Sorry I’ve been remiss in updating the blog lately, but I’ve been a little distracted. No, Crystal Bernard has not moved in across the street and is not doing pilates with her blinds open. No, Beth Hart has not asked me to collaborate on her next CD. No, Brooke Burke has not hired me as a lactation consultant. However, you might recall that I did have my neck sliced open so my doc could take out a lump he called a branchial cleft cyst. Realizing that I don’t need to go to med school for 4 years to know what the hell he was talking about, I simply typed that into The Google as Storm Large would suggest and got the lowdown. Apparently we all evolved from fish, which is why you see those fish things on Christian’s cars. Once we crawled out of the water and didn’t have to swim everywhere, our gills started going away during embryonic development. That’s what Darwin’s The Origin of Species is all about. But sometimes your body doesn’t figure out it’s not a fish soon enough, and you’re born with some gill left inside your neck. Then randomly, one day, usually if you’re thinking about fish too much, or eating too much fish, or wishing you were a fish, or even just really enjoy those dumbass fishing shows on TV when they should be showing hockey games, your gills start to expand and form a little lump in your neck. You then have to go have it removed so you don’t turn into Patrick Duffy.
My gills got removed without any problem and the doc stuck a drain tube in my neck. This is a nifty silly straw type device that allows your wound drain into a turkey baster bulb instead of collecting in your neck and forcing your head to explode. Little did he know I was such a badass that my wounds don’t drain so he asked me to come in the next day to get the silly straw and turkey baster thing taken out and casually mention that his buddy in pathology called to let him know that it wasn’t a bunch of gills he scooped out of my neck, but instead something called a squamous cell carcinoma. I’m no crossword puzzle expert, but carcinoma sounded like a nine letter word for cancer. I kind of liked the gill explanation better, but there was no going back.
Doc also said I had some good looking lymph nodes and I thought he was just trying to make me feel better, but he was really trying to explain it didn’t look like it had spread in my neck. I performed my happy dance for him, but I obviously wasn’t thinking clearly and forgot to consider the option that it might have spread from somewhere else. Son of a bitch. Fortunately, my doc learned something during his nine years of medical training and didn’t let him overlook the same possibility; I was scheduled for a PET scan a few days later.
If you don’t know what a PET scan is, it’s pretty cool. Except the two-day low-carb diet and one-day fast. If that doesn’t kill you, then you use your remaining energy to chase down the mobile PET scan unit in Elgin, Illinois, and they inject you with some radioactive solution. Then you sit in a room and sing, “got to concentrate, don't be distractive, turn me on tonight, cause I'm radioactive” by The Firm until the techs get annoyed enough to stick you in the tube and start the test. The guy in the dorm room next to me freshman year was a nuclear something or another major, so let me explain how it works. See, the radioactive isotopes are like magic and bond to cancer cells and then they turn pink so they show up on the scanner thing like a thunderstorm on weather.com. Then you go home and wonder if your semen will glow. It doesn’t, but it was fun checking.
Doc also wanted to stick his finger and some camera equipment down my throat but that tends to make me gag and/or bite, so I was also scheduled for another surgery so he could take some pretty pictures of my insides while I dreamed about Phoebe Cates. I started my third fast in three weeks and dropped into the surgery center to accommodate him. Before starting, he told me he got my vacation pictures from Elgin and there was apparently a thunderstorm warning in the vicinity of my hypopharynx. In case you forgot 8th grade health class, that’s your throat. Just past your tongue. With that, they knocked me out with a sledgehammer to my head, had my pharynx pose for some pics, and decided to cut out some tissue samples. I’m guessing that was so they could find a match for a donor throat. When I woke up, it felt as if I had just finished a delicious meal of barbed wire with battery acid sauce and was presented with a dessert tray consisting of assorted ice chips and some Tylenol. I got sent home later than morning with a complimentary cup of ice and the names of two oncologists and a dentist.
