June 15, 2011
It was Wednesday evening as we headed down the 405, the whole crew in tow: Erica and Julie, Eliot and their boys, Josh and Nate. The boys quietly debated over who deserved to ride in the blue booster seat on the way back. Apparently, one of them had exceeded the maximum number of turns allotted for the blue seat. As we approached a standstill in traffic, I looked out the window as my mind wandered. On the outside, I look like a normal, healthy white dude, but my subtitle would read, “everybody hurts.” Then Michael Stipe jumped off the roof of the car and we continued driving.
It’s been three weeks since the doctor told me there was a squatter living in my chest. Three weeks, no answers – just questions. Three weeks is a lot of time to do a lot of thinking. Apparently, a lot of time to think of bad puns. Just thinking about cancer should come with a warning. It’s like opening the Ark of the Covenant…it will melt your face. So instead I just focus on the joys of cancer – like not having to work. Ok, trying to find the positive in cancer can prove to be challenging. I guess I’m just trying not to think. A craft I’ve mastered over the past 20 years. I’m trying not to think about it, but this lil’ fucker is pushing down on my lungs and I can’t breathe. Plus, I get text messages and phone calls all day, asking me how I’m doing or if I know my diagnosis. It’s hard NOT to think about.
It was about 6:30 that evening when I received a call from my oncologist. She finally had my diagnosis: Diffuse Large B-Cell, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. My baby has a name! We pulled over on the side of the road, jumped out of the car and gave each other jumping chest bumps and high fives. But what exactly did Diffuse Large B Cell, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma mean? Who knows? Who cares? Let’s serve the eviction notice.
My oncologist said I needed to come in the very next morning to start treatment. Due to my difficulty breathing and the fluid around my heart it was important to start right away. She explained my chemo would be administered over two days and I had to start before the weekend. All the details of my chemo treatment would be explained tomorrow by my oncology nurse during the rookie symposium. It was go time.
The oncologist also explained the results of all my pre-chemo tests. My echocardiogram results were good. My heart wouldn’t stop when they pumped it full of chemo cocktails. Chemotherapy: Stopping cancer and hearts since 1942. This didn’t exactly give me the comfy, hot cocoa feeling I hoped to have as I started this journey. I’ll just take this as good news.
The full body PET scan revealed my baby didn’t make any new friends. We were only battling the tumor in my chest. This was f’in great news! I was secretively nervous about these results. Although I didn’t show any physical signs, the thought of cancer metastasizing was still a fear in the back of my mind.
Last, she had my bone marrow biopsy results. There was really only one outcome for me. If lymphoma had spread to my bone marrow and I had to do another one of those biopsies, I would make Dr. Kevorkian my primary care physician. Thankfully, my marrow was clean. I pulled the cyanide capsule out from under my tongue to save for later. The negative results put my lymphoma at Stage II.
Oh, and I didn’t have HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis.
All the results were promising, except for non-Hodgkins? What’s with the “non”? I get the O’douls of the cancer world? I didn’t know the difference between “Hodgkins” and “non-Hodgkins” to be honest. Then again, I didn’t pay too much attention to all the research my family had been doing for me. They’ve been sending me links and giving me info, but having gone through three of the toughest weeks of my life, I wasn’t about to get extracurricular. I don’t need to know the history of this disease to know I’m not a fan.
Once again, we were running a no huddle offense. I would be starting chemotherapy tomorrow morning. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise, not having time to think about it. Then again, it was par for the course. Since this whole thing started, I didn’t know what was around the next corner. Nobody warned me about that fateful call from my doctor; I was blindsided by my first thoracentesis; we rushed to get my biopsy; and now, we were starting chemo first thing in the morning. I’m sure I didn’t need any extra time think of all the awful things that came along with chemo anyway. One night gave me enough time to think.
Will I need surgery or will chemo completely get rid of the tumor? How will the chemo make me feel? How long will I have to be on chemo? How sick will I be? Will I be confined to my bed? Should I buy one of those awesome, remote control, reclining beds? How many episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives can one person really watch? Do I need to start cooking meth in an RV to pay for my treatments? Do I need to start a fundraiser in my honor, selling customized rubber wristbands with “Be Heald” embossed on them? Actually, I like the sound of that one. Oh, and there was the whole nausea, vomiting, and hair loss business, too. I was prepared for the hair loss. My hair gave up on me long ago, so I already had the shaved head. However, I could stand to lose some hair on my arms and legs. Nausea and vomiting…pfffft sounds like a typical Sunday morning for me. Bring it!
I was about to go to war against a powerful disease and battle the side effects of a nasty drug. I’ve scrapped with illness every day since I was just trying to go outside and play dodgeball. Every day I fight the unpredictability of allergies: the sneezing, water eyes and runny noses or the side effects of decongestants and antihistamines. I know I’m not going to win a Nobel Prize for my triumphs over sneeze attacks, but maybe battling allergies my whole life has prepared me for this war. Or maybe allergies weakened my immune system over the years and they’re the reason I’m in this lymphoma mess to begin with. Queue the Twilight Zone music.
I was less than 24 hours away from starting the next chapter on my journey. “My Chemo Summer” was born…well, it was either that or “Chernobyl Vacation.” That night I did what any soldier would do before getting deployed. I went and got a Double-Double from In-N-Out.