It's been a long time - I'm weeks overdue on writing the post that was supposed to say, HOORAY! THAT'S IT! ALL DONE!
I've always been a coy mistress of procrastination, so it isn't out of character for me to put off a task I really want to get right, and I had plenty of excuses as always: hormonal hellaciousness when the oophorectomy gave me a hard shove off an estrogen cliff; two incredible weeks with Pete on the big island of Hawaii when my body finally gave my brain a hard talking to and ever so briefly succeeded in shutting it up (I'm spontaneously recovering a mental recording of dear Robin Williams channeling Richard Burton for a Dos Equis ad: "I NEED THIS BEER MORE THAN YOU NEED THIS BEER, AND YET, IF YOU DRINK THIS BEER, IT WILL FUCK YOU UP THE SAME AS IT FUCKS UP ME); the excitement, trepidation, and plain old logistical challenges of returning to training and teaching after nine months of gestating a strange and undeniably damaged but intermittently coherent new self.
But it was superstition mostly. I just didn't feel done. And I was right, damn it. There really are better things than being right.
I am deeply sorry not to be able to deliver this news the old fashioned way, person to person, but at the same time it's a huge relief to be able to deliver it at all when time is very short. It's been a head-spinning couple of days, and I wish I didn't mean that literally. Monday morning, a little less than a week after our return from Hawaii, I had a video conference call with a couple of terrific designers (Forrest and Marla Baer at Cloudyreason) who were resuming collaboration on a revamp of the Bridgetown website that we put on hold last December. They introduced me virtually to their charming frisbee ace of a heeler and helped kick my enthusiasm and confidence into a higher gear - a welcome intervention with classes set to resume this Saturday. But Monday night things took a bad turn when I experienced some sudden and serious visual strangeness.
I initially thought it was a particularly fierce ocular migraine, which I've had in the past and which can sometimes render me temporarily blind, so I didn't get truly frightened until the next morning, when I found that my peripheral vision loss hadn't cleared. And I noticed retrospectively that I'd hit my head on a lot of fast-moving cabinets while in paradise, and tripped many times over our phantom dogs since our return.
Too much preamble, Pete would say.
Tuesday morning we were due at Kaiser West Side for a follow-up with my wonderful OB-GYN, Dr. Mary Knox, an appointment I was looking very hopefully forward to. There's no formula for making patients feel truly cared for, but they might try bottling whatever she's got. I was scared enough by my symptoms to ask Pete if we could head out early and make a detour to the ER first. I was ready to curse myself for a hypochondriac, but I thought I might be having a stroke. An hour later, I understood from the somber faces of everyone testing my vision and reflexes that I wasn't silly to have come in - such a relief to my pride and blow to my hopes! I actually found myself longing to hear that I had a mere bleed in my brain. No such luck. A CT and then an MRI scan of my head revealed a mass about an inch in diameter sitting low in my skull, on the right side near the meeting of the occipital and parietal lobes, presumed to be a metastasis of the original cancer.
My prognosis at that moment appeared very grim indeed, as any metastasis found in the central nervous system almost always presages the discovery of systemic disease. But a wider CAT scan early Wednesday morning (neck to thighs) turned out to be shockingly clean; all indications are that the chemo actually did its job... except in the sanctuary for stray malignancies on the far side of the blood-brain barrier.
The odds that I'll live to eighty (or even fifty) have taken a very big hit, but we have a window of hope. My preternaturally soothing neurosurgeon (see, I just had to get to the point where I could say "my neurosurgeon") discharged me yesterday for a day's reprieve, which we've spent lining up as many legal, financial, and logistical ducks as we've been able (with lots of generous and expert help) to chase into place, leaving all too little time for other vital tasks that don't lend themselves to manic management. (I'm back on steroids and exhausting every doctor, nurse, lawyer, social worker, and notary public who ventures into earshot. Just the one husband, lucky guy.)
In a little more than five hours, we'll head back to the hospital. I'll have an MRI to guide placement of some navigational markers on the back of my skull (there go patches of my newborn, silvered, Buddhist-nun locks, the rest to follow with radiation in another couple of weeks), and Dr. Weinstein will set to his delicate work early in the afternoon. He's confident that he can get the tumor out without damaging much of the surrounding tissue, but the symptoms I'm experiencing now may well become permanent and could worsen or multiply.
These are undeniably problematic, also undeniably fascinating. I finally get to study a brain from the inside, when it is most nakedly exposed through sudden and dramatic alteration. Oliver Sacks are us! (His case study of the colorblind painter concerns a brain lesion close to the area where mine is, where visual signals get interpreted and our view of the world quite artificially constructed and reconstructed ad-hoc.)
In addition to peripheral vision loss (to the left and bottom of my visual field) and some relatively minor sensory deficits (a bit of intermittent numbness in my left limbs and extremities), I have a wildly disorienting symptom that's difficult to describe, which only presented itself yesterday when we returned home: The organization of spaces and objects large and small has been thrown out of whack. I don't have an absolute sense of distortion but rather a feeling of sudden estrangement from settings that have been intimately familiar, irrespective of scale, from the streets where we walk the dogs every day to (this is mightily bizarre) the interiors of our kitchen cabinets. How'd the plates get so big, the gaps between them so yawning? Brain tumors are so very, very interesting. Almost as interesting as they are terrifying.
More preamble. I don't want to sleep, but I should, and I haven't yet said what I most need to say:
I fully intend to survive tomorrow's surgery and emerge with the thread of me maybe a little further frayed but intact. In the highly unlikely event that I do not, it would be a serious bummer for me to have failed to tell all of you who have graced me with your attention and quenched my parched spirits with your interest, affection, and even love how much it pains me to be unable - not finally owing to any lack of time or energy but to a basic, endemic inadequacy - to convey to you my gratitude. But it's big. Really big. And terribly indiscrete.
Hey. I could use a dose of joy and beauty. I need it like I need a hole in my head. How about you? (If you've received this by email, click through to the blog for some sweet and exuberant pics.)
Catch you on the other side. I'll be blushing for my sappy histrionics over here.