I spent the next day making appointments to meet all my new friends. It was like myspace except all these guys were interested in cancer instead of The Lovehammers. I also started doing a little research and it scared the shit out of me. I was convinced I would be dead by dinnertime, which wouldn’t be all that bad since I hadn’t passed the barbed wire from my throat yet. They really should restrict internet access from all patients at all times. It was like that time Peter Brady decided he was going to be a doctor and Jan was going to be his nurse and they started reading those books of diseases and Peter was convinced that he was going to die until Mr. Brady cleared everything up by discovering that two pages of the book were merely stuck together and the only thing Peter was suffering from was bad acting. But I digress. Just in case I didn’t have a couple pages stuck together I did some additional research and found that the Chicago area has two National Cancer Institute Cancer Centers – The University of Chicago and Northwestern. UC had a nice website and I found a couple of bad asses there that live for this shit and have done a bunch of research about blowing this crap out of people. That sounded cool, so I sent them a carcinoma friend request and they accepted me for an appointment as well. Next I set about getting a copy of all my requested records and test results and photo shoots. UC even wanted those Glamour Shots I did back in 1991. Pervs. I found that getting a complete set of records was more difficult than getting accurate intelligence information out of Iraq. It took a box of jelly donuts for bribes and all the Sid charm I could muster, but I eventually got what I needed. I was a regular Erin Brockovich with carbs instead of cleavage. However, I did have to enlist the help of Mrs. F’er when I ran into some of those Atkins and South Beach jokers.
But my first appointment was with an oncologist at my local hospital. I was a little perturbed that he didn’t have all my records, but I was impressed with his enthusiasm. Even though the previous biopsy on my hypopharynx was negative, with little more than a referral and my own account of my case he was ready to fire up the radiation gun and get started. Fortunately his nurse was a little more tempered in her enthusiasm and realized I first needed to get clearance from the dentist and her half hour lecture on the side effects. She basically said that my skin will likely catch on fire, my mouth will dry out like an old catcher’s mitt, and I will lose the desire to eat Brownie Earthquakes from Dairy Queen. She also added that it was nothing that they can pretend would be taken care of with a little aloe, some Chapstick, and some Slimfast shakes. She also said that my semen wouldn’t glow, but I planned to check anyway. Oh, and as an aside on the way out, she gave me the name of a doctor that would install a feeding tube just in case I lose the ability to swallow freakin’ protein shakes. Thanks, Carol. They also wished me luck on my appointment next week with the chemo guy, whom I was assured had his own evil little plan for me.
Right after that I went to my new dentist. I found it ironic that they stuck a lead shield over me during the x-rays since the purpose of my visit was to make sure my teeth don’t fall out during radiation treatment. But it made the uber-cute hygienist happy so I obliged. Finally, the dentist man made his way over, shook his head at my x-rays, poked around my mouth, and informed me that I would need to tap my reserves of gold bouillon to make sure my mouth would not implode during treatment. I’ve grown rather fond of my mouth despite knowing where it’s been, so I agreed to his demands and scheduled the first of two entire afternoons with him while he called the local Mercedes dealer and made arrangements to upgrade his lease.
The following day I hopped a train downtown and then took another one to Hyde Park to visit the nerds at The University of Chicago and see what they would make of my envelope of scans and pathology reports. The first doc was well versed in origami and made a wonderful dragon looking thing. The rest of the morning was spent trying to undo his handiwork. Eventually they got it all unraveled and the real doctor came in to visit. Well, not the real doctor yet, but a fellow. Essentially a badass in training. He had the pleasure of doing my history and physical and hearing all the great stories of my drunken accidents and diseases. It was like a live Call Me Kitty reading. Then the real doctor came in with his own take. He said the PET scan was done too soon after surgery so it was worthless and I shouldn’t freak about the thunderstorm in my pharynx. I liked that and was about to get up and perform my happy dance for him... then he said even though the biopsy was negative he thought there was indeed something cancerous somewhere and my other doc just didn’t look well enough. He wanted to biopsy me real hard. Unfortunately he was merely an oncologist, but he had an ENT buddy downstairs whose interests include biopsying people real hard and finding cancer. In fact, he enjoys it so much he agreed to see me with 30 minutes notice. Just like the delivery guy at Domino’s. This guy was also very important so he sent his chief resident in to do my history and physical and sort though the paperwork. I guess the resident was bored, since he also decided to do a scope of my pharynx. This wasn’t nearly as fun as a PET scan. This nifty procedure employs something called a nasopharyngoscope, which has a camera attached to the end of small flexible cable thingy. Here’s the fun part – it goes up your nose, back into the throat and down to the vocal cords, stopping along the way to enjoy the view while you squirm uncomfortably in the captain’s chair. It’s like eating licorice through your nose. Good times. He also burned the journey to CD so that I could relive the experience. No nodes on these vocal cords, baby. I guess there is still hope for my rock n’ roll singer career. Next the stud ENT doc came in, said hello, looked over the work of his loyal resident, busted open some popcorn for the pharynx video, and then shared his theory that it was indeed a bunch of gills that just went cancerous. However, not one to waste his mastery of the scalpel, he agreed that a real hard biopsy would be beneficial before getting trigger-happy with the ray gun. In the meantime I would also get more CT scans of my head, neck and chest, and schedule an appointment to meet their radiation oncologist. I was becoming very popular. They even wanted the tissue samples from the previous biopsies. Probably so they could try to clone me like a Scottish sheep.
