October 30, 2010

Back in the Hopital again...

I started Friday by visiting the Cancer Center mental health folks.  When my current chemo-only program is over in December, I will start a new treatment composed of chemo and radiation.  That treatment will occur each work day of the week for 7 weeks.  The treatment is going take me some places I am pretty sure I cannot go without a special plan to deal with some deep rooted challenges. 
Next, sister in law drove me over to see Doc D.  It was step-up-to-the-plate time for the Doc to dig me out of this deep pain fissure he dumped me into.  The Doc and his staff checked me out noting that my skin was very red, hot to the touch – sever infection.  Because I have a major chemo treatment day coming in less than a week, the Doc D quickly made a decision to hit me hard with antibiotics.  Antibiotics taken orally are slow acting compared to those taken directly into the body by IV. 
We talked about the urgency of the matter and the options available.  It was a no-brainer.  Doc D had his nurse contact the hospital and then shot me out the door to go immediately check-in. 
No sleep again tonight.  I hope that will change over the next 2-3 days; the number of days I will be here.  I am hoping that my time here at the hospital will let Lieska, my sis in law and Mom all decompress some, too before we start this all over again next Thursday. 
Beside, there are a whole new set of nurses here who do not seem to have heard about my previous two stays here in the last few weeks.  Therefore, this target rich environment will present me with plenty of opportunities to create havoc!!

October 28, 2010

Chemo Cycle Two going to be tougher than One

Here Comes the QRO Chemo Dosages

Doctor Q and I talked today about what will be the plan for Chemo Cycle Two. Because my blood work tells her my body did a reasonable job tolerating the chemo dosages giving in Chemo One, we are going to turn up the chemo dosage to the top limits.  She will closely monitor me to see if I can, in fact, deal wiht the new limits.  I have been told not to worry too much about it; instead just keep Doc Q's office staff informed of changes so they can bail me out of trouble if things go bad.  

I am going to therefore, move forward with installing attractive seat beats here in the house that has been reserved exclusively for me....blush.  I also ask the caregiver tream to pick up some upscale color coordinated knee pads and a comfortly padded ring to go around the top of the bowl..  Later today when nobody is home, I will begin screaming "Buick" at the top of my lungs over and over and over.  By the time the new heighteded chemo levels are beng feed into me next week, I will have perfected the Buick call as well as the univerall accepted dry heaves plea for mercy, "Oh God, save me!  Make me stop!"

Disabled Parking Pass. 

Today the doctor's office completed a DMV document that will get me one of those close-in parking spots.  I joke around about it now but down inside I know that they know that I am going to need that pass in not too many weeks.

I want my healing time ! !

