The Mother of All Humps

» Two thousand fifteen. I made it. Definitely showing signs of wear-n-tear, but I made it. Twas not so long ago when this milestone looked questionable.

New Years Eve 2015 LondonSo I am feeling a sense of accomplishment and gratitude that I havent felt with other New Years.

Tho 'happy,' no .. I would not use that word to describe my New Year. (Just being honest here.)

You likely are familiar with the phrase » hump day .. typically Wednesday of a standard Monday-thru-Friday work week.

Last week was my HUMP WEEK. Week #4 of a 7-week treatment plan. The mother of all humps.

When I look back on hump week, I can see my ass there, dragging on the ground behind me .. trailing a good ten feet or so back there .. looking all worn out and shabby-like. Sucking serious wind.

The problem with my hump week vs your standard Wednesday hump .. is that things only get worse from here. (Say it aint so.)

Back when my ENT surgeon informed me of the type of cancer that I had been diagnosed with, he said » "I see these types of cases about once every couple of years; I only wish it wasnt you."

FrankensteinNow I know what he meant.

Already, I can barely talk. When I do it hurts. My gums are bleeding and look downright scary (swollen & turning pale white).

My nose is bleeding, so that I need to wad up pieces of tissue paper and stick them in my nostril so that I dont drip blood everywhere.

And those arent even the worst parts. Dont even get me started on my tongue. Or my throat. This is why I say that this does not look doable.

Four weeks looks doable. Maybe five. But seven? I'm not seeing how you do that. Other than eating tons of narcotic pain meds all the time.

When the Chemo doctor [ Medical Oncologist ] saw me this past week, after feeling the size of the tumor, she looked in my mouth with a light and said » "Well, you definitely have mouth sores." [ just like she said I would ]

In this sense my hump is not really a hump, but rather merely represents the halfway point up a gnarly, steep hill .. the hump being up there at the top of the hill. Cuz you will still feel like shit well after 'treatment' concludes.

I can see that a primary concern for the Oncologist is giving the patient enough information so that (s)he has a good idea of what to expect, but not so much that you freak them the fuck out .. which would not be difficult.

I dont want to gross you out. [ Tho certainly, I'm sure that I easily could. You do not want to hear, for example, my emergency procedures to help alleviate the mother of all constipations .. caused by the narcotic pain meds. ] So let me tout some positives instead, and perhaps even inject some Rad humor .. for purposes of stress relief.

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••• today's entry continues here below •••

Bio-Hazard» Who's Your Bio-Hazard Daddy?

I completed the final (#4) clinical trial last week. I noticed that my immune system seemed to 'train' on the virus (vaccine).

By which I mean that each subsequent reaction came more quickly than the previous one, with a stronger response and lasted for a shorter duration. See here »

Trial #1 » Weak response didnt come until 2 AM the following morning. Minor chills. I put on sweats and went back to sleep.

Trial #2 » Strong response about 2½ hours after the (10 AM) infusion. Demerol required twice to make me stop shaking violently. Cold as shit. Lasted an hour or so. The strong part. Generally felt like hammered dog krap for a few hours. Exhausting.

Trial #3 » Felt very bad between 90 mins and 2 hours after getting the bio-hazard pumped into my veins. Shaking and felt cold as shit, but not enough to need the demerol. The bad lasted maybe 45 mins. At t=2 hours + infusion time, they give you anti-nausea meds (Zofran) thru the I-V (so you dont puke up the oral meds they give you for body aches and feeling like shit .. which basically consist of 4 regular strength Tylenols and an extra-strength fancy Advil (but not really Advil). I remember sweating a lot after taking these meds.

The Scream by Edvard Munch (1893)Trial #4 » Strong reaction came pretty quickly at maybe 45 mins or an hour after they gave me the bio-hazard (17 mls). Shaking strongly like a mad man .. but I didnt press the red button. I didnt call the yoga nurse. Cuz I didnt want her to shoot me with the demerol. Cuz that stuff makes me projectile vomit, and I dont want the hydrochloric acid in my stomach up in my throat, which is already fucked up. So I dealt with it. Been there / done that. I know the dealy-o. Sure I was shaking like crazy, but only for 15 mins this time. My teeth were chattering so violently that I was concerned I might break a tooth. But I wasnt scared. And this time I brought my heating pad, which I set behind my lower back, which aches like crazy when the krappy feeling really comes. So dont think I'm not learning little tricks as I go.