That Friday afternoon I took the bus back to UC for the CT scans. They were running way behind schedule so I sat about an hour and a half with a bunch of octogenarians who seemed to be there to be tested for any signs of life whatsoever. Finally, my man Anthony came out to get me. He seemed like quite a competent radiology tech, but wasn’t the best IV dude I’ve run across. He eventually got the IV started, but left me looking like a heroin addict. I then got my three shots of contrast dye and wondered if it would make my semen look like a rainbow and made a note to check later. Each contrast shot was followed by a corresponding shot through the CT tube. I normally like making train noises while going through the tube, but the sexy automated female CT voice kept telling me what to do – hold your breath, don’t swallow, stop making train noises…. I was finally dismissed from CT and found that I missed the last express bus back downtown. I could take a cab or walk to the train station. UC isn’t in the best neighborhood and a cab would be prudent, but I was pissed enough about being late that I didn’t think anybody would fuck with me. So I walked down to the "L" platform at 63rd Street. My uncle used to be a Chicago cop and had told me just to look people in the eye. They’ll probably think you’re a cop and leave you alone. And if threatened, just look and act crazy and it might help. I think everyone between the 63rd and 31st Street was so shocked to see a white boy that they must have assumed I was indeed a cop or crazy, and I made it back to the friendly confines of downtown for the train back out to the nurturing mothership in the ‘burbs.
Halloween was my meeting with the new and improved radiation oncologist at UC. I don’t think anyone should make doctor appointments on Halloween, because how do you know if you’re really seeing a doctor or just someone dressed up as one? I had to drive in rush hour to this appointment and it took about 90 minutes. By the time I got there and they took my vitals, I set personal best on the blood pressure. However, they reminded me that the higher numbers are not what we’re going for on that one. I then gave my history to the nurse, which by this time I had converted to an mp3 file so that they can just listen on their iPod while I sit back and play with the anatomical models. Next was the consultation with the fake doctor – this time a medical student - to take my history again and do the physical. She was a slight girl and during the exam she had me squeeze her fingers, so I went gentle on her. She told me to do it again as hard as I could and I ended up cracking at least three of her knuckles. I was glad this wasn’t prostate cancer so she wouldn’t have a chance to get even. She then went to track down the real doctor to give him the executive summary and introduce me. I shook his hand, but didn’t crack any knuckles since the guy owns a ray gun. After reviewing the file, he did his own exam that included feeling around my mouth, including my tonsils and the base of my tongue. It also tested my gag reflex and I made a sound that I’ve only heard before when, uh, never mind. He said he found a hard spot on the base of my tongue and then proceeded to pull out his licorice scope. I sprung out of my chair and jumped to the ceiling, my fingers and toes dug deeply into the ceiling tiles keeping me out of harm’s way. He got his med student to coax me down with some Halloween candy, while I asked if he could just get the CD from the last doc. He insisted that he prefers glossy photos and proceeded to photograph my tongue. He was a cocky son of a bitch, but in a good way that exuded confidence rather than arrogance, and he was the first that wasn’t afraid to commit and tell me what he thought. He believed the primary tumor was at the base of the tongue and that the tests will just confirm he’s right. He said they would likely propose a round of chemo, followed by radiation and chemo concurrently. He told me that when he starts radiation, the side effects would be miserable but that it will likely be successful. There are other treatment options that he presented, but said if I don’t follow his proposal he’ll call me stupid since they know their shit and it works. Hard to explain how I didn’t perceive that as arrogant, but I think it was because it reinforced all the research I did and my decision to pursue treatment there. Finally I signed a consent form that listing a plethora of possible side effects, including death, after which he promised he wouldn’t kill me. On the way out, he also said I had time to take care of any teeth that need to be fixed or extracted.
