Su Lum: Slumming | AspenTimes.com
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Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

You’re trotting along life’s pebbly path and all of a sudden: WHAP!

My most recent “whap” occurred when a routine CAT scan revealed an entity the size of a grape on the bottom of my right lung. Dr. Borchers, whom I love, said it was probably only scar tissue from ARDS (Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome), the condition that has put me on oxygen 24/7 for the past nine years.

But, just to be sure, he suggested a PET scan at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction. A PET scan searches for cancer cells anywhere in your body, and, if it finds them, the areas light up. I arrived in Grand Junction starving (I had to fast for four hours before), drank the Kool-Aid (barium), got injected with who knows what (just sign the papers), went into the scanner (like a spacious MRI machine), and, 15 minutes later, my friend Hilary and I were on our way to Red Lobster.

I ran out of oxygen on the way home, which should have been a portent. Dr. Borchers had called to say that my grape had lit up a tiny bit and ” this was very unusual for a PET scan ” the results were inconclusive. The scanner reader had said, “I’m just not sure.”

A biopsy was called for, a hollow needle to be thrust into the grape to suck some juices out and determine if it was cancerous or benign. My PET scan took place July 1, and the biopsy was scheduled for July 9. You know you’re in trouble when you can get medical appointments so quickly.

Years ago, the perilous adventures of my teenage daughters, as well as a few of my own, taught me a valuable lesson about premature panic. Fretting, worrying, anticipating the worst is no longer my style. On the other hand, reality whispered that the grape was what it was, irrespective of how I reacted to my knowledge of its existence.

I did not work myself up with dire projections about surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, except for the passing thought that I didn’t have enough brain cells left to donate to the latter, but I could not ignore the situation, either. The grape was there, like a pig in a parlor.

In the nine days before the biopsy, I contemplated death in general, philosophically. I’m not ready to die, but I missed death by a hair nine years ago and have always felt since that I’m living bonus years. My worst dread is of spending non-quality time on the planet.

My mother lived to be 99. She’d wake up and say, “Oh, hell, am I still here? This is obscene!” and she meant it. Others would say, “99, how marvelous,” and I’d think please, not me.

I didn’t tell anybody except two friends who were already involved, partly on the theory that if it wasn’t said it didn’t exist (“I don’t think, therefore I’m not”), partly to save them the worry and partly because I didn’t want to see that look in their eyes.

Last Wednesday morning, at what I consider dawn, I was off to Aspen Valley Hospital, into the patient gown and onto the CAT scan tray, with a blood-pressure cuff on my left arm and an oximeter taped to my right index finger. In the scanner, a robotic voice said, “Take a deep breath and hold it.” The tray slid back out and the voice said, “You may breathe.”

The tech was a friendly woman who had done a previous scan. Dr. Hollander (who had, years ago, encouraged me to get the no-dogs rule changed so he could do an MRI of my dachshund Trudy) was to perform the biopsy, and his assistant was Steve Knowles, who had saved my life in the ER in 1999. So I was in comfortable, familiar hands.

The tray slid out and in, in and out, and then I heard Steve say, “This is your lucky day,” as he reached over and removed the tape holding the oximeter. I looked up and saw Steve, Dr. Hollander and the tech all beaming at me, telling me that my grape had disappeared, there was nothing to biopsy (“If I can’t see it, I can’t biopsy it”), and I was free to go.

Free to go. Just like that. I was so astonished, shocked and delighted, I bolted out of there like a jackrabbit.


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