Monday, October 31, 2011

It is a Burn or a Cut or a Scrape

I am not sure.  It does not hurt.  I have no memory of when it happened, sometime yesterday.  I didn't notice it until I went to bed last night.
   So it is an excuse to talk about neuropathy today?  It is probably a little worse than I describe it.  My main method of dealing with neuropathy is to ignore it as much as possible.  I do take a vocodine first thing in the morning and the last thing at night but this just takes the edge off, reduces my focus on my hands and allows me to do stuff during the day.
   It has been a year and a half since my last "chemo" and this is my on going souvenir, the only reminder that I once had cancer.  It is mostly in my hands and it is very hard to describe.  Conflicting messages.  Like being asleep, like being electrocuted, like stirring a bucket full of cut glass, that is it mostly.  It travels up my forearm and while not as intense, it leaves them a bit numb.  No pain there just not what they used to be, not sensitive to the touch.
   I would describe the bottoms of my feet the same way, no pain, just a bit numb.  I could walk on coals.
My Voodoo Doctor tells me that a nerve cell can be four feet long and take along time to grow, to heal.  He says that in eight years I will be a lot better.  My regular Doctor tells me that in eight years I will be used to this.  Either way there is hope, huh?
 A wound in the shop
   I don't think about this very much.  It would be consuming and I could easily become the pain that I am left with.

My other Blog is Here

Saturday, October 29, 2011

To Die or Not to Die

   That is the question.  As far as I know I am still Cancer Free and because I have been thoroughly tested, prodded and poked and looked at from the inside out, I am more sure of this than most people.  Today, for sure, I will live without the cancer.
   But the whole experience was really interesting.  It has been almost two years now but the memory is with me like it happened yesterday.  I had the emotional experience, the intellectual and spiritual experience, that dreaded experience which comes from the news:  You have cancer.  That is an announcement that will ruin the very best of days.
   In my case there was a month of more testing between this news and the beginning of "the procedure".I knew something was wrong with me before I went to the doctor.  I was in no pain so I almost didn't go to the doctor at all.  I had these lumps on my neck that just wouldn't go away.  No pain, not even tender, just lumps about the size of a cherry when I first noticed them.  A small walnut when I finally went, maybe six months after discovering them.
   This month before treatment I was tested and poked and prodded, MRI'd and CAT scans and PET scans,
checking out my heart to see if it could take it.  The doctor's wanted to know how strong my body was and could it take the punishment they were about to inflict on it?  What type of cancer did I have and how far it progressed?
   I had Hodgkin's Lymphoma and it was pretty much everywhere!  Nasty stuff that had migrated from my entire lymph system to my spleen and spine.  I had it pretty much everywhere.


When the doctor has acquired all the results, done his own research and collaborated with colleagues and has decided on a course of treatment he calls you in for "the conference".  This is worse than an Income Tax Audit.  It is sort of like a final exam.  I was one of the lucky ones with great insurance so everything was an option.  Whatever happened my total bill would come to $1,000 and the insurance company would pay the rest, well over $130,000.  I could tell you a hundred stories where cancer comes with financial ruin.
   Some Hodgkin's Lymphoma patients can get by with six "chemos".  The worst case can be a nightmare of dozens of repeated "chemos", radiation, surgery, bone marrow transplants and God knows what.
I was to get 12 "chemos" although he would have preferred, he said, 18 total but didn't think I could take it.
I started all this from a position of strength.  I have been in construction all of my life and began these treatments weighing 225 pounds and easily being able to lift well over 100 pounds.
   The beginning is really pretty simple and nothing much bad happens.  You have a lot of time to think, do any research you might want to do, discover fellow bloggers who might be going through the same thing, sort things out and think about your life.  What you did or didn't do, want to do, should have done.  Reflective stuff.  An attempt to discover what is important.
   I had a"port" installed in my chest, near my heart so these chemicals could be fed to me from there and not have to travel too far through my veins where they might cause too much damage.  I was knocked out for this and at the same time the doctors took some bone marrow from my hip.  None of this was painful because I was unconscious and under the operating table.  Didn't hurt the next day either.
   I am not sure if you should research this stuff or not.  The "Net" is explosive with gibberish, quackery, self help remedies, natural stuff, asparagus diets and alarming statistics.  There are a lot of cancer sites that are helpful too.  Cancer is no longer an automatic death sentence and if you have insurance the odds are pretty good.  Well, good odds for a gambler anyway.  I had "stage 3 and a half" Hodgkin's Lymphoma which means it has escaped my lymph system and discovered other places in my body where it was becoming comfortable.  My odds were slightly less than 50-50, much better than lottery tickets!
   I had a different Blog in those days and I will attempt to direct you there.
It is interesting in that it is a day to day accounting of this battle, pretty much everything I went through physically and emotionally on this train ride through Hell.  The experience was about one year, six months of "chemo" and six months to get my strength back, although I wouldn't say I am totally well even now, almost two years later.
   You will meet a lot of interesting people and most of them will die.  Being a "chemo" nurse has to be one of the hardest professions in the world, always upbeat, cheerful and smiling, knowing your patients are suffering and many will not survive this voodoo process, this chemical warfare.  The installation of Mustard Gas and chemicals so dangerous that the nurses wear hazmat suits while administrating them!
   I know there must be billions of cells in my body and most of them were perfectly good.  I saw cancer as the renegade cells, the few damaged ones surrounded by the good ones.  It was a fight I intended to win.
   If you are new to "chemo" your fingernails will curl, lift from your fingers and toes and most will fall out.  It is not painful.  Your hair will fall out, all of it, everywhere, no hair, no eyebrows, nothing.  That is interesting and of course, not painful at all.  You may have nausea, that is pretty common although I never did.
   In the first two months of this six month "chemo" process I gained eight pounds. Then I pretty much stopped eating.  I was never sick or nauseous I just couldn't swallow food.  Everything tasted like sawdust.
I pretty much survived on one Ensure and a little tapioca per day. Four months later I had lost over fifty pounds.  Not too much fun in that diet!
    I realized that I was getting pretty weak when I was unable to turn the key in the ignition of my truck.
I could do it with two hands, barely.  I couldn't walk around the block.  I slept a lot and was always cold.
I remember August and 90 degrees outside and I was cold.
   You have to discover other things.  I will continue this story.

