Recently in biopsies and cancer Category

Day #23 for Patient #23

» Today is day #23 since the end of my chemo and radiation treatments. The blood-count nadir for this chemo is » "14-23 days". So that means I should definitely be on the mend beginning today.

The chemo doctor said that the three-weeks-after-treatment is done will suck-the-worst. (I'm paraphrasing, of course.)

She was right. Actually, I would put the sucky focus on days 3-13 .. as the worst of the worst.

FrankensteinI could certainly elaborate but will spare you the gory details.

» Worst is Behind

Between you and me .. the thing I am really looking forward to ..

.. is that day when it occurs to me .. that this 'thing' ..

.. this cancer thing & especially the EFFECTS of its brutal treatment regimen .. is/are behind me.

I cannot say that today, tho. Because this 'thing' is all up in my ass, presently. Like a toothy croc munching on your butt.

But certainly, day #23 represents at least the beginning of the end.

And that alone brings a degree of comfort .. that I made it beyond treatment and survived.

In other words » the worst is now behind. (Tho, no .. I admit, it does not feel that way.)

It was not that long ago, you know, when I was writing » "This shit does not look doable. Not from where I currently stand .. at the mid-way point of treatment."

(And it didnt, either. Nor was it later on in treatment.)

» Treatment in the 23-Day Old Rearview

Cancer Treatment in the 23-Day Old Rearview MirrorTwo days after treatment ended, my chemo doctor examined me and said, "Well, I must say .. for having JUST finished treatment .. you look fantastic."

(Tho no, I confess I hardly felt fantastic. Closer to Frankenstein than fantastic. Much closer.)

That was the day she gave me a big hug. "Completion hug," she said with arms wide.

"That was pretty hard," I had to admit. "What an ordeal." (I will take a hug from my chemo doctor any time.)

» Hardest Thing You'll Ever Do

While I was waiting recently to see the chemo doctor .. the nurse for the radiation doctor came out and saw me. She came over and sat down and we chatted for 10 minutes .. there in the big waiting room.

She has seen me violently shaking and projectile-vomiting, during my 2nd clinical trial .. so our level of familiarity goes beyond the usual niceties of social grace.

It's interesting how we can develop these mini relationships with people that feel surprisingly intimate ..

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Cancer is Such a Mystery

» I have been trading emails recently with the sister of clinical trials patient #24. (I was #23, like Michael Jordan.) Her brother is three weeks behind me in treatment. Today is his final chemo and he has one week of radiation left.

Cancer cells dividingMost interesting of all the things she wrote is this »

» "Cancer is such a mystery. My brother was the epitome of health before treatment. A marathon runner, a tri-athlete and an elite cyclist.

He never smoked, he didn't drink and he ate a very healthy diet. He is only 39. So who knows?"

I read her statement multiple times. I could feel myself trying to wrap my head around the implications.

If nothing else, it doesnt seem fair, does it?

[ Here is a similarly-themed article about young, healthy, athletic people who have strokes. ]

As a cancer patient, you cant help but try to figure out this shit.

During my many rides down to Moores, I would talk to the drivers. I recall one saying »

» "I smoked two packs a day for 25 years before I quit." [ And he never got cancer. ]

Myself, I smoked a little as a teenager, but never really enjoyed it very much. Rather, I was just trying to be cool.

My mother was diagnosed with lung cancer after not having smoked for 20 years. [ "Honey, we didnt know cigarettes were bad for you. When we found out, we quit." ]

I've never been much of a smoker or a drinker. Go figure.

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Killing the Incurable

» I was going to title today's entry » Moving Back the Oncolytic Goal Posts .. for reasons that will become clear. But that would have been the whiny title, the sniveler's title. The pussy title. And nobody appreciates a whiny, sniveling pussy .. especially when it's a guy.

Instead, today's title is .. well, you see it there .. which I will use as a springboard to discuss these oncologists » The Cancer Killers.

Let me just mention that, killing cancer is no big deal. If you simply throw the host into a sufficiently-hot furnace, the cancer will die within a matter of minutes.

The trick, it would seem, is killing the cancer without killing the patient.

It should be noted that, my experience with cancer, while growing up, with both mom and gramps, was that » following diagnosis, the patient is dead within a matter of months. The kinder and more loving the person, the quicker and more gruesome the death.

Is there a statistical correlation between kindness, compassion, empathy, and cancer? I have discussed this concept (and the possible theories for reasons behind it) with my shrink during our most recent weekly session.

Cinderella and her Wicked Step Mother Lady Tremaine played by Cate BlanchettHow many selfish, cold-hearted fucks do you know who get cancer? I'm talking empirically, here.

Not many, I bet.

But before I get into that, and discussing the cancer killers, let me update you on the status of my latest iterations.

Just when you think it couldnt get any more bizarre. Or challenging. Or trying. Or testing.

» The Voice

My VOICE .. it has been a problem, off-n-on, for a week or so. The last time I saw the radiation oncologist, he said » "If your voice doesnt improve by the next time I see you, I am going to look at it."