It has been over a week now since we pulled the chemo pump connection to my body.  That pump stuffed in its little annoying butt-bag tethered to me 24/7 proved to be big annoyance for me.  I mean, like, who wants to sleep with someone you do not consider a romper room buddy
This is the important period of time between cycles where the body and mind are supposed to heal up as much as possible before the next tree.  Instead of getting the vacation I need, I have a G Tube problem that has in nearly constant high level pain etc.
Here are some observations I noted after the last chemo infusion hardware was removed:
  • The inner mouth and lips discomfort continued to develop and grow.  Today my mouth feels like I took a raging hot cup of McDonalds coffee and drank it in one big slam.  Once the inner mouth burn occurs, there is no turning back. Because of the chemotherapy, there are no longer any areas inside my mouth that my tongue can slide over and feel anything other than fine-grade sandpaper.
  • My lips, on the other hand, feel like they been have roasted in the sun during an all day fishing trip. Red, hot to the touch, peeling and unhappy about any food or drink hoping to pass through this opening. Chap Stick offers some lip pain relief.  Following “Motschenbacher logic” I find myself saying, “Basic clear color Chat Sticks works so good.  I should go all the way and get some wild lipstick like, you know, Dirty Girl Savage Purple or other similar breakout flavor.  The fact that would have to wear it 24 hours a day does give me pause.  But not much.  A troll-looking guy is a troll; with or with lipstick.
  • The fatigue and nausea of the Dark Days continued straight line for a couple of days before dropping down.
  • The bone pain played out just like the fatigue and nausea.
The chest Port-A-Cathe tube did its job just fine and was not a source of any discomfort.  The ugly appearing scares from bleeding under the skin during the procedure that placed the Port-A-Cathe were still plenty ugly to see. 
Stomach G - Tube
I was finally at a point where I could once again sleep flat instead of having to sit up. G Tube discomfort, thankfully, no longer set my quality of life.
I am type out this posting is morning with a full load of morphine onboard; something I did not expect again to have to do to control pain.  The reason for the all pain I am having to deal with now goes back a couple weeks again when Doc D (who placed the G Tube) called my home and said see me. I figured that these guys know what they are doing so says he needs to see me, I better get over there.  BIG mistake. BIG BIG mistake….
I was still pretty weak from the Dark Days so Lieska took me to his office and let me hobble alongside here.  When Doc D came into my waiting room, he had be lay back and chatted thing a bit.  Suddenly he started pushing, pulling and twisting his own hand hard into my already bruised and tender stomach.  I was horrified and shocked at this and grabbed onto parts of the examine table for dear life.  I say Lieska look up from her magazine to see why I was screaming through clenched teeth.  I slammed my eyes shut again as the doc renewed his movement only to open them a moment later and see Lieska starting to lose color in her face as she stared at what was going on.  The doctor noticed her situation as well and asked her if she was okay.  I knew she was just seconds from passing out so I repeated told her to look away and that I would be okay.  The doctor continued whatever the hell he was doing for maybe a minute more.  By that time, I had sheen of sweat cover every inch of my body, snot running out of nose and enough pain tears to really piss me off. 
Doc D’s explanation of what he was doing just didn’t make any sense at all.  I had entered his office with a functional G tube and nearly all discomfort gone.   Now I was told everything was okay and it would heal in two weeks.  What the hell does that mean?  My body was so shaken and blasted from this Doc D special mode of torture for reasons that remain a mystery to me.
Unfortunately, things did not get better; actually just the opposite.  Doc D set me back a solid two weeks, if not more, in my healing from the 3 surgeries.  Of course, as the days went by and the pain surrounding the G tube became worse and worse as my overall condition plummeted as well.  So instead of doing some walking outside, focusing on some needed healing and getting ready for the Big Day in the recliner to kick off Chemo Cycle Two, I was mostly bedridden and in trouble.
I had no confidence or respect for Doc D at this point so going back to him was out of the question.  I come from the school of that one should not invite someone who wrongs you to please go ahead again. 
So we call Doctor Q, the doctor I selected to be the lead medical doctor call all the shots and is THE final word regarding my treatment.  She fit me in today – awesome customer service. I told her the whole story about what Doc D had done…including the fact that I was already counting the days until when I would feel better and would my strength so I could go punch Doc D in the stomach with everything I had. 
Doc Q could see herself how my condition had slipped backwards.  Although not spoken I could clearly see and her PA exchange glances that said they no more understanding of what or why this mess had occurred than I did.
After some time to consider her next move, Doc Q laid the plan in her typical no nonsense way.
  1. She told me I could not hit the other Doc.  I was laughing at that unit I saw in her eyes that she thought I was seriously planning on decking out.  Hmmm only a few who closest to me will ever know the answer
  2. Immediately start on a power anti-biotic.
  3. Order up a CT Scan to see what can be seen with the situation inside the stomach.  I dud the CT Scan this afteroon.
By the way, next weekend is the Trout Opener for the nearby lake I use for mental R&R.  The Lake opens the day I have my Big Day in the recliner.  I tried to sweet talk the doc and Nurse Mary into moving the schedule to allow me to drag my pathetic bones to the lake for a few hours.  It was amazed how quickly they arived at the universally accepted female response to all such request, ham radio or fishing.  No!  And then the "Look".  The "Look" immediately fired off my own male responce; something encoded in my DNA millions of years ago.  "OH yea!?  We'll see. Who made you my mommy?  I can if I wanna!  

Oops - Wedding anniversary forgotten

Wow, our wedding anniversary came and blew right by.  There was midday quick mention of it on the 24th but no cards, cake, going out, friends over, etc.   I would hate to think that I have discovered the ultimate excuse for forgetting a wedding anniversary.  Getting cancer seems like a high price.  However, memoirs of the special fun that comes boiling out from our wives for committing this sin the hit is about the same.   Happy Anniversary to Lieska who has been so obsessed with take care of me while still working her job.

October 24, 2010

Cancer fight back on

Mom is thankfully doing very well.  Miraculously, Tiffany got her to the ER during the buildup to the heart attack. The actual heart attack occurred while she was being attended by the entire Emergency Room staff of doctors, nurses and technicians because she was the only patient…one doesn’t see that much in an Emergency Room!  Because of the unique circumstances, the doctors were able to immediately switch from monitoring/testing over to a procedure that placed a STENT in a 99% plugged artery they had discovered. Had the attack happened before she got there, they would have had to instead do open heart surgery and a bypass.

