I was surrounded by so many people in the waiting area - old, young, all different races and ethnicities and visible degrees of illness. It was nearing an hour after my scheduled appointment when a huge family speaking a language I didn't recognize engulfed me as they all hovered over their sick matriarch in her wheel chair. The whole thing was so overwhelming. Though it was as quiet as any medical waiting room, I felt that all the voices were amplified and echoing all around me ... things started to spin at points and I felt like I was visibly rocking back and forth. I really thought that the anxiety was just going to swallow me up whole. Craig was right there with me trying to keep us sane. He offered to look up pictures of puppies on my phone as he thought that would make me feel better. I don't think even the Charmin toilet paper puppy could have pulled me out of that anxiety-laden funk.
Finally my name was called and we waited a little longer in his exam room. Dr. Dailey walked through the door, closed it and said: "So, we think that the results are going to be negative." He wasted no time in getting it out - perfect. But, oddly, that wasn't the results that I was hoping for because I knew it wasn't a definitive indication that there is no cancer brewing. I still can't yet breathe a sigh of relief.
He explained that the samples looked like regular, clean marrow. There will be an additional staining test done by the pathologist over the weekend that has the chance of illuminating Hodgkin cells, but he is doubtful that that will happen. So, this could mean a few things: the needle just missed the area that may be holding Hodgkin cells; there are no Hodgkin cells and the hot spot was just one of these fluky PET-Scan false positives - it could be that it's just a false positive in that bone and the rest of the hot spots are cancer - or it could mean that all of the areas are false positives or signs of some inflammatory disease that also didn't get picked up in the sample. Still lots of unknowns.
What is known is that Dr. Dailey is not comfortable letting this go - and neither am I, of course. I further pressed him for his gut feeling on what's going on and he reiterated, a little more outwardly this time, that he thinks there is a strong chance that something is brewing but that we have to prove it. The treatment that I would get is very intensive so we need to be absolutely certain with a tissue sample showing proof of cancer. We also discussed the chance that this could be re-manifesting as instead Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in which case the treatment would be very different.
In short, more testing is needed. And that means another surgery, this one more involved. After we get the final pathology report on Monday, Dr. Dailey will discuss further with a well-known thoracic surgeon in the hospital who is already familiar with my case. He is suggesting that I undergo a mediastinoscopy, a surgical procedure to examine the inside of my upper chest between and in front of my lungs (my mediastinum). What he will do is send a scope down in there or come at it from the side of my chest and pull out a bunch of lymph nodes for sampling. There are several hot spots in this area and this is the area where I had the most involvement from the very beginning. Lymphomas - Hodgkin's Disease especially - tend to manifest in this area of rich tissue and sampling from here will give us a much more definitive answer of what's going on. The reason that we didn't start here vs. sampling the bone marrow was that the procedure is a bit more risky as it is being done around my vital organs and there is always some danger with poking sharp objects around in there.
Hopefully, the mediastinoscopy will be the last of the tests and we'll finally have some answers. I'll at least be meeting with the surgeon this coming Friday, and if his schedule allows, maybe even having the procedure done as early as then. After our discussion, I'll know some more about his surgical plan of attack. After the lymph nodes are analyzed for cancer cell involvement we'll have a pretty sure answer. If they come back negative we can be mildly confident that there is no cancer anywhere else in my body - I will still have to be watched very closely. If they come back positive for a Hodgkin relapse then it's down to the team at Yale New Haven Hospital to discuss stem cell transplantation.
I hate that I don't have any more answers to report. Part of me just wanted him to say that the results were positive showing a recurrence and we could get on with the plan of attack and I could get out of this awful life limbo. But over dirt wings and mircobrews at J. Timothy's Craig was able to convince me that the news we got was better than the alternative. At least for now, there is still hope ... I am one step closer to possibly finding out that I am in fact still cancer-free. We decided that the results were on the positive side of neutral news.