This is my first post. I've been working on it for weeks and I wanted to finish it before I posted, but what the hell... there's no day like TODAY, right? This is who I am. What I'm struggling with and what I hope happens.
This is the Quiet Life of Violet.
This is the Quiet Life of Violet.
I remember that day, in the end of May, when my world changed... again. I had just gotten out of my car and to my surprise, Dustin had just pulled up in his Coffee Man truck.
"Odd," I thought, but I was excited none the less. I headed towards his truck and the second I saw his face, I knew something was wrong. Even though I knew bad news was coming, I was so peaceful. (Even to this day, I still go back to that moment... the last truly peaceful moment of the summer... Maybe even ever.) "They found something," Dustin said. I didn't understand what he meant, and truthfully, I was expecting him to tell me that someone had died. "Your Mom's been trying to call you. Dr B. called and they found something on your scan." FUCK. (Pardon my "F" word.)
I've had cancer twice before in my life. I was 11 years old when my parents told me, in our red, VW bus, that I had cancer. I had no idea what it meant, but my Dad was crying, so I knew it was bad. I had chemo at the Oakland Kaiser and had a limb salvage (where they replace the diseased bone with a metal rod) and later, because the limb salvage didn’t work, an amputation at UCSF. It was rough, but I didn't know any different. I just wanted to do what made my parents happy. When you're that young, you don't understand real death or sickness unless you've watched someone close to you go through the same thing. When you're little, you (or at least, I) think that the doctors can fix anything. You think that your parents know all the answers and that school was something that was invented to occupy your days until the weekend. Ahh, ignorant bliss!
I remember thinking, during all those trips to Oakland, that I couldn't wait to be done with all of that chemo junk so my hair could grow back. I just wanted to have that flippy hair cut that Jennifer Anniston sported for her role in Friends. I wanted to wear mini skirts like Cher, the character from Clueless, wore. I wanted to be hip.
The second time I had cancer was in 2005. Dustin and I were married in October of 2004 and after that, we packed up all of our junk and moved to Spokane, Washington to "start" our lives.
That summer (notice a pattern?), after a 4th of July camping trip, I went to the doctors to check out a cough that wouldn't go away. It was an odd experience actually. The doctor’s office didn't have any appointments so I decided to go to the non-emergency Urgent Care. I waited just about four hours -- the waiting room was small and most of the people around me looked like... well, terrible. I tried not to touch anything. (Ha! What a prune!) I remember there was this teenager who looked like she felt like craaap. She was wrapped up in a powder blue comforter and was sweating like a linebacker. I remember thinking, "Damn. She needs to be seen worse than I do. I'm not really that sick, I should head home."
I actually almost went home two or three times that day, but it just so happened that I had brought a copy of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and had enough time to kill it before being called in.
The room was old, but sufficient. My Doctor, whose name I can't remember for the life of me, was also old and looked like a man very set in his ways. He read my history and commented how brave I must have been. (When in all actuality, I was just doing what my parents told me. I had no idea, at 11 years old, what it all meant. What cancer meant. ) Then I said something that will stay with me until the day I take my very last breath. I said,
"God wouldn't give me anything that I couldn't handle."
He stopped, then looked at me as if he were looking into my soul. He lingered long enough to make me uncomfortable. After that, he proceeded to examine me and then sent me for an x-ray, just in case.
Have you ever had things move in slow motion, kind of like a segment in a movie where a song plays and a few things happen that don't need any words? That's how I remember the rest of that day. I had my x-ray. I returned to the waiting room. I waited. And waited. And waited long enough to read an entire Reader's Digest. This day was a turning point in my adult life, but I, the unknowing main character, didn't understand it at the time. "There is something wrong. There's a mass in your right lung."
To make a long, depressing, puke filled (gross!) story short, Dustin and I ended up moving back to California. I had my right lung removed (the whole, damn thing!) at Stanford, followed by seven rounds of hi-dose chemo at Lucille Packard -- the Children's hospital part of Stanford.
I pushed through. I was poked, puked out and pilled. I would stay in the kid's ward for six days -- five of those I got chemo -- sleep during the two hours to my Mom's house, S-L-O-W-L-Y feel less like I was hit by a car (honest), go back in the hospital the next weekend because the chemo had done it's job and killed all of the fast growing cells (including most of my white and red blood cells), get heavy antibiotics (yuck), go home feeling good, fart around and have a semi-normal life for a week and a half and then do it over again. I did it seven times. I had my lung taken out in August and I finished the chemo in April. August to April.
I remember the drive to and from Stanford (it was two hours, each way, from my Mom's house). Dustin and I had, almost a year prior, gotten married in a little town called Sunol and I was completely in love with it. Well, we discovered that you could get to Stanford, from our house, by taking the Niles Canyon highway. It was beautiful and wooded and windy and ran right next to a little creek. The air was crisp and the leaves would change colors and ivy would grow up the crumbling walls all along the drive. It was my heaven... until I came to hate that creek and those leaves and the crumbling everything. Seeing that beauty meant that I was voluntarily checking myself into a place that made me feel like I was being poisoned. It meant that I wasn't like almost everyone else my age, finishing college or having babies or working. It meant that I had cancer. It meant that my body was tainted and the only way I could, supposedly, get better was to submit myself and allow a nurse to poke me and fill me with foreign, toxic substances. It meant that I was bald. That my eyelashes were gone. That I could tell you what ever it was that you had just eaten because I could smell it on your breath the second you walked into my room (then it'd make me puke). I hated that highway.
This brings us to where I started this long, rambling sort of medical history. :)
I was directed to check in with my oncologist every three months and get a CT scan , which I was diligent about. I used to get so scared right before my exams... I'd go to sleep crying or burst out in fear-induced tears just randomly throughout the day. Each time, the tests came back negative and I would be less scared, until finally I stopped. No more crying, no more fear. I think I might have even gotten a little cocky. "I kicked cancer's ass! Yeah!"
That day, that warm, hazy May day, was the day that I learned that cancer isn't something that you can really ass-kick. Cancer lets you live or sometimes it comes back. Sometimes, the medicine that Western Doctors have to offer really can make you better. Sometimes it can't.
The spot that they found was about the size of a pea. It was in my lung (the only one!) in a spot that was "inconvenient," my doctor claimed.
"If it was here, or here or even here, that would be better. We could do surgery on any of those parts."
Gee. What nice thing to hear from your doctor after he tells you that you have a pea in your lung!
To be continued....