Saturday, December 26, 2015

My cancer diagnosis

On November 25, 2015 I learned for sure that I had liver cancer. Actually this had been pretty clear for a week or two already, but that was the day my wife Teresa and I received the biopsy result. The biopsy confirmed the evidence from an ultrasound and two CT scans that I had cancer, and also enabled the doctors to tell us what type it was: cholangiocarcinoma. This particular cancer, a very rare one, comes from the bile duct; the bile duct, as I’ve now learned, is not just one large pipe for delivering the bile to perform its functions elsewhere in the digestive system but an entire network of capillary-size uptake tubes pervading the liver. I have growths in different parts of my liver, which means I have stage IV cholangiocarcinoma. But at the same time the various scans have not found that the disease has escaped the liver and lodged anywhere else, and so on the scale of stage IV’s, I am not at the upper (worse) end.

The doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering concluded that what I needed was to start chemotherapy without delay, and I had my first infusion on December 4, the day after my last class of the fall semester. I’m doing three three-week cycles, two weeks on and one week off; three days ago, December 23, I had the first infusion of the second cycle. At the end of these cycles, they’ll do another CT scan, and then we’ll see where things stand. As I understand it, depending on the results at that point the doctors may want more of the same; more of the same plus additional interventions; or a switch to one or more other treatment approaches.

Those are the basic medical facts. I haven’t yet said anything about how profoundly my wife, family, friends, colleagues and students have been supporting me; nor anything about the experience of entering the immense institutions devoted to treating cancer; nor about the day to day issues of dealing with the illness and the side-effects of its treatment. All of that and more I hope to write about in coming posts. I want to provide this account of my encounter with cancer, but I’ll end this post by emphasizing that my main goal is not to provide this account but to fight the disease in every way possible and be around for many years to come, living a life free of, or at least not dominated by, this illness.