Thursday, November 8, 2012

Steps in the Right Direction

I realized the other day that I had inadvertently forgotten to disclose a small but important feature of my recovery.  It was so easily lost in the shuffle of big important things, like walking with canes, but it's a matter of huge convenience and really demonstrates the extent to which strength has returned to many interacting muscles in my body.  I can now lift each foot and raise it up to rest on the other knee.  Such a simple little thing, that we do every day when we're getting dressed and want to put on our socks and shoes.  I used to have to pick my leg up with a reaching tool using my arm strength, when the knee wouldn't bend on command, and later when the knee would bend but wasn't strong enough to lift the leg, I would still have to bend over toward the floor and grab my ankle to help lift it up onto my other leg.  Now I can just sit upright on the edge of my bed and lift my ankle up to my other knee just like anyone else, and put my sock and shoe on easily.

I mentioned that first because I didn't want that little detail to once again get lost in the circus surrounding other accomplishments.  And there are certainly huge, fireworks in the sky, dancing in the streets, rainbows and sunshine kind of developments to report today.  Yesterday I had my hour+ long MRI of the cervical and thoracic spine.  My history of panic and terror in these scans is well documented, but yesterday couldn't have been farther from that history.  I stayed up really late the night before so I would be good and drowsy during the scan, and I had one milligram of Versed for my conscious sedation medication, and I listened to classical music in my MRI headphones like Moonlight Sonata and Clair de Lune, and I kept my eyes closed most of the time so I couldn't see how tiny of a space I was in or how oppressively close the face mask was, and I had my panic button in my hand.  This time, for whatever reason, that was enough to give me a completely relaxed, zero panic MRI session.  It was so easy it was almost surreal.  When it was all done I could hardly believe it had gone so well.  Surely this couldn't be the same machine that had reduced me to tears and screams, and this time I came sliding out of it all smiles and enjoying the surprised congratulations from the anesthesia and MRI teams.  They called me a rock star, and I felt like one!  I can't say for sure that I've conquered claustrophobia; I'm pretty sure tight spaces are always going to bother me, but I'm very optimistic that I've developed the ability to manage it better from now on, instead of letting it rule me.

Today my oncologist called to discuss the results of that MRI, as well as the CT scans that were done a couple of weeks ago, and the good news just kept on rolling.  There are no tumors in my liver or lungs, and even with my extra wordy ways I'm not sure I can adequately describe the magnitude of my relief.  The CT scans did show an enlarged lymph node in my chest, but the oncologist said he's not worried about that at all and we'll just keep an eye on it from now on.  Many different things could cause that enlargement, many of those things being "ordinary" or essentially "harmless" so I'm going to do my best not to obsess about that node and trust that if the oncologist isn't worried, I don't need to be either.  

As for the MRI scan, I'm requesting a copy of the report to read for myself, but the passages my oncologist read to me on the phone are very intriguing.  Obviously image quality in the area of my tumor is affected by the titanium hardware in my spine at that spot.  So I'm used to hearing or reading that the tumor boundaries are difficult or impossible to ascertain and therefore measurement is extremely difficult.  But the way he described it to me this time, it sounded like the presence of the tumor itself was hard to identify.  He said they can't declare that it's shrunk or gone, but they also can't say exactly that it's still there or still the same size.  I'm not the kind of person to get wildly excited by these statements, it's not in my realistic nature to embrace the notion that my tumor could have magically disappeared; nevertheless it seems clear that the tumor has not grown noticeably and may even have shrunk, and that's enough to make me very happy indeed.  I will have blood work monitoring and an office visit with the oncologist in three months, and scans again in six months.