Independence Day Came Early

Friends and Family,

Genevieve and I just got back from our latest trip to San Diego to see my oncologist. A few minutes into the meeting, we were celebrating like it was the Fourth of July. Now this is the first and only time in my life I hope to ever utter these words:

The fireworks went off prematurely.

Let me back up and fill in the missing pieces. Although making trips to San Diego for this clinical trial is a gift, it hasn’t been without stress. Every travel day, we get up at 3 AM to make sure we’re at the airport two hours early because you never know when the security line is going to take an extra hour. That’s what I’m told, anyway, and like any good husband, I listen. This is not the stressful part. It’s just the sleep deprivation part. Who am I kidding? Lack of sleep probably does add to the stress.

If we arrive on schedule, we have just enough time to take a shuttle to the rental car company, get a car, then keep all four wheels on the ground and watch for patrol cars while heading to the hospital for a tightly scheduled CT scan. There have been snags along the way, like the occasional late plane arrival, and learning the hard way that Firefly (Hertz’s low cost stepchild) has only one meandering shuttle bus. Being 15 minutes late for anything else doesn’t do this to me, but on that occasion I thought I would pop the blood pressure cuff as soon as I got to the hospital. Hey, I’m a low-key guy, right? Hang loose! It all works out in the end. And so far all these worries about being late for my scan have been for naught. Even the time when my scan was scheduled at one hospital but I showed up at their other location, they still they found a way to fit me in.

But there are more reasons than stress why this system has needed some fine tuning. Genevieve comes to these appointments in large part so that together we can discuss the results of my CT scan with my oncologist. But here’s the problem: The scan results have never been ready by the time we meet with my oncologist.    

The appointments have turned into an anticlimax. I tell Dr. Patel I feel great, he tells me I look great, I ask about new research, and then Genevieve and I leave. What’s left to talk about, with no test results?

Sometime later that night or the next day, when the CT report is completed, Dr. Patel calls me with the results. I relay the news to Genevieve. This lack of face-to-face contact for something so crucial to my well-being leaves a critical gap in communication.

Finally, after nine months of this, I discovered that I could have the scans done in Portland, the day before I meet with Dr. Patel. Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the drama?

Call me a spoil sport, but I made the change. This time I had the scan here in Portland on Monday, and on Tuesday I carried a disk to San Diego with the images and the report.

Ta-da! We had the report ready when we met with my doctor! At last, we have better communication and less stress! And the report was great news! In short, the report said that I had massive shrinkage of the tumors. This was time for an instant party! Can you see the fireworks going off? It was time to celebrate!

But wait a minute… isn’t there something familiar about this “massive shrinkage” business?

Dr. Patel threw in his own “but.” The Portland radiologist was comparing this CT scan with the last scan I had in Portland, which was done last September.

The results were meaningless. They were comparing these results to my scan from nine months ago. Our celebration was premature.

Still, all three of us – Genevieve, Dr. Patel, and I – were in a great mood, because we’re expecting everything to continue going well. This is all based on feeling good, having no obvious signs that it’s getting worse, and ignoring a cough that suddenly got worse two weeks ago. That was too sudden, we all agreed, even though we were basing this on no real data. Never mind the facts – my mind is made up.

Dr. Patel said he would pull up the last San Diego images and compare them side by side with this last CT scan. I’m expecting his call soon... Very soon... Any time now... And I’m not thinking about it at all. Really.

When I get the more timely comparison, I know it won’t be Independence Day, because the new scan showed tumors are still present. Still, this apparently “useless” comparison to nine months ago has been a great reminder of just how much better I’m doing now than then. And “stable” is the next best thing to being cancer free, so I’m ready to celebrate a second time. Perspective is a great source of gratitude.

I hope you find plenty to celebrate in your life as well. With a little perspective, I bet you can.