Thursday, 31 March 2016

The cancer diaries: I'm with Wolverine

Don't try this at home. Rely on a medical professional to burn you.

When I texted my husband yesterday to tell him I have skin cancer, he immediately wanted to come home from work. I told him to never mind, that I was a-ok, and I was.

I've spent the last many months sitting around the Ottawa Cancer Clinic, and I got myself a crash course in all things cancer. I sat for many hours with my friend Jennette in the company of oncologists and surgeons. I took her for her oral cancer appointments, and I watched her go through a living hell and come out the other side.

I have been asked by many reading this blog how she is, and she's fine. She rejected the doctor's recommendation that she undergo radiation "just in case". Since it required the pulling of all her teeth, she decided she'd take her chances, which were about 40 percent that the cancer would return.

Jennette is very brave. I'm not sure I would have had the guts to tell the radiology oncologist to take a hike. If her cancer does come back, she's done for. But in Jennette's case, she opted for quality of life. She's had a lot of misery over the last few years, losing her husband, now about to lose her beloved father, and the damned cancer. She wants to live a little, and so she's refusing treatment. As for the oncologist, well, he stopped taking her calls. He even stopped taking calls from her GP.

Very petty.

Anyway, I've seen people with really bad cancer, and mine is treatable. It's basel cell, and while I'm going to have part of my ear lopped off, it's not going to kill me. Something else will, but not this cancer.

I learned at the cancer clinic that the term "treatable" is both hilarious and misleading.

Jennette's was treatable, and in her case, treatable meant the surgeon took a backhoe to her gob. So I'm not taking any comfort in it being treatable. Treatable can be just as ugly as not treatable. Especially when it comes to a person's face.

The one term I heard over and over again at the cancer clinic, mostly from the speech pathologist, is that patients who have had their cancer treated simply have to get used to the "new normal". In Jennette's case, it means eating mushy food probably for the rest of her life. In my case, it will mean walking around in a jaunty chapeau, slathering 60 plus sunscreen on my body, and having an ear that looks like I've been on the wrong end of a prize fight with Mohammed Ali.

It is what it is.

It makes me think about the whole controversy I've been reading about, in terms of describing the cancer patient's journey. People mostly talk about "beating cancer," and that has some politically correct people crying foul. They don't like the sports analogy, and words like "he battled cancer," she "lost her fight with cancer."

Me, I'm not going to beat cancer, I'm going to have my cancer "treated." And I will treat it by not being a stupid ass and making the whole thing worse.

Beat or treat.

But I don't care, either way.

I'm going to die, eventually, of something. Hopefully, when I'm old, warm in my bed, like the old lady on the Titanic.

In the meantime, I'm with Wolverine, er Hugh Jackman, who has had skin cancer twice on that lovely face.

I'm here to tell you to get screened and wear sunscreen. Stay out of the midday sun.

Or it will be High Noon for you!

And make sure your doctor knows what cancer looks like. Mine didn't and that's why I'm getting this treated four years down the line.

Here's a little secret.

If you think you have skin cancer, you probably do. Insist on a referral.

My doctor was an idiot, and incompetent, and I'm going to take away his medical licence.

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