Unleashing my inner Joe Pesci

Dear Medical Team,

Thank you all for your hard work on my gamma knife procedure. That said, there is one small matter I would like to bring to your attention, and please, I ask that you listen, really listen to me because like Glenn Close in Fatal Atttraction, ‘I will not be ignored.’

As you may recall, the vertigo that led us to the brain tumours was a mystery. You prescribed me the standard drug for an inner ear imbalance. In case the vertigo was related to the tumours (it wasn’t), you also put me on Dexamethasone. Now I regularly take Dex after every chemotherapy.  Once a day for two days.  But never four times a day, for four weeks. I was surprised by the astonishing, relentless hunger. Some days I ate two lunches, three dinners and my son’s Gummi snakes. Don’t smile, that wasn’t a joke. Do you think I’m funny?

Funny, how?

Anyway, you all assured me the brain tumours were easily treated through gamma, and I appreciate that you scheduled the procedure around our Disney vacation. I had every reason to be happy. Instead, I was angry; what some might call “raging.” I got a little “hot under the collar” if someone cut me off in traffic. Or if there was a chance they were thinking about cutting me off. Or might do so at some later date. I believe I screamed at the dishwasher plug for not sliding easily into the outlet. But that was perfectly understandable, dammit. THAT PLUG HAS DISRESPECTED ME FOR YEARS!

Deep breath. Whew.

Okay, so why was I snapping at my wife, walking around in a funk, feeling like every nerve was a tightrope wire?

Because Dexamethasone is a steroid. Maybe somebody could have warned me I might feel a bit tense, a little overwhelmed, a tad homicidal. Don’t get me wrong. I love all you’ve done for me. But I sure find it odd no one mentioned it.

But everything’s fine now. I’ve been off the Dex a week, and I already feel bitter. Better. And I will never piss off a bodybuilder ever, since they feel that rage all the time and they can’t all win the title of  Mr. Winnipeg. I’m giving them all a wide berth.

Anyway, always nice to chat. Take care, and don’t ever disrespect me again or I swear…

Deep breath.


My cancer, part III (in a trilogy)

Two months after diagnosis, August 2011.
Post-diagnosis, pre-chemo, still coiffed.

For a few weeks in June of 2011, there was a lovely moment each morning when I awoke, stretched and thought about coffee. That all took about two seconds. Then my new reality covered me like a heavy blanket. Back then, those two seconds were the highlight of every day. It didn’t last.

About a month after diagnosis, Robin called me in tears. Our original oncologist had just called to report the biopsy results, showing probable synovial sarcoma, as suspected. She also used a phrase we hadn’t heard before. Stage four.

“What happened to stage two and three?” I asked, dismayed that there were still ways for the news to get worse.

When you google synovial sarcoma, you will read that stage one is very treatable; a surgical snip, perhaps followed by a cleansing dose of radiation. It sounds like a spa weekend. But stage four triggers a different, near-unanimous prediction. The phrase I recall is: “The outcome is grim.”

Grim? That’s my word? That’s like pulling  “onomatopoeia” at the county spelling bee.
Website after website confirmed it. One went with “very grim”, lest hope linger. It could be a lyric from the worst musical ever: “Grim is the word, is the place, is the motion. Grim is the way we are feeling!” 

The main thing I learned from researching my disease on the internet was to stay off the internet. (I did google “celebrities who died from synovial cancer.” The best-known is Robert Urich, a handsome early ’80s actor who had his own crime-solving series.)

So that was Robin and I, back in the summer of 2011, searching for optimism in a coal mine. We wondered if an earlier diagnosis might have identified the cancer before it metastasized, but no amount of second-guessing could change that. My family doctor told me he was a general practitioner who might not recognize every cancer he encountered. I appreciated his candour; I just wished he had referred me months earlier, when I first reported the visible lump. We hugged it out, over the phone.

If I  don’t have time remaining to travel the world, write a screenplay, or watch my son grow up, then I definitely don’t have time for anger.