East of Normal
Cancer, chemo, and evil little cameras
Cancer is a weird thing. Most people react – I gather – like life might be over and it’s time to “be a fighter” and “stay positive.” My reaction was different; it was more like, “Cancer? Me? I wonder what meds they’ll give me!” The description of how I found out I had bladder cancer is mildly disgusting. If you’re easily prone to be embarrassed or grossed-out, you might want to skip down a few paragraphs, because I’m not.
Back around the beginning of the year, I started passing urine that looked like reddish Diet Coke. It’s the sort of thing that has a person run to Google. The preponderance of evidence was that I was dehydrated, so I started drinking more water than I had been. The only change was that the urine started to look like Killian’s Red, with the occasional granular bit of particulate matter added in for good measure.
I thought, “Eureka! I’m passing kidney stones!” There was no need to worry. I’ll pass ’em and be done with it. It wasn’t painful, and to be honest I thought it was kinda cool. I started looking forward to peeing just to see what would come out.
After a week, it went away, and I circular-filed the incident in the back of my gray matter, and continued my merry infantile caroms among life’s pinball machine. Then, to my pleasure, after another week or so, it came back. This time it didn’t look like any diet or alcoholic drinks; it was just bloody pee with little granules in it. The “this is neat” feeling dissipated. Still, I figured, this too shall pass. And after another week or so, it went away again. Then it came back again, and this time the particulate matter was getting bigger, like flat little bloody tabs of acid. By now it was February, and time to call the doctor.
Doctors can move fast when they have to. My primary care physician took one look at my (quite interesting) urine sample and immediately referred me to her favorite urologist, and I left HIM a sample that was one for the record books. The urologist put me in the MRI machine and it revealed two blobs in my bladder where blobs shouldn’t be. What they were was anybody’s guess. Those two nickels I swallowed on a dare in fifth grade? Who knew? So on March 9, the doc knocked me out on a table and stuck both a camera and a cutting tool up my penis, completely ignoring the One Way/Do Not Enter sign. Cameras used to be big bulky things, and now they can put one up your johnson! Amazing, and assuming you’re asleep, it’s no bother at all.
The blobs were tumors, and they were cancerous. Worse, I woke up with a garden hose up my willy and my pee pee running into a collection bag. I’d have to deal with that thing for weeks. (I did four gigs with that tube up my willy and a bag of piss strapped to my right thigh under my jeans.)
Then came a month for the bladder to heal, then the chemo, six Tuesdays in a row (at this writing I’m halfway through). So dig this: They inject a virus directly into my bladder called BCG. It’s tuberculosis, the kind found in horses. Somebody actually thought that up! Hey, let’s put horse TB in somebody’s bladder and see what happens! The thinking is that the body’s immune system will barge into the bladder with the kind of manpower Hitler used against Poland and mow down anything that moves, including whatever nascent microscopic cancer cells are sitting there playing pinochle with polyps and junior varsity kidney stones.
And how do they inject this potion? By ignoring the WRONG WAY sign again. Only this time you’re awake. They shove a tube up your Johnson, inject the BCG, then pull it all out. It was 90 seconds of holding my wife’s hand, locking eyes with her and trying to breathe.
And you know what? These urologists love their jobs. They actually like dealing with urine and its surrounding environs. They like infiltrating people’s urethras. That’s one sick bastard if you ask me. But I’m sure grateful there are perverts like that around. After my initial excitement at getting fun meds when they’re otherwise med non grata, the whole experience has changed me a bit. It’s cancer after all. I’ll be praying, and I sure appreciate the prayers of others, because if there’s one thing in my life I want no more of once chemo is over, that’s some dude in a white coat ignoring the WRONG WAY sign yet again.