One hour later I was back in the dentist’s chair and gave him the update. This prompted him to change the treatment plan on the fly and stated, “Well, if that’s the case, I think I’ll take out those two wisdom teeth.” To which I replied with that same gagging noise I made earlier that morning. He began numbing me up as I rephrased questions over and over to assure myself that I wasn’t going to end up clawed in on his ceiling. I might have cried, but I was trying to be strong in front of uber-cute dental assistant who was looking especially uber-cute in her glasses that day. It wasn’t long before he was prying those motherfuckers out of my jaw while I took strength from the reassuring touch of uber-cute dental assistant’s knee on my mid-thigh. The extractions weren’t nearly as bad as I had expected. I left a small sack of South African krugerrands and assorted baubles on the reception desk, and within an hour I was walking out of there with a mouth full of gauze and a look on my face like a dog that had just been neutered. And a card with the times for my next three appointments. I was sore and cranky and didn’t even care what color my semen might be. To make matter worse, I didn’t feel like eating and had to start my next fast at midnight for the next day’s surgery. I spent the evening walking around the neighborhood looking for dogs to kick. To any humorless PETA members, that was a joke so take your boycotts elsewhere and leave Leper Pop alone.
Next day, Mama F’er picked me up at 6:00 a.m. for the trek back to UC for my second scope. My nurse botched the first attempt at the IV resulting in something called a blown vein, which should not be confused with anything you might see in your favorite porn movie. I made the mistake of peeking when she mentioned that my vein looked like a beached whale on my hand, and I broke into a cold sweat, went rather pale, and might have hurled had I eaten anything in the last 24 hours. She did rectify the situation quite to my satisfaction, I calmed myself down by singing Morning Train by Sheena Easton, and then was visited by a string of curious students and residents that would be working with my doctors. It was like a receiving line at the School of Medicine. Eventually my real doctor found his scope and we got started. They must have tired of my singing and before I knew it I was out cold. I woke up with a sore tongue and a terrible hangover and stated as much. And then it was suddenly worth it. The nurse busted out the Demerol. Liquid gold. I watched carefully as it entered the IV and felt a wave off goodness flood my body. I asked my mom to get my wallet so I could tip the lass. I professed my readiness to go home so that I could watch Univision and fingerpaint the walls of my apartment and tell nonsensical jokes to them. She agreed as long as I was able to dress myself. I carefully pulled on the sweats and laced up the Chucks and floated to the elevators. I rode my flying carpet to the car, and attempted to give my mom directions back home. The GPS in my brain was somehow still firing and I got us back to the ‘burbs. I requested a stop to get a milkshake from Culver’s and ordered their seasonal Pumpkin Spice. I laughed to myself as I thought they should also offer Baby Spice and Scary Spice shakes. But not Posh. I wouldn’t drink those. I made it back home, and decided to answer some work emails while drinking my shake. I haven’t gone back and looked, but I think I still have a job. Then I passed out on my bed while thinking about what the world would be like if people had to dress in clown suits instead of business suits for work. I woke up when the Mrs. got home from school, and she seemed amused as I repeatedly tried to say anesthesiologist without wildly slurring or losing my place in the middle of the word. She rewarded my efforts with a bowl of requested oatmeal and some more T3 (Tylenol #3, the stuff with codeine) to keep my buzz going. Which was important, as any movement of my tongue from its position on the floor of my mouth caused the same sensation you might have upon accidentally chomping on your tongue with your molars. Later that night, I had a protein shake, popped some more T3’s, and dreamt of jello wrestling with Phoebe Cates and Crystal Bernard.
I’ve spent the last week drinking protein shakes and eating oatmeal, soup, ice cream and Tylenol. I got the stitches out of my mouth where my wisdom teeth used to be and celebrated with a donut from the Krispy Kreme drive-thru. But even more important than my visit to the uber-cute dental assistant, the ENT nurse called today to let me know that the biopsy on the base of my tongue was positive. She delivered the news in her standard grave tone, but I informed her that this was really good news. They’ve positively identified the source of this mess and can focus their treatments now without turning my whole upper body into Chernobyl. I was also informed that I was on the agenda tonight for their weekly tumor board meeting (Hi, Patrice!) so that they can discuss my case. I felt pretty important and asked if I should send a plate of banana nut muffins or something. The nurse assured me it wasn’t necessary and that after a spirited game of Rock, Paper, Scissors someone would call me later in the week with specifics of what I can expect next.
So there you have it. I’m not sure how I feel about posting more updates here. I don’t mind sharing, but don’t want to turn the velvety goodness of Leper Pop into a medical blog. But I'll figure out a way to keep you updated. In the meantime, rock on. And chill, dammit!