Of crowds, lemon cures, prayers and sticker shock
If someone dropped you into one of the main waiting rooms at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, you might guess that you were in an upscale airport lounge, waiting for a flight. Each spacious open room is divided into sections by rows of comfortable padded chairs, some clustered together, others oriented to spectacular views of neighboring Lake Union. Most of those waiting have come in pairs, and sit silently or talk quietly. It can be difficult to figure out who is the patient and who is the caregiver in each pair, though often a scarfed head or a wheelchair can provide a pretty strong clue. It’s here we began our voyage into cancer treatment.
At our first appointment, the nurse practitioner presented us with a tabbed notebook with a staggering amount of information, with sections about medications, home care, cautions and warning signs, drugs, depression, diet tips, and contact information, along with fat pamphlets about pancreatic cancer. Lots of homework. Some of the information is quite technical. It’s clear that negotiating Cancer Land in pairs is a good idea, because there is just too much for one person to absorb, especially during this period when we each feel like the proverbial “deer in the headlights.”
But aside from the cram course about pancreatic cancer that’s in my notebook, I’ve learned other things, too, pretty quickly, such as--
It’s crowded here in Cancer Land
I think everyone knows someone who has or who has had cancer. Before Mark was diagnosed, a dear friend of ours died from pancreatic cancer less than two years ago. My closest friend battled breast cancer and is currently in long-term remission. A cousin is struggling with prostate cancer. But until you join the cancer crowd, you don’t realize that cancer is all around you.
When Mark received his diagnosis, our world was tipped on its end and we had to change many of our plans immediately. As I made telephone calls, my strangled squeaky I’m-trying-not-to-cry voice explaining our story, it became apparent that cancer has affected many more lives than I realized. The representative from the moving company told me that he had been given only about six months to live, but that he was on year eight of survival so far. I’d talked to him on several occasions before, but of course he had no reason to share his story until I spilled mine. The owner of the gardening service revealed that her husband has been living with cancer for several years. So many people had a cancer story to tell. Cancer, it seems, is everywhere.
I read recently that although certain lifestyle choices can increase the likelihood of certain cancers (like the connection between smoking and lung cancer), the vast majority of cancers occur by chance. It’s just very bad luck when that random mutation of a cell occurs in your body instead of in the body of the person next to you. So I guess it shouldn’t be surprise that cancer lurks everywhere.
Everyone wants to help, and that’s lovely. It’s not easy for others to find a way to help though, at least not at this part of our journey. So, many people have passed along information about alternative treatments and roads to a cure. I’m grateful, I really am, and some of the information is helpful. A friend passed along information about a treatment at a hospital in Switzerland which has proved effective for pancreatic cancer, but which has not been approved for use in this country yet. When I asked our cancer doc about this, she confirmed that this was a viable and promising treatment, but only for the “Steve Jobs” kind of pancreatic cancer (slow-growing tumors) but not for the “Patrick Swayze” fast-growing tumor type. This was useful information, because I hadn’t even realized until that point that there are different types of pancreatic cancer. (Unfortunately, Mark has the nastier one.)
But some of the suggestions, while well-intentioned, just make me scratch my head. If freezing whole lemons and grating them heavily over all of Mark’s food would cure his cancer (I’m told by an acquaintance that it’s 10,000 times more effective than chemotherapy drugs), why wouldn’t we all be doing this? Why is this a secret? And if the constamt chanting of that five word phrase forwarded by the group centered in LA would really counteract “immutable karma” and effectively treat the cancer, why isn’t everyone at the cancer clinic chanting rather than dripping poison into their veins? Can ingesting a combination of cinnamon and honey really cure that two-page list of ailments, including cancer?
I just don’t quite know what to do with all these suggestions. For the time being, I think we’ll just stick with the treatment road we’re on. Chemotherapy really sucks, but I think it’s our best bet.
Prayers are coming our way…
Mark and I don’t have a strong religious orientation at this point in our lives. I guess I’m one of those secular humanists. I do believe in some continuation of being after death, though what that might be is certainly pretty vague to me. Mark is a fallen-away Catholic. We don’t attend church services and we don’t spend a lot of time asking for divine help and guidance.
People are praying for us. Mark’s sister is a nun who teaches in a boarding school, and as far as I can tell, she has all the other nuns and most (if not all) of the students praying for Mark’s recovery. Another friend forwarded a stack of get-well letters from the Sunday school class she teaches, and she tells us that the class is praying for Mark. Friends in Seattle, Alaska and elsewhere tell us that they are offering prayers on our behalf.
And in spite of our lack of religious commitment, both of us love that people are praying for us. I envision these prayers as sparkly pale yellow arrows of goodwill (yellow is my favorite color) that are zinging through the air on their way to us. These missives warm our souls and make us feel like we are encased in the loving thoughts of others. I’m convinced, just from the feeling in my heart, that these prayers are helping us.
Cancer Land is Astonishingly Expensive
Thank goodness we have really good health insurance.
Although the bills from the clinic and the hospital are sent to the insurance company for payment, we receive copies of everything.
Imagine my shock as the first sheaf of bills arrive, and I discover the cost of Mark’s care.
Wait for it…
For the chemotherapy cocktail alone, aside from the doctor visits and the frequent hospital visits for various procedures, each infusion is billed at…
And Mark is on a schedule of a once-a-week infusion, three weeks out of every four.
The costs are jaw-dropping. I am so grateful that we have coverage, but my heart goes out to anyone who needs this course of treatment and who doesn’t have coverage or the funds to pay for it.
All I can say is…Wow.