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Reading: Dodging the Bullet

Dodging the Bullet

I'd had a full year of cancer-free CT scans. Was I home free at last? With cancer you never know

By Margie Goldsmith

It’s never a good thing for me to look at the blood test results that show up in my hospital portal after my twice-yearly CT scans, because I have no idea how to read them. So when I saw that my cancer antigen 19-9 had increased 2 points from six months ago, I panicked and immediately went online to google this tumor marker.

“A high amount of CA 19-9 is most often caused by pancreatic cancer. But it can also be caused by other types of cancer. And it can be caused by infections in your liver, gallbladder, and pancreas,” came the result.

I knew it couldn’t be my pancreas because I have none. In 2014, I developed pancreatic cancer, so they removed part of my pancreas in a procedure called a Whipple. The surgeon assured me they’d gotten it all, but still he told me to see an oncologist. The oncologist recommended I have a 6-week round of chemo. 

“But why?” I protested, “They got it all out,” 

“It will give you a 10 to 15% chance not to have a recurrence.” 

I didn’t think that was a very big percentage, so I refused; but my family was insistent, so I listened to them and acted against my own preference.

After chemo treatment, I was put on a quarterly schedule for a CT scan and follow-up with the oncologist. This was fine for the first year because everything was perfect. Cancer-free. But the following year, the oncologist informed me I had pancreatic cancer again, and it would make sense to remove the entire organ. And so they did.

I figured I was home free at last, but with cancer, you never know. Two years later, I developed a cancerous tumor in my lung. They removed my lower right lobe. A year later, the oncologist decreased the CT scans from four times a year to only to twice. Since then, I’ve had no recurrences. Whew!

But today, when I went to see my oncologist, I was especially worried because of the antigen test. If it was a bad marker, meaning the Big C had returned, could I really stomach another surgery and more chemo? To tell you the truth, in my mind, I had myself dead. 

I sat in the waiting room for a good hour, too nervous to read. A sign opposite me read, “Knowing the truth of things unseen before.” Did that mean I had cancer again?

Finally, they led me into a sterile patient room without a picture on the wall. The walls were a bland color and the floor was dull gray linoleum. The longer I waited, the more I knew the news was going to be the worst.

At last, the door opened, and my oncologist appeared. I barely greeted her before blurting out, “What does a two-point cancer antigen rise mean? Is the cancer back?”

She smiled through her mask. “Two points is nothing,” she said. “You needn’t worry.”

I allowed myself to exhale. I would go home, change into my sneakers, and go for a walk in the park. I could already feel the slight breeze on my face and hear the bird songs in the wooded area. Once again, I’d dodged the bullet.


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