Dear ol’ Mom has some big changes to make in her lifestyle - none she is going to like one damn bit.  Mom has been healthy as a horse all her life.  Prior to this moment, she did not take any regular medications. I expect this transition to be a real bearcat brawl for her and the rest of us who might happen to be in the line of fire while explaining what needs to be done.  

Nobody gets as bullhead as me without some genetic pass-through – mine came from this gal. The world better Kevlar-up during the struggle to help her get used to having to pop a few pills a day.  84 year old her would say, “That’s what old people do; not HER!”

She is trying to manipulate a doctor supported escape from the hospital today. I hope we can stop that from happening!

Daughter Tiffany who was a total ROCK during Chemo Cycle One and Mom’s heart attack flew home to Chicago yesterday.  I will miss her a great deal…sigh.  We are planning to bring her back during the combo chemo/radiation treatment period in January.  

As Tiffany was in the air heading home to my grandson, my sister-in-law, Susie, was sitting on an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage to our local airport here. Whew!  I have no idea how my wife Lieska and I would have taken care of Mom as we mentally prepare ourselves for the start of Chemo Cycle Two

I am coming up out of the Cycle One hole I have been in for awhile.  New side affects keep appearing but nothing outside the predicted window of pain or discomfort.  Yesterday was the beginning of the long battle to keep the inside of my mouth reasonably healthy during the coming months of treatments.  White sores inside the mouth and burnt lips lead the new crud list.  The chemo attacks fast growing cells and the mouth lining happens to fall in that category. Hair, finger nails and intestine linings are the other major areas with fast growing cells.

My weight dropped 5 lbs in Cycle One....a bit more than desired but no big trouble.  My first blood lab work says the white cell kill-off was in the acceptable window. The hair should start falling out sometime next week.  I just had my head buzzed down almost to the scalp so the falling out messy days will be a non-issue. 

I'm still hobbling around like the Hunchback of Notre Dame because of what looks like a blood vessel blow-out in toe pad area of left foot.  The jury is out if that was caused by the blood chemo hammering or what. One of the doctors will check it out next week.

And then we will start over again on November 4.   The plan for Cycle Two is to have Lieska home for the full week starting with the kick-off 5-6 hour chemo infusion Big Day.  Hopefully with Cycle One behind me leaving vivid memories for all of us, there will not be so much shock and alarm as I provide the daily creepy-factor entertainment around here for a week. I do not know hard Cycle One stresses hit Mom as she watched it unfold but I sure hope I can do Cycle Two without disturbing her peace of mind..

October 22, 2010

Mom had a heart attack early this morning

My mother had a heart attack about 3 o'clock this morning. My daughter took charge of her and rushed her to the nearby hospitial minutes away; the same one that has been my second home lately.  Some hours later the doctors used a stent to open a seriously blocked artery. First observations suggest that while there was some damage to the heart, that damage was not extensive.  For right now, I do not have time to have cancer.  I am sure it is not going any place in the mean time....back soon.

October 21, 2010

Dark Days arrive...

I woke up Saturday morning long before sunrise. I knew that I had to be close to the end of the honeymoon with the chemo.  It was only a matter of time before the side effects of the chemo and the medicine they gave me to stimulate white blood cell production would hit. 

My medical team seems to always address this moment with calm almost tender tones that, while gentle, do not pretend to down play what lay ahead.  Interestingly, when I looked into their eyes and watched the body-English, I could sense something that must be nurse-similar to the uncertainty I was feeling.  I could sense them internally going through a check list of things as they mentally arming themselves up to deal with what lay ahead for me; a new patient whose body had not yet revealed how it was going to react. Their eyes, masters of silent communication, said, “We do not know what you have coming BUT whatever it is, (1) we have dealt with it before and (2) we will deal with it again for you.”

I wrote the above words Saturday morning.  Not long after putting those thoughts down, my runaway train like slide into an abyss of side effects occurred.  If scoring side effects was an Olympian game, I suspect they would have given me the Silver because I got virtually every one of them except debilitating vomiting and tingling in the extremities. 

All my chemo juices come with a warning sheet listing possible side effects.  The sheets always measured the likelihood of occurrence.  One of those measurements reads something like “All but 30% of the patients can expect to experience XXX”.  My family and I discovered over the next few days that I was a 70 percentile winner because, if it was possible to have a side effect, I got it.   

Today, Wednesday evening, is the first time since then that I am having a “good moment” – a phrase now used by me and my family meaning I am reasonably alert and aware of what is going on around me without excessive discomfort – long enough to try and get some words in the blog. 

