Living with cancer is like burning a candle at both ends.
One wick is the gentle fire of life. As it melts away the wax, it exposes all of the beauty and brilliance of each precious moment. It moves forward in predictable time, hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and year-to-year.
The other wick is consumed by conflagration. It burns uncontrollably and unpredictably. It melts away days, months, and years. It’s vampiric and very hungry.
My candle is burning faster these days as cancer has progressed to my spine.
How did I end up here?
The last few weeks have been full of ups and downs.
I presented myself to the emergency department at Kingston General Hospital on August 2nd. I was experiencing back pain and tightness in my chest. My initial thought was that a blood clot was forming and causing me some pain and discomfort.
I was wrong; thankfully, there was no clot. CT scans and an ultrasound confirmed that my juices are flowing as expected. I didn’t have an x-ray or any diagnostics on my spine during that visit, but was feeling optimistic that the pain was just a side effect of chemotherapy.
A lack of a blood clot was good news, but didn’t tell the whole story.
It’s very easy to forget the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Instead of telling a positive story, imaging from my recent trip to Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital for pre-trial testing identified additional cancerous lesions in my spine, complete with two compression fractures to go with. A lesion in at the top of a lower vertebrae pushed up into the bottom of the bone above it, causing fractures in both.
Until this, I was optimistic about my eligibility for a clinical trial with curative intent. I’m sure my regular readers are sick of hearing about the Hepatic Arterial Infusion pump and liver transplant I’ve been writing about recently, but those options are now off the table.
Whether permanently or temporarily remains to be seen.
The back pain I’ve been experiencing is from those compression breaks. With hindsight, I remember the moment that I felt the crack. I thought I just maneuvered the wrong way washing my back in the shower.
It’s a constant game of thirty-five or cancer?
I’ve been worried through life with cancer, but this is the first time that I’m fearful.
Cancer in the spine can have some really fucked up consequences and needs to be treated quickly.
The statistics vary between 0.25% and 4.7% of colorectal cancers spreading to the spine, depending on the study. It’s not extremely common and I would be very surprised if I’m not receiving radiation within two weeks of me posting this.
Spinal metastases, in addition to the compression fractures which are causing me pain, can result in things like incontinence and paralysis.
I’m expecting that—since caught relatively early—these risks are low. But they’re still possible.
Radiation has its own side effects. Nausea, vomiting, fatigue, diarrhea, appetite changes, radiation burns, and so on. I’ve heard that it’s torturous compared to chemotherapy, which is already challenging to endure.
I’m afraid that life here on out will be a game of whack-a-mole as we go through the cycles of treatment, monitoring, and recurrence.
I’m afraid of what this means for my longevity.
Is everything that I’m doing my last?
I don’t think so, but it’s difficult for the mind not to go there.
I have a boisterous spirit and won’t back down from the challenges ahead.
The staring contest with the reaper continues. Although my eyes are burning and weary, I don’t intend to break my gaze.
I’ll have a series of appointments to confirm next steps and will brace myself for more treatment.
Next week, I’ll ask for referrals to palliative care and pain management to keep myself comfortable through the next steps.
Also a reminder that palliative care ≠ hospice care; palliation focuses on quality of life enhancements, ranging from pain management to mental health and diet.
I promised I’d be open about my experience all the way through and intend to keep chronicling this ordeal. I’ll share more when I know more.
It’s how you can walk with me through this, even if you’re not physically here, and I hope it’s a way that I can walk with others through their own challenges with cancer.
Thanks for taking an interest and keeping up. It means a lot to know that others are finding comfort in my writing and are learning from this gauntlet.
After all: you should never let a good crisis go to waste.