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Friday, December 9, 2011

Coping with Cancer – How I’m doing it

Once all of my surgeries were out of the way and I was stable and back to ‘normal’, I had the time to seriously confront what a diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer meant for me and for my life. Ever the student, I decided to enroll in an independent study class so that I could examine the academic literature on death and dying (D&D). I thought that examining what scholars of D&D have to say about the how society has and does deal with the topic might help me face my own fears. The paper that I wrote was ended up following the varying definitions of “The Good Death” in western culture, but included an analysis of several books written, at least in part, by people (or loved ones of people) who were dying (or had died in the case of CS Lewis) of disease. For the interested, these are the narratives that I included in my sources:

*Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man, and Life’s Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom
*The Gift of Peace: Personal Reflections by Joseph Cardinal Bernadin
*Cancer in Two Voices by Sandra Butler and Barbara Rosenblum
*The Cancer Journals, Audre Lorde
*The Body Silent: The Different World of the Disabled by Robert Murphy
*A Complex Sorrow: Reflections on Cancer and an Abbreviated Life by Marianne Paget
*Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived by Laurence Shames and Peter Barton
*Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams
(incredible book)
*A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis

The following themes emerged from my analysis of these books:
1) Existential crisis/Liminality(the person set apart and outside of usual social rules)
2) The dying as sage/warrior/hero
3) Mind/body dualism (a sort of disembodiment, diseased body sabotages the ‘real self’)
4) Living ‘intensely’
5) Seeking the spiritual

By the time I had written the paper, I had experienced one through four for certain. What I hadn’t done is any active spiritual seeking. I have been and agnostic/scoffer for several years now, although I would occasionally attend mass with KB. I have since allowed myself to engage more fully in it.

In the book, Not Fade Away, Peter Barton makes the statement that he started to read and consider more spiritual things to help him not feel so bad about having cancer. This seemed like a reasonable idea to me. The university where I work offers a year-long retreat called Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life, so I joined.

In his commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005, author and social critic David Foster Wallace stated that all people worship. The only difference is what they worship. Many people worship money and things, good looks or good health, but all of those things are transient and ultimately unsatisfying. I figure that worshiping a loving God, real or imagined, is probably better for me than worshiping anything else. KB and I started attending our local parish regularly. This has opened the door for both KB and I to volunteer, both at the church and at the local food pantry, something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time now. I’ve also become fairly active on, an online community for people with cancer. There is nothing that works quite so well to combat being overly focused on or feeling sorry for yourself than attending to other people who need help. I plan to continue this way for as long as I am able.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Happy Cancerversary to me....

First things first - a big shout out to all the people who have helped make my life easier through this past year by their spiritual, mental and physical support. You know who you are. Thanks! Woo Hoo!

I thought at the first anniversary of my cancer diagnosis I would create a very profound blog post, perhaps listing last year's challenges, how my life has changed, and offering up sage thoughts about the precariousness of life and the need to appreciate each new day and the joy it brings.

Yeah - no.

Yes, it has been a difficult year, but I've had worse. Lots of people have had worse. Lots of people DID have worse. One thing that I didn't like about this past year was, well, the cancer. One thing that I did like about this past year is how the awareness of death has made me live differently. In the literature, they call it, "living more intensely" (emphasis theirs). I think I'm just making better choices about what to pay attention to and how to spend my time. It has made for a better life in some ways.

Don't get me wrong. I do NOT think that cancer is a gift as some would argue (some who are at the healthy end of the cancer spectrum, I would argue). I do, however, think that, like so many of the big challenges in life, it can make you smarter.

I'm all for smarter.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Venturing Out

I have found in the many cancer-related blogs that I read that when things are going well for people, they blog less. This is my explanation for my blogging absences. Things have been going well.

I have completed the standard 6-rounds of chemotherapy. The post-6-round scans were very positive – tumor shrinkage across the board with the main lung lesion turning into scar tissue, actual bone healing in most bone lesions and the spot in the liver has been determined to be ‘not related’ to the cancer. Additionally, my quarterly brain scan earlier this week proved to be clear. I am off of all pain medication.

KB and I just returned from a 10-day camping/hiking vacation and two weeks before that, we moved to a new (to us) condominium in Oak Park.

I feel good. Basically energetic with only muscular discomfort in the leg where I had the surgery.
It’s enough to make a person optimistic.

Wunder Doc seems really optimistic as well, telling me that my therapy could keep me going successfully for years.

Although I feel a real need to mentally prepare for a possible premature death in order to handle it with grace, I’ll take the optimism.

Hope is a good thing.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


"We are such stuff as dreams are made on, rounded with a little sleep". ~ Shakespeare, The Tempest

Last night, I watched the PBS program NOVA wherein they looked at dreams (click HERE)

It is an interesting program with alternatives to the usual Freudian view of what dreams are. What it did for me was prompt memories of some unusual dreams that I have had around and after my cancer diagnosis. The interesting thing about all of these dreams is that they offered a source of comfort in regards to death. I’ll narrate them in reverse chronological order. It is important to note that my diagnosis was in October of 2010.

