Sharp Blue: No better, but no worse


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I was dreading today’s oncology appointment. Sometimes all the signs point to bad news, and they certainly did this time. My dad had found a new swelling in his “good leg” months ago but neglected to mention it to anyone until last week’s appointment because it didn’t hurt at all. During that appointment, he saw Dr Hopkins rather than Dr Newman, his regular oncologist, and she ordered three sections through it x-rayed. He also had a chest x-ray. The next day, the oncology nurse, Julia, had phoned to arrange another appointment outside his normal schedule. When I spoke to her, she said that Dr Newman also wanted an x-ray through my dad’s “bad” leg, because the pain hadn’t gone away. My dad had to go in the next day to have this x-ray and to pick up some new pain medication for damaged nerves. On top of this, he’d been having more than his usual difficulty breathing, and he’d become unsteady on his feet. So by the time today’s appointment came around, I was expected bad news and my mother, who’d worked herself into a state approaching fatalistic panic, expected disastrous news.

Fortunately, the news was anything but disastrous. Neither leg showed any sign of cancer. A neurological exam showed no sign of effects from the region in his back affected by cancer or from the small (we hope, ex-) tumour in his brain. The unsteadiness is probably caused by reduced blood pressure - several of my dad’s medications cause this as a side effect. Finally, Dr Newman came to the chest x-ray results, and we expected a switch out of the optimistic mood and a grave “Unfortunately…” There was no change in mood though. My dad had a chest x-ray before he started on thalidomide and one a month later, and that showed a small progression of the cancer in part of his lung. The more recent x-rays (the results of which we received today) showed no further progression though. It seems that for now we’re fighting it to a stalemate. If we start to lose, it turns out that there’s a more conventional chemotherapy which is delivered by injection every eight days (and whose name I now don’t remember) which will be our next line of attack.

As for the greater shortness of breath, this has two causes. Firstly, it seems that part of one of his lungs isn’t inflating fully because he has an infection - maybe he’s caught my sister’s cold. Dr Newman says this shows no signs of being pneumonia or anything else dangerous and should clear up soon. Secondly, he has a little fluid around his lungs which is stopping their full inflation. This is probably a side effect of the dexamethasone that he’s taking to reduce brain swelling, but that’s no longer really a danger (or at least we hope not - the six month brain scan is on September 9), so he’s cutting down on his dose and so the fluid retention should decrease too. I’ve never been so relieved to hear that my dad is suffering from side effects of drugs. In fact, I don’t recall the last time I felt this much relief in general - going from expecting to hear the worst possible news to hearing that there’s nothing (new) to worry about is a bit of a shock…

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