“Risin ´up, back on the street…..Did my time, took my chances.
Went the distance now I´m back on my feet…. Just a man and his will to survive.”
As I showered this morning, I belted out the words to the glorious 80´s power ballad above. My goal: put on a brave, fighting face in order to feel strong and confident going into my exams today. Why Eye of the Tiger, you ask? Well… for four years this song was the first one that blared from the speakers as my Athena soccer team took our first lap under the lights during our Wednesday night games. We never had that many fans, but I remember feeling so amped up jogging around the field, keeping in step to the beats. It was such an empowering feeling.
I have been waiting for quite awhile now to get these Pet Scan and MRI results, which will let us know how well the chemo is working. So far, Dr. Buhler believes the original tumor in the breast to be responding positively to the chemo, but now we need to find out what is going on in the rest of the places the cancer has spread to, namely the lungs and the liver. Apparently chemotherapy is a systemic treatment, which works well on soft tissue and organs. If this is doing its job correctly, we can then proceed to other treatments such as surgery and radiation. There is no way to accurately predict my future without these exam results. So, as you might assume, I have been rather nervous about it all. I was hoping to have the tests done either before or directly after Christmas, but my doctor kept pushing them further and further back. At first I was going to find out on December 28th, the day Jon´s parents were arriving. Then, I was supposed to find out on January 2nd… then, it was moved to the 4th. On Thursday I was out enjoying a Spicy Chile Tour of Barrios Brasil, Yungay, and Concha y Toro with the Krumtinger family when I received an email from the hospital. It told me, unapologetically, that the Pet Scan machine was broken, so they would have to move my hospitalization to Monday, January 7th. One might think that I would have been happy to hear that I would have another weekend to enjoy myself and spend more time with Jon´s family, but actually I immediately burst into tears. I had steeled and prepared myself to find out on the 4th, and now I was going to have to wait three more agonizing days. Awaiting news of this magnitude about your health and your future is like sitting on pins and needles. Outwardly you might be smiling and laughing, casually sipping on white wine and playing games of euchre with your future in laws, but inside you are tense and full of fear.
Not that all of the time between Christmas and New Years was stressful, but hardly a day went by when I didn´t think about cancer. It was hard to relax, even on a lovely four-day jaunt to the world´s biggest swimming pool in Algarrobo. Jon and I spent several glorious days reading books and soaking up the sun with his parents, and there were times when I did, indeed, let my mind relax and simply enjoyed the warmth of the sun´s rays. I also had a fabulous New Years Eve celebration with Jon, Shannon, Daniel, and Beth. Around 12:30 (hora chilena) we snuck into the party at the rooftop bar of the W hotel by simply riding the elevator up. Once we arrived it was clear that an expensive party was in progress, but no one even asked to see a wristband or Id or anything. Instead, they decked us out in leopard sombreros and neon feather boas, and filled our wine glasses with free champagne. We spent a glorious night laughing and taking pictures in our garb, overlooking the lights of Santiago and dancing to the beats of the DJ. It was almost like old times, I would say… except much harder to recover from a late night the next day than it was in the past.
After New Years, however, I was pretty much ready to get to the hospital and finally know the truth. During that time Jon and I spent some aggravating hours trying to cancel our plane tickets and hotels in Brazil, as we had planned that trip a long time ago and the departure date was fast arriving. Unfortunately for us it was the first trip that we had invested a lot of money in advance since we were going to some popular secluded islands in the North, nature reserves in the Amazon, and were hoping to enjoy the Carnival festivities in both Rio and Salvador. I had really been looking forward to the trip so it was especially irksome to realize that not only would I NOT be travelling to Brazil, but that I was probably going to lose a few thousand dollars in the process. I know I totally sound like a spoiled brat, whining about missing a vacation that most people dream of their whole lives, but so be it. I became an international teacher so that I could travel and see the world first hand, so this was a huge disappointment. I got in a bit of a row with Jon about it all because he had previously cancelled some very expensive flights without calling the airline to explain what had happened and find out if they would be refundable. The fight was very embarrassing for me because his parents were there, and I´d have preferred it if they didn´t have to see this ugly side of me. I´m pretty sure by now, though, they know that I´m not necessarily the sweet girl-next-door type. The first time I met them I was recently divorced and had lost my wallet and passport en route to China. I was a bit of a mess and it was a bit of an ordeal….
Anyway, just like the previous situation, Jon and I eventually worked through the fight and LAN airlines was so kind to give us a whole 48 hours to get a note from our doctor and scan it to them so they could review it and decide if my cancer was a good enough reason to refund some of the money. Luckily Dr. Buhler was nice enough to write something up and hand it to me one hour before the LAN appointed deadline. (I swear that man never sleeps!) Now, we shall see if they will accept it. Hopefully, if a human being with a heart is in charge of their customer service, than they will try to accommodate us. I thought mentioning the word “cancer” was supposed to automatically elicit an appropriate amount of sympathy. Perhaps not when money and an inefficient bureaucratic process is involved.