January 2010 – I was walking around this huge, old house – a house that I have ‘visited’ many times in dreams throughout my life. At one point, I was in a smaller laundry-type room with silver, round heat ducts around the ceiling. I noticed a thick layer of dust and dust bunnies on top of the ducts, so I decided to clean them. I stepped up on top of the washing machine and as I was reaching up to dust, my cat Ernie (dead in real life) jumped out into my arms. He was very disheveled and covered with dirt and dust. He clung to me like he hadn’t seen me in a long time. I petted him and tried to soothe and calm him. I gave him and bath and fed him. I then turned him over to ‘someone’ to care for him until I returned. There were also several black people in the house. It occurred to me that the house belonged to them although no one seemed to mind that I was there. One of the people there was Gary Coleman (dead in real life). ---I woke up feeling like I had found my lost cat and would be returning to wherever he was at some point, but until then, he was taken care of.

November 2010 – My husband and I were at our local watering hole. We were standing talking and there were a couple of other sort of faceless people around who we were talking to. Then what I took to blonde-headed woman with shoulder-length hair came up and was looking at me like she knew me. She looked very excited to see me. Someone introduced her and as I looked at her, I thought that she looked more like a man, although the gender was definitely ambiguous. She/he came closer to me and took my hand. Once in that grasp, I felt very happy and very loved. She/he smiled and said something to the effect of, “Okay, it’s time to go,” and led me out of the bar. As I was leaving, I gave thought to Keith and what would happen with him, but I felt comforted that he would be okay. As soon as we opened the door and hit the sidewalk, everything got very bright so that I could see nothing but the brightness.

March 2010 – I was walking on lawn approaching a white farmhouse. It was very tidy and bright with black shutters. The lawn was a very bright, vivid green and the sky was blue. There were a number of very old (tall) trees around and it was very quiet. As I walked closer to the house, it seemed to get larger and I sensed that there were many people living there. As I continued to get closer, other similar houses appeared in the distance and they all seemed to get larger. It occurred to me that this was where all of my ancestors lived and that I was here now, too. I began to feel a sort of release or letting go accompanied with a relaxing sort of feeling – sort of like the feeling that you get when you relax in a hot tub when you are bone-weary. As I started to let go, it suddenly occurred to me that I must be dying. I took a sudden sharp breath and woke up.

One could argue that the first two dreams that I have listed are in response to my diagnosis – my brain attempting to reconcile and come to terms with the knowledge of my diagnosis. The one from March is a bit trickier. I’d love to believe that these dreams were given to me to offer comfort instead of something that my own brain came up with so that I don’t go totally psycho. I like the thought of a something or someone out there who, even if they don’t do anything about the bad things that happen in the world, will offer bits of comfort to make the bad things in life easier to tolerate. Sort of an impotent view of a god-like entity, I know. But I think when you’ve come to terms with something unpleasant in your life that you know will continue, and you’ve decided (or have no choice but) to tough it out, a little comfort from a benevolent entity is a pretty attractive thing. In some people’s opinion, that’s how the whole concept of God/gods was created in the first place. But if it is merely my own brain, does that mean that I am essentially my own God? That’s a disturbing concept.

I would totally suck at being God. Too much pressure.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Occasions of Reality

It seems to happen at night. Usually I can call it chemo-induced insomnia, but perhaps it's just the dark and quiet lending itself to contemplation, but whatever it is, and tonight is one of those times, when I have occasions of reality - that is, the settling of my mind on what is really going on and what is likely to happen to me, to my life, and to those that I love.

Before this last chemo round, my wunder-doc told me that many people stop after four rounds, unable or unwilling to tolerate the final two in the prescribed course of six. She told me that studies show that those who undergo all six live longer and she suggested that, due to my age and health, I continue.

Live longer.

Don't get better.

Don't get cured.

Live longer.

And I've known this all along...that treatment is simply delaying the inevitable, but something about that conversation in the quiet dark of this one night struck a rather unsettling cord with me.

And I start to think about five years.

I will, in all likelihood, be dead within five years.

(Actually less, if you consider that it has been not quite eight months since my diagnosis. By the way, 50% of people diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer ARE dead within eight months, so I guess there's something to be thankful for).

So what does one do with that?

It's hardly practical for me to quit my job and spend my time traveling or spending time with family. You do have to live until you die. But perhaps some reconnoitering is in order. Some re-evaluation of what I do with my time, versus what I want to do, or try to do, or accomplish. Not to be cheesy, but a bucket list, if you will (although they did some stuff I would completely not be interested in in that movie). Something more based in reality - simpler, something actually do-able.

Maybe making the list will help me get some sleep.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

SODD it! The Sociology of Death and Dying

Today, I have officially begun the long (I'm sure by the end it will seem very long) slog through the literature of the Sociology of Death and Dying. I have enrolled in a directed readings class for the summer and, due to the unfortunate fact that I have advanced lung cancer, I thought it well and good to examine my discipline's examination of the topic of death and dying. The idea is to focus specifically on the social aspects of terminal illness - those who have it, those who know those who have it, those who don't have it, but define those who do, and whoever decides to jump into the pool.