My Other Blog is HERE

Friday, October 7, 2011

As good excuse as any...

I passed my test!  I was pretty sure that I would but it is not exactly the kind of test one can study for.
My blood is perfect and I have no lumps or bumps, no signs of cancer returning at all.  And the MRI and PET scans will be talked about at the end of January, my next scheduled appointment.  I gave him my arguments not to have them now and he respected my reasoning.  I have no symptoms and therefore no cause to get these tests.  I don't have the strength for another, much more invasive "cure" than the last one!And they are expensive, weather my money or the insurance company's, money best spent somewhere else.
And I am welding again, in the process of living and would prefer to focus on that.
   It is interesting how we can take an illness and make it a life's focus, controlling everything that we do.
I think back over my life and I have never done that.  Oh, I have hurt myself for sure but never gave it much time, just never saw myself that way.  I remember once, years and years ago when I was working at the local cannery.  I was severely burned when a batch of cream style corn exploded, getting 2nd and third degree burns all down my back.   That sent me to the hospital but I heal fast and only missed three days of work.
On another occasion I was in a traffic accident when some thief stole a car and rammed into me going 80 mph.  This destroyed the car and smashed a disc in my back causing me to wear a brace for about six months.  I missed a week of work for that one and returned working along with the others in my cumbersome back brace.
   I broke my hand once, smashing it with a three pound hammer and boy did that hurt!  I worked another two hours, finishing what I was doing.  I did go to the doctor for that one too but not until the next day!  He put my hand in a cast which I was to wear for six weeks.  I didn't miss a full day over that, just a few hours!
   There were lots of other times I could have made an issue of an illness or accident.  A few years ago I fell off a Church roof, steep as any church, fell 16 feet straight onto a concrete sidewalk landing on my bottom.
It looked like you beat me with a baseball bat!  I never even went to a doctor over that.
   The point to all of this is that I am not my cancer and have never been.  It wasn't a fun process and the chemo took its toll on me, that is for sure.  But at its worst when I couldn't lift 20 pounds I was still in my shop every day, doing what I do, even if with a weakened effort.
   It would be easy to focus on what is wrong with me, dwell on my neuropathy, worry about my lungs and that I can no longer run, haven't the strength I used to have.  It would be easy but oh so boring.

My Other Blog is HERE

Monday, October 3, 2011

Doctor Appointment

I think I have a doctor's appointment today. I only remember that it is soon and in the afternoon so I will call them this morning to discover the time.  This is a three month check up, one year and three months after my last chemo!  He will have the blood suckers extract some samples and with the power of modern medicine, within five minutes they will know most everything about me, down to the parts per billion.
   I will be weighed and measured and stripped, pushed and prodded and poked.  They are hunting.
I know he will suggest another MRI and PET scan, something I successfully avoided three months ago.  My last scans were half way into the chemos and the cancer was gone then yet I continued with six more chemos
"just to be sure".  Enough chemical poisons to give me neuropathy for a lifetime and maybe chase away the cancer for good.
   I don't know what my answer will be.  I am still thinking about it this late, just hours before my appointment.
I haven't made up my mind.
   The down side to me, the reason not to get the scans?  They are horribly time consuming and boring.   You get them and wait, schedule another appointment, get some kind of analysis, make another appointment and you lose three days of your life just doing that.
   They are very expensive.  Oh, they won't cost me much, I have great health insurance.  One of the lucky few.  But money is still spent and they are not definitive.  Always that odds game one plays with cancer.
   The other reason, the other down side to getting these tests is the answer, any test results, will have very little significance to me.  I am living my life without cancer now.  As if I didn't have it.  I do what I want.  I do what I am able to do.  I never think about it.  It is not my focus at all.
   I have no strength to fight this fight again.  My hands cannot get worse.  I can't allow that.  I have my strength back but in a new limited edition.  I am good for short distances and short bursts of energy.  My lungs have taken a beating from this cure and more "medicine" would do them in.
   After the blood letting and looking up stuff in the computer, after feeling me up in a not nice way at all, he,
my Voodoo Doctor will sit me down and ask me how I am doing?  That is not an easy question from a doctor.  I have to be careful with my answers.  Guarded answers.  The wrong answer will get you sent to another specialist, more testing.  Cutting if sent to a surgeon, zapping if sent to the radiologist and more cocktails if sent to another voodoo doctor.  I am very careful indeed with my answers.
   I have always dealt with the uncomfortable in life with distraction.  As soon as possible I will get the conversation to art and hopefully it will be a fifteen minute appointment with my doctor that is not about me at all.
   I have no symptoms at all.  No lumps, no bumps.  Nothing that made me go to him in the first place.
I think I am going to be all right.

My Art is HERE