Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's Been a Bad Week

Note: This was written on Thursday, May 7th. For obvious reasons, I held off on posting this in order to notify family.

It was just three little words. The three words you never want to hear. I heard them as I found myself sitting in a surgical oncologist’s office two days ago, the lights dimmed so she could better show me the MRI scans, the ultrasounds, and the mammograms.

You’d think that I would have reacted differently then I did.

“You have cancer.”

Three little words.

“You have cancer.”

Instead of getting angry, or crying, or denying the obvious - I simply nodded and asked the doctor what the next steps were.

And it’s been like that ever since. That same numbness, that same measured acceptance; it’s not so much apathy as it’s acceptance of an unpalatable inevitability.

I often joke with my wife that I’m not a lucky person. I can count on one hand the times I’ve won something. And yet, I somehow managed to pull the cancer lottery and get one of the rarest forms of cancer for men. I’ll get to that in a minute… and that last statement will be abundantly clear as you read on.

You see, back in November or December of last year, I started to notice occasional wet spots on my shirts. For a week or so, I didn’t think anything about it. Then I noticed that it was always the same spot. Imagine my confusion when I realized that my right nipple was leaking a clear serum-like fluid.

“Hmmm… That’s odd,” I thought.

So, as I'm a typical Gen-X'er, I turned to the internet to figure out why in the hell an otherwise healthy, albeit slightly overweight, 38 year old male would have clear shit coming out of his nipple. I saw some bodybuilding websites that talked about increased estrogen levels and changing up supplements. I disregarded those because I’ve, for the last two years, been taking a doctor prescribed testosterone supplement to deal with lowered boy juice levels (it’s the result of a wonky liver). Besides, who listens to the meathead jocks anyway? They’re the ones who think it’s cool to pump anabolic steroids and shrink your nuts.

So my web crawling continued. I landed at Web MD, where I found some information that was a little more helpful. Disturbing phrases kept popping up, though. Thinks like; “unilateral discharge” and “cancer” and “ductal carcinoma”.

I decided to see my doctor. That was in March. I had increased my dosage on my testosterone and noticed a decrease in the nipple discharge. Sometimes I’d go days with no leaking. Then one day, on a whim, I gave the old moob a squeeze, and it shot a stream of liquid across the bathroom. Time to see a doctor, I said to myself.

My doctor looked at it and recommended further testing. And here’s where the indignity kicked in. Believe me when I say that there is nothing more emasculating then being a man and having to go get a mastectomy. The waiting room, the exam room, even the consultation room are all festooned in the ubiquitous pink imagery and ribbons of the woman’s breast cancer movement. And there is nothing so embarrassing and cringe inducing than being a five foot ten inch, 240 pound, shaved head man with a bad attitude who has to sit in the waiting room - all while explaining to the young, vacuous, and gum snapping female receptionist, “No, it’s not a mistake. I’m supposed to be here for a mammogram. And thanks for letting everybody in the waiting room know.”

The indignity continued.

The mammogram was inconclusive - and so they immediately walked me over, shirtless and wearing a paper gown made for a petite woman – to get an ultrasound. The thing was - it wasn’t inconclusive. The radiologist was unsure of a spider-web like mass on the right side of my chest. I saw it on the screen and I remember sitting there, getting that weird feeling that things were bad.

So I had an ultrasound. Afterwards, I was allowed to get dressed, and I waited expectantly in the ultrasound room for the radiologist to review the new test. After ten minutes, the technician who’d done the ultra sound (wearing nursing scrubs with more of those Pepto-Bismol pink ribbons on it) came back and told me it was fine. I just had some dilated ducts due to excess fat and it was nothing to worry about it.

I breathed a sigh of relief and went home, happy and confident it was nothing. I was losing weight because of a diet and exercise regime I’d worked out with my regular doctor, so I figured that – once I lost some more weight – the problem would clear up on its own.

My doctor called two days later. He said the radiologist had recommended a follow up MRI. I was confused and told my doctor so.

“They told me it was fine,” I said.

My doctor assured me it most likely was, but that they were just being thorough. “If it were me,” he said, “I’d do it… although I’m sure you have nothing to worry about.”

So I went for the MRI.

At this point, my wife was getting worried and went with me. I reassured her that they’d said it was all right. I told her that it was just to be safe. I promised her it was nothing.

The day after the MRI, my doctor called back and said I needed to get a biopsy. The mass was still hard to define and they weren’t sure, and the best bet was to get a chunk of it. He was still optimistic, but I was starting to get worried.

So, two days ago, I went to a pre-op appointment with the surgeon. As I walk through her door, I see that she’s actually a surgical oncologist.

And that’s how I found myself sitting in her office, listening to her matter-of-factly tell me that it’s a malignancy and that she’s 95% sure it’s cancer.

“You have male breast cancer,” she said.

All I could focus on was the stupid pink ribbon on her wall.

Let me give you some facts:

-- First, men DO get breast cancer
-- Male breast cancer accounts for less than 1% of all breast cancer cases.
-- That equates to about 400 cases in the US per year, and about 1200-1500 worldwide.
-- The mortality rate is higher for men than women… but that’s mostly attributed to the fact that men ignore symptoms or because of the stigma attached to what’s commonly believed to be a woman’s disease (See: My articulation of shame at having endured a mammogram).
-- It mostly occurs in men over 60 years of age, but factors like a bad liver can cause it to occur earlier.

Remember I said I hit the lottery? Yep! I’m lucky in cancer! There’s nothing quite like scoring a super rare form of the Big C, for men at least. Yeah, me! I’d not recommend you stand near me during a lightning storm. My luck for personal catastrophe seems especially significant.

I’m sure I’m paying some sort of karmic debt here. It was most likely my joking about my man Patrick Swayze’s pancreatic cancer. Either way… it is what it is. So – this will probably be the last post about this that I put on the Midnight Theater of Terror. I have a couple other blogs that I’ve set up for various jackassery, so I think I’ll cannibalize one of them and user that to update my regular readers about what’s going on with this crazy journey I’m about to start.

I’m doing that because Doctor Zombie’s Midnight Theater of Terror is my creative outlet for fart jokes, movie reviews, fiction, poetry and other various nefarious shenanigans. Cancer - unless you’re wishing it on, say, Ann Coulter - is generally not funny. So I’m partitioning things. I think I’ll need to write my way through this, writing is a therapy for me. But, on the same hand, I don’t want to bore you or depress you here. Hope you don’t mind, dear reader. If you’re interested, feel free to follow along over on the Zombie-A-Go-Go blog.


Jeff said...

Quite a story, my friend. Keep your spirits up, and your family and friends at your back, and you can kick this thing's ass.

shel said...

Yeah, what Jeff said.

Good thoughts from the pchak household will be with you as you face this.