Friday, February 1, 2013

Forget Next. Fast-forward to Now.

“These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present.”
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
I've been remiss. I haven't updated the blog since November. I even left you hanging by titling the last post "Decisions, decisions: Part 1," as if a "Part 2" was to be written soon thereafter. Such a tease, I am. Leading you on...leaving you hanging...
But actually, the real tease is time. 

See, I was so easily fooled into believing there would be time to write.  I had stories to tell, updates to write, points to make.  If I didn't have time now, I would always have tomorrow, or next weekend, or when I got home from work. But time is a tease, and if you don't grab it when you have it in sight it flits away from you.
And so this time, like many others before it, I let the time flit away.

I didn't write the follow-ups. I didn't write about the mastectomy. Or about finding out that the not-quite-cancer had become "real cancer."  I didn't write about the wonderful Christmas I had despite the physical pain from the surgery.  I didn't write about the amazing friends who fed me, sat with me, laughed with me. I didn't write about the decision to dance in the New Years and post it online for all to see, in an act of defiant alleluia.

Of course, I posted blurbs and blips of all these moments on Twitter and Facebook as they happened in real-time. Yet I failed to take advantage of real time to really write them out.

Flit, flutter, fast-forward to now.

(Or more accurately to two weeks ago.) I learned from my doctor right before New Years that my liver enzyme levels were elevated and that they would need to come down before I could begin chemotherapy for my newly named "Stage 2a" breast cancer.  My oncologist felt the elevated levels were most likely due to all of the pain medications I had been taking post-op, so we all assumed they would go back to normal levels in a couple of weeks.  I cut out all acetaminophen products.  I cut out the booze. I avoided fatty foods. I babied that liver.

And on January 11th, I was re-tested, but this time the enzyme levels were even higher.  About a week later and a few days before I was to begin chemo, my stomach sank.  I knew something was wrong. I had the overwhelming feeling that things weren't right. A dark cloud entered my brain and wouldn't budge. I teetered between being at peace with whatever storm was headed my way and being scared to death. 
On January 22nd, I was headed to my first chemo treatment when I got a call from my oncologist.  She was canceling my treatments until we could figure out my liver situation.  She ordered a CT scan for that day.  I was told "It's extremely unlikely" the cancer would have spread beyond the breast and ONE lymph node (just one!), so I shouldn't worry too much.  But the storm cloud was going nowhere, and time - that sneaky seductress - seemed to slow to a snail's pace.
The next morning I received the gut-kicking call from the oncologist: "The CT scan showed multiple lesions on your liver.  We need to do some more tests to see if it's cancer." And of course the one time you WANT time to speed up, it slows down.  The tests weren't scheduled until a week later. A full-body PET scan was set for Tuesday followed by a liver biopsy on Thursday.
Fast-forward to this week.
The PET scan gave me the best news I had received in a couple of months.  "There's no sign of cancer in the lungs, bones, or other lymph areas. We're really pleased and hopeful by these results." Really?  Hooray!! Everyone breathed a huge sigh of relief.  The Facebook post with the good news got more "likes" than I've ever received. My little Twitter world was full of joyous celebration.  But what about the liver?  I was told the PET scan wasn't giving us enough information about the liver to really tell, so I still needed the biopsy. 

The biopsy went fairly smoothly.  I was told the lesions were so small and presented mostly as benign tumors that the radiologist was fairly sure it wasn't cancer.  However, the liver was clearly "not right," so they ran a biopsy of the affected tissue to see what was going on even if it wasn't cancer.  The thought was that it was an autoimmune disorder or a chronic problem that had gone undetected until now. I was asked if I had time to swing by the doctor's office for more labwork to test for autoimmune issues.  "Of course I have time," I said.

Fast-forward to this afternoon.

The oncologist called again - not to tell me what time to come by for the labs, but to tell me "I have some bad news.  The pathology report is back.  It's metastatic breast cancer." Diffuse liver metastasis from breast cancer to be more precise. In English that means, "pretty fucking hard to treat cancer" and "oh yeah, not curable cancer."

In that moment, time stopped. And then in an instant, felt as though is snapped-to and ran away from me.  I lost the time to ask "How does this even happen?"  I lost the time to ask "How could we have fixed this before it hit my liver?"  I lost the time to ask "Why did I think all of this would be over after the surgery?"

I hung up the phone, and realized everything I had thought about time and my life and my plans were under the wrong premise.  The good part isn't next. Next is an illusion like the time that continually flits away from us. The good part is now. Or rather, all we have is now. So we better make it good dammit. FORGET NEXT.

Who knows how many "nexts" we get?  One day you may get a call that says you're stuck with the "nows."

So, I can't let time trick me anymore.  I'm onto its wily ways. I know I have to take it by its wings and do with it what I can while I have it. Who knows..Maybe that means more writing.  At the very least I hope it means a heck of a lot more living.



Anne Perschel said...

You are extraordinary. Damn the liver. You ARE a liver of life.

Sarah M said...

I don't know what to say. I'm so sorry. I know you are going to fight hard and I remain 100% #teamkristen ♥

from sarahrodeo

Anonymous said...

That news is a lot for you to take in, I imagine. I'm sorry the results were not what you hoped. I'm also sorry I don't have better words to say.

Frank van der Linden said...

A wonderfully written blog post. I have dealt with cancer in my family too many times, and I am glad that you are without denial (or mostly without, it's hard to not have that little voice). You don't know how many tomorrows or next times you have left, and seem determined to enjoy all of them. That is the best thing to do. Go out there and enjoy life to the fullest. May every day bring you something that makes you smile, and a new experience that makes your life richer.

gregor said...

xoxoxo gvd

Travis said...

Kristen, thanks for sharing.

Know that some random people around the country/world are thinking of you and others engaged in similar battles, and we're sending all the positive vibes and thoughts we can generate.

Emily Walsh said...

Hi there! I just got reading through a few of your posts and I had a quick question about your blog. I am involved in the cancer community and was hoping you could email me back when you get the chance. Thanks! - emilywalsh688(at)