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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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Treatment Feels Worse Than the Disease (Way Worse)

» Next week represents hump week of my seven-week cancer treatment. Next week is week #4. Three down, four to go.

Next week will be "a difficult week," where I get chemo #2 (of 3) and my final (stage 1) clinical trial .. of the genetically-engineered vaccine. More bio-hazards breakfast, baby.

I did consider blowing off #4, cuz my ass is seriously dragging. And it's the day after chemo.

But the nurse who cares for me during these trials is so good that she makes it easier. "Are you going to be here next Tuesday?" I asked.

I've never had anybody who could insert an I-V that you barely felt. We're talking iron in your vein. She has her own proprietary technique where she first warms your arm with a heating pad.

"I hardly felt that at all," I told her. "You so totally rock. I've never seen the heating-pad technique before. And I've been getting stuck a lot lately. You're up there with Anna at the lab. She rocks, too."

"I know Anna," she said. "I hate getting an I-V myself. So, anything I can do to help minimize the pain .. I'm all for that."

» The Zen-like Clinical Trials Yoga Nurse

I am not going to get much into it .. but my Clinical Trials nurse is yoga girl. A meditating yoga girl. She brings a calmness with her. A sense of peace that cancer patients appreciate. Very centered. Unflappable. (She's the one who hit me up with the Demerol two weeks ago.)

You are there for hours .. so you talk. Sure, it is a profesional environment. But, they are there to help save your life. [ Key word » life. ] So it is difficult to keep things from wandering off into personal areas.

We even talked a little religion. A little spirituality, might be a better way to say it.

We had a nice little chat about how difficult it is to actually meditate .. to stop, and quiet the mind. "Uh, first I need to vacuum the living room. Then I need to throw in a load of laundry. And now I really need to pay that stupid electric bill." You never seem to get around to sitting still and quieting the mind. She could relate. We laughed.

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Bio-Hazards for Breakfast

» [ The winter solstice arrives on Sunday the 21st at 3:03 PM Pacific Standard time. ] So many stories to share .. so many cool, gnarly, head-spinning stories. But so little time to share them. What a shame.

I am spending lots of time down at Moores .. meeting with this doctor and that ..

Bio-Hazard.. getting bio-hazards pumped into my veins. You know.

Had my second clinical trial this week. They said that they expected me to have a 'strong reaction'.

Dude, let it never be said that the people at Moores sugar-coat. No, sir. They let you know the shit is coming.

You can batten down the hatches if you like, but you will never say, "They didnt warn me."

So there I was .. reclining on the bed in my private room (which I call a 'cabana').

And they pump the bio-hazard into my veins. (The pretty nurse who does this is wearing a dang haz-mat suit.)

» Plutonium Popsicles

And I am thinking how I am such a tough dude that I eat bio-hazards for breakfast.

And my nurse (pretty with a great smile) says » "You might start to feel cold and feel like you cant get warm and start shaking, even violently .. now that your body knows to respond to this vaccine."

And I am thinking » "No doubt, this girl is impressed with me that I am such a tough guy that I eat bio-hazards for breakfast and do chemo for lunch."

She says » "It's important that you press this red button here at the first signs of this because I will need to come and shoot this demerol into your ass [ the I-V line ] so you stop shaking."

It only takes her 10 mins to pump the bio-hazard into your vein, but they keep you there for several hours .. to watch you.

My hottie nurse stops by every once in a while to check on me, and I am like » "Is that all you got? Dont you have anything stronger? Maybe you have some plutonium popsicles for me to suck on? That might get me going."

» The Malfunctioning Air Conditioner

Then, after a couple of hours, all of a sudden, I am like » "Dang .. something must be wrong with this air-conditioner. That sucker must be broken. Somebody needs to call maintenance. Cuz it is getting colder-than-shit in here."

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First Week of Radiation / Chemo

» I have had many rough weeks over the years, but this was up there with the hall-of-famers. I came home on Friday, feeling shakey-tired, and went straight to bed. Slept 'til noon today. Only then was I rested enough to be just normal-tired.

Depending on the schedule of the day, I sometimes have to get up before 5 to get ready and make a bite of breakfast for the day ..

.. and dont get home 'til late. Long days. Five days a week. Sometimes I get up before 4.

Much to share. Not sure where to start. Probably should mention first that the tumor (swollen lymph node) is almost completely gone, already.

The doctor (Radiation Oncologist) said that is rare and encouraging.

Okay, "almost gone" may be a bit optimistic. But I would estimate that it has shrunk ("melted") to the size of a marble .. from the size of a date.

» Visit Original ENT Surgeon

I also saw my original ENT-surgeon this week (Thursday). He was the one who referred me to Moores. He says that the fact that I tested positive for HPV-16 is actually a GOOD thing ..

.. because those types of tumors / cancers respond better to radiation / chemo than those caused by smoking / drinking. (I have never been much of a smoker or a drinker.)

I told him that the Radiation Oncologist was thinking of getting the surgeon to cut out the node and skip radiation / chemo.

