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Liz's Blog: As the Tumor Turns, Part 04

  • Elizabeth Churchill
  • Posted March 11, 2013

Editor's note: Elizabeth Churchill began writing her blog in 2006 after a grapefruit-sized tumor wedged between her lungs was diagnosed as a malignant highly aggressive stage IV lymphoma. Before her cancer diagnosis, she was the author of a horticultural column, an avid weightlifter, and a homeowner with a beautiful garden north-east of New Orleans. Once she started treatment, she couldn't work, her relationship with her fiancé ended, and she became so in debt she had to sell her home to pay the bills. Unemployed and with no health insurance, Churchill (pictured here) started writing to keep family and friends informed and herself sane. Here, we excerpt a few of her entries.

So here's how a typical day might start. I wake up and take the usual bodily inventory:

Nausea? Nope. Fever? Nope. Night sweats? Nope. Cold head? Nope. Pain? Ummm, YES!! PAIN! Ohmygod!! Chest pain!!!

Okay, okay. Calm down. Just a little chest pain. Probably nothing. Let's make a nice logical list of conditions that could possibly be causing this chest pain, and see if any of them require immediate action -- like maybe self-administered CPR, or perhaps a field trip to the emergency room for some morphine.

The list du jour:

1. Myocardial infarction. Naturally, this is my immediate guess. Chemotherapy causes vomiting; vomiting causes electrolyte imbalance; electrolyte imbalance can lead to a heart attack. But there are other possibilities (I decide to lie down for remainder of list anyway.)

2. Ulcerated esophagus, caused by combination of chemotherapy, rampant fungal infections, and vomiting. Esophagus has ruptured, causing massive lung infection.

3. Caval perforation. The port catheter has broken and punctured walls of superior vena cava, causing massive thoracic hemorrhage.

4. Mediastinal tumor eruption, possibly caused by violent retching. Millions of ravenous cancer stem cells are swarming unchecked throughout thoracic cavity, greedily claiming prime real estate.

5. Primary mediastinal tumor has metastasized to sternum, causing huge hideous incurable bone lesions.

6. Secondary refractory tumors have formed in thoracic cavity. Probably a result of bad karma or persistently negative attitude.

As you can see, there is just never a single dull moment over here at the House O' Horrible Tumors.

Anyway, this little list is a good start. The next question is, of course, what to do. If I go to the emergency room, they will wisely and methodically rule out each of the above possibilities. And yet: the emergency room! Gaaaah!!! A forty-five minute drive, nine hours of waiting, packed like sardines in a dark, filthy, airless room with 800 other sick people spewing projectile mucus droplets directly into my neutrophil-free, seriously immunocompromised lungs, followed by three days of torturous tests and procedures? Please. Give me death.

On the other hand: Woo hoo, an outing! A social life! I am so terminally sick of my Boy in a Bubble routine, I'm almost gung ho for the adventure.

But not quite.

So I lie there on the bed for a while, pondering my options. Stay? Go? Live? Die? Panic? Remain in denial? And then suddenly, I burp. And poof, like magic, the chest pain disappears.

Sheepishly, I fish my hat out of the quilts and plod into the kitchen for yet another bowl of fortifying oatmeal to get me through my danger-filled days of Life on the Edge. What next? It's always something. Please, do stay tuned.

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