The cancer chronicles continue

‘I fear I’m becoming a bit of a lymphomaniac.’

A doctor stands with stethoscope in this undated handout photo. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A doctor stands with stethoscope in this undated handout photo.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When you get your first cancer diagnosis, “chronic” sounds a lot better than “acute.” It usually is, especially when you’re dealing with non-fun stuff like lymphoma and leukemia.
Unfortunately, “chronic” also means “repetitive.” I started my third six-month “ChemoFest” last August – the third in under five years. However, I always look on the upside.
After ChemoFest II, I did a series for Metro on the “lighter side of cancer” – all the strange things and thoughts that happen while in treatment – since a writer is always looking for story ideas, and since humor is fundamentally applied stoicism, and cancer people and their loved ones can always use more of both.
I began to suspect relapse a few months ago. The blood tests showed nothing amiss. But my lymph glands were swelling at an alarming rate. One, on my neck, reminded me of that Star Trek: Next Generation episode where senior Star Fleet officers start ingesting space aliens, and bulge accordingly.
My doctor at Carmel Government Hospital in Haifa dismissed my space-aliens theory but fretted the lumps. So she sent me off to see the Lymph Guy.
Somebody from the Lymph Clinic called with specific instructions on how to find it. Just get off at Rambam Medical Center and walk over a few blocks.
Why she chose not to reveal that the building is actually 50 meters from a Metronit stop, I know not. Nor did the taxi driver who tried, no, demanded to take me to Bnai Zion Hospital seem all that impressed with the Rothschild Boulevard Clalit address I gave him.
But I finally staggered in, and the Lymph Guy turned out to be an excellent physician. He informed me that my OHM (one huge mess) of a lymph gland was probably too big to be biopsied without general anesthesia, but he would gladly authorize poking about in some others. So back to Carmel Hospital, where they already knew me quite well from previous biopsies.
Get nine, the 10th is free? Nothing showed on the SOHMs (some other huge messes). Then my doctor decided that I needed some needles rammed into my OHM, local anesthetic only, plus another bone-marrow biopsy and yet another full PET-CT scan.
So I followed my accustomed procedure.
Twenty minutes before game time, I’d take a Tramadex and a Benadryl, then let them do whatever they wanted. Who cares? The only real difficulty came in the PET-CT lockdown waiting room at Rambam, after I’d been nuked and nauseated but before they called me in for yet another of their Claustrophobia Tunnel specials.
One hour in that room, forced to watch trashy old American TV shows.
Ah, well. At least now I know how to say “Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!” (Brady Brunch reference) in Hebrew.
The OHM biopsy came back malignant.
Fortunately, no metastasis, although my SOHMs remain SOHMs, and I fear I’m becoming a bit of a lymphomaniac. Gotta get back to the Lymph Guy. But for now, it’s six months of chemo and attendant aggravations.
Especially the question I always get from my fellow patients: “Doesn’t your wife love you?” You see, Israelis regard trips to the doctor and/or hospital as family events. If you’re not attended by at least one mate, two offspring and possibly their mates, you appear, to Israeli eyes, indescribably abandoned and forlorn. A Lone Patient, so to speak.
I prefer it that way. When all this silliness started, my wife and I agreed that when the time came that I couldn’t get around, she could accompany me. Until then, just go about your business, please. She does. I do.
I arrive at the chemo ward with a backpack full of necessities that no one’s going to bring me from the snack bar or gift shop: coffee, tea, munchies, reading materials, a night mask for naps. The other patients look at me piteously. Within an hour I’m explaining, once again, that I’m not a medical tourist. I’m an American oleh and my wife loves me just fine, but she has better things to do than hang here. And anyway, as a good American feminist, the word ba’al ain’t in her Hebrew vocabulary.
People nod sympathetically. And three hours later, I have my revenge, as the accompanying husbands, wives, adult children and sundry others look at their afflicted ones with an expression redolent of: “You ask me to go get you one more thing... just one more thing....”
My wife is always glad to see me when I get home after these sessions.
This matters. When you’ve just survived four hours tied to an IV stand and two to three hours on Egged; when you’ve got all those chemicals sloshing around inside you and your bladder’s thinking about massive retaliation for what you’re putting it through – it’s good to know someone loves you.
Next: Side Effects, and If You’re Retaining Fluids – Try Beer.
The writer would like to thank Dr. Mouna Ballan-Haj and Dr. Tal Laska-Aharoni for putting up with him while he generates all these tales. Also for keeping him alive. These guys are great.