Later, when the Clinical Trials girl stopped by my cabana (private room) to check on me, I asked her (knowing how difficult these 4 trials have been for me .. somebody like me who enjoys a good challenge) » "I am trial patient #23. How many of the other 22 have made it to the end of all 4 trials like me?"

She held up ONE (1) finger .. and not her middle one, either. One other dude. Out of 22 who began the trial.

"And he was a whiny, sniveling complainer the whole time. Worse than any third-grade girl. Not like you .. a true bio-hazard stud."

Actually, she did not say this, because she is much too nice to say anything like that. But that is essentially what she meant. (My ego's interpretation of her comment.)

Nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine» The Military Trains You to Suck It Up

I really need to credit the Nuclear Navy .. for my ability to endure major discomfort without whining or complaining.

I mean, they stick it to you so often and for so many years .. that you just get used to it.

Sniveling does no good. So you just suck it up like the rest of your shipmates and do what you gotta do. Thank-you, military.

But dont think I cant see how somebody might go to complaining during this trial .. because, yes, you do feel bad. Very bad. Very, very bad. Hammered dog krap bad. Beyond flu-like feelings. Like you simply cannot get comfortable, no matter what you do. Not matter how you lie.

Because everything hurts. When you put on your reading glasses, the temple bars hurt your temples. Light hurts your eyes. Sound hurts your ears. Thinking hurts your brain. Sitting hurts your ass. Moving hurts your muscles. Your teeth chatter so violently that you're concerned you might break a tooth. Should I continue? Because I could.

But the flu lasts a week or two. Whereas this only lasts a few hours. But yes, you are also dealing with lots of other shit. If it were only the trial, that would be bad enough. But you also have the cancer to deal with. And the radiation. And the chemo. And all the needles. And the I-V's. And the deep exhaustion. And .. well, you catch my drift.

Nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine underway» Anybody Can Steam Steady-State

Back when I was working commercial nuclear power (before the fall), I once had a boss who himself had been a staff pick-up ..

.. where a graduating student becomes an instructor ..

.. at a nuclear plant training prototype, where you train on a live, operating reactor plant.

These are the choicest of the choice positions. They would pick-up one or two out of a hundred graduating students. Sometimes none.

Not only do you need to have your shit together academically and conceptually, but you also need to possess well developed inter-personal skills and even political skills. Most importantly, you need to jibe with the currently assembled staff there. [ Idaho, New York, Wherever. ]

Which is why I was not accepted. It certainly cant hurt to apply for the position, but it was easy to see that I would not be at the top of their list.

Many years later, after I had matured somewhat, and long after I had been discharged (honorably, tho barely) I had the opportunity to work for (and with) one of these Nuclear Navy staff pick-ups.

[ Tho, after his 2-year staff pick-up position was done, he did indeed go to the fleet for 4 years. So he had plenty of sea-duty experience. ]

Indian Point Nuclear Power PlantAnd yes, he totally had his shit together, operationally. And his inter-personal skills were indeed well developed.

I could go on and on here, because I learned a lot from him, and he had many interesting insights, as he was older than me and more experienced ..

.. but my point is that .. he had a saying » "Anybody can steam steady-state."

[ He actually had many colorful sayings. All original. ]

When you are at sea, running your rector plant, 6 hours on, 12 hours off, day after day, week after week, month after month .. sometimes nothing changes for a long time. A looooooong time.

That's called steady-state steaming .. and any reasonably intelligent crew of chimps can steam steady-state. Becuse nothing changes. A reactor plant is designed to be inherently stable. Self correcting. Boring, even, you might say.

It isnt until the proverbial shit hits the fan that you really find out what people are made of.

Nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarineWhen shit is easy, any idiot can do that and look good doing it. But wait until the shit hits the fan ..

.. because that is where you separate the men from the boys.

Boy-bosses major in minors. They want to make the easy shit look hard. They want to make the easy and the mundane look terribly difficult. Because they cannot deal with the shit when it hits the fan. They do not wield those skills. Certainly not well.

[ I am thinking right now of that scene in Pulp Fiction where Jules (Samuel L Jackson) & John Travolta need Mr Wolf to come and help them clean up ther mess .. because he is good at stuff like that. And they are obviously not. ]

If you have ever had a truly competent boss, you will notice how he is able to focus on the really important shit .. and let the unimportant shit slide. He does not focus on trivial bullshit. He knows what's important and what's not.

Anyway, I have often thought of what that man said .. my old boss .. the former staff pick-up .. because, right now, I am no longer steaming steady-state. Not hardly. And I am learning a lot about myself.

