Judgment Day #7 - Report, Aftermath, & Musings - September 11, 2010

Two days later and I have pretty much recovered physically. Mentally? Jury is still out. Each successive Judgment Day does get easier to prepare for and to go through. Still the stress level is quite high, and there is a definite CRASH afterward. A couple of years ago I responded to the good news with joy and then a nasty head cold for a week. Despite the outward appearance, the body will indeed bottle up the stress, and the release can be ugly. For the past two or three I would simply not think about it until about a week before, and then I would be a mix of ugly mood swings and semi-suppressed anxiety. Taking a nice long vacation in advance of the date has become our practice for two reasons: 1) Trying to do more carpe diem activities, and 2) You just never know if the opportunity will be gone soon. Macabre? Maybe, but reason #2 does help drive towards reason #1, so it's all good. We prefaced this Judgment Day with an 8 day, 2000 mile motorcycle trip throughout some of the most beautiful parts of Idaho. Chasing rivers up and down mountains through forests will do wonders for your outlook, as will a nice slice of huckleberry pie! My favorite, these berries are hand picked and grown only in the wild, so they are naturally organic and full of cancer-fighting antioxidants. We arrived home late Saturday evening, tired but refreshed from our cobweb-clearing blast through fresh air and mountain vistas. No work on Sunday or Monday (Labor Day holiday in US), just time to relax at home. I found myself curiously not worked up about the upcoming cystoscopy, even though I was thinking about it from time to time.

Tuesday brought a ferociously busy work day and evening, slowing down a bit on Wednesday, which was when I found myself falling into "freakout mode." Stayed as busy as I could, and came home early to take a nap and try to relax. Refreshed myself on the deep-breathing technique and practiced a couple of times on Wednesday night. It really does help a lot. Slept pretty well and was up early for a long, hot shower and more deep breathing. The day was dark, gloomy, cool and overcast - giving a film noir effect. My procedure is almost always late in the mornings, but we were able to be first on the docket at 9AM. The trip down was traffic-free, safely after the morning rush hour into Salt Lake City. Arrived early and signed the consent form, then we were shown to the exam room a few minutes after 9. Urine sample given, the nurse asked me to disrobe (keeping only shirt and socks) and get on the table. Having noted that Dr. Hopkins had taken one patient before me, I asked if I could wait until we were truly "next." She was having none of that, so I smiled, replied, "Yes Ma'am!" and hopped to it. As I expected the wait was about 20 minutes before the doctor came in. I really should buy a piece of interesting art for them to mount on the ceiling over the exam table.

Dr. Hopkins was all smiles and business, noting that he had not seen me in quite a while - this being the first six-month space between cystoscopic exams. After verifying that we already had BCGs scheduled, he saw that I was relaxed and ready, so we proceeded. Happily the scope was hooked to the monitor for me to watch, and this focus really does improve my ability to relax and ignore the procedure. Sixty seconds later we could see that all was clear, and we were left alone. First order of business after getting dressed was to return the saline solution that had been instilled for the procedure, which left my bladder uncomfortably full. First fire-pee episode out of the way, I went to the front desk for my prophylactic antibiotic pill, after which we left the office and walked into the bright sunlight of a stunning day. Even the weather was changed to match the outcome!

Here is where things were different. In the past I had steadfastly refused to plan ANYTHING after a Judgment Day, due to my inability to make a firm commitment with uncertain outcomes. The last two times I planned (and pre-paid) for dinners out with the wine club, and even scheduled some meetings for work. But always with a bucket of disclaimers and cautions. But due to providence (or cosmic convergence if you like), I not only had plans out for the next couple of weeks, I had a meeting to run at work this very same day at noon! My wife dropped me at the building at 10:30 with instructions to retrieve me at 2PM. So rather than retiring to a solitary room to hydrate and recover (takes about a day and a half for cystosocopy), I was into full work mode nearly immediately. I did take a few minutes to dash off some email updates on the ALL CLEAR to those who had requested such, made calls to my parents and brother (who by then had already read the email), and got right to work. The meeting went fairly well, and I was also privileged to share the joy of my good results with various co-workers who stopped by to give cheers and high fives. My take on all of it? I told them, "From the neck up, I feel like dancing!"

I packed the laptop and moved to the home office to complete the work day, with plans to work from home on Friday. In the past I had always taken the day off to recover, and sometimes even the day after. But this time the plan for both cystoscopy and BCGs is very different. The reason is that in January my employer changed their policies and eliminated my bank of emergency sick days. They also converted normal sick days into "personal time" combined with vacations, rewarding their healthy workers and penalizing those with chronic conditions. We now are clearly considered to be a burden both to the corporation and society at large, so sacrifices must be made. And now my exams and BCGs are "personal time off" which is really vacation time, making for some of the worst vacations ever. For those who have not noticed, the economy in the US and Europe is awful, and despite the continued reassurances of the media, there is no evidence in real life to support the contention that recovery is here or coming soon. Therefore companies are reducing liabilities and expenses, knowing that options are slim for employees. I suspect they may feel some pain if the economy ever improves, but for now we shall play the game by their rules. What this means is that I had to do some small tasks and monitor email for the rest of the day and Friday.

Even though there is not much real physical trauma from which to recover, I am always amazed at the mental toll. The fiercest concentration was required to complete simple tasks, and the effort to hold coherent conversations was shocking. I believe I was able to muster enough energy to get things done, and slept well both nights. Today I feel much better, pretty much back to normal. Even though I have been through this and worse before, I am still amazed how difficult it is to recover mentally. Having to do productive work immediately afterward was taxing beyond my greatest expectations. I have also moved the BCGs from Thursday mornings to Fridays. My reason for selecting Thursday was that the doctors would be available on Friday should there be any trouble. But as a BCG veteran, there is no point in wasting a vacation day now. So Fridays will be BCG days and Saturdays will be flu-like symptom recovery day. The big drawback here is that Dr. Hopkins only works in the office on alternate Fridays. So we selected a schedule to go Friday, Thursday, Friday. But he is taking that middle week off, so I elected to go with PA Liz again and do the middle one on Friday. Hopefully it will not be as comical as the last time she substituted, the details of which were not really disclosed. Waiting for the book deal, I guess.

The bottom line is this. Two days after a clean report and now officially 27 months cancer free, I now really believe that I have crossed the two year bridge. While the bladder cancer is still very likely to recur once or more in the next eight years, it is highly unlikely to be very severe. Life is really looking up, and as always, GOD IS GOOD - ALL THE TIME.

Below are a few photos from the motorcycle ride through Idaho and our attendance at the WeSTOC XV rally. Click to enlarge any of them, and see if you can spot the deer in the first one!

1 comment:

Mike said...

That is beautiful country, God blessed us with a beautiful country.
I can see where you are coming from with the anticipation and relief after each time to be tested. I also go threw a similar situation before and after each time.I am now at 14 months with my next appointment scheduled for Oct.25th.I still have anxiety each time.
I pray and ask God to heal my bladder and make it whole and healthy, also you Steve and everyone else who is or has had this affliction.
Your friend