After trying everything that’s worked in the past to clear up the pain in my low back, with no real success, I decided to take a more aggressive approach. I lined up a month’s worth of daily treatments, a different modality for each day: cranial sacral work, physical therapy, Pilates, acupuncture, gua sha and massage. Nothing was helping very much, but I had high hopes. Both the cranial sacral practitioner (who is a physical therapist) and my physical therapist (Betsy Ogden, who is also my Pilates teacher), said my pelvis and sacrum were way out whack (auto accidents, pregnancies, large uterine fibroid–take your pick of etiologies).
The last day of week three was massage with Kevin. As usual, the first part of the massage was wonderful. But when I tried to turn over into the prone position, I felt a shooting pain from my hip down my leg and simply couldn’t manage the turn. So I got dressed (with difficulty), went home, cancelled the rest of the appointments, and booked an appointment with a primary care physician. I thought I had sciatica, but I wanted an MRI to get, so to speak, to the bottom of the problem.
I had never met this doctor before (my usual one moved away a month ago). I picked Patrick Francis from the list because, in addition to being an internist, he also practices preventative care and “narrative medicine.” I liked him! He, too, thought I had periformis syndrome, which produces sciatic pain, but agreed that an MRI was called for due to my cancer history.
By lucky chance, the sciatic pain vanished almost as soon as I finished up with the MRI. Like the bruise Katy gave me two years ago, it served as a metaphorical wake up call to a more serious problem. The MRI revealed, among other things, that I had “innumerable lesions” in my vertebrae, sacrum and marrow consistent with metastasis.
Such an ugly word, “metastasis.” Sounded aloud, the word hisses like a snake, and the mouth forms a sneer. The Sorting Hat just put me in Slytherin, and I wanted to be in Gryffindor House!
The time had come to get my complementary medicine team involved. Dr. Francis ordered a chest x-ray and blood panels, and he gave me referrals to a radiation oncologist (Anna Fariss) and to the oncologist I had interviewed two years ago (Letha Mills). In addition to the chest x-ray (lungs are still clear!), I’ve had a CT simulation scan as preliminary to radiation therapy, a PET scan (which showed that my liver is also clear of cancer), and tattoos to mark the spots for radiation (just freckles, alas–no dragons or hearts). I’m on day 3 of 10 days of radiation therapy. After, Letha will put me on hormonal therapy to drive estrogen out of my body. Kari, my surgeon, called to express her concern and to answer any questions I might have. When I asked her when I should schedule a mastectomy, she told me that the horses were already out of the barn and my breast tumors were the least of my problems now.
Not a single soul has uttered an “I told you so” or even hinted that I got myself into this fix by choosing classical Chinese medical treatment. One nurse (clearly a Bosox fan) wondered why I’d waited until “the bottom of the ninth” to see the oncologist again, but the line was delivered with a twinkle in her eye, and I didn’t feel judged at all.
I’ve been in bit of a whirlwind these past two weeks. I have compound fractures in several vertebrae and it looks like I’m in peril of breaking a hip or two, so I’m pretty happy with the full court press (sticking to sports metaphors, but I have degrees from Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill, so I prefer to talk hoops). Also, it is alarming how quickly the pain increased (even before the MRI), so I’m looking forward for the radiation therapy’s fire magic, which is supposed to ease the discomfort. Letha assures me I’ll be able to resume all my normal activities (gardening, kayaking, traveling) in the future.
I plan to get back to classical Chinese medicine treatment with Brendan as soon as possible. Biomedicine has been a godsend to me, but I still believe Chinese medicine will drive the cancer away for good, and maybe I won’t ever need a mastectomy. Metastasis can be part of the healing crisis. It would be crazy to forego biomedical treatment in light of the damage to my bones, but my body’s so darn close to kicking out the fire toxins (which radiation will add to, no doubt), that I want to continue on this path once the metastasis is stabilized.
Although it turns out that Slytherin isn’t so bad, I miss my Gryffindor friends.