The Cancer Diary: Part One

“I don’t want to die this way,” my husband pleaded, but I could only hold his hand and offer small comfort in face of a huge problem.

Max’s life had slowly descended in both little and large ways into a waking death. His prodigious energy had diminished. His enthusiasm faded. His body wasted. And even his amazing wit and sharp mind had become muddled and muddied. Life no longer shimmered with potential. His future no longer held any hope.

This is the story of one man’s cancer treatment. Not his disease, since so many others have described their cancer journey in far more eloquent and detailed ways. This blog is only meant to focus on the traditional and nontraditional treatments he has undergone over the last few years.

To do that, I need to begin at the beginning and give you a thumbnail sketch of Max’s disease progression. Max was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the rectum just over six years ago after a colonoscopy. By the time they discovered the tumor low in the rectum, it was three centimeters, stage one. We were immediately referred to a couple of surgeons who spoke to Max about a total resection, a euphemistic way of saying they planned to remove his rectum and replace it with a permanent colostomy bag. Max balked at this. Who wouldn’t?

I did what any writer would do in my place and took to the Internet for research, spending hours pouring over the National Cancer Society website, WebMD, cancer forums and any page I could find. I knew nothing about cancer. Few close to me had ever been diagnosed with it except my grandmothers, but I was young and living three thousand miles away at the time. I didn’t have much exposure to their treatment.

So, I locked myself away in my study and read everything I could find. I learned about a new technique that had some success. It involved shrinking the tumor with chemotherapy and radiation until it was tiny enough to excise without removing the entire rectum. Max grasped onto this idea as did I. It held the promise of a normal life. A life without major surgery or poop bags. Limited showers. No summer swims.

Willing to do anything anyone suggested to save his parts, Max agreed to a meat and sugar free diet, followed by wheatgrass smoothies. Not his typical carnivore fare, he faced the deprivation with aplomb. He even agreed to give up his beer so he wouldn’t have to give up his rear.

Along with daily IRT radiation and weekly chemotherapy, he saw his tumor shrink by a centimeter and a half by July. Before the end of that month the tumor laid on the cutting room floor. Because of the nature of the surgery, he only had to spend one night in the hospital. All looked bright. The doctor had secured the margins she needed. The tumor was gone. And Max was back in business.

At least for a time.

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