“You have a non-invasive option and you’ll get to keep what’s left of your hearing.”
I could hardly believe it. I had so little hope going into this meeting, so little faith that I would hear good news. And I certainly didn’t expect to hear precisely what I wanted. I was elated.
Dr. Tamargo went on to explain the option. He believed I was a candidate for radiation treatment, or radiosurgery.
“But Dr. King expressly said I wasn’t a candidate for GammaKnife,” I said.
“GammaKnife, no,” he said. “I agree. But there’s a new generation of gamma ray treatment called CyberKnife, and I believe you are an excellent candidate for that.”
First, who names these things? CyberKnife sounds like something out of The Terminator. Second, this news was a total shock to me.
The term “CyberKnife” had not come up from any of the sources I’d encountered, dozens of sources running the spectrum from über traditional to wildly alternative. If I wasn’t at an extremely well-respected institute, I might have thought Tamargo was making it up. I wanted to know more.
Dr. Tamargo explained the differences between GammaKnife and CyberKnife, why one was a poor option while the other a good. And we learned why radiosurgery, in general, was an infinitely better option than surgery. There were few, if any, side effects; little to no risk; little to no recovery time; and no hospitalization required. Compared to the dramatic risks of surgery, the month or more to recover, and the assured loss of my hearing, CyberKnife seemed a clear winner.
I started asking questions about treatment at Hopkins, how many trips we’d have to make, how long we’d have to stay each time. Dr. Tamargo painted a picture for me, including the scheduling accommodations they’d make given that we were traveling from across the country. And then he said, “I’d be happy to treat you here, but you’re from California. You really ought to check out Stanford. They developed the CyberKnife.”
Could this get any better? Not only did I have a super encouraging treatment option, but the experts in it were in my backyard. I could hardly wait to get to my computer where I could learn more about Stanford’s clinic. It was still early enough on the west coast, I thought… Maybe I could even call them that day.
Driving back to Annapolis, Dean and I compared notes. There were a couple of things we understood differently, but for the most part, we had heard the same thing. It wasn’t exactly landing the same way in each of us, though.
I was extremely excited. Nearly everything about radiosurgery appealed to me. The whole situation was ringing in my body. If desire and resonance were to be my guides, there was no question this was the path.
Dean, on the other hand, was unsure. He now had two conflicting opinions, both reputable but vastly different. Why hadn’t King mentioned CyberKnife? Was radiation really a good idea? He needed a tie breaker.
Listening to his concerns, I had to acknowledge that Tamargo had become golden fairly instantly in my view. Hell, he’d just told me everything I wanted to hear. If he had suggested I wear pink polka dots and fly to the moon, I probably would have.
Either way though, we were taking steps toward Stanford, me following my desire, Dean looking for his tie breaker.
When we got back to Annapolis, I dove onto the computer and read everything I could about Stanford’s program. There was a moment when I considered stepping back. Maybe I should take a little pause, I wondered. But then I remembered my guiding philosophy, the one I’d so courageously adopted at the beginning of all this madness: Trust myself. If I was going to trust the noes, couldn’t I also trust the yeses? I picked up the phone.
To my surprise (and delight), I reached the right people at Stanford straight away but they wouldn’t schedule even a consultation without first determining for themselves if I was a candidate. They needed records and reports from everyone I’d seen. Quick like a bunny, I called Hopkins and my ENT in California. Within an hour, I’d reached all parties, secured all forms, confirmed all details, and cleared the way for a boatload of information to be delivered, posthaste, into the palms of those who mattered at Stanford’s clinic. Remember that thoroughness muscle bulging from my forehead? Well, it had its benefits.
But, in fairness to myself, this wasn’t really manage-mode. For me, those words refer to an anxiety-fueled activity binge meant to control, by force of fierce will, some large and unwieldy situation. There are loads of doubt and worry that go with it, and it feels a lot like rowing against current and wind in a small boat on a big ocean by myself through soupy fog.
By contrast, this was smooth sailing. Enthusiasm propelled me into action, and the way was simply clear by no will of my own at all.
As it happened, strong winds and a favorable current remained. Within a week, I got a call from Stanford saying they’d received and reviewed all of my records, I was indeed a candidate, and what was my timeframe for treatment because they could schedule a consultation on Monday and begin treatment on Tuesday.
Wait… What?? Aack!
Holy hell. When you get out of the way, life moves freakin’ fast!
But this was too fast.
The consultation on Monday was perfect actually, exactly what I wanted. We were already heading to the Bay Area that weekend for my brother’s wedding, and I had hoped we could hit Stanford on our way home. But the idea of beginning treatment the following day seemed crazy. We had childcare to organize, support to enlist. And that’s if we were sold on the treatment after the consultation. What if Dean found himself in a three-way tie? What if my own resonance began to fade? Even in the best of scenarios, I just couldn’t imagine saying yes one day and presenting my head for irradiation the next.
So I booked the consultation but declined immediate treatment, which Stanford was happy to accommodate.
There was nothing particularly momentous about the consultation except that it was extremely thorough and we went through the whole thing with Aidan at our side. Not my first choice for taking in complex, critical information. When we burned through the toys we’d brought and all the toys we invented out of disposable medical supplies, the Stanford staff pulled out coloring books and crayons. Still, it was challenging to stay focused on the task at hand with a two year-old trying his best not to die of boredom. Aidan really was a trooper, though, and somehow we managed to complete appointments with both the radiation specialist and the neurosurgeon.
By the time we left several hours later, my enthusiasm for radiation treatment had waned some. According to the CyberKnife experts, it wasn’t quite as rosy an option as Hopkins had made it sound. And I now understood much better how it worked.
In theory, radiation would kill the tumor, but it wouldn’t necessarily shrink it. So though I was unlikely to lose my hearing due to the treatment itself, there was the possibility that I would lose it over time on account of the tumor’s dead mass continuing to rest on the nerve. And the numbness in my face that was likely to go away if I had the tumor surgically removed might remain after radiation for the same continuation of pressure on the nerve. Still, the other plus factors were true. There would be no hospitalization, no significant recovery time, very few risks and, in most cases, few if any side effects.
For Dean’s part, he was now more comfortable with the radiation idea. According to the Stanford neurosurgeon, both surgery and radiosurgery were reasonable treatment options for my tumor given its large size, but radiosurgery was recommended because of its lack of risks and side effects. Hearing that traditional surgery was a reasonable suggestion was, I think, the tie breaker Dean needed. In Stanford’s frame, both Dr. King and Dr. Tamargo could be right, which cleared the way for Dean to embrace the less risky, non-invasive option.
But I was still if-y. Driving back to LA, my mind tried to arrange the new pieces of information into the matrix it had created before the consultation. What difference did this make to my overall desire? What did it all really mean?
Twenty-four hours later, I was settled. Radiotherapy wasn’t everything I wanted it to be, but there was no question I preferred it over traditional surgery. I called the clinic hoping to start treatment in the next few weeks. They gave me two choices: start the following week, or wait a month. Resonance vibrating loud and clear, I chose the following week. And five days later, we were flying to San Jose.