Meaty confession, and Medical Updates

I am writing this for me, mostly, but also to give updates to the people that care. I could just write nuts-and-bolts updates, but I'm not. The medical updates are in here, but so is a lot of other stuff about what I am thinking, doing, and feeling. That's the part I am doing for me. It feels a little silly and/or narcissistic to broadcast it, but that's what I'm doing. Here's why I say this: if you want updates on me, but think the whole blog is silly and/or narcissistic, that's fine- just use your eyes and intellect to scan for pertinent information: the stuff you really want to know. That stuff, in this post, is probably like a thousand words down, at the bottom of the post.

 The bad thing about me not writing on Thursday, as I had intended to do, is that I didn't write. I did nothing that day. I woke up under a cloud that just got darker and darker as they day went on; the only sunny spot was a forty-minute visit from Elaine Wood, who came bearing homemade blue cheese dressing and clementines. We hung out and talked for a while in the mild early afternoon, then she left and it got dark again.

I went to work. I had worked on Wednesday, and that went fine- but Thursday was different. My mind was already in the dark place, and I couldn't shake it out. This was my first day after the surgeries that I had not taken a Percocet with breakfast, and I'm sure that did not help my mental state. My chest still ached, and I definitely could have- probably should have- taken a pill to dull that pain earlier in the day. But at work I wasn't feeling that bad, physically, and there came a point when I was fondling one little white pill, knowing that it would make my head hum pleasantly and make the world a little rosier, and all would be fine and it would be well worth the constipation (which, if we're being honest here, is probably the main reason I am not taking Percocet anymore). But, for better or for worse, I passed on the Percocet and wussed out on work, not having, psychically speaking, what it takes to do the whole song and dance required in the hospitality field. I drove home, where even walking the Lea felt like unbearable work.

The good thing about me not writing on Thursday is that you were spared having to read something so devoid of any positivity that it would have sucked the light out of the room you were sitting in. Up to that point I had taken in everybody's advice about good thoughts, listened to them tell me that they thought I had a great attitude (and I don't know whether I do or not- I am just matter-of-fact about it, I guess, sparing friends and family from having to hear why-mes). My response to all that, on Thursday at least, would have been "I know I'm supposed to stay positive, but this sucks, so fuck you." If I had written it, I would have meant it, but only in the moment.

Friday was better- I was looking forward to going to Vanderbilt and meeting Dr. Morgan, the oncologist that I had an appointment with that afternoon. I can't remember what I did that morning, but I met Caitlyn, Liane and Lee and Becca and L&L's minute baby Sylvia at Baja Burrito for lunch, which, for you non-Nashvillians, is the jewel of Nashville's casual food scene- a much less sterile (that's good) and less sanitary (that may not be so good) Chipotle. They make a seitan "chorizo" con papas burrito that I rarely deviate from, but I went with steak, which leads me to this aside: since I became a vegetarian in early 2010, I have fallen off the wagon from time to time- I have given in to cravings, and I have had meat at restaurants (Gary Danko, The Catbird Seat, The Hitching Post) where I felt that to avoid it would be to miss the full experience of the establishment. I fully admit to this. However, it is safe to say that, ever since I found out I was sick, I have abandoned vegetarianism like a teenage punk abandons a flaming fudge-bag on a neighbor's porch.

It started in Asheville the weekend after the wedding, where my carnivorous inhibitions were lowered by the celebratory occasion. A ribeye at The Admiral, bacon-wrapped and lamb sausage-stuffed rabbit saddle (morally probably the same as any meat, but definitely feels more evil) and a bottle of Puffeney Arbois at Table. I mean, table had a great Hen of the Woods pot pie, but surely I could not appreciate all these chefs could do by sticking to the vegetarian options on the menu.

The two weeks back in Nashville, before my first doctor's appointment, were veg. On Monday, October 29 though- the day I dragged myself to the doctor to look into my dypsnea (shortness of breath, to the lay person)- that Caitlyn and I were walking the dog, and I suggested we maybe go out and have a steak at Bob's Chop House, which had just opened and where my friend Michael Mathewes was now working. I had had the x-ray and the CT scan that day, didn't have any results yet, and was a little scared and looking to assuage my fears with wagyu. Caitlyn shot down my idea, more or less. Five minutes later, though, Dr. Sanders called with the news that I has a mass (her word) in my lung and she was referring me to a pulmonologist. I choked up as I shared that news with Caitlyn, and she suddenly felt like going out and spending $200 on a meal didn't seem like such a terrible idea, all things considered. We didn't go, but the latch to the meat locker had been lifted. Since then it has been pulled pork at work, the Green Eggs (walnut pesto) and Ham sandwich (Star Bagel), NY strip (J. Alexander's- twice), freshly-fried and moist chicken tenders (Publix deli- not too proud of that one), tender sirloin (cooked at home and enjoyed with the in-laws- Omaha Steaks delivery courtesy of the girls of 1409, who apparently were tipped off to my recidivism by Caitlyn ). I don't know if I am just being opportunistic about having an excuse to chow down on previously verboten foods, or whether I am physically craving the nutritional bounty of meat. Whatever.

But back to my day. I met Dr. Morgan at Vanderbilt, who told me he had read a lot about me before I got there, which, corny as it sounds, made me feel special and paid attention to. All my information had been forwarded from St. Thomas- they just had to take about 9 vials of blood from me, but they let me keep some. We had a long conversation, but here is the new information he gave me:

1- Hodgkins is not common- about 8,000 cases in the U.S. per year, compared with 90,000 cases of lung cancer. There you go- special again.

2- Hodgkins was also the first cancer to be cured by chemotherapy, and that was a long time ago. That is good information, as the treatments, though largely unchanged since the early days, have been refined.

3- I am most likely in stage 2, and with Hodgkins, stage 2 is divided up into Favorable and Unfavorable, and guess which one I have. Dr. Morgan assures me that, though Unfavorable is indeed the less favorable of the two, we're still talking stage 2 here, so let's keep some perspective.  For the uninitiated here, we're talking about a 4-stage scale. As Christopher Hitchens famously and darkly characterized his esophageal cancer, "I have stage 4, and there is no stage 5."

You can't be Stage 2 Favorable if you have a mass of more than 10cm, and apparently the mass I have in my mediastinum (the space between my lungs) is 12cm!!! Can you believe that? That's fucking huge! Shouldn't I feel much worse, having that thing in there? Wow. If you want to see the CT scan of that mass, you can click here. That's a horizontal shoulder-level cross-section of me. The black things are my lungs, and that thing in between 'em shouldn't be there- not at all.

In short, the doc is prescribing six months of chemo, plus some radiation to zap the interloping neoplasm in my chest. Then I should be good as new- really. The cure rate with the treatment is about 83%, and I like those odds.