Biology Always Wins

I had committed to writing more creatively again, as I felt I had gotten away from the practice, whether relate to running or cancer. I seemed to have gotten mired in squeezing out blog posts in between jobs, rushed and semi-frantic, while also detailing the physical mundanities of cancer and running rather than the general experience and considerations. I had committed to doing so, and then I felt a pain in my side.

It wasn’t an abrupt pain, but slowly built over the past few weeks, until I had been sufficiently drug back into the physical reality of cancer again, necessitating a great deal of hypothesizing what was going on inside my body, scouring the web for any reliable correlation of symptoms, and probably annoying Laura by thinking out loud about what was happening inside me throughout the day.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when the first sign of a more serious issue was felt, but while going through sufficient run training, any little issue in the body is often ignored as it can usually be related to training stresses, disappearing in a day or so. This pain, located on the side of my abdomen and tucked under my rib cage, didn’t go away. It came and went throughout the day, but tended to increase in intensity when it did show itself. I did what I often do with running stresses, I evaluated the trends.

First, it didn’t really hang around in the morning. I could feel it at the beginning of my runs when I took deep inhales, but it subsided by the time the run was over. Then, after eating my daily bowl of oatmeal, I could definitely feel the pain as the food moved through the first portion of my digestive tract. As it passed by the problematic area, the pain would heighten and then slowly disappear, until I tried to eat again later in the day.

Then, as a week or two went by, I noticed the pain becoming more and more pointed, especially after eating in the morning and then lingering towards lunch. I didn’t instantly cry cancer, but I started going through the considerations again. I mean, anytime I feel an aberration in my physical state, I no longer think much but cancer. It’s essentially impossible. And couple the pain with my abdominal area, and what else could it be?

But I was waiting for my MRI results, so there was no point in really evaluating the situation until I heard back. But, of course, I didn’t hear back (as relayed in the previous post). And the pain increased yet again. By this point, I could tell something was definitely out of the ordinary and the degree of pain had reached something of a fight or flight degree, where no matter what hopeful distractions I offered to myself, I felt more and more compelled to seek help.

The patterns continued. I could run in the morning with minimal issue, then as soon as I had breakfast, I was in trouble. The pain had me wincing and clenching my fists. I tried not to bother Laura with my discomfort, but it was too obvious to just let pass without reassurance. Then, as the day wore on and I continued to eat normally, the pain barely subsided, and breathing became more and more difficult right after meals. I would hold my breath until each spasm or shock of pain filled my side, sometimes radiating around my back, and finally surging into my shoulder of all places. Sleeping at night was difficult as I struggled to find a position that didn’t aggravate the discomfort. Couple the restless nights with unpredictable bathroom visits and I was drug back to my days of pre-diagnosis.

Again, I couldn’t help but cry cancer, though after finally getting results from my MRI back, which didn’t show any significant tumor growth, I didn’t know what else could be the case. I had a follow up scheduled with my oncologist so he could physically examine me as we waited for more blood test results to come back, wondering if my digestive enzymes were in crisis and causing the pain.

With a trip to North Carolina for Xmas and a visit with my son scheduled, there was no option to stay home and be close to the emergency room should things get really out of control. Laura and I drove to her parents and went about everything as usual, but that night the little food I ate, despite the deep hunger I should have been feeling, but didn’t, spiked everything to a new level of pain. I went off by myself to ride out the intensity, wondering if I should have stayed home, and figured out contingency plans should I end up in a North Carolina emergency room. After some considerable time, I was able to handle the pain and managed some sense of normalcy within spasms, at which point I took to the internet.

Looking through images of human biology I narrowed the location down the to the spleen, then looking up “spleen pain”, or something like that, I came across a pretty exact description of the pain, an amateur diagnosis solidified by the description of pain radiating into the shoulder. Without an official diagnosis given yet, I’m 95% to 99% sure I have an enlarged spleen.

Essentially, what is happening, is that for a number of reasons I can’t determine at this point, but can be related to cancer processes, my spleen is enlarged, so whenever I eat, any food moving through digestive tract is getting backed up or pushed by and into the spleen, causing significant pain. Obviously, there are many other concerns to this. Does the spleen keep enlarging? Why is it enlarging? What happens if it ruptures? How quickly am I going to lose weight now that I’m barely hungry? When I do eat, which foods cause the least amount of pain and can I get enough calories to remain stable? And on and on.

Further research shows that an enlarged spleen can be caused by cancer spreading or from overworking to fight anti-bodies or expel blood cells. These are all cancer related causes, but there is no way for me to tell what’s going on from just my own assessment. All I can do is be careful with eating, while actually trying to eat as the sensation of being neither hungry or full is quite awkward, and wait for the appointment with my oncologist…then who knows what.

Will he determine I just need to wait it out for 2 months? Will he prescribe an immediate spleenectomy? Are there pills for this?

I don’t know, but I am relieved to be home and waiting out the next xmas day with my son until I can get a plan of action.

But in the meantime, my comfort has been shaken once again, dragging me abruptly back into the world of cancer, where before I was just running along, literally, into my next surgery where I could pretend I’d be so much further away from 180’s like this.

I’m not the normal cancer patient…I keep telling myself. My cancer is rare. It grows abnormally. I’m succeeding in ways other cases have not. I’m thriving in ways others haven’t. So it’s easy to get lulled into this somewhat delusional state that I’m just living with cancer, or just living with the yearly interruption of necessary surgery, instead of walking on eggshells that many patients find themselves doing, wondering when the other shoe is going to drop.

I’ve been there, barely thinking past the next two months, really unsure what to expect no matter how good things are going, and as I’ve expressed before, that’s an emotionally dangerous place to be. It’s a setup for a terrible letdown, where the hopeful expectations lead to an even darker disappointment. I try to continue walking that line, but as run training gets better and better, that precarious hope creeps in without me even realizing it.

Then all of a sudden I feel a pain in my side, and I’m suddenly jerked back into the world of cancer, of not just knowing, but directly feeling the precarious nature of our complex biologies, where things go awry, where things fall apart, where expectations of how we want to operate disappear at each meal.

I remember that I’m never safe. That I’m a different person than I was 3 years ago and I can no longer get comfortable again, no matter how comfortable I feel, that nothing is going to be as it once was. And I’m ok with that, when I remember it. Biology will always win, and it’s probably better that way. The success is in staying humble to our tenuous bodies, to doing our best at every opportunity, knowing forces beyond our control may conspire against us without warning.

So even with surgery 2 months away (again, I hope), the immediacy of my body’s crisis has risen yet again, and I have to duck and move, readjust, and run that course of a fulfilling, strong, and stable life in the face of a cancer that never lets me rest.

But hey, at least I’m running.

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2 responses to “Biology Always Wins

  1. Scott, I read your posts…then re-read them. I, as I’m sure many of your followers, wish I could say/write something to comfort you and minimize the experience of pain. All I can do is be inspired by the miles you cover…and run an extra one for you! Wishing you a miracle…

  2. Scott, I’m sorry you’re feeling more, new pain, and with that, new questions with no definitive answers. Your blog-following friends all wish, as do your family and close friends, that we could wave a magic wand and summon forth the good health you’re used to. Challenge is one thing, but, coupled with a cancer battle & the unknowns that entails, this one must sometimes seem overwhelming. I’m sure running keeps you focused, and a Christmas visit with your son must have been so energizing! Your fellow runners honour you, and also run extra miles with you in mind. Happy New Year; may 2016 see the return to your true strength!

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