Chemotherapy Cycle One is essentially over except for the healing.  I feel so awful about what strain this cancer put on my family as I recall the unbelievably long hours that made this past week feel like a month.  The strain on my family was so terrible to watch through my foggy mental state.  After dealing with a disgusting or frightening reaction to a side effect, I would hear them in the living room.  I heard them quietly laughing as they relived this episode or that with a bit of survival humor sprinkled in.   And then I would hear the sobs mixed in with the laugher.  Only woman have ever truly perfected this oh so powerful coping tool.  And my heart would pound and feel like it was going to tear apart for them.

I have vague memories of lying in my bed like a rotting vegetable clinging to a tiny string of mental determination to win another battle to overcome the powerful urge to vomit.  It didn’t bother me one damn bit to have quiet tears rolling down my face as I listened to my family, who didn’t think I could hear them, dealing with their fright and other troublesome feelings. I hate hat hate what MY cancer is doing to others.  Me, that’s one thing.  But, the is not going to be possible for me to ever come to grips with making others cry or be filled with concern and fright.

Aching bones and nausea are telling me that I have used up this good moment.  Since the ol' toilet bowl and I have become such close friends, I think I will stop by and say Thank You for the Memories and then get under the covers and see what nonsense will manifest itself tonight! 

PS: I lied...I got to thinking about you and the hundreds of others who have sent me their own private message.  I sit here choked up with wet eyes yet AGAIN....but it feels good...these are good emotions. I hope that when I finally get this behind me, humility will rule me so that I do not ever forget all of the incredible people from all corners of the planet that have made my life so full thus far.  God by whatever name you chose, Higher Power of choice....I will ask that entity, Him or Her, to touch you with a moment of warmth for your kindness towards me.

October 17, 2010

Nurse Nephew and His Nurse Wife

Today I received a nice email from a nephew who is deep into his nurse training.  His charming and totally fantastic wife - who thankfully does not yet fully understand that marrying into the Motschenbacher family might not have been the smartest decision she has ever made - completed her nurse train not too many months backs. They both made the decision to become nurses after serving in Iraq in-your-face combat postings. They have enjoyed seeing my observations about the medical personnel that have been so much a part of me the last two months.  I sent these words back to Nephew Niles:

"I have quickly come to realize that as much as I THOUGHT I knew about cancer treatment (1) before even getting the cancer and (2) additionally from all the info I studied after the discovery, I didn't know squat.  As my unique treatment path was laid out in a plan and I took the first steps, my confidence suddenly fell away when I came face to face with what those words I had read actually meant. I felt so utterly empty inside because I could not translate those words into what they would mean to my body and my senses.

I could not translate the words into sensations I could confidently simulate of what lay ahead for me; smells, emotions, fear, anxiety and panic attacks, pain levels, the visual impact of seeing black and blue surgery hammering on my body, tubes going through my skin and muscles into my stomach and jugular vein, deadly radiation beams going in one side of me and out the other while my body lay flat and my head is solidly locked into a single position for 20 minutes a day for seven weeks.  And on and on. 

Like you say, Niles, all these unwanted / unpredicted circumstances occur within an atmosphere of jargon, equipment, procedures and autonomy that are alien to my “normal' lifestyle and most certainly way outside even my perverse comfort zone.

I felt very much alone as I approached the first individual battleground - some rather extensive surgery - of this war on the cancer trying to kill me. 

But I was not alone I soon discovered.  I found out quickly that the doctors and nurses seemed acutely aware of what I was feeling - nearly all without them thankfully not having had persona experience immersed in these sensations. Just as remarkable as their abnormally heightened sensitivity is their ability to understand that my cancer battle is worst than others but not nearly as bad as that of other patients. I believe it must take a remarkable amount of raw knowledge magically mixed with incredible compassion and empathy for a nurse to move from patient to patient while automatically shifting his or her own senses to ones that can "feel" what that patient is feeling. 

I have observed that while one cancer patient needs Motherly Love and baby-like pampering from their nurse, others want to be treated like someone with a bad rash.  Each patient is an individual with his or her own boundaries, beliefs, communications and people skills or lack thereof, and interpersonal contact needs. It would seem that each nurse needs to be generously gifted with the ability to make a quick personality read of each patient that comes under their care.

I chose to try to be happy to be there with my nurse, respectful and a good student following their every word with eyes that must sometimes scare them because of my intense desire to KNOW what is happening and what will be the after effect of what is happening now.  I am one of those people who do not like surprises.  On the other hand, I have met fellow warriors who do NOT want to know what is coming next, instead preferring to just let things unfold. 