I would never seek such a place of learning, and would gladly pay large sums of money (if I had it) in order to avoid such a place. But while I am here, I am curious as to how I will respond to this time of testing and trial and tribulation. Because it is indeed difficult. Very difficult. Even for me .. a true bio-hazard stud.

But let's return to my experience with clinical trial #4.

Silverback gorilla on Viagra» Membership in an Elite Group

So later, when the yoga nurse came in to yank the I-V so I could go home, I said »

» "They tell me that I am patient #23 for this trial. I asked the Clinical Trials girl how many of the 22 others made it to the end of all 4 trials like me. She said » 'one'."

The yoga nurse high-fived me.

"Who's your bio-hazard daddy?" my ego said, pounding my chest like a silverback on Viagra.

(I think that she thinks I'm a nut, but is too nice to reveal her true thoughts.)

» Radiation Oncologists (An Even More Elite Group)

Speaking of membership in an elite group .. my radiation oncologist in on vacation. (Good for him. He deserves it. You want your doctors well rested and thinking clearly.)

And these doctors interview you frequently .. to see how your sorry ass is doing. And while he is away, other radiation oncologists interview you in his place.

Which is no problem, because they are all so remarkably qualified. [ They have 11 radiation oncologists at Moores. Eleven! ]

Moores Cancer Center in La JollaAnd I like to meet these other doctors. Because they fascinate me .. their skill sets. Their remarkable skill sets.

And I ask them » "You dont have to tell me if you dont want, but where did you go to college and med school and where did you do your residency? That kind of stuff interests me."

And they have no problem sharing this with you. And let me tell you .. they are all well pedigreed. All the best schools. Best of the best. And they probably made it look easy.

The last guy I saw .. this last substitute radiation oncologist .. or, who saw me, I should say .. he reminded me of Tony Robbins .. the motivtional speaker. Just a great guy. So easy to talk to. I really liked him. So down to earth. So able to connect.

He comes in and says, "Hi, I'm Tom Brady."

No, that is not his real name, but he does not say, "I'm doctor so-n-so."

He doesnt have to. He is a radiation oncologist at Moores. He has nothing to prove. He has (already) arrived. (In La Jolla.)

Pick your favorite college on the East coast, in the middle of the country, and also on the West coast .. and there's a good chance that he has been to all three.

Joseph Stiglitz | Economist, Columbia UniversityI wanted to ask him » "Do you know Stiglitz? Did you take any of his classes?" .. but these doctors are busy people, so I thought better of it.

[ The Dog went to Columbia, too. He is very well-read. ]

Before these doctors come in to see you, their nurses come in first, and ask a bunch of questions. (Pain, anxiety, eating, etc.)

There is not much these doctors can really do for you. They basically tell you to keep eating in order to keep up your weight and your strength ..

.. and to keep you mouth clean (swish around warm salty water with baking soda every two hours). And to keep pooping (MiraLAX and Colace). But otherwise, you're fucked. (Punched in the mouth every day.)

As we stood up to walk out, I said » "Of all the nurses I've seen so far, you have the prettiest one.

There was a brief pause before I thought I had better add the obvious » Dont tell her I said that."

"I won't," he said with a smile.

Sometimes it's silly shit like that keeps you going.

» Grandpa Rad Gets Pushed Two Blocks in a Wheelchair

Following the 3rd clinical trial, I refused the offer of a wheelchair to take me up to the building across the street to where I get my radiation. Cuz I was much too macho to have somebody push me two blocks in a wheelchair.

That was a big mistake, because I could hardly walk. And that two-block walk (uphill) wore my ass out, something fierce. About halfway there, I wasnt sure I was gonna make it. I remember walking on the dirt instead of on the sidewalk itself .. so that, if I fell down, I would hit the softer dirt rather than the unforgiving concrete.

So this time, I gladly let them find somebody to wheel my ass up there .. so I could get my daily radiation punch in the mouth.

He covered me with blankies cuz it was cold out. Sure, I felt like an old fogy grandpa, but did I care? Not even a little. Live-n-learn, baby.

That's what homo sapiens do. If you dont learn as you go, it's probably because you're a neanderthal.

Tears of a Clown» Clinical Trial Patient #24

Perhaps I should mention that while I (#23) was receiving bio-hazard trial #4, trial patient #24 was receiving his very first vaccine in the room right next door.

The Clinical Trials girl stopped by and asked if I might consider speaking with him.

