Once again, long time no write. I’ve been quite distracted and, as a consequence, have played poker a grand total of 10 hours this month so far. August has been extremely illuminating when it comes to other parts of my life, however.
Back in June, I wrote that I hadn’t been feeling well and that my doctor couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. The main problems were that I was always abnormally tired during the day and I had multiple swollen lymph nodes in my neck that wouldn’t go away. I got a blood test that gave no indication of any deficiency, and I didn’t have mono. I did, however, have elevated inflammation, so I got a chest X-ray and then got sent to a throat specialist.
My family doctor had told me that the worst case scenario would be that the specialist would want a lymph node biopsy. When I went to my appointment at the start of the month, I was slightly surprised when the so-called “worst case scenario” came to light. The specialist said that I was required to get a biopsy to check for lymphoma, a blood cancer.
I didn’t want a biopsy at all, especially when the doctor told me that there was a 3% chance that my shoulder would be rendered useless due to nerve injury. He tried to tell me that refusing a biopsy because of the chance of losing my shoulder was akin to refusing to fly because of the chance of a crash landing. But as far as I know, a plane doesn’t crash 3% of the time. And as a poker player, I see 2% on a very regular basis. So unsurprisingly, I still didn’t want to get my neck sliced open.
When I voiced my concerns, however, the specialist told me that I absolutely had to get the biopsy done. “I think there is a very high chance that you have lymphoma,” he said.
I didn’t really realize that there was a real problem up until that point. Apparently things get serious when someone tells you that they think you have a life threatening disease.
I remember being a little bit stunned as I walked out of the doctor’s office with my sheet of paper telling me where to go for my surgery the week after. I was with a friend and I said to him, “That isn’t what I wanted to hear.”
I was calm as we left the building but when I got to the parking lot, I couldn’t help but burst into tears. My friend hugged me and told me that I probably shouldn’t play much poker while dealing with this problem. Knowing my personality, he also told me that I shouldn’t do much Google research because I was bound to scare myself.
Of course I did not take this advice. I think I immediately went to my car and Googled “lymphoma” and clicked on the Wikipedia page. I scrolled down to “prognosis” and found that the best 5-year relative survival rate was 80%. I felt disappointed by this and tried not to think about all the 80/20s I had lost in my poker career. I then closed the website before I could look too closely at the other survival percentages.
You would think that as someone addicted to Google, I would not have been so surprised to hear that I probably had lymphoma. Websites make it quite clear that one of the causes of perpetually swollen lymph nodes is cancer. But I never even considered it a possibility. I had the attitude that cancer was something that happened to other people but not to me. I was only 27 years old and I looked after myself. Cancer had seemed impossible.
The week that preceded my biopsy was not fun. Even though it was a minor surgery, I was extremely scared of getting cut open and I was also paranoid about losing my shoulder. I alternated between trying not to think about it and imagining how it would feel.
I also alternated between being positive about cancer and being distressed about it. Some days I made several jokes about cancer, including moving away from the microwave because I didn’t want to get more of it and repeatedly screaming, “It’s not a tumor” in a (very bad) Arnold Schwarzenegger accent. Other days I was just withdrawn and moody, wishing I could get the biopsy over with and just wanting to know whether I had it or not.
Surprisingly, something that helped me cope with the possibility of lymphoma was the following forum: www.cancerforums.net. This forum is pretty awesome. People go to it for support when they have cancer and can talk to people that understand them because they’ve been through it themselves.
I never posted in the forum, but I read dozens of threads. I read posts by people that thought they had lymphoma but their biopsies came back negative. I read posts by people that had biopsies come back positive. I read about false negatives, treatments, and people’s experiences. It was impossible to erase the fear I felt, but it made it easier to deal with when I learned more about the disease and what people go through to beat it. Someone suggested that I avoid learning about it, but I don’t think that was the way to go. For me, knowledge was power.
The biopsy went smoothly. My surgeon did as much as could to keep me distracted and comfortable, which I was grateful for. Even though the surgery itself lasted only 30 minutes, it felt like much longer. Since the lymph node was right by my ear, I could hear everything, and it’s unsurprisingly not fun to hear parts of yourself getting snipped off. I also had to receive multiple freezing needles, probably 5 or 6 of them, because I kept feeling pain when he cut me. Altogether, it’s not an experience I want to repeat in the future.
I was scheduled to meet with my surgeon a week later. Like the week that preceded my surgery, it went very slowly and it was very unpleasant. I didn’t play any poker and I spent most of my days reading cancer forums and thinking about what I would do if I were diagnosed with lymphoma. It was impossible to think about anything else and I didn’t sleep much.
The follow up with my surgeon lasted about two minutes. He came into the room, said he had good news for me, and took my stitches out. He said that the pathology report said no cancer and that he had no idea what was wrong with me. He referred me to an infectious disease specialist and then kicked me out of his office because he was so far behind with waiting times.
The downside is that I still don’t know why my lymph nodes are swollen and that I still have to see tons of doctors and get further tests done. The glorious upside is that I don’t have cancer. There’s still a bunch of horrible things that I could have, but ruling out lymphoma is pretty awesome.
All the online fish that have wished cancer upon me and my family will be very disappointed, but I am quite happy at the moment. This entire scenario has changed my outlook on life a lot. I was reminded about what’s important in life and what isn’t. I learned what my priorities are, and I learned to put things into perspective. I also learned that there are a lot of people that care about me, and I’m eternally grateful for this.
In between doctors and tests for various diseases, I’m back to thinking about poker again. I’ve been sleeping much better and getting the itch to play, which is very encouraging. Even though I haven’t been at the tables much this month, I’ve been reviewing and staying on top of my game, so it shouldn’t take long to get back into it.
I said that this month has taught me to put things into perspective, and I’m hoping that this extends to poker as well. Losing to bad beats and getting unlucky versus regs doesn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things. Thinking about stuff like that compared to the rest of life is actually laughable. I’m going to do my best to remember this while playing and it should greatly help my mental game.