I do so very much enjoy the discovery that people I am going to have to spend a lot of time with - my male and female nurses - can be playful like me when it is appropriate and that they too desires to add that step away from cold professionalism into our time together.  I have always believed that anything worth doing no matter how serious, how dangerous, how distasteful, had some humor inside of it if you just look for it.  I know some must be horrified to see me bring humor to my personal dance with something trying to kill me.  I hope they can learn to accept it because the presence of that humor is solid proof that deep down in the deepest depths of my core I know this war is worth doing and not a waste of time and money."

The world will be a far better with you two taking care of us....
Love ya,
Uncle Buck

October 16, 2010

Hair will go away in 2 weeks

My daughter, Tiffany, arrived today from Chicago to visit with dear ol' Dad.  Tiffany's mother, my first wife, fought a very painful diffcult battle with pancreatic cancer; arguably the uglist and most ravaging cancer. As is almost always the case with that type of cancer, there was no escape for Patty.  I think maybe Tiffany is here to touch me, see me, hear me and convince herself that she isn't going to also lose her father to cancer.

The first thing she told me when we picked her up at the airport was that she liked my blog. But what was with my posting saying that Nurse Mary had finally told me when I was going to lose my hair -- and then not sharing that information?!  Duh!  Sorry, Friends.  

The answer - my hair should start falling out in about 2 weeks and be a done deal after about a week.

Insomnia and building a bank of white blood cells

Okay, chemo side effect No.2 surfaced and stole my sleep last night keeping me awake until 6AM this morning.  No big deal; if my body was given freedom to move to its own clock, I would be quite the nocturnal animal.  Every one of my trips to exotic spots around the world to operate my radio finds me morphed to a nocturnal being almost immediately.  Unfortunately, this insomnia robbed me of my first good night sleep in a much needed new bed! 

I spent the night watching “The Nanny” reruns from the couch with my new buddy, the ugly butt-bag with the chemo pump.  No exactly a romantic moment…for either of us.  Finally I slipped into a coma for a couple hours probably scaring the heck out of my mother when she came though the living room to find a body sprawled on her couch, mouth wide open like a fly trap and growling out a sound like a wounded water buffalo.  Likely not smelling much differently, either.

Side effect No.1 continues to come up every time I take one of my mandatory twice a day drugs.  It is some sort of steroid. None of the nurses or doctors seemed surprised to see my face lite-up like a red light hanging over the doorway to a cheap brothel.  The red face is accompanied with some radiating heat similar to mild sunburn. 

Today, when I made my visit to Doc Q’s Huntington Beach office, I was told to get used to it.  Having heard “Get used to it” phrase uttered so many times in just two days by my new medical family, no further explanation was needed.  Shut up, suck it up, Cowboy up stud and GET USED TO IT, YOU BIG BABY pretty much covers all that is unspoken in those four words.

As mentioned above, I followed Nurse Mary to Doc Q’s Huntington Beach office to get a shot of some liquid magic that will give my bone marrow a wake-up call to go into mass production mode and knock out massive quantities of white blood cells.  The downside of that will be what was simply call "bone pain" as the bone marrow does its job. As the nurse prepped me for the shot, she told me this will be somewhere between mildly uncomfortable or severely painful over the next few days. My God, I am stunned on how there can be such a never ending string of surprised popped on me each day.  Maybe someday I will numb to this mentally bashing but I doubt it.

They tell me I need to bank up those white cells because in a few days this chemo I am taking is going to do some serious white blood cell murder while attacking the cancer. To keep track of the kill-off, I will have blood work-ups every week for the foreseeable future.  I am not sure what they do if the killing exceeds the limit of safe health but they seem to take this measurement quite seriously.

Unfortunately, a five minute appointment for a simple shot turned into a two and half hour visit to a recliner chair in this office’s Room of Tortures closely watched by Nurse Mary and a new Nurse Shirley.  Nurse Shirley is a tough character clearly in charge of this room…and now me.  Under that tough exterior, I quick found an incredibly compassionate nurse who made me feel like I was her most important patient in the world. 

Anyway, it seems her trained eyes saw trouble with my condition that even I didn’t see or feel.  She quickly hooked up a quart plastic bag full of water into a Y connector unseen by me that yesterday was installed on the tube leading to my chest catheter tube.  That water was being dripped into the same flow of chemo being feed directly into the jugular blood flow into my heart.  Other cancer warriors around me paid absolutely no apparent attention to my arrival and the activity surrounding me.  Twice I have seen this activity in the Rooms so clearly this is an unwritten code of behavior amongst the warriors; a code I shall not forget and will comply with.