"Of course," I said. "Absolutely. Tho it will have to be soon, because I am going to start feeling very bad here pretty quickly."

"He is not doing very well," she commented. "His sister is with him."

"You should send her over," I said, "I can tell her what to expect."

The Clinical Trials girl thought it big of me to offer to share my insights of the experience. And really, no one can break it down for you like somebody who has already been there and done that.

She came over. The sister. Her brother is much younger than me. He is still in his 30's. She briefed me on his condition. It did not sound good.

Whereas with me, they were unable to locate the source (the "primary tumor") .. with him, they have found it (big). And that's all I should say at this point. Tho you could see the concern on her face .. and in her eyes.

She was very nice. I liked her a lot. She sat on the edge of my bed. We shared a meaningful area of experience. So you could sense the easy mutual trust. I shared with her pictures of the Bug.

But the nurse came to get her to return to her brother's room before I had much of a chance to share with her. And then I began to feel too bad myself .. to do much of anything. Any my voice is severely limited at this point. So I need to make each word count.

When it was time for me to leave, the lights were out and they were asleep, so I didnt want to bother them. As I walked away toward my wheelchair waiting there for me, I felt something inside start to pray for that man.

» The Man Who Played his Violin in the Lobby at Moores During the Holidays

Before I forget (which I seem do more of these days), I want to send a shout out to that guy who was playing his violin in the main lobby at Moores, which is very spacious, lending to wonderful acoustics.

Moores Cancer Center | Main Lobby

I was just passing thru that day, to pick up some meds at the pharmacy, but he was so good that I stopped and sat there in the lobby to listen for a while.

Between songs I approched him and said » "You're very good. Thank you for playing. It sounds great in here. How long have you been practicing?"

He did a little math in his head and said » "Twenty-six years."

"Well, it shows," I said. "Thanks again."

I think it was a Friday. He was really very good .. so good that he arrested your attention. Made you stop and watch and listen. Probably a pro. Certainly good enough. Einstein also played the violin, you know.

A scene from Pulp Fiction with Bruce Willis» Are You Okay?

A friend called a few days ago and asked » "Are you okay?"

And I thought of that scene in Pulp Fiction where Bruce Willis asks Marsellus the very same question .. right after he had just been sodomized.

How do you answer a question like this?

I thought » "Uh, I've been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma. I've received so much radiation that I can hardly talk or eat. My gums and my nose are bleeding. My throat feels like I swallowed a bucket full of razor blades. My white blood cell count is too low for more chemo. If my temperature gets to 100.5, they're going to put me in the hospital. They already want to stick a feeding tube in my side .. because my weight is dropping faster than the aquifers in California. I am so far beyond exhausted that you can't even imagine. And they're not done with me yet. Not by a long shot. No man, I'm pretty fucking far from okay."

A better question to ask a cancer patient would be » "What can I do to help get you thru this difficult time?"

» A Timely Call (Pooping)

Speaking of asking the right questions .. let me tell you about a most timely call that I recently received from an old girlfriend.

There I was in the local drug store .. to pick up some MiraLAX and Colace .. which help you poop .. because all these drugs that they give you constipate you .. especially the Norco (hydrocodone) pain meds, which I recently started taking.

But this pooping stuff is expensive, and it is over the counter. In other words, I have to pay for it myself. And I am checking my available funds, and can see that I can only afford the smallest versions .. a 7-day supply.

And there is a turd about the size of a baseball in my butt that I can't get out .. at least, not without losing most of my colon in the process.

Just at that moment my cell rings and it's this old girlfriend, saying, "How you doin? Is there anything I can do for you? How can I help?"

I am normally reluctant to ask for help .. cuz favors often end up costing you more in the long run. Waay more. (You know what I'm taking about.) But I felt good about telling her my predicament.

"Go ahead and get the 7-day supply," she says, "and first thing tomorrow morning I will send you out a 30-day supply. No problem. Glad to help. What are friends for? Let me know if there is anything else you need."

So this old girlfriend is gonna send me out stuff to help me poop. I must admit, the idea tickles me.

By the way, have you seen Egan's latest piece (Jan 1st)? I love Egan. I find myself looking forward to his next piece.

This is also worth your time. (Feel me?) Here's more. And even more. This is very interesting.

My climbing buddy, Tom, has climbed El Capitan twice. He said that he did not like it .. that it was "more about logistics than climbing."

The end. ■

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Rad published on January 3, 2015 1:03 AM.

Treatment Feels Worse Than the Disease (Way Worse) was the previous entry in this blog.

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