So… finally the day of the tests arrived, and as you might expect, it turned out to be filled with a whole lot more agonizing wait time. Jon and I headed to the hospital this morning at 9 AM, per the instructions on the hospital´s email. We packed our bags the night before, Jon carefully gathering the DVD player, the stereo, a stack of funny movies to watch, snacks, and fluffy entertainment magazines. We also downloaded three Bill Bryson audio books to listen to in case the TV, magazines, and movies were not entertaining enough. I really enjoy Bryson´s sarcastic humor when detailing his travel adventures. We listened to several of them to help pass the time on the Trans-Siberian Railroad a few years ago. Actually, being cooped up in a small train compartment for three days is pretty similar to being imprisoned in a hospital room. The view here at Clinica Alemana, while pretty nice, isn´t quite as majestic as watching the silver birch trees glide by our window on our Siberian adventure. But props to Clinica Alemana, because the service is light-years ahead in terms of friendliness. Our Russian train stewardesses who answered every question with “Nyet!” struck fear in our hearts with just one icy stare. The nurses here are significantly nicer. When I was forced to take a pregnancy test before the Pet Scan because I couldn´t say “seguro, seguro” that I wasn´t pregnant, at first the nurses were a little annoyed. I was going to be messing with their very tight test schedule even further. Even though I knew there was approximately negative 25% chance that I had a ”huahita” inside my belly, my body has been pretty out of whack since the chemo treatments began. Go figure! Once I explained to the nurse that I was sorry that I couldn´t be sure, and that I was scared, and that I really, REALLY didn´t want anything to prevent me from receiving the scan today, she was pretty nice. She admitted that they don´t get a lot of people my age taking the test (dagger through the heart…) and so they just aren´t accustomed to dealing with this kind of issue. She promised that I would be able to have the tests today, albeit much later in the day, and that everything would be fine.
So I was wheeled back up to my hospital room in tears, due to all of the embarrassment surrounding my “pregnancy scare”. It was time to simply wait some more. The phrases of the Survivor song that had been running through my head all morning faded to a faint whisper. Eventually (an hour and a half later) the results of the test came back negative as expected and I was sent back down to receive the radiation for the Pet Scan. The test itself didn´t hurt, but it was a little disconcerting to watch a nurse carry in a test tube of radioactive material that will then be pumped into your veins. Seriously, that thing looked like a mini nuclear bomb, and judging by the mask and thick heavy gloves the nurse was wearing, the hospital pretty much treats it as such. An hour after they administered the radiation I was sent to the machine. The medical technology that we possess today is truly amazing. The machines themselves are extremely impressive looking, especially for a humanities major, like myself. I thought I was walking into a NASA testing lab. Anyway, they had me lay down on this board, hands above my head, and loaded my veins up with some contraste so that they could properly take the images. This injection made my body all warm and tingly (also slightly disconcerting), and then my body was passed through the machine very, very slowly. My arms definitely fell asleep and became numb, but I knew I couldn´t move them. After this test, I had to wait some more for my brain MRI at 7:35 PM. I had been asked to come to the hospital this morning fasting (en ayuno), so by this point in the day I was starving! It had been almost 23 hours and 25 minutes since my last meal and I really wanted to sink my teeth into a slice of warm, gooey, pizza. Alas, I had to be content numbing my brain with more celebrity gossip and waited to be wheeled into my next testing room. I was already familiar with the brain MRI procedure as I had one done before my diagnosis, so I knew what to expect. The test was mercifully short and the only irritating thing was that one of my earplugs fell out when the machine began to vibrate. I don´t know if you´ve ever had an MRI, but that sucker is LOUD! The Eye of the Tiger beat became less “wah… wah-wah-wah….wah-wah-wah… wah-wah-waaaah” and more “YEEeeEEeeEEeeEEeeEEee! YEEeeEEeeEEeeEEeeEEee! Knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock, knock…. YEEeeEEeeEEeeEEeeEEee! YEEeeEEeeEEeeEEeeEEe” * If I didn´t go into the exam with brain damage before, I certainly emerged with some serious damage to my ear drums.
I was very glad to be able to return to my room. Even though the cold food the hospital gave me was completely inedible and unidentifiable, Jon at least had some bags of fruit and nuts and was nice enough to fetch me a Ginger Ale from the snack stand. The nurses came in and declared that due to the late hour I would not be able to do my chemo that day. I had pretty much figured that out when my pet scan took place a full eight hours after I was originally told it would take place. Dr. Majlis also came by late in the evening to declare that he had no news for me, but he is sure it will be positive. I find his attitude regarding the exams to be both uplifting and a little cavalier. I hope he isn´t setting me up for the greatest disappointment of my life. And now… we wait. It is the following afternoon at 2:45 and I still have yet to receive any chemo or any news. Will let you all know as soon as I hear something. Love to you all!
*To check the accuracy of my use of onomatopoeia, please consult the following highly credible website: http://www.writtensound.com