Metastasis is the medical term for cancer that spreads to a different part of the body from where it started. When this happens, doctors say the cancer has “metastasized.” Other names for metastasis are “metastatic cancer” and “stage 4 cancer.” Sometimes the term “advanced cancer” also describes metastatic disease, but this isn’t always true. For instance, “locally advanced” cancer is not the same as metastatic cancer. It describes cancer that has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes but not throughout the body.
Friday, August 31 in the morning, I went to my GP for a health checkup. Everything was fine, no change in meds, see you in six months. Late September 2016 I went to the ER, complaining of tiredness. (Waiting for the local bus once, I almost fell asleep!). The ER staff did some blood draws and told me I was anemic. And I started to cry. This made a lot of sense to me. Finally someone took the time to do a blood count and discover this, rather than give me an Rx, an inhaler, and push me out the door to serve the next patient. The ER transferred me into the main hospital for blood transfusions, iron supplements, and further tests. My room was on the oncology floor, and the tech pushing my stretcher into the room then said, “We are putting you on the oncology floor, but that doesn’t mean you have cancer.” Hmm.
I spent over a week in the hospital, had many medical and spiritual visitors (who seemed to know more about my prognosis than I did), endured two biopsies and was discharged with the expectation that I would submit to exploratory surgery on my stomach. But did I have cancer? Laying in bed and entertaining my visitors, I found out by their body language that I may have cancer. Consulting the medical texts on my Ipad, I learned about tumors with cancer in them (my tumor was a 5cm or 2 inch bloody mass inside the top of my stomach with some invasian of the esophagus). My medical texts described tumors not exceeding 2cm. If there was delay in discovering the primary tumor, the cancer would probably have metastasized and death would eventually occur. With my bloody, 5cm tumor it was obvious to me that metastases had already occurred. But did I have cancer? A few days after I was discharged one of the doctors told me he did find some cancer in the tumor. So I told him I refuse further medical treatment and hung up on him. Before Christmas I started receiving palliative care where I lived from a local hospice.
In 2017 as my stomach cancer progressed, I eventually became a hospice resident. Medicare expected me to die no more than six months after diagnosis. I lived in the hospice for one year, before moving in April 2018 to my current digs, a room in an adult family home.
Back to Friday, August 31, 2018
After coming home from my medical appointment I ate lunch and started watching TV in my room. It was there that I had an excruciating pain in my stomach that I had never experienced before. By the time the ambulance arrived to take me to the ER, the pain had subsided. At the ER blood draws, EKGs, and X-rays were done. The attending staff knew about my 2016 cancer diagnosis, but that was something they could not get into. All the tests and imaging of what brought on the stomach pain were negative. So I was discharged with a prescription to coat the inside of my stomach with for pain. Palliative care/pain management.
In times past I wondered if I really had cancer. My aches and pains could be just the regular things people go through. While I was suffering my excruciating stomach pain, there was a voice within that told me: “This is cancer pain. You may have thought you had cancer pain while playing games at the hospice home. This is the REAL THING. And this pain will grow in episodic intensity until you die.