Months ago when I met my oncologist here in Toronto, Rach and I sat in his office holding each others hands as he explained my diagnosis using words like incurable, barely treatable and at best case able to stabilize for maybe 18-20 months. He described my type of cancer as trying to hit a moving post in the dark, and that would be the basis upon how he decides to treat me. He told me we would start on a type of chemotherapy called Doxorubicin, otherwise known as the Red Devil, It got its nickname because of its overwhelming toxicity, side effects and of course the red nature of the liquid itself. My doctor explained that this was only being used on me because of how young and otherwise healthy I am, that if it were used on someone older and sicker, it would surely kill them. I remember Rachel and I squeezing each others hands tighter and tighter as he continued to speak, I remember leaving the office, walking out to the parking lot and breaking down as we hugged each other to try and stay on our feet as we cried unabashedly for many minutes into each others bobbing shoulders, trying to digest this unbelievable news. As the months rolled on and I continued with the treatment, I surely felt and began to understand its devilish nickname on a very personal level. My hair fell out, I lost my appetite, I couldn’t get out of bed for days on end. I cried listening to the pitter-patter of Rileys little feet run around as I was stuck in bed, thinking I wouldn’t be here for as many more months as she’s been alive. As the patient, you’re put in the brutal position where you have no choice but to believe what the professional is telling you. Tears are soaking my cheeks as I write this, as I hear Rileys little voice downstairs and picture Rachel feeding Sadie because I’ve spent the last 8 months believing in one doctors tragic prognosis. It was all I had to believe in and all I had to hold on to, in the face of my doctors prognosis, I vowed that I would fight tooth and nail until the very end of these eighteen months, to see and appreciate every second of the very little life I have left in me.
As many of you know, I went for a second opinion sometime in august that put me in a cautiously optimistic frame of mind, he didn’t have a lot to tell me at that point as he hadn’t seen any of the tissue samples or had a chance to run them through his rigorous tests. Well, yesterday I flew over to New Jersey to see Dr. Pecora again and after reviewing the samples and the test results, he had a very different story to tell, a much more optimistic story, one that involves more than a sliver of hope. He explained that they now have a much better understanding of what proteins are causing the tumour growth and after running their tests, they also have a good understanding of knowing what combination of medication to use to not only inhibit the growth but to potentially shrink it enough that at some point if things go according to his plan then surgery could be an option. This doctor looked at me ad asked me how old I am and what my goal is, through blurry eyes I told him I was 33 and the only goal I know possible is to slow it down. He responded empathetically with“why would you only want to slow it down? My goal is to get rid of it.” Now I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing out of my eyes and pooling under my mask. With a shaky voice I told him that I would like that very much and would do anything to see to that outcome. I made another remark about putting on my guinea pig hat to which he quickly responded that I am the furthest thing from a guinea pig, at this point he has a clear understanding of my diagnosis, the makeup of the tumour and proteins that are causing it. All the medication he’s putting me on has already been proven to do what we want it to do. Again, I could hardly believe what I was hearing, I stood up to shake his hand, and as he walked out the door I gave my mom a hug and we walked arm in arm out of the clinic. As I digested everything and thought about what he said, I could only think that, again, I’m just a patient who can only believe what the doctor is telling him. Now I’m left between two opposite ends of the spectrum, where one doctor is basically telling me I won’t see my daughters get past their next birthdays and the other is telling me that theres hope that I’ll watch them grow for many years to come.
We spoke casually on the drive back to the hotel, I watched the cars pass by and appreciated the artwork painted on the bridges and buildings around jersey city. I thought about that first meeting when Rachel and I held each other and cried and I wished she was with me in the moment so we could do the same thing but for an entirely different reason. I want to believe so badly In what doctor Pecora is telling me I want to put all my faith in that optimism that he’s offering, and I feel like I have no choice but to do that. Why would I even entertain anything other than aggressive positivity? And with those two simple words, I felt my dads hand on my shoulder and his voice in my head telling me it’s going to be okay. Even before his diagnosis, he always advocated aggressive positivity and until now I had nothing to latch that on to, but with a simple meeting and a doctor with a different outlook on my situation I can say that I am now more than cautiously optimistic. I have some real hope to hold on to, something that isn’t a black mirror of cancer and death but rather an open window to a potential future where I get to watch my girls grow up, where I get to watch Rachels face weather with wrinkles and hear her laugh at how my own face has changed over the years. I nodded in response to some questions that I didn’t hear from my mom because my mind was flying with the birds over the rooftops of the buildings we were driving past, soaring to new heights of optimism that I hadn’t known in many months and nothing else seemed to matter in that moment other than, now I have hope. I know the next chapter will be the hardest I’ve endured but I also know that the doctor overseeing my case has an optimistic view of my future. I think as a patient who knows less than nothing about what I’m going through and how to treat it, I’d still prefer a doctor who is optimistic in the face of the unknown, rather than a doctor who is pessimistic and only the bearer of tragedy. I think that even if none of what Dr. Pecora prescribes ends up working, he will still have given me hope. And I don’t think theres anything more valuable to a cancer patient than a heartfelt prescription of hope.