Nurse Shirley was right. I felt a great deal better when I left two hours later to find my car being the only parking lot occupant other than those belonging to medical staff.  Thanks Shirley!  BTW, she sent me home with non-debatable instructions to sleep tonight using sedation medications, Tylenol PM, a hammer or any other method at my disposal.  But, sleep I must or else receive the Wrath of Shirley.

It should come as no surprise to you that I got my due justice by telling Nurse Shirley she was prettier than Nurse Mary full knowing she would proudly tell Nurse Mary that I said that. When confronted by Nurse Mary, I categorically denied saying anything of the sort.  I suggested in a pathetically weak voice that she should take this up with Nurse Shirley herself because, after all, I was a very sadly sick fellow needing to avoid stressful situations.  

I know all of this Nurse playful fun will lead to a bottle of bleach being poured into my heart at some point but, for now, it serves as fun diversion for me.  I am committed to trying to bring some cheer into the lives of these angels who care some much about the well being of us in their charge. It gives me quiet joy making these fine people laugh for a moment. 

By the way, I told Nurse Shirley about the straw drawing going on in the other office to select the loser who would have to take care of me over there next Tuesday.  She thought about it for about a nanosecond and told me she was glad it was them and not her.   Hmmm.

October 14, 2010

One day of chemo down; 116 to go....

Chemotherapy - more frightening to me than the surgeries, the loss of hair, the skin-throat-mouth pain moments and most of other unknowns that have to be walked before I can prove to myself that I am mentally capable of NOT letting this cancer kill me.
Chemo scares the crud out of me maybe even more than the cancer itself!  I have had one or two conversations with a close friend where I choked up with more water flowing from my eyes than I am comfortable having others see as I described my fears.  Chemo has the power to hit me with sickness that potentially could take me completely outside my control-issues comfort zone.  Anyone that knows me knows I do not like being held hostage to anything regardless if it is two-legged, four-legged, comes in a bottle, writes my paychecks, or in any other way might dominate me sufficiently enough to be cabable of making me compromise my principles or give up my fight instincts.

After a long unsettling night, apprehension had me pretty seized up wondering which of the many chemotherapy horror stories I had read or heard would become MY story today. I knew I had to get this treatment started but, God how I wished I could just take a knife in the heart instead of doing chemo!

The friendly smiling Receptionist clearly knew, probably from a daily morning group meeting, that I was a nervous wreck wondering how this day would unfold.  I could see the compassion in her eyes and feel it as she reached out for me to guide me down the hall to 5-6 hours in the much dreaded “Treatment”–read Torture– room seen in last night’s nightmares.  

I felt a tiny bit better when I was led through the door into the room and happily discovered Doc Q had done a good job endowing it with her confident professionalism yet sensitive personality.  I arrived a bit early so I was given carte blanche to choose any one of the eight Lazy Boy-like recliner chairs (make no mistake; they were dulled down to meet medical specifications which means not pretty) spread throughout this peacefully subdued yet cheerful room.  I, of course, selected the chair with the best view of the room’s single large wall-mounted TV figuring it would provide diversion during today’s 5-6 hours of scary discovery of what might well define the quality of my life for the next sixteen (16) or more weeks.

Try as the Doctor had, there was no hiding the fact that the recliners sat amongst a forest of metal poles. Those stark cold poles most definitely did NOT project the calming warmth a forest of trees might have.  Anyone having moved from doctor to doctor and, as was my case, surgery to surgery knew their metal boughs would soon hold scary clear plastic bags of a myriad of life saving yet nasty body slamming chemicals (poisons?) for the patients; each fighting his or her own cancer battle with unique chemical mixes and regiments.

It was at this point that Nurse Mary walked over to me to tell me she was going to take me through what she knew would be difficult day for me.  Nurse Mary, somewhere in her 40’s, small and nurse-attractive immediately began a well practiced routine delivery designed to calm my rattled nerves just like she has for the others who came down this path with her before me.  She introduced me to Nurse Dawn who would partner with her to take care of the medical and emotional needs of me and the warriors seated around me.  I was the only newbie but did not feel singled out, thankfully, as these two angels floated amongst us continuously to make sure we were doing okay. A few of the others in for chemo did offer some genuine experienced- based advice for me. That advice could not have been contained more solid thoughts for me to pay close attention to because of the source…

Meeting Nurse May and Nurse Dawn was almost like dating as we quickly maneuvered through an awkward period of getting to know each other.  I could sense they were moving slowly until they could size up this new character sitting in front of them. Good thinking – I have told more than one friend not to be sad for me; instead feel sad for the poor doctors, nurses and technicians that have to deal with me!

