Monday, 15 February 2010

On Ladybirds and Lymph Nodes

It's Spring in the Sacramento Valley. There are several reasons why I know this to be true. For one thing the sun climbs quickly to a height close to UK summer standards, which allows the moderate chill of the morning to quickly give way to t-shirt temperatures. For another, there are bugs at play, and by "bugs" I refer to the American usage, meaning "insects", for today I saw the first ladybird of the year, bumbling around in the grass of the back lawn, stretching remarkably stout gossamer in readiness for possibly the first flight of the season.

Yesterday, returning from Wilbur Hot Springs, there was more evidence, were it needed, for the return of things vernal. Almond blossom and lambs. Yes, little baby lambs wailing and running as far as they dare from their mothers. We stopped at one friend's ranch to see a couple of lambs rejected by their mothers. To the oohs and ahs and various cooing, various of our party remarked on their cuteness. More the pragmatic, I wondered how long it would be before they fattened up enough for tha table. Served with almonds, of course.

Almonds are not the only fruit

In the grand tradition of "doctor" joaks, there's also good news and bad news. The good news is that we're readying to move into a new house of our own. Yes, at last we have taken the plunge to join the great mass of mortgage-payers and home "ownership", with all that entails. We have to be out of our current rental by the end of June, so Christine's been househunting through the winter, and having seen every single house in our price range, we settled on one that's close enough to the right school, commute and whatnot. The offer made and accepted, and the many pieces of paper read, signed and initialed, we're gathering the financial resources together to actually buy the bugger. We're so close we can taste it; Christine's asked if we can pay another visit for th epuroses of "colour matching". This is a throwback to some primitive mothering, nesting instinct, I take it. In any event, it's a distraction while we play the waiting and preparation game.

Which brings me to the bad news. We already knew that Christine had a tumour in her left parietal lobe (that's in the brain, apparently), and have been moving toward the practically Star-Trek technology that is gamma knife surgery. This entails firing 201 precisely-tuned beams of radiation from Cobalt-60 into a tiny focal point inside her brain. It's a good use of modern med-tech, non-invasive and highly effective.

She also had another PET scan last week, regarded as necessary to identify and further sites of metastatic cancer. Which of course, have materialised. They've spotted a couple of "somethings" that indicate cancerous activity in lymph nodes in, on or about her lungs. This is not good news; lung tissue apparently is highly fertile ground for cancer to grow and spread. Yes, of course, it's treatable, but it does mean that during the busy moving season,Christine will be going through chemo again, and everyone will be stressing a little.

Still, it's Spring and the ladybirds are out. So there's always that going for us.

Friday, 29 January 2010

How Many Shoes?

"Fiver?", said the rabbit. "Why's he called that?"
"Five in the litter, you know: he was the last..."
Rabbits can count up to four. Any number above four is hrair - "a lot", or "a thousand"

"Waiting for the other shoe to drop" seems to be the life of many cancer patients and their carers. Once diagnosed with the Big "C", there's always uncertainty about whether it will return; every lump, bump and pain becomes a possible recurrence. Since Christine's original brush with breast cancer in February 2005 we've been through this several times, and it never gets any easier. There are prods and pokes and scans of varying types; mostly (we've been fortunate) the tests are negative, once in a while they aren't. We recently had another shoe drop (Christine was diagnosed with a regional recurrence in lymph nodes in her neck a little over a year ago) but were confident that the treatment she had then would whack it for a few years.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. Just about a year after finishing the last round of her (second) chemotherapy treatment she was getting headaches of increasing intensity. This, coupled by her fatigue, prompted her to go for a checkup. Her oncologist suggested an MRI, and so yesterday we hied off to Sacramento to have the poor lass stuck in a tube for an hour while various electromagnetic wossnames whirled and clanked around her. Tests over, the waiting began for the results, which came back in today.

Suffice to say, we've had another shoe drop, the third in just under five years. The MRI showed a small growth of uncertain nature in her brain, and because one of the places that breast cancer metastasizes is the brain, this has aroused enough suspicion that her oncologist recommended that she have gamma knife treatment and a third course of chemotherapy.

She called me today while I was out visiting friends. The conversation went along these lines:

Christine: So, do you want the good news first, or the bad news?
Me: Good news.
Christine: I got the kitchen cleaned up!
Me: Oh, well done you! And the bad news...? (As though I didn't know what it was going to be.)
Christine: I got a phone call, the results are in.
Me: And...?
Christine: They found something in the scan.
Me: Well, FART!
Christine: My response exactly.

The rest is predictable. I came home, shaking slightly. Now we have to tell Tessie, who at 11 years of age, has been through so much, with good grace, courage and resilience. But we'll all be scared. It's not just lumps and bumps now, and we have no idea how many more shoes there are to drop. Hopefully, it won't be hrair.