Friday, October 3, 2014

So A Guy, (Actually Me) Walks Into UCSF Medical Center.......

   25 years ago I had cancer. It was a big surprise to me as well as to my doctors. I was in my 30's , a vegetarian, non smoking, non drinking, runner. Not exactly who anyone expected to turn up as a cancer patient, but turn up I did. It turns out that as a child I was exposed to radiation. This was back in the 50's when Our Friend the Atom was considered the universal cure for nearly anything. Anyone who's watched The Knick about turn of the century medicine in a NYC hospital, or Manhattan about the invention of The Bomb at Los Alamos during WW2 know how close people used to get to this stuff without worrying about it.

Like this x-ray guy, "just stand there for one hour" while we point this thing at your head.

 What could possibly go wrong????

   So as an infant back in the 50's a doctor advised my parents to treat me with radiation for some minor childhood problem. Hey, it was the atomic age, and all the kids were doing it! About 25 years later I found out about this through a warning letter and a bunch of articles about people in their 20's and 30's who'd had these treatments turning up with cancer. Being the careful sort (hypochondriac) I kept a close eye on myself and sure enough, in my 30's I joined the club.
   I  was given a "poor prognosis"  because of how the radiation had affected me. I was a young person and so the cancer was more aggressive. I had surgery and chemo and the whole 9 yards. Which led to me learning to cook Indian food because my doctor advised adding ayurvedics to western medicine, and so here I am today. Still eating Indian food, still getting my regular check ups. I have been genetically tested and don't carry the gene for the type of cancer that I had. It seems that I was prey to what is called "backscatter radiation"  the residual of treatment I had as a baby. As anyone can tell you the younger one is when one is exposed to radiation, the more dangerous it is. No matter how well I take care of myself, what I eat or don't eat, how fast and often I run, that can't be undone, and so I am always on guard.
   Ever since moving to  Sonoma  I visit  UCSF every year and get checked. For all these years both in LA and up here, so far so good. A couple of weeks ago, I went for my regular visit and there was something not so good. It seemed as though I had cancer again. For the last couple of weeks I've been having tests, ultrasound, and a biopsy and yep, it was cancer again.  Of course the thing I was sweating out was the pathology. Would it be the same sort of scary stuff as last time?? What was I in for now?

   As it turns out the pathology was good, if you have to have cancer. What they found was very, very small and not the same sort of crazy aggressive cancer I had the last time. In fact all I need this time is a simple removal of something less than 1/3 of an inch. No chemo, no nothing. Whew. I have never been so happy having someone tell me I had cancer before!!!  It's a lot better than the last time around. For anyone in the Bay Area the people at the UCSF Breast Center rock and I am grateful for all their help. Just sayin' I'm going to be in the hospital for an overnight stay in about a week and then will be back to the regular same old same old.

   The reason I'm sharing this here is the last time I experienced this, I didn't tell anyone. Try going through chemo and surgery and lying your ass off about it. Hiding out and sneaking around. I was talking to one of the nurses at the cancer center at UCSF - he was one of the nurses who helped start the AIDS unit at New York Hospital back in the '80s.  She told me what I did was the equivalent of being in the closet. I realized she was right because I came out of that experience healthy but crazy angry. It seems that after 8 rounds of chemo I got better and then I got mad. In fact enraged. I had experienced stuff that none of my friends had, I 'd seen scary stuff, and been through scary life-threatening stuff.  I'd seen friends in my support group die, and kept my mouth shut about it the whole time, mainly because of fear of being un-hirable. I thought no one would want to hire a screenwriter with cancer.  After all everybody knows how those movies end. Except they don't always. Back then there was a different attitude toward cancer and I was more scared of surviving and being unable to earn a living afterward then I was of anything I was going through. 
   For my part I I thought I was hiding the crazy pretty darn well. Yeah sure. My doctor wisely sent me to a therapist who specialized in PTSD.  Who me? I wasn't in 'Nam.
I wasn't like Walter in the Big Lebowski.

Except I sort of was. Pretty soon I found myself sitting on a sofa discussing life and death and fear and secrets with guys named Dirty Jack, and Mikey who looked like the cast of Sons of Anarchy. I was the only woman, the only one who hadn't been to 'Nam, or in the CIA, or Seals, and the only cancer survivor.  When Dirty Jack told me that I was the one he'd want with him in a knife fight but I had to learn to deal with my shit, I knew I was finally home. I loved those guys and they really helped me a lot. I didn't have to be such a hardass all the time.I started talking and I started working with other cancer survivors and patients. I finally really started to heal.
   This is just in a way some background, and an explanation as to why I wrote this. I can't be quiet this time around, even though I easily could since this is a very minor deal. If I never mentioned it to anyone, no one would ever have to know. Except I would, and I'd just go back to lying about stuff that's scary again and the next thing you know, I'd be driving down Wilshire Blvd in my BMW at nearly 90 mph hollering.
   So, consider this just a digression in the regular parade of food.  I'm "sharing" because it's good for me and good for anyone else who may be dealing with the same situation to know that they can talk about it. Fortunately, life goes on. Oh yeah, and I picked a buttload of pineapple guavas off my tree, coming up next Pineapple Guava Sorbet without a machine.


  1. Kathy, I went through a scare two years ago yesterday -- being tested for ovarian cancer. I talked about it to anyone who would listen because I was scared out of my mind. I thought I was going to die. My aunt told me it was just a big milk dud (my favorite candy) and not to worry about it. Blood and other tests said it was cancer. I started to appreciate sunsets, sunrises, trees, flowers, etc. When I woke up from surgery I found out it was just a "big milk dud" and not cancer. So relieved. I then proceeded to have panic attacks for three weeks after the surgery. I slept standing up in the hall of the hospital with tubes coming out of me and slept on the couch with my front door wide open when I returned home. I finally accepted what had happened to me and I have never appreciated life more. I'm so glad you finally shared what happened to you because it is so releasing. Good luck on your "minor" surgery and I'll be praying for you and thinking of you. Cheryl McInerney

  2. You are my's to you.

  3. I got nothing but <3 for you, lady. And lots of it.

  4. My Mom just went through a cancer scare and it was... scary! So glad to hear that, like my Mom, it's under the control. Hat's off to you for putting it out there.



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