I could feel the dating dance going on inside their minds.  Okay!  Yes, mine, too.

Nurse Her: Is he a disrespectful jerk man pig, high maintenance cry baby or one of the more rare of the breed who is respectful of my skills, honest, and will make me feel wanted and appreciated.

Patient Dennis:  Behind that kind pretty face is there a sadist who will get great joy bringing me to painful tears in front of her and the others, pretend not to see me suffering my own little hell and needing of a kind word or touch of encouragement, give me the wrong chemicals and care less about the ramifications? Or will I be relieved to discover a compassion and skilled nurse who is everything I need to make it through this first chemo no matter what the embarrassing and painful side effects might be.

Just like a perfect first date, I got the compassionate and skilled nurse person.  Mary was awesome and made me feel protected, per se, as the hours went by with me on total alert for any of the many nasty side effects she warned me could show up today.  We got through the day with me finally easing up enough to playfully drive her nuts.  I knew I won when I didn’t end up being punished and having to wear pink Adult Diapers. Completing the glow of the win was Mary, hands on hips, pointing her finger at me promising she was going to force Nurse Dawn to draw straws to see who would lose and have to take care of me during my next visit. 

My “date” today ended up with a Nurse Mary handing me one of those silly tourist butt-bags with a chemo pump in it that would be my constant companion for the next 5 days.  Inside it was another chemical that would be pumped into me via the chest catheter tube at the rate of 2cc’s per hour until this coming Tuesday. Swell…more sleepless nights coming when no comfortable position would reveal itself due to this thing hanging off of me. Hey, that sentence almost sounded like a high maintenance cry baby!

Interesting observations today:
  • FINALLY someone, Nurse Mary, would tell me when the hair was going to fall out. No one before seemed to want to hit this subject head-on (no pun intended).  I guess a lot if not most patients see the hair fall deal as a big thing.  I think Nurse Mary might have been the first one to believe me when told her I see this hair thing as sort of a Badge of Honor in my own little perverse way. As I said before, after the hair disappears, I can become the perfect little Yaesu Poster Boy when I wear my Yaesu hat!
  • Nurse Mary promised me that things are going to get worse over the next several weeks.  She also promised she and others on the staff would be right there with me through this first post-surgery stage of saving my life.
  • Taking a liquid breakfast through the stomach feed tube instead of solids might well have been what saved me from having serious nausea or vomiting.
  • My chemo dosages today were scaled back a bit from what they’ll hit me with the next two cycles.  I was pretty angry to learn that because I thought I had made it clear I wanted them to hit me as hard as they could from the very first.  Nurse Mary was able to calm me down with some good solid reasons for their decision.  Of course, I respect their judgment over mine and shut my big mouth in a hurry….albeit somewhat reluctantly J
  • The cost of saving my sorry butt was soaring upwards daily and was already staggering to say the least.  Thank you Yaesu for a very good Anthem Blue Cross PPO insurance plan.  Without it, the retirement place in NC would be put up For Sales right away – seriously.
  • My experience with all my professional medical caregivers continues to be 100% great!

October 13, 2010

First chemotherapy coming tomorrow....gulp

Sorry for the delay getting this blog going and an update posted.  I have been bogged down in last-minute medical lunacy before I begin the first chemo slug out Thursday - October 14.  I had a dose of morphine an hour ago to deal with the pain from a nasty feed tube the doctors cut in to my stomach a few days ago to get chow into me.  The morphine is the only painkiller they have tossed at me that will put down pain from the feed tube entry point. Suppresses the pain.....but half the time I take the morphine, it makes my head fill with non-stop thoughts so I can’t sleep.  Tonight is one of those nights.  Man, it was a lot simpler to be just a plain ol alcoholic 20 years ago!

I have had three surgeries during the last two weeks with the following results: 

  • The doctors removed a marble size cancer down in the throat as well as 23 lymph nodes from the right side of my neck area.  Six of those nodes had cancer in them, unfortunately.  This little soiree into the OR took 70+ visible stitches to close me back up. 

