The Magic Pill

I went to see my oncologist after 25 radiation treatments and one week on the Crizotinib (the Chemo pill). Dr. Shilpa Shah has a schoolgirl appearance with warm brown eyes. Her smile leaks out every chance it gets. The first time I met her I thought, no way. She’s my oncologist? Wait, I have an oncologist? She’s from Indian decent, or Iranian? I remember wanting to know exactly which, but what did it matter? She’s too young. Too pleasant. The timber of her voice suggested the hospitality industry, not medicine.
I was led into the patient’s room. Four walls painted an icy blue. A windowless box room. A picture framed in the corner had all the platitudes about what cancer can’t do, like take away your dignity, your courage, you friendships, etc. Reading it the first time angered me, but that was behind me now.
“You look good,” she said and smiled.
“I feel good,” I said.
I hadn’t taken a pain med for three straight nights.
She looked at my file which is a couple inches thick, her eyes scanning the numbers.
“Your blood work is in and your numbers are good,” her eyes and face radiated, “the cancer cell count in your spine has gone from 400 to 200.”
In the fog of it all, my body had been returned to me, silently and miraculously, over the course of several weeks. I could slip in and out of a car without using two hands on the door, twist in the shower, and get out of bed without using props. I knew that I was on the mend. The pain had melted away, steadily. No more Norco. No more dehydration, no more cotton mouth. Even the quality of my hunger had improved if such a thing is possible. My body use to cry out for food, sickly, now my stomach rumbled the way it used to. My cough seemed to vanish overnight.
I’m so grateful for modern medicine, for Big Pharma, and for great clinicians like Dr. Shilpa Shah. These are early days. The chemo pill is not a cure. It disrupts an enzyme in the mutation that destroys the cancer. The science is beyond my ability to understand it. It works, for now anyways. The mutation can change though, chameleon like, over months or years (I should be so lucky). I try not to get too high, or too low, because this is a long bumpy road. Maybe that’s just a defense mechanism? I don’t know for sure, but I’ve strapped myself in and I’m enjoying the ride at the moment.

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26 thoughts on “The Magic Pill

  1. Great to spend time with you the last few days and see your physical strength returning. The yoga class and the walk on Ventura pier remind with me of how important the simple moments in life can be. Your writing reminds us all of that. Keep it up!

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  2. Thank you for bringing me/us on your journey Sean. You are an amazing writer and although I don’t really know you, you strike me as a man with a huge heart. Kepping you and your family in my daily prayers( and I’m one of those folks that really meane that when I say it)!

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  3. My dear Sean, I had no idea that you were suffering from such a deadly force and yet here you are–radiating hope and joy for the days where you feel pretty darn good. When I saw you a couple weeks ago, you looked mighty fine to me. Goes to show: now and again Western medicine does have the answers. That and your contemplative manner, warmth and humor will carry you through this experience until it one day becomes a distant memory.

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  4. just now catching up on reading past blogs. I remember reading those platitudes too- maybe they are uplifting to someone in those offices. I remember waking up once after a weird procedure to a big poster: “today is the 1st day of the rest of your life”- and thinking: ‘really?- why does that piss me off?’ Anyway–waiting for the book too. much love to you & Dee– missing you all the time in san jose

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