Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Another anniversary

A year ago today, I was lying on an operating table in Indianapolis while a very good surgeon sliced out a lymph node chock full o'teratoma. Time flies when you're having fun! Today, the scar looks OK, although the top part is a bit uglier than the bottom part (my guess would be that several of the urology interns took turns stapling me back together after surgery, and some did a better job than others). It's by far the best $25,000 ever spent on me.

Life goes on. Hallelujah.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Coming soon on DVD!

[Fade in...]

Pathologist: "It's cancer."

[Dissolve to...]

Pathologist: "Sorry, I was smoking crack, is isn't cancer."

[Cut to title with voiceover]

Announcer: "Who cares what the hell it is?"


Frank's Thoracoscopy!

Check it out on video (it's in four parts, this is part one of four). No, it's not my actual surgery, but a close facsimile thereof. Although not for the squeamish, I happen to find it very cool.

Anyhoo, yesterday was the follow-up with the thoracic surgeon. Very uneventful, although after looking at the chest x-ray that was taken right before my appointment, that chunk of lung he took out seemed a lot larger than I had previously visualized (even though it was probably only about 2% of my total lung tissue).

A nurse took my BP and said, "119 over 72. That's awesome!" I smiled smugly at The Rev., who proceeded to roll her eyes so far back into her head that I did in fact see her optic nerves.

Awesome? Well, yes, but I already knew that.

Oh, in answer to the question I had the other day, the doc said they got the chunk out by deploying some sort of bag with a drawstring around the specimen, then cinching it tight before taking it out through the thorascopy port. (They had deflated my lung in order to operate on it, using a breathing tube and a ventilator to keep my right lung working. The lung tissue folds easily when deflated.)

Part four of the video shows how this happens. The diseased area is isolated with staples and removed from the rest of the lung, then placed in a bag to avoid contamination of other areas of the chest cavity. Cool!

At the end of the day, I was sent home and told the surgeon didn't need to see me again. I felt like I had been spurned following a one-night stand. It was the same story I had heard from my urologist as well as the surgeon who did the RPLND. Why are these surgeons so afraid of commitment?

Back to surveillance!

Friday, May 19, 2006

More fun in CT land

I went back to the Cancer Box for my first post-lung surgery CT scan today. They had me pre-medicate this time because of the hive that continually shows up on my forehead during CTs after the iodine contrast is injected, so I was well-doped up on Benadryl when I came in. Guess what - it didn't help a damned bit, the hive showed up again, and all I got was a sleepless night to add to my cranky morning since I couldn't eat beforehand. Still, I managed to make a new hat for the occasion...

Those are CT contrast bottles taped to my hat, by the way - the smoothie that tastes like artifically flavored berries mixed with dirt in a creamy white base. The proper medical term is "barium sulfate suspension". According to Wikipedia, other uses for barium sulfate include paint pigment (it replaced white lead) and pyrotechnics. Just thought you might like to know. I suppose it could be worse - sometimes the barium sulfate is given by enema rather than orally (usually for colon and small intestine studies).

Anyway, the CT looks good - you can now see staples where the mass used to be. We also got the pathology opinion from IU; they agreed with the local folks that the mass was teratoma and not active cancer. Hot dog! We're back on the surveillance schedule. Like Dr. V. said, it was just a speed bump.

Later in Dr. V.'s exam room, fabulous nurse G. scored me some breakfast from a buffet that had been set up for employees. Eggs and sausage - SWEET! Plus, nurse R. from the chemo room came by and got to satisfy her picking jones by pulling out some suture parts from one of the thoracoscopy ports on my left side (the sutures were popping out and keeping the wound from healing completely). Apparently the nurses all have their own wound fetishes. Nurse G. didn't like the picking at all, but apparently she totally goes wild for pus shooting out of an abcess. OK, that was probably TMI, but welcome to my world.

Afterward, I asked for copies of all my paperwork from this year so far so I can start building my next FAA file. They farmed it out to a woman from the medical records room, who came out with the copies and said something like, "Wow, I actually get to meet Mr. Santoro!" Apparently my hats have made me some sort of legend (in my own mind at least).

