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


  1. Yes Jerry, I have read it. I am so happy that your well, and I have you around. Even if we are on the other side of the country... I know you there. BJ

  2. Thank you Barbra Joan, you were one of my discoveries and the gypsey in you helped me more than you might realize!

  3. Seriously how could you know what I have been thinking? Then again these thoughts are probably all to common. It feels like a dream sometimes it didn't happen only to wake up and you are now breastless still have your port. The continuing side effects of chemo are still there Neuropathy I saw your injury I have done that a time or two myself. Cancer, it's treatment and pitfalls a lot to digest and discover.....