Guest Post by Robert Hanlon
I’m waiting for results. Or rather, I’m not waiting. I’m trying to be not waiting. Most of the time it works. I’ve talked about, written about strolling toward death. Where I do not think about it, and mosey on my way since there is nothing to be done, and I refuse to spend my life grasping for life.
But that was before it was back. When my life span was unspecified, unburdened with impending anything. I got three month chunks of “so far so good.” Where the steady state was remission, and we so believe in inertia. All the universe believes in inertia. The odds are tomorrow will be just like today (even though we know that’s not so). And the next test will show what the last test showed – nothing.
Until it changes. The last test didn’t show nothing. It showed a small something. But I’m not supposed to have a something. I can’t have a something. Something means it’s back. It’s growing. My oncologist’s usual breezy exchange about vacation plans, and let’s lose some of that weight and get healthy is replaced with a curt “The numbers are rising.”
I knew it going in, since I picked up my lab results before the appointment. I knew there was a change that would upend my complacency, my life. I imagined what might follow, what miserable treatments, choices, outcomes. Speculation ran far ahead of likely reality. But not to be expressed, not to be laid on those who would also have to carry the load. The brain recognizes the irrationality of the panic, even as it churns. And the soul shields the pain from those who could give balm, because there is no real need to spread the pain when most of it is so unlikely, so remote. “I’m not worried” (much).
But with the doctor, I speed to what I will and will not do, what heroic measures should or not be taken, until he has to near shout “Wait! We’re getting ahead of ourselves.” He pulls me back with explanation of another round, a minor tweak in the regimen that had kept me steady state for three years. More hormone twists that wreck skin, tire, slightly weaken, make a better woman of me, buy me time and peace and maybe return to tests that say a blissful “nothing.” And even if, there are several others that maybe, could be, before we hit the really bad stuff.
And still I had never been sick from the disease, only the treatments. And still I knew that the disease lurks and promises pain, and loss, and death unless I manage to hold back, push off, outlast it, until I find some gentler, kinder way to die in good time.
So, I go home, fill the scrip, wolf down the new pill that may slow, halt, reverse to steady state. And struggle to find that juggled balance of strolling again.
Until I hear from a friend that his doctor thought she felt something. Maybe nothing. But he needs to be checked. And he’s not worried. He’s just waiting. He tells me, and I listen and try not to volunteer more than he wants, needs to know. And so, we are both waiting.
And next week is my next test.
Waiting for the next PSA test result.
I am a research scientist, so I have turned this into a challenge.
Is there any way I can predict the next test result?
PSA test results have an enormous amount of random variation, which makes it hard to detect “signals” among “noisy” data.
I warned you that I am a research scientist.
Nevertheless, there is a way, one which I have written about professionally for the past 30 years or so, to make fairly accurate predictions about test results by making certain basic assumptions about the nature of variability in measurements of any naturally occurring phenomena.
Graphing and analyzing my PSA test results provides me with a strange sort of comfort.
I am not terribly surprised by the number.
It either confirms the hypothesis[ more like a wishful hope] that nothing has changed or it disconfirms it.
At least I can tell before hand what range of values will support either conclusion.
I am certainly not in control of the process[ which is true of my life in general] but I understand it as a naturally occurring phenomena[ there is that phrase again] which operates according to its own logic.
My cancer is not a evil foreign invader that needs to be conquered.
It is something my body is doing to defend itself against what it [mis]perceives as a foreign invader. At least that is my take on the state of the science regarding how cancer develops and proliferates.
Under the best of circumstances this view brings a Zen-like detachment, reinforced by another book I recommend- Zen Cancer, Wisdom by Daju Suzanne Friedman, a professor of Chinese medicine who “passed away peacefully at home” when she finally lost her battle with cancer.Again, it is an inspirational book that avoids being preachy or saccharine.