A trip to my oncologist’s office is usually a good news/bad news proposition. Just the fact that I can write the words “my oncologist”is pretty much a bad news kind of thing. If you ever utter the words, “my oncologist,” it means you have cancer and there is at least one aspect of your life that is not going according to plan. But hey, I’m sure you all are wondering how my latest appointment went, and right now you’re thinking,”Ok, Dan, get on with it. What did you find out? Stop with all the words and tell us!” I know. Thanks for the concern.
The Good News
The good news from my latest scans is that my bone scan came up clear. All the pain and the back spasms I’ve been having is probably a combination of a few different things. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been really busy at work, and the Lupron I’m on prevents me from building muscle, so I’m probably putting more stress on my back. Also, worrying about my upcoming scans drove me a little out of my psychosomatic mind. These things happen in cancer world. I also learned a new word talking to fellow survivors Caleb Worpel and John Wilkinson. Scanxiety. What a perfect word for what survivors go through every time we wait for results. I had a healthy case of scanxiety with these scans. And even though I’m an eight year veteran of the cancer wars, I still get hit with scanxiety now and then. So I was pretty relieved to learn that my fears were not realized. Whew.
The Bad News
With my PSA still going up, there was a pretty good chance that something was going on, and that showed up on my CT scan. My tumors are getting bigger. I have tumors in my prostate bed region, which is generally where tumors show up when prostate cancer metastasizes. But I also have one in my abdomen. Good ol’ Ricardo is getting bigger. And that’s a bit problematic. My particular brand of prostate cancer is very aggressive, and it’s trying to kill me. So more treatment is needed besides just the Lupron. My oncologist told us he is not comfortable doing nothing, especially considering the fact that my tumors insist on getting bigger.
(To which I replied,”Me neither,doc.” I immediately leapt to my feet, shoved past him and threw open the door, breaking into a run as I took a right turn towards the lobby. I took a hard left into the infusion room, and started sprinting through a room full of brave cancer survivors getting treatment with whatever poison their doctors saw fit to give them. As I was running, I thrust my fist into the air and shouted, “SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS!” which I think means “death to tyrants,” or possibly “death to Caesar” or maybe even “I just killed Abraham Lincoln!” Not really sure. I’ve never been very good at Latin. Whatever, it inspired my fellow survivors to start cheering, and chanting “Go, go, GO!!” With their cheers ringing in my ears, I hit the lobby, ran past a very startled receptionist and shot out the door into the street. I ran down the street to the Greyhound bus station, where I caught a southbound bus to the border. I crossed the border somewhere in New Mexico, and made my way to Baja California by hitching rides from friendly Mexicans who were more than happy to accommodate a stage 4 gringo in search of the sun and the meaning of life. I’m writing this all down in an old dog eared notebook sitting in a faded yellow beach chair that lists a bit to the left. I can feel the sting of the sun on my forearms and shoulders, after spending the day fishing for yellow fin tuna with my new friends Andy and Red. I bring an ice cold Corona up to my lips, tasting both the beer and the salt from the ocean as the sun drops into the Pacific. Life is good.)
I agree with my doc that doing nothing is probably not a good option, and that a new path needs to be charted. He mentions chemo, with a different drug from the last time.
No. Just no. I’m not ready for chemo again. I’m still reeling from the last time, and I am not mentally ready for that shit show again. Chemo would probably slow the growth of the tumors, but it wouldn’t eradicate them, so we decide to try another drug to knock my testosterone down. Whatever testosterone is still in my system after Lupron is feeding my tumors. We decide to go with the drug Xtandi.
If you’re a faithful reader of this blog, you know that Xtandi has been tried before on my cancer journey. And it worked quite well, driving my PSA down to undetectable levels and slowing the progression of my disease. It was very effective.
And it is also caused me to fall into a nasty depression that had me borderline suicidal. The “horse pills from hell” caused a pretty rough ride for me, eventually making me walk away from treatment for a few months.
But there are a couple of differences from the first time I tried the drug and this time. First of all, I know what I’m fighting. Last time I was on Xtandi, I was frustrated and I felt like I was fighting a ghost, chasing a PSA number that said I had cancer but it was microscopic. Now, for better or worse, I have tumors we’re trying to control. The fight is much more tangible now. It can be measured. It makes me more determined.
The other thing thing that is different from the last time I was on the drug is something I’ve come to realize over the past couple of months.
I want to live.
I want to keep living. I want to see new things, go to new places. I want to be here for weddings. I want to see my future grandkids. I want to watch them get older and go through good times and bad times. I want to be here for all the times. I want to walk my dog listening to great music, I want to see more sunrises, I want to see more sunsets. I want to keep having beers with my friends. I want to keep learning, I want to keep reading, I want to keep figuring out what to write for this blog.
I know it’s not going to be easy. This road is hard. There are going to be some dark times, some turns in the road I won’t want to take, and some pain that I’m really afraid of. Stage 4 ain’t for the faint hearted.
But the results are in. And the fight continues.
And maybe someday, on a beach overlooking an incredible sunset, drinking a beer and feeling the sting of summer on my skin, I can look back at a life well lived. It’s really the best that we can all hope for.
Thanks for reading.