loopholes. I wanted to find the nuances and the hesitations and anything that might cause me doubt.

And she gave me a copy. I hugged my wife, I think. It was anti-climactic, in a sense. What now?

I thanked Cora, took my new birth certificate, and we left. We had to make appointments for the blood clot issue, and, to be honest, I was very much in reality. It was as if it did not surprise me at the same time I did not accept it. I was just doing the next thing.

I made my appointments, one for a blood test for the I&R (blood thickness) and one, three months hence…three months!!!…for my next CAT scan. And we left.

We walked through the lobby where some people were certainly less lucky than me and waiting for their chances to get poisoned and cured, hopefully, where some were waiting for their loved ones, where others were waiting out their last days, taking in the chemotherapy with the perfect knowledge that their days were numbered. We walked through that lobby, knowing, or at least presuming, that I would not be among them for the foreseeable future.

In the lobby, my wife asked, “Do you believe it?” I answered, “No, I don’t.”

“Why not?” she asked.

“I mean,” I responded, “I don’t understand it yet. I don’t know what it means.”

She knew what I meant. Maybe she knew what I meant. We held hands and walked out of the Chemo Palace.

I was cancer-free.

I AM cancer-free.

I wonder what that means.

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