Thursday, November 19, 2009
Another doctor weighs in
After the nurses in Kaiser's oncology ward succeeded in halting the flow of blood from the wounds on my face Wednesday morning, they led me back down the blood-dotted corridor and into an examination room to wait for my visit with Dr. B2.
My appointments with Dr. B2 ended abruptly last winter after my blood counts took a nose dive and a third session of chemotherapy was called off. So it had been a good eight months since I had seen Dr. B2 or even been inside the oncology department at the easternmost facility at Kaiser's Los Angeles Medical Center campus.
A lot has happened in the intervening months. I made it to the finish line of my radiation treatments, then struggled with side effects. A PET scan and a biopsy indicated that the treatments had succeeded, then three months later another biopsy cut my career as a cancer survivor short.
Lately my doctors have begun telling me that there's not much that can be done so a lot was riding on what Dr. B2 had to say.
He turned out to be the most pessimistic of all.
"Your cancer is present in a widespread area," Dr. B2 said. The fact that my face is slow in healing from the biopsies indicates how aggressively the cancer is moving, he added. "I don't think that more chemotherapy would be helpful at this point."
I tried to take careful notes but my pen kept slipping out of my fingers and skidding across the page.
"Will this kill me eventually?" I wrote. "And how soon might that happen?"
As soon as I held the note pad up for Dr. B2 to read, I regretted asking that question.
The doctor's reply was unexpectedly blunt. "The cancer is likely to cause some kind of issue —difficulty swallowing or bleeding, perhaps— and that will probably end up killing you. As for the time frame, it could be less than six months. Maybe longer."
While Dr. B2 doesn't expect much of a benefit, next Wednesday, he's starting me on a type of chemotherapy to try to slow the cancer down. This drug, called Erbitux, is limited in how helpful it can be, and he warned that the cancer will progress whether I do the new treatment or not.
It was a lot to handle all at once. Left alone in the examining room, I sent a text message to my best buddy telling him that Dr. B2's assessment was the gloomiest yet. My buddy asked me if I wanted him to come down to Kaiser, and I said yes.
Before I knew it, he was there. My cancer may be moving aggressively, but my friends can move even more swiftly when they know that I need them by my side.
Next step is seeing what this lil' ol' drug Erbitux can do for me. Dr. B2's expectations could hardly be lower, but it's up to me to prove him wrong.
I'm in no mood to start leafing through hospice brochures.