Friday, July 31, 2009


For those of you who missed out on the gory details, here is a link to my parents' blog, where they posted the intra-operative pictures. Completely awesome if you are into that kind of thing; totally gross if you aren't! Fair warning!

Sunday, July 19, 2009


You know that moment when you finally admit to yourself that the little scratchiness in the back of your throat isn't allergies, and it isn't because the air is dry, it's that you are about to come down with a cold? I had one of those moments at about 5am the morning of what was supposed to be my triumphant flight home to California, except that it wasn't a lame cold I had come down with. I had spent the night drenched in sweats and shaking with chills, hoping that it was all just another of the many strange side effects from the painkillers and other junk I was on. But when it didn't let up for hours on end, it was clear that these were Not Good Signs.

It was lucky that we showed up to the Sloan-Kettering Urgent Care center at 6:30am, because by a few hours later, the place was overflowing. Miserable people lined the hallways, some of their families sitting next to them on their cots, or on the floor. Such was the scene at one of the most prestigious hospitals in the world. How can this be?

Once the diarrhea started in earnest, it was pretty clear that there was no possible way that we were getting on a plane that day. And when that smell hit, there was no mistaking it: A Clostridium difficile infection. This is a pathogenic bacterium that most of us are colonized with, but which is kept in check by the commensal bugs which normally dominate. When someone who isn't in tip-top shape anyway starts taking antibiotics for some other reason, there is always a risk that the antibiotics will kill off the good gut bacteria as unintended collateral damage, leaving the door wide open for CDiff, as it is (un)affectionately known, to set up camp. And there I was, having spent the past few days legitimately, if gently, up and about enjoying New York City, once again flattened by pain and discomfort.

In more tormented moments, I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under my feet just as I had managed to stand up. In more thoughtful moments, my understanding of the vibrational nature of the universe was reinforced: The greater oscillation between sickness and health is made up of many smaller ups and downs. This was one of those small dips in an otherwise upward-sloping curve. I was going to be fine, whatever misery the little bastards managed to dish out.

We finally got on a plane last Wednesday, and I have been recovering in baby steps here in Palo Alto. I'm mostly with it these days, though I do sleep a lot, and can't be up and about for very long before I need to lie down for a few minutes. Every day is better, and I am slowly adding to a list of the things that I want to accomplish this summer before jumping into studying for the national board exams, which I will have to take sometime before beginning third year of medical school in January. I'm not sure how long I will be in Palo Alto before heading back to LA. Is it better to enjoy being with my parents, and have their support as I hunker down for the most intense studying of my life, or will I be more sane if I re-establish some independence, and be better able to study around my peers? In any case, I will definitely be taking it easy at first, as I transition out of being sick and back into being productive. There are many deep breaths to be taken, many pools to float in, many good meals to indulge (I haven't weighed 142lbs since junior year of high school!), and much catching up to do - with friends, with family, and with myself.

Thursday, July 2, 2009


This is the news that we all have been waiting for!

After chopping through literally pounds of tissue extracted from my abdomen, the pathologists finally turned in their report to my oncologist, who meekly and without drama reported this afternoon that he saw no need for any further chemotherapy. The great majority of what came out was extremely dense scar tissue that required multiple changes of scalpel blades just to cut a single slice through; the rest of the tissue was almost exclusively teratoma, with a single microscopic nest of malignant cells that was completely encased within a capsule of scar tissue. This means that the pathologists are very confident that the surgeons didn't leave anything dangerous behind.

This is all an immense relief, of course! - but somehow, not unexpected. I've always known that this whole cancer thing was just a phase, and have been annoyed each time the phase prolongs itself. Move on, already! Well, it really looks like it finally has. Surgery is very different from chemotherapy. The literal physical removal of anything suspicious makes possible a different kind of hope. It can't come back, because it no longer exists!

I will probably be in New York for another week and a half. It will be a few more days before I can imagine going through the rigamarole of transcontinental travel, and I have to wait until next Wednesday for a minor outpatient surgery to remove the port that was placed in case intraperitoneal chemotherapy had been necessary. In the meantime, I am celebrating as much as my tender belly will allow.