OK. It's now time for a nap. Tuesday we meet with the thoracic surgeon so he can look at me and say, "Damn, I do good work!" What I want to know is this: the wedge they pulled out was about 6 x 5 x 2.5 cm (the mass inside was only 1.2 x 1 x 0.9 cm). The ports (i.e., cuts) for the scope are only about 3 cm. How'd they get that chunk out?

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Picking up steam

Well, it's been two weeks since my VATS procedure, and I'm working my way back up to what I would consider normal. This weekend was a test - the chorale sang Beethoven's 9th on Saturday night and then we got on a bus Sunday to perform again at a church in Kansas City. It was a full weekend, and other than briefly resting my eyes during the first 3 movements of the symphony on Sunday, I didn't really rest at all (OK, the Rev says we took a 1 1/2 hour nap on Saturday, but SINCE THEN...). Of course, the Rev deputized several of my fellow singers as wardens-in-training to make sure I didn't exert myself physically beyond singing (and playing triangle).

Nobody saw me doing minor electrical repairs when we were moving stuff around at the KC location, though, and I did manage to carry a 2-pound bass drum stand without any devastating effects (but that was duly ratted out to the Rev upon our return).

The past couple of days I've spent 4-plus hours at work, not counting what I do at home with the power of the internet. I may try to fly this afternoon (first time since surgery), if the weather gods cooperate.

The true test of my recovery starts tomorrow when my brother comes to town for a few days. The last time he was here was after my RPLND, and he dragged me to the new Bass Pro Shops to look at fishing junk. We were there for several hours, and I ALMOST DIED! But then again, I hate shopping, and was still moving relatively slowly at that time.

Doctor visits take place in a couple of weeks. Hopefully, no news until then!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Parallel Universe

Before there was Aaron McGruder and "The Boondocks", there was (and there still is) Keith Knight's "The K Chronicles". You don't see Keith's stuff in mainstream newspapers, by and large. However, he just had a recent series of cartoons about his wife having a mass removed from her chest. It's fairly similar to what The Rev. and I have been through lately:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Big Day

Today is a big day in the life of the church.
Yes it is a Thursday.
No it’s not some obscure holy day.
It is May 4, 2006.
What’s so special about Thursdays you ask?

Nothing in particular except on this date 50 years ago the Methodist Church (now the United Methodist Church) voted to officially ordain women. Girls like me. Some at that General Conference in Minneapolis 50 years ago acted very courageously, going against convention, tradition and culture to say that God indeed does call women to preach. Some were really upset, and they may contine to wonder why it’s taking so long for the church to get to hell in the hand-basket it wove that day….

And yet it's not like women hadn't been preaching. From the website:

Clergywomen have been part of Methodism since John Wesley licensed Sarah Crosby to preach in 1761. Although women were ordained in the Methodist tradition as early as the late 1800s, it was the May 4, 1956 General Conference vote for full clergy rights that forever changed the face of ordained clergy. The effect was that any woman in full connection and in good standing would receive an appointment. Now, about 9,500, or one in five clergy, are women and 16 women are active bishops.
I’m proud to be in good standing and expecting no change in my appointment this year. My church and I are a good “fit” and I hope to be here for a long time.

A lot can happen in 50 years, but a lot can also stay the same. Just last week I was reminded that as a girl preacher I make folks uncomfortable:
A person attending the funeral that I conducted last week came up to me afterwards and said, “That was just beautiful, thank you so much.” Then her husband chimed in and said, “Yeah, you done a good job, but I still don’t know about women pastors.” What do you say? I smiled and said, “Well God must be working on you or I wouldn’t be here!” Perhaps a smart-alecky response, but sometimes I am glad that I can think on my feet like that.
What would you have said if someone just complimented the job you did but in the same moment some else doubted you could the job you just did because you are a girl?

I’ve been very blessed. I have not been the first woman pastor in any of the churches I have served. I follow in the footsteps of women who have taught churches that clergywomen are different in the same way that male pastors are different: we each have unique God given personalities and talents that hopefully God can put to use in the places we are appointed by our bishops.

I hope that as I continue in ministry that the path I am walking will make it easier for both the women and men who come after me.

For more informaiton about clergywomen, check out this month's issue of the UM's preacher's magazine called Circuit Rider.
The Rev.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Pearls of Wisdom

I don't got none today.

