Written by John.
There’s an amusement park near Pittsburgh called Kennywood. It’s fairly iconic. All the kids in Western PA grow up going to the park. Each school district has a Kennywood Day. It’s been there forever and it has some really cool old fashioned roller coasters. One of them is an old rickety old thing that looks like it was taken from the set of a film about Coney Island in the 1920s. It’s all wood and painted a white that makes it look more like pickets from a fence that someone’s turned into scaffolding than a roller coaster. But it is indeed a functioning roller coaster, and has been since 1920. It’s called the Jackrabbit.
The Jackrabbit is not a serious coaster by today’s standards. It’s big drop is 70 feet, which pales in comparison to the monsters of more recent coaster design vintage. The Jackrabbit only gets up to 45 MPH, which is much tamer than today’s coasters by a wide margin. In a review I read before our most recent trip to Kennywood—when Nina and I took the boys there with my mom during a visit home—it said that the Jackrabbit is considered a coaster for little kids, or for the faint of coaster heart.
Except for one thing: the Double Dip. The Jackrabbit was not just an early coaster, it was a pioneering piece of coaster design. The guy who designed it made the track in such a way that there are wheels both above and below the track (almost all coasters since have been designed this way). This allowed the designer to create a bigger drop than was then usual for coasters back then and to create a Double Dip just after the lift hill. The coaster dips and then dips again, which makes the wheels of the cars actually rise away from the track. Because there are wheels below and above, it’s perfectly safe. But the sensation created is that the riders are flying out of the car. This sensation is designed to be strongest in the last car of each coaster train. It’s not a big hill. It’s not at high speeds. But it creates the impression in the rider that, not only is the ride at great height, but something has gone horribly awry, the normal function of the coaster has failed, and the rider and ride are being separated by the sheer force of the coaster’s unexpected movement.
Today at Duke Cancer Center, Nina went in for her third chemo treatment. As part of her visit, the doctor ordered an ultrasound. They wanted to see at the halfway point what the status of the tumor was. Nina went in for the scan while I waited on the not uncomfortable couch in the waiting area and drank the not terrible coffee they provide gratis. That’s when we boarded the Jackrabbit. She texted me from back in the radiology area: they want to do more scans. Seems not to be good. Then she texted again: they want to do a mammogram. Then they wanted to do another ultrasound. Then she texted to say that the mass is quite a bit larger than they first thought: about 3.5 cm. And they spotted additional “microcalcifications,” another area of potential malignancy, not in the same place as the first mass, that cover an area over 2 cm. Then, finally, she said they were coming to get me so the doctor could talk to us both about the radiography.
That’s when I felt the sensation. The Double Dip. The first time was months before, at the diagnosis itself. I was in New Orleans at a training for work. Nina called while I was in a session. I knew she’d received her biopsy results, but I really thought at the time they were going to be a confirmation of good expectations. A relief. So when she said it was malignant, the floor really felt like it came away from my feet. But today was worse somehow. It’s not that I thought things were going to be smooth from here on out. She’s only halfway through chemo, hasn’t even had surgery yet, so there’s no real hard confirmation of the diagnostics or biopsy results. And cancer isn’t something you ever sleep on, obviously, even years after treatment, never mind during the initial course of chemo. But we had stabilized, acclimated ourselves, developed the “new normal” of living with chemo treatments, hair loss, survival rates, nausea, loss of taste, the whole gauntlet cancer makes you run. So somehow, even though I knew about the ride we were on, I didn’t see the second dip coming.
We talked to the radiologist, then to her oncologist’s PA (who had already spoken to the Queen of Triple Negative Breast Cancer, or QTNBT, don’t worry). They told us that it was likely that the hematoma from the first biopsy hid the second area of potential malignancy, or that it simply wasn’t visible until Nina started chemo and as the cancer cells died, the necrosis made it visible. They don’t think her tumor has actually grown, it’s just that the first go round they were not able to see it clearly and so the size was a guess (and it still is to some extent). Their input was: we move ahead with treatment as planned, but do a second biopsy on Monday to see what we’re dealing with (as best we can via biopsy). So we don’t really know where things stand. It seems like it may be not really that different than before. But we don’t really know.
The thing is, it wasn’t so much the diagnosis of a second potential tumor, or the fact that the tumor is larger than we previously thought that was so upsetting. It was being thrown a second time, unexpectedly, back down the hill, right back into the trough that we’d just risen from. That’s the Jackrabbit. The Double Dip. It isn’t the biggest, baddest thing in the world, but try to tell that to someone riding in the last car on that second dip.