Doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor or not, the first thing you do if you suspect that you have cancer is to check Google and plummet into a blackhole of desperation and self-loathing. Of course I also texted my friend, Vishnuckelya, for reassurance that it is just some benign process. Or if she could tell me what the differentials were other than cancer.
“Cancer!” Vishnuckelya said. “Just do an ultrasound and see me in the clinic so I can palpate it.”
“When you crack my face open, is there a possibility that I won’t get facial palsy?” I asked, as if assuming that something is cancer would somehow lessen the probability that it is cancer. Of course I was already laying out in my head how I would go about with the radiation and chemotherapy treatments—it pays to be twenty steps ahead.
“Do the ultrasound tomorrow,” Vishnuckelya insisted.
“I’ll do you one better and get a CT scan!”
Since the CT scan required fasting, I had my sugars, creatinine, and cholesterol checked as well. The blood tests were normal. “For all the good these normal tests will do me once I’m dead from cancer,” I said with the bitterest resentment I could muster, keeping in mind all the healthy gunk I had to eat and all the Stevia I had to consume in place of sugar and pure arnibal. I called Smoketh and Mrs. T and whined that I was about to have a scan, and could they each devote one afternoon every two weeks to change my bedpan when the time comes. Smoketh and Mrs. T have become my de facto support system whenever I do cancer work-up on myself. Ten years ago I had an abdominal CT scan in PGH, and I asked them to look at the plates while we were waiting for a radiologist.
“May bukol ba, meron? Meron? Meron?!” I asked, as they squinted their eyes while looking at the plates to seem authoritative.
“There’s no tumor naman” Smoketh said. “But I can see your penis on the plates.”
As the CT scan table was moving into the machine and I was staring at the ceiling I thought of the hundreds of times I had requested the test on my patients. Some of them had good results, many had really bad ones. I thought of the many times my life had changed course in the past few years, and the many more times it probably would depending on the results. I thought of the last will and testament I had recently revised.
My most memorable cancer scare happened when I was still in clerkship, over 15 years ago. I had just re-watched the fantastic X-Files episode Momento Mori, where Scully was diagnosed with an alien variant of nasopharyngeal carcinoma, and soon enough, on cue, my nose bled. It occurred to me that I was also having some weight loss, so I ran to the charity ENT clinic in PGH. I told the ENT resident Dr. P that I was losing weight, and that I think I have nasopharyngeal cancer. After poking through my nose and throat she happily told me that there was no nasopharyngeal tumor.
“Nope, no tumors in your nasopharynx!” she said, which made me clap and cheer.
“Or maybe you just need further work-up,” she continued with some reassurance. “Perhaps the cancer causing the weight loss is… elsewhere?”