Saturday, September 07, 2002

Lumps in the News

Spent far too much time Friday at Kaiser, getting the Lump looked at. The result was (after all these days of frustration, waiting, and unreasonable delays) that the doctor looked at it, felt it, listened to the history. . . . and offered me a prescription for my eczema while I wait for the next month or so for a dermatology appointment to open up.

Oh, and sometime in the next two weeks I can expect a call from a surgeon, who will grope the Lump; transfix it with needles; order various blood tests (gotta stock up on orange juice); scrutinize it magnetically, radiographically, and sonically; and then slice open my thigh and yank it out. No question, it must be removed; given its size, the trouble I’m already having with that leg, and the slight but interesting possibility of liposarcoma, they need to take it out. I can expect surgery probably around the end of September, maybe mid-October, and a pathology report within a month of the surgery.

It was clear to my doctor (as it has been to me these ten days) that this is not an infected cyst. So the ten days of antibiotics (with consequent faint nausea, the omnipresent taste and smell of mold, and the disagreeable gastrointestinal symptoms) were a waste. I never had the feeling that I had an infection — and I’m sorry, but that does matter. I know my own flesh.

One of the hardest things for me to convey to people is that I’m not worried about the outcome — the possibility of cancer isn’t what bothers me. In fact, the possibility is low. Lipomas run in my family, so I’ve seen them and I don’t fear them. Anyway, they’re the most common kind of soft-tissue tumor, and they’re benign by definition. I’m pushing for medical treatment on this one, though, because I had that liposarcoma scare nine years ago, and I’d rather get it out and make sure it isn’t a problem.

All this I face with calm. What distresses me about this is the medical process itself. I’m not worried about the lump. I am suffering from it, and telling me it will turn out all right is no consolation for the present misery: being stripped and handled; telling the same story over and over again to indifferent ears; being pierced, sliced, dissected; being weak and in pain.

I feel like a woodchuck being dissected. That was one of my father’s hobbies when I was very small, four years old or less. He approached the task with an unholy glee, and he made me watch as he cut it open and then touch the insides. I always knew that next time it could be me he was opening. My skin ripping under the scalpel, my ridged trachea sliced into silence, the gush of slime and blood as he cut into my guts (such vivid and beautiful colors), my secret internal stench of viscera. I would never eat a chocolate rabbit, fearing what I would see and taste when I bit the head off.

So no wonder I loathe being subject to medical procedures. I know they are necessary. I'm willing to do the work to endure and understand my own reactions. But this is, to me, a worse nightmare than cancer. Cancer in that context is a code word for death, and death at least offers surcease. One of the irrational reactions I've had about this lump has been that I'm going to have to go through a lot of wretchedness and I won't even get to be dead at the end.

When I tried to explain this today, Paul said, "Death isn't a consolation prize." It is, though, sometimes. If you're being tortured.

And it's a measure of how much better my life is these days that I am not willing to die. I would rather live, even if I have to endure a lot of horrors.

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