Friday, December 09, 2005

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0015 - Lucky

“We are so lucky here. When we say you’re going to be scanned with the ‘old’ 16-slice CT scan, you’re really being scanned with a machine that’s less than a year old. In fact, we are one of the very few facilities in Ontario that has two CT scanners, a 16-slice and a 64-slice – both are less than one year old. Our waiting times have gone down dramatically. We can now process 56 patients a day.”

She was a very pleasant, personable woman who told me exactly what to expect. Thank goodness, because when the injected solution started streaming through my veins, it was only a couple seconds before I could feel the taste in my mouth, followed closely by an oddly familiar warm sensation in my groin. I’m glad she warned me about that one!

This evening, I’ve been sticking very close to the washroom because of the barium solution used to help highlight the organs in the abdominal scan. The frequency and urgency of trips surprised me. Nobody warned me about this part of the procedure.

Even though I will have to wait for the CT scan and MRI results, as well as the pathology results from the biopsy on Wednesday, I am feeling grateful today that we have such incredible medical resources in the Waterloo region. Today, because everything is so close by, I could go to work until noon, drive myself to the hospital for the medical imaging, then go back to work for another couple hours. When preoperative radiation treatment starts, it will be the same routine. If I had to drive to Hamilton, London, or Toronto, the effect on my work and home life would be far more intrusive.

Another comforting thought this evening came from the second episode of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos DVD series. As he spoke of natural selection and accidental mutations, it occurred to me that cancer is just another piece of evidence of the way evolution works. Random mutation of DNA and the cells in which the strands of life are contained is almost always maladaptive. In other words, cancer as an abnormal growth of cells can be thought of as par for the evolutionary course. The dance of death is the price we pay for the variety and richness of life.

Now, that thought in itself is not particularly comforting to somebody facing a diagnosis of rectal cancer. But what is comforting is the realization of the necessity of death and the awesome way in which life prevails. Our medical technology, our science, and our will to live – these are just some of the ways in way humanity improves the odds of natural selection dramatically. If I beat cancer, then it will be because evolution has taken another step beyond maladaptive mutation of cells. That step is really a leap, a kind of variation in the dance of death in which life carries on longer than one might expect.

Yes, we are so lucky here.

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