  • I now have a feed tube down near my navel going through the skin and muscles and into the stomach.  It allows me to take all my nutrition from cans of liquid poured into my stomach via this tube. ( Should have had that when I drank ! ) My upcoming chemo and then combo chemo/radiation treatments are going to cause enough swelling to seal off the throat as a path for any food and nearly all liquid.  I still hope to be able to take some liquid through the throat---actually I have to so that the throat does not atrophy during the treatments.
  • I have a Port-A-Cath planted under my skin a few inches below my collarbone on the right side of my chest.  Instead of having to have endless IV needles stuck in my arms, wrists, and hands during all the treatments, the nurses will stick an IV needle through the skin covering over the Port-A-Cath and then pump in the chemo juice.  The Port-A-Cath has a reservoir under my skin that is connected to a tube that goes into my jugular vein and down to just outside the heart.  This arrangement allows the nasty juice to get mixed well into the blood stream and quickly around the body to ruin my day....and the cancer's as well, I presume.
I have told all the doctors (eight of them) on my cancer team in no uncertain terms to hit me as hard as they can while not killing me in the process of saving me.  We have reworked an earlier treatment plan and made it into an aggressive Chips-All-In attack. The doctors are telling me I am probably only to get one chance at getting this right so I certain that more is better in this case. I like to refer to this as my QRO cancer treatment package.  As they say, life is too short of QRP.  

We will start with nine (9) weeks of treatment using the nastiest stomach-churning chemo brew they can come with.  My only rule was that if their poison melted out the bottom of a cocktail glass, they had to back off a bit before pouring it into my jugular vein.  After that opening round of 9 weeks, I will try and absorb 5 days a week / 7 weeks of a combo chemo/radiation treatment without regressing into a pathetic whining big baby.  Hmm….well, at least no more than other guys have that have walked down this particular path with the Sluggo chemicals…

If they do not kill me during those 16 weeks of treatment, I will have about 60 more days of feeling as cruddy as I will during the treatment.  Then healing begins.  Meaning hair returning some day and since my voice might disappear at some point during all this, I will be eager to have it back.  The voice come-back is probable but isn't a promise they can make - that is why God made Morse code, right? 

It looks like my return to some semblance of a normal life will be in the later portion of the first quarter of 2011.  

God, I wish this hadn't snuck up on me so quick because I didn't get a tower or any antennas up at the new NC country place this year like I planned.  I would have so loved to have one of my short term goals be to live through this freaking treatment and then go out there and just sit in front of a radio with a whole new appreciation for ham radio and all that it has given me simply by being on the air with all my friends around the world.

The E-ticket part of this whole ride starts tomorrow when the heavy-duty chemo starts. The cocktail will be made up of 3 kickass chemicals....yes this is the part of the ride where the hair falls out. :)  I will be the consummate Yaesu Poster Boy with my Yaesu hat covering my bald head and my skinny silly looking face with big ol Howdy Doody ears!  The skinny face will come from the most expensive weight loss program available....all you have to do is get yourself a dose of Gotchya Cancer.  Then you sign up for the chemo and let them light ya up with radiation!  Geeish, I have lost 10 lbs from the surgeries and have not even had my first controlled chemo poisoning!

So many nice folks have been asking for updates - I cannot keep up....which is totally heartwarming and humbling.   My brother suggested  I do this blog. I will try to post daily updates and "here is what the crazy SOBs did today" stories to remind me to laugh and let my buddies get a chuckle too.  I didn't keep my alcoholism a secret over the last 20 years; talking about my drinking experiences helped me stay sober and find the humor in the sadness.  I am not going to hide this cancer either.  I did not do something wrong, soiled the Admiral’s daughter, break any laws, etc.  I have nothing to be embarrassed about. 

Life is a ride of ups and downs; it’s not how well you ride it; it’s how much humor you find in the ride if you want to survive when you get your butt knocked in the dirt (even if you kinda had it coming to you...blush).

I will soon post up some really funny stories of things that have happened with the doctors, nurses, technicians, and medical facilities that have been my family and very life since early August. 

October 10, 2010

August 17, 2010 - "I am so sorry to have to tell you this but you have cancer, Dennis"

I was surprised to get a telephone call about 9 o'clock from my Ear, Nose, and Throat doctor!  Yeah, that is what I should say about that call.  But, that wouldn't be true...

I had visited him for the first time the week before when my family doctor referred me him to check out a couple bumps I was feeling growing below my right ear below the way in the neck. I went to him feeling pretty relaxed and confident that I knew what those bumps were.  I had surgery in August 2006 to remove a benign tumor in my parotid (salivary) gland in the same general area.  After that surgery, that doctor warned me that sometimes these things come back.

I recall thinking I was bringing my new ENT doc an easy ride to my insurance for a quickie surgery to go get another benign tumor.  I figured I was going to get a free ride for a week or so off from the office to recover from the surgery.  After that, a little humor mileage from the big ol' ugly scar these surgeries create.