Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Cancer Chronicles, Part 2

Link to Part 1 here.

Mary Jane asked Nick and me to come to the appointment so that we can learn exactly what is going on. The hot German doctor (Dr. S) had already explained the situation to them last week, but she wanted to make sure she hadn't missed something, and he encouraged her to bring us in so he can explain it to us. I wrote an entire page full of notes. Nick joked about it to me after the appointment. "You took a lot of notes in school, didn't you?" he said. I explained how my memory is awful and I have to write things down or I will either forget them or remember them incorrectly and inadvertently exaggerate or diminish the reality of something.

The cancer started in the kidney. One of her kidneys is completely covered in cancer. The other one is partially covered. The cancer has spread to her spleen, liver, lungs, lymph nodes, and bones. It might be in her brain.

Left untreated, she has anywhere from a month or two to live. And of course, every patient is different. This is just an estimate.

Dr. S is offering surgery as an option at this point, but he was candid and said that he's probably the only doctor in the state of New York who would perform it on her with her cancer as advanced as it is. He said most doctors would stop treatment now and focus on making her comfortable.

And here's why: the surgery is risky, just like all surgeries. But more importantly, it's a long shot. The surgery would remove one kidney and the spleen. Dr. S explained that 1 in 10 patients will live another 5-6 months after surgery in this situation. 1 in 100 might live another year or two.

MJ asked Nick and me if we think she should have the surgery. We protested that only she can make that decision. She brushed our comments aside. She wanted our opinions. She looked at Nick first. I watched them look at each other. Nick was silent for a long time. His eyes filled up with tears. He shook his head no, which meant that he doesn't think she should have the surgery. MJ nodded, crying softly, and turned to look at me.

I don't know why I didn't cry. I cry at country music songs and Folgers commercials, for Pete's sake. But I sat in that penis themed room staring into the eyes of my terminally ill step mom and was dry eyed. I felt so guilty about that. I kept thinking that I should be crying.

But she wanted my answer. All along she has asked for my advice. And she's taken it. And now, she wanted me to weigh in on whether she should have this surgery or not. I didn't want that responsibility. But she wanted me to tell her what I think she should do.

So, like Nick, I slowly shook my head. It was all I could do to continue looking her in the eye. I wanted so badly to stare at the floor, to avoid her haunted gaze.

I don't think she should have the surgery. I can't explain why, but don't think it will make her live longer. I think it will create more pain during the last few weeks of her life. And yet... if I were in her shoes would I want that chance, no matter how small, to live just a little bit longer? I think I would.

There is a wild card in this situation. She has a brain scan tomorrow. If there are any signs of cancer in her brain, they won't do the surgery. The presence of cancer in the brain will obliterate the chances of surgery extending her life.

If I were a betting woman, I'd say that the decision is going to be made for her. But we'll have to wait and see.

1 comment:

NaysWay said...

Uh boy. I'm going to have to take that bet with you. I'm like you. When faced with stressful situations, I don't cry. I'm all business. Might go home and ball my eyes out, but not then. I think she respects your answer. It may have helped her more than you kept your composure. My heart goes out to you guys. This is tough... not like you don't know that.