This coming Sunday is the end of known bad things in my life. Obviously not bad things, but all the bad things that I’ve known were coming.
Sunday is the day I can return home to my kids after completing radioiodine ablation for thyroid cancer. I’ve known about having thyroid cancer for a long time but this year the primary showed up; I had surgery to remove my thyroid in July, and a dose of I131 administered yesterday. Tomorrow I can leave the isolation room at hospital, on Thursday I can spend time around adults again, but I can’t safely touch or spend extended time with children until Sunday. Thus, Sunday, the end of the known bad times that have included the end of my business, having three jobs in the last year and change, V’s broken leg, and the neverending saga of cleaning up our life after moving house.
Thyroid cancer is a bit of a strange one in cancer narratives. It has a really good prognosis (especially at my age and current staging) and it’s not treated with chemotherapy or beam radiation until about the third line, so definitely a lot of physical trauma of having cancer and end of life thoughts and planning aren’t a big part of it. It’s “the good cancer”, “if you had to have any cancer!” from the point of view of people who see a lot of cancer. But there’s still a lot of bad stuff by the standards of healthy people. A second neck surgery for me (I’ve previously had parathyroid disease) with the increased risk of permanent damage to my voice or even, maybe, my breathing. More scarring. Four nights in hospital this year. A really rough anaesthetic recovery. My first experience of solitary confinement, however comfortable and cheery they try and make the isolation rooms (it has a kettle for making tea, a fridge, a window, I’m told I can get takeout if I want, and while the staff apparently have been refused their requests to get wifi here, the partly lead shielded room has surprisingly good cell reception). Surveillance for the rest of my life (recurrence is common), plus being completely dependent on thyroid replacement hormone, and all the niggles that go with that: for one thing it’s difficult to get blood from me ever and hormone testing every six weeks is actively making the situation worse.
So more on the chronic illness end of having cancer. But it’s been a rough year. At some point people started saying “I wonder what else could possibly go wrong for you this year?!”… and then at some later point, they stopped saying that because they started getting answers.
The other thing worth keeping in mind if you ever want to tell someone they got “the good cancer” is that there’s hardly a law saying that you’ll only ever get one cancer. In fact, given that there’s some genetic susceptibility involved in a lot of cancers, and a lot of treatments are carcinogenic, somewhat the opposite. Not really a lot to be said about that, although luckily radioiodine is fairly safe that way unless I turn out to need several doses.
Outside of that, the most memorable thing of the last four months or so was also time away from my family; visiting Mountain View and Los Angeles for work. Mountain View was a chance to get into bike riding again, as I could ride to work up the Stevens Creek Trail every day. A lot of it is wooded and autumnal, but my favourite part is the bleak portion under the powerlines between NASA Ames, Moffett airfield, and the tech company campuses. A storm rolled up one day (a somewhat pathetic storm by Sydney’s standards, but it was good looking) and I thought about Frodo and Sam on Mount Doom.
I’ve spent enough time in the Bay Area to constantly get the count of my visits wrong. It is, I think, eleven visits. One during my post university round the world trip in 2004; 2012 after Wikimania; twice in 2013 for PyCon 2013, and then AdaCamp San Francisco; once in 2014 before AdaCamp Portland; three times in 2015: after AdaCamp Montreal in April, shutting down the Ada Initiative in August, and for a job interview in September; and then three times this year, January, May, and October. But I’d never been to LA before outside of transiting LAX, an experience most people think is hellish but I think of as the first place I can buy cheap berries after arrival. I spent four days in Santa Monica commuting to Venice again on a bicycle, that time a bike share bike that I described to someone as having the turning circle of a hearse and probably weighing about the same too. A good thing to cycle up the beach slowly in any case. I didn’t know anything about Santa Monica before I arrived so everything came as a pleasant surprise; the bike share bikes, the hugeness of the beach, the people working out on the ropes and the travelling rings, the pier and the amusement park.
This was a work trip, and we went to Universal Studios as an off-site. I was decidedly mixed on that; it was a very hot day and extremely crowded considering it was a non-holiday Thursday. I would have enjoyed roaming more on a cool day perhaps. The best part was the Jurassic Park ride, which I compared to the Portal aesthetic. Everything is great in this futuristic faux-past parkland with peaceful herbivores and the calming voice of a senior scientist playing to us. Until more electric fences and empty boats filled with small, well-fed looking dinosaurs appear. And then the boat is “evacuated” into an industrial tunnel, “attacked” by an oversized T-Rex emerging from a waterfall (I’ve seen a T-Rex skeleton, this thing was oversized by at least three times) and dropped down the free fall part of the ride into a splash zone. The fastest fall is thus at the end, unlike most rollercoasters, I liked the tension building aspect a great deal. I also took the studio tour but wish that it took itself more seriously. I’d be more than fine spending an hour or two learning about the physical business of making movies without also needing to go through cheesy fake car chases, monster attacks, earthquakes, and Jaws reenactments. There’s probably nerdier movie-business tours I could take elsewhere in LA someday.
It looks like the shorter term travel I will do will be to New York though, which I am excited for. I’ve been twice, both times in summer, and both times overwhelmed by summer and New York together. I’m looking forward to learning more about New York when it’s not August.
Note: a lot of people are finding out about my thyroid cancer for the first time from this entry. I didn’t have a lot of energy to talk about it with folks… and I still don’t. You don’t have to reach out; but if you want to, I’d prefer something like a pretty or amusing photo to discussing my health or how I’m feeling or how you hope I am feeling.
No medical or other advice of any kind please, and I don’t want cancer or radiation themed jokes either.