27. Re-entering Cancerland. First Stop: Chemo Doctor
Since the onset of my diagnosis, I have made a point to take occasional breaks from the reality remake of “Idiocracy” that has become U.S. Politics. My bandwidth, in general, has held less space for anything and anyone that feels like unnecessary drama, which is one of the definite “gifts” of cancer: It laser focuses you on what you hold most important.
During our trip to Calgary and the few days before we left, I was fortunate enough to live my life free of the cancer moniker. I did ADR on a feature film I had worked on in the spring, had lunch with a good friend, and attended the film festival all without the stigma of being someone who was supposed to be “sick”.
Because as it stands, I am not sick. I am recovering from surgery. I am due for further treatment as a preventative measure, but after 3 years of wondering, my energy level is back because my thyroid hormone seem to be back where it’s supposed to be. I feel good.
But here’s the thing about taking a vacation from everything - you have to come home again.
I came back to back to back appointments with my medical and radiation oncologists. Monday was reserved for DR G. my medical oncologist, the guy responsible for over-seeing my entire situation. He has been studying the workings of breast cancer cells for almost as long as I have been alive, and has been helping pioneer and administer new treatments for killing them.
Now, Collin and I have often joked that coming to UCLA Medical is like living in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Everyone is straight out of Central Casting. When Dr G, walked in I was like “Lebowski!” as he really resembles the late actor David Huddleston who played the title character - the old Lebowski. He has a real straight-forward manner, which I appreciate, and we were smart enough to not mention any actors he may look like.
“Based on the cancers you’ve had and their infiltration to the lymph nodes,” he told me. “I think it’s fair to say there is a 1 in 3 chance that there maybe cancer cells still floating somewhere in your system. The good news is that your particular type of breast cancer has a weakness: It’s Estrogen Receptor Positive which means that hormone therapy will basically drop your chances of reoccurrence down to 15%. Now as young as you are, 15% is still too high for me so in addition to the hormone therapy, we’re suggesting 6 rounds of chemo to knock it down the somewhere between 5 to maybe 10% .”
As Dr C, and EVERY clinical study I have read points to exactly the same protocol, this was by no means a surprise, but the biggest question I had was WHEN. (Not to “cancer-brag” here, I just booked my first major studio feature and I was scheduled to shoot for a few weeks beginning Oct 8th. )
“How soon I needed to begin?“
“Ideally, middle of October” said the Big Lebowski.
Oh, fuck, I thought. I asked if it was possible that I finish the movie and then start treatment.
“Yes,” he said. “I’d like to schedule you for treatment the day after you wrap, because I want to keep you within the “window.””
In general, the accepted “window” for chemo post surgery is 8 weeks. Also, chemo slows down healing so it’s important, that you are fully healed before you start.
“You should lose your hair, three weeks after the treatment starts, “ he stated matter of fact.
I started doing the math in my head. SO I would be shaving my head sometime between my birthday and thanksgiving.
“What about continuing to work?” I asked.
“Besides the hair loss, the most common side effect is fatigue, so depending how tired you feel, that will determine if you can go back to work. Some people do, some people don’t. You’ll just have to see.”
So there we were. Six chemo treatments over the next twelve weeks. And timed perfectly so I won’t have to wear a wig on set.
But come my birthday in NOV, chances I will be as bald as the day I was born.
Well as they say “NEW YEAR, NEW YOU!! “