Monday, February 22, 2016

I don't know who you are anymore (Part 2)

Quick recap of my last blog post: I'm 34 and finally willing to admit that I like Phil Collins. Also, I got a tattoo, something I wouldn't have considered for my pre-whippled self. In writing about these admissions I also mentioned my husband, Chris, more than I had before. When I told him I was writing a blog (and that I like Johnny Cash's rendition of the NIN song "Hurt'"), he responding, half jokingly, "I don't know who you are anymore!" He wasn't exactly comfortable with my public therapy sessions (a.k.a. writing about my feelings), but said he didn't want to stop me from doing something I wanted to do. I told him I would keep him out of my writing, and for the most part I have, but the story I'm about to tell requires Chris as a key character.

Astonishingly, Chris does not read my blog. If he were the one writing a blog I'd be all over it, stalking the url for new posts and urging him to write more. Writing about oneself used to be reserved for diaries, which were kept hidden away under the mattress or a loose floorboard. But, now, personal blogs have taken what was once private and turned it into permanently public publications. I'd love it if Chris poured his inner thoughts onto the blogosphere. Alas, he has not, and I will continue my astonishment of his avoidance of "Things Left Out." 

I insisted upon reading him my last blog entry, as I wanted him to read it, but I didn't want him to read it whilst driving. So I read it to him as we drove home from a family party, at which a family member gave me a thoughtful and encouraging compliment about my writing (thanks, G!). Chris's first response to my public declaration of becoming a (slightly) different person: "You forgot the Lorna Dunes!" He was right. I forgot the Lorna Dunes. Lorna Dunes are delicious yellow-packaged butter cookies that hospitals seem to have in abundance to hand out after you've fasted for whatever reason, or when you're pregnant and have been asked to wait longer than anticipated and you get a little hungry. How is this relevant, you ask? Well, I have no memory of this event (thanks, anesthesia), but I hazily awoke from my endoscopic ultrasound and biopsy on January 9, 2015 (11 days before my Whipple surgery), and was given a small yellow package of Lorna Dunes. I apparently said, "Ooh, Lorna Dunes. I LOVE Lorna Dunes!" Chris later expressed his astonishment that I even knew what a Lorna Dune was, as he had never heard of them until that day, hence, "I don't know who you are anymore!" So, to him, my last piece of writing had a glaringly obvious omission: the Lorna Dunes.

Whenever Lorna Dunes come up between us, we also rehash the events of that day. That day was truly one of the hardest days of the whole journey, for both of us. It was the first day I saw Chris truly scared about my diagnosis, until then he chose to believe all of the doctors who said that everything would probably be okay. The doctor who performed the biopsy, Dr. Ken Chi, had previously instilled the most hope that I might have something easier to deal with, such as a benign cyst that could be treated with steroids. After my biopsy, I sat in the recovery room with the Lorna Dunes on my lap, and when I was awake enough Dr. Chi came to talk to us along with the nurse who helped with the procedure. Until that day, I had never truly seen a doctor deliver bad news to a patient. That patient was me, so I really felt the weight of the experience. He spoke in a low, nearly apologetic tone, telling us that I definitely had a tumor. You could see in his face and hear it in his voice that this was the "bad news" delivery. Even the nurse standing next to him looked as if he was witnessing something awful. I asked, "but it hasn't spread, right?" He replied, "there is no evidence of spread." I knew the omission from that statement. What he really was saying, "While this is no evidence of spread, we won't really know until we get in there for surgery." He gave me the "differential diagnoses," or, the different things the tumor might be. His best guess was the pseudopapillary tumor (he was right, thankfully), after that, a neuroendocrine tumor (still treatable), but after that, adenocarcinoma. A doctor finally said the worst-case scenario out loud. Adenocarcinoma. That's the pancreatic cancer that kills most patients within six months of diagnosis. Chris and I left feeling crushed, really. The next five days were sooooo long waiting for the biopsy results. The biopsy results were best-case scenario, thankfully. I barely noticed that the doctor told me I had a "low grade malignancy" in my pancreas. I was going to be okay. 

That experience changed me. I had been diagnosed with a miscarriage several years prior, and the doctors who saw me for that treated me with compassion and sympathy, but their delivery of that bad news barely holds a candle to the delivery of bad news I was given on January 9th of last year. I feel so badly for anyone who has gotten such delivery of news for any reason. Stressful only scratches the surface of ways to describe that event. I won the lottery when it comes to pancreatic malignancies- I got the well-behaved one. Still, that day has become a part of who I am and how I treat others. 

I have revealed a little more of myself to you, and a little more of my husband's experience (sorry, Chris, if you are even reading this). In exchange for your time, here's a little more of that ink: 

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