Thursday, January 05, 2012

F*ck Off, 2011

Or happy new year, if that’s the way you want to go, but I say “Good riddance, you crappy year,” given the onslaught of health issues and not to mention that in 2011 I had a root canal fail (necessitating a dental implant), a crown fall off, and a tooth die, for a total of about 20 appointments to date with the dentist, endodontist and oral surgeon—there’s still a hole in my head where tooth or toothlike item #19 used to be and will be again in time. If you want to know how much it costs to have a root canal fail, a crown fall off, and a tooth die, it’s thousands upon thousands of dollars—if you have top-notch insurance.

For New Year’s Eve, Tom and I did the same thing we did last year: walk down to Papalote for a burrito, discover it was closed, and go somewhere else, this year to Sunflower, the Vietnamese restaurant at 16th and Valencia, and we picked up a couple of videos on our way home.

Today I saw my radiation oncologist, Dr. L., for a post-surgery follow-up. I had to wait a long, long time, but I didn’t mind. Dr. L. is really nice, and excellent when it comes to answering questions patiently.

He explained that the intraoperative radiation (IORT) is gone as soon as the applicator is withdrawn, and there is no residual radiation, but cell death can go on for a month as the effect continues to kick in. Also, healthy cells recovering can be felt as mild discomfort.

He said the radiation used was X-rays, similar to dental X-rays, but less penetrating; dental X-rays can see all the way through your jawbone. He said it penetrated about one centimeter into my flesh, and that recovery from the radiation treatment itself will take about four to six weeks, which is kind of moot, since recovery from the lumpectomy might take up to six months. I asked, “Can’t 20 gray kill you?” and he said it certainly would if applied to your whole body.

As to whether the radiation I received puts me at risk of long-term problems, he said there’s about a one in 500 chance of cancer caused by the treatment itself, which would be right where the treatment was, not elsewhere in the body.

Then I dragged him through my whole series of recurrence risk questions again, all the same ones I asked at our initial meeting, and noted that his answers had changed a bit, for the worse, but it’s still a pretty small risk: less than 5% over ten years, he (now) thinks.

He gave me the names of a couple of medical oncologists—when you have even pre-cancer, you get to have two oncologists, a radiation one and a medical one—and he gave me copies of the radiation report and surgical pathology report.

Recently I went over to a hospital near my apartment for the annual TB test required for hospice volunteering and mentioned that I’d just had radiation. They said radiation can garble the TB test results, and that we’d have to wait until I got a written release from my oncologist! I wasn’t upset, but left marveling at how the medical-related to-do list seems to grow only longer these days, never shorter.

For the record, Dr. L. said that radiation has no bearing on a TB test one way or the other, but along with the other documents, he gave me a written release and, very foolishly, his email address.

I’m letting my hair grow, which requires mashing it down until it attains a weight sufficient to cause it to sag about my shoulders rather than expand skyward, which is calculated to occur at a length of about three feet. This exciting effort is directly due to the DCIS diagnosis, which I experienced in part as a strike against my virility: I feel I must demonstrate I can grow something other than cancer cells, something at least neutral in nature.

I tried one day encasing my nascent Afro in a bandanna, which caused my hospice visitee to remark charmingly, “I like your capine,” which the Internet says is a cotton bonnet. I felt pretty good about it until I got together with Venkata the evening of that same day and he laughed and shrieked, “Linda! You have a do-rag?!”
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