Grandmother would be SOOOOO proud of my use of English in that sentence. She's probably rolling over in her grave. But wait, does the idiom "rolling over in one's grave" translate when one is cremated? Should it be, "I bet her ashes are flutterin' in her grave?" In any case, my need of her elocution degree is in honor of today's 2nd anniversary of her death -- aged 95 years and a breast cancer survivor herself.

So, no pearls, just random thoughts:

  • Glad that it's not active germ cell cancer.
  • Dealing with my anger that it was for almost a week and could still be in the future.
  • I'm learning each day what it means to live with dragons lurking in the shadows.
  • I hate dragons--yes even "Puff the Magic" one who "lived by the sea and frolicked in the Autumn mist in a land called..." Was that enough to get it stuck in YOUR head? ;-)

I'll quit...for now.

For sincere pearls of wisdom check my friend RevFrog's breast cancer blog.

Peace, Sarah

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The FFR is here!

Got a call from Dr. V. (the onc) today.

me: "What's up?"

Dr. V.: "Well, the 'FFR' is here."

me: "What's that?"

Dr. V.: "The final effin' report."

That's a verbatim quote by the way; I'm not sure the f-word is in Dr. V.'s vocabulary. Anyway, the final pathology results are in from the local lab. Turns out the mass that was removed was not active germ cell cancer after all as the preliminary report said, but was metastasized teratoma, as we had originally expected. Phew! Good news for now.

He had also spoken with the pros from Indianapolis, and they want the pathology slides so they can do their own study and report. Works for me. More news as it develops...

Of Dragons and Garden Peas

I've been in a minor funk these past few days, waiting for a bit of certainty on my course of treatment that just hasn't come yet. But I'm feeling better now...

During my downtime at home, I'm slowly getting caught up on my backlog of various magazines. I'm in the middle of my March 27, 2006 issue of The New Yorker, which features a fabulous article by humorist Calvin Trillin that is a remembrance of his wife Alice Stewart Trillin, who died in 2001 (the article is not online - check it out at your local library). Alice was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1976 (she was a non-smoker) and had surgery and radiation therapy, was given a 10 percent change of surviving two years, then went on to live for another 25 years before dying from heart complications brought on by the very radiation that had given her those extra years of life.

I see a lot of myself in Alice (or a lot of Alice in me): she was a ridiculous optimist about her situation, although at times she needed help to have the courage to wait (this companion article from the New Yorker about a potential recurrence episode evokes shades of what Sarah and I are going through right now -- waiting for the experts to confer and come to a decision on treatment). She also penned a renowned essay for the New England Journal of Medicine in 1981 entitled "Of Dragons and Garden Peas" (you'll have to dig it out of a medical library if you want to read it) in which she describes the fear of mortality embedded in a cancer diagnosis as a dragon which haunts her existence. She went on to say that cancer survivors sometimes feel like knights who have slain their dragons, but "we all know that the dragons are never quite dead and might at any time be aroused, ready for another fight."

Still, through all of this, Calvin writes, Alice felt that:
[T]he meaure of how you held up in the face of a life-threatening illness was not how much you changed but how much you stayed the same, in control of your own identity.
Just like Beth Brophy writes in her Breast Cancer blog, this sentiment hits the nail on the head for me. I think (and tell me if my perceptions are incorrect) that during this part of my life, I've continued to just be "Frank", not "Frank, who (in a hushed voice) has/had cancer". Yes, I have changed, but no more than anybody else changes over the course of a year. My walk with cancer is not a primary defining part of my nature, something that I dwell on constantly. It almost hearkens back to some of the trite expressions I would hear ad nauseam after 9/11: "If we stop [insert here something that we normally did before 9/11], then the terrorists have already won."

...if I give up being a pilot, then the cancer has already won...
...if I lose my sense of humor, then the cancer has already won...
...if I stop performing and enjoying music, then the cancer has already won...

You get the idea. Yet I haven't necessarily had to concentrate on being myself, I've just been that way. We often hear in the media and feel-good chicken-soupy books about those folks who turn cancer into some sort of spiritual rebirthing experience, giving them a new lease on life and an impetus to live their lives to the full. You don't always hear about the ones for whom cancer was just a bump in the road or a pebble in their shoe and for whom life just goes on. Maybe we should.