He said, "I know. I told him that I didnt think that was a good idea."

"Why not?" I asked.

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Notes from the Infusion Center (First Chemo)

» Had my first chemo treatment today. Only they dont call it 'cheemo'. No. Rather they call it an » infusion .. which is a more pleasant word, you must agree.

This was while I was sitting in the Infusion Center, where they have 50 or 60 cushy reclining chairs ..

.. "We want you to be comfortable. Would you like a blanket and a pillow?" ..

.. and 5 or 6 separate rooms .. which I call » cabanas. (They will be giving me a cabana later this week.)

The biggest difference, right now, anyway, is that my legs are wobbly. I am unsteady on my feet.

They tell me that the two biggest side-effects are » nausea and fatigue.

Before they give you the 'infusion,' which lasts an hour, of a big liter-bag, they give you anti-nausea meds and a cortical steroid.

Actually, before they give you these meds, they first draw 4 vials of blood, which are sent off to the lab, next door.

"I just gave them a bag-full of vials last week," I protested to the nurse.

"A lot can change in a few days," she said.

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» In 1901 Annie Taylor was the first person to go over Niagra Falls in a barrel and survive (.. on her 63rd birthday). Since then, many other whack-o's have followed her over the edge.

Heading over Niagra Falls in a BarrelNow, you would never catch me going over the falls in a barrel ...

.. but I know the feeling.

In less than a week, I will be going over Oncolytic Falls of Radiation, Chemotherapy and Immunotherapy ..

.. in an emotionally distressed barrel.

I can see the event horizon from here. Thar she be .. dead ahead .. all sparkly and shiny-like. Terrifyingly beautiful.

Talk about being out of my comfort zone. I can hear the roar. I can feel the spray on my face. I can see the pace quickening. Better hold on for dear life. Here we go. "Geronimo!"

» Thornton Hospital, UCSD, La Jolla

Main Entrance to Thornton Hospital UCSD, La JollaI did not go to Moores today .. but I was close. Very close. Walking-distance close.

Because today I went to Thornton hospital .. which is part of UCSD medical.

I have never been there before. Lots of construction work going on in the area. A number of big cranes are fixed in various places throughout.

I went for another CT scan. (My third.) Plus more blood work.

» Save Some for Me, Will Ya?

I am getting good at these CT scans .. which require you leave the I-V in your arm for the duration of the test. After the scan was complete, the Clinical Trials girl brought over a bag full of vials for me to fill.

Vials of all different colors. Green, purple .. a veritable rainbow of colors. Pretty colors.

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Thanksgiving & Genuine Feelings of Gratitude

» Happy Thanksgiving. Gobble, gobble.

I went to Moores again yesterday. Normally I write about my experience ON THE DAY of the trip. Which is more difficult. More challenging.

I feel this approach takes the reader closer to the experience itself. Because I myself am closer to the experience.

Thanksgiving TurkeyBut waiting until today, being Thanksgiving, gives me the opportunity to share some observations about gratitude that I find interesting.

Plus it gives me 24 hours to reflect on the experience. Because there was a lot of information to absorb in a short time.

Yesterday was sort of an orientation or indoctrination for folks who are scheduled to receive radiation treatments.

A 1-hour class given by the lady WHO RUNS Moores. That would be » the Director. (With a capital 'D'.)

She could easily have pawned this off on someone else .. being the busy person that she obviously is.

But it speaks volumes (to a patient like me, anyway) when the head honcho herself welcomes you to her facility.

There is an unspoken subtext. Which goes something like this »

» "This is what we do here at Moores. Let me show you a little of what I mean .. because I realize it would be easy to overwhelm you with information at this point. But I want to give you a quick, general idea of the quality of care you can expect to receive while you are HERE WITH US at Moores. I think it will bring you a degree of comfort when you realize that .. nobody does cancer quite like we do. Ah! There I go again, bragging on my people. Shame on me. But it's hard not to brag on them. Let me briefly show you what I mean by that. Let me introduce my team to you. And if while I am introducing them to you and while I am outlining their (most remarkable) skill sets for you .. if you somehow get the impression that I am insanely proud of them .. well, uh .. that's because you're right. I am. Guilty as charged. But hear me out. There are reasons for this pride of mine. Many reasons, and all valid ones, too. For example ..."

Thanksgiving Turkey roastedTo be continued. Time to go eat some bird.

But wait 'til you hear about these radiation machines. Linear accelerators. "Wow." (Times ten.)

They cost a few million dollars each. The size of Volkswagen's. So cool.

» Techno Boner City

They spin around you as necessary. Truly awesome. Technologically speaking. I am so impressed that I can hardly stand it.

Dude, these machines are SO TECHNO COOL that .. even with cancer, I had a boner.

There is a part of me that does not identify with the cancer .. and part of the way in which I deal with it (with the cancer, I mean) .. is to identify and recognize any and every POSITIVE thing that I can find. (And yes, there are many .. if you look. Tho yes, it can be difficult, at times, to look beyond the cancer. Sure. This I will not deny.)

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