Death is sort of an odd thing in our (western) society. We both revel in it (in our news casts and television programming), and hide from it (When was the last time you had a discussion with anyone about death? Not a particular death, but just death? The fact that we will die and what will that be like? Chances are, it has been a while, if ever). So the death of a someone of whom we can speak of as a sort of topic of conversation is okay, but actual death, the fact that we are all going to die at some point, is not quite as attractive a topic. I like to think that if we spoke about actual death more, it would become easier and perhaps instead of fearing the topic, people might find comfort in it. I, of course, could be dead, dead wrong - no pun intended.

On a slightly different topic, since my diagnosis and general acceptance of my cancer, I have been frequenting a variety of cancer blogs - that is, blogs written by those who have cancer. Usually, I look for folks with cancer types that are known to have particularly bad outcomes like mine. I can't help but think there there are differences in the thoughts and experiences, however subtle, between having a cancer where there is a 14% 5 year survival rate, and one with a 97% 5 year survival rate. Anyway, recently, there seems to be a run on my blogging cancer people who are at the end of their treatment options and are either months from death or who have died fairly quickly. One was told on April 22nd that any more real viable treatments were over, she accepted it and was dead by May 3rd. Yuck - Scary - Lonely - Bad on the one hand.... Calm - Happy - Peaceful on the other. Weird dichotomy, I know.

Let me see if I can accurately describe the latter - I do think that, in an odd way, it's good to know that you have a condition that could cause your death much earlier than you had ever anticipated. Because of my incredible family constitution, I always assumed that I would live to be well into my 90s - perhaps even reach my 100s, in relatively good physical condition. I was living as if I would never really die - the idea of death was so far removed that I was living my life in a pretty superficial manner. Small things bothered me. I suffered from depression, often from really stupid things that I took too seriously. I was just led along in life without pay much attention as to what direction I pointed myself. Because of my social location, education, white female, and the relative wealth of the west, one really doesn't have to pay attention to politics or social problems too much. Prices and politicians rise and fall, but day to day survival itself was very simple. Consequently, I was not living on purpose. I won't say I wasn't TRYING to live on purpose, I was, but what was missing was the reality of death...the knocking on the door, living in your body, making you unwell reality of death. Although my survival today is still simple, it has, on and off, been less so. It is also quite likely that as the cancer progresses, my survival will become less and less simple until I simple stop doing it...surviving, that is.

I guess, in an odd way, cancer has forced me to pay attention to life. "Time gets kinda precious, when there's less of it to waste." (Bonnie Raitt). I listen more. I see more. I weigh things more carefully. I am less flippant. I laugh more. I love more. I am savoring life and I am happy.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Round Four ... *whimper

Last Friday was round four of terrible, awful chemotherapy. I'm not sure what went wrong or, more fairly, what went differently from the last three times, but boy was I out of it. The first couple days it was the usual fatigue and falling asleep sitting up while everyone watches me drool into my lap while they snap photos for their Facebook accounts. Day three, however, led to a high level of nausea and several bouts of vomiting, followed by more sitting-up-sleeping and drooling. I feel a bit better today, but I'm not sure what happened - why the difference from previous rounds - I tried to keep up on the anti-nausea pills and get out and walk, drink plenty of fluids, blah, blah, blah. I'm hoping that this doesn't mean that following rounds will be even more unpleasant.

On a more sad note, there are a number of cancer-related blogs that I follow and things aren't exactly rosy in cancer-blog world. Deaths and decisions to stop treatment seem to be peaking in number and with them, the sadness of those of us left behind in Cancer World to wonder if and when it will be our turn to make those sorts of decisions and write those final blog posts.

K├╝bler-Ross is the one who came up with the stages of grief and honestly, I sure wish that it was a more linear process. There are sometimes I think I have come to some sort of peaceful idea about death and can sit on it peacefully for quite some time, but inevitably, it slides back into some sort of frightened panic of one degree or another. Why can't I just stay with acceptance, even if I have what could be a significant portion of time left?

"What a treasure I have in this wonderful peace, buried deep in the heart of my soul, so secure that no power can take it away, while the years of eternity roll." - Warren Cornell

Forgive my dip into Methodism.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Cancer is a Journey

*cue sappy music

"Cancer is a journey...and everyone's journey is different." Watching television the other night...well, listening to it, I was in the kitchen making dinner, I heard this phrase from a commercial for The Cancer Treatment Centers of America®. Now, I've had issues with them before - their commercials that lead people to believe that they are cutting edge and can offer things that other cancer treatment (that are ACTUALLY cutting edge) can offer - all from a for-profit institution - we'll just say that it left me skeptical.

But this particular phrase was particularly irritating. A journey is something I picture as something that someone undertook voluntarily. It is a wonderful and wondrous thing and, ultimately, pleasurable. Cancer is not a journey (despite the tongue-in-cheek title of this blog). It is not a journey so much as it is a forced march. Like a forced march, no one wants to go on a 'cancer journey'. You start off by surprise - forced into a very frightening world that until then, had been entirely unknown. Each day is filled with fear - of pain, of injury, of scarification, and of death. Your captor is in control and you have no choice but to continue to put one foot in front of the other until you either make it to wherever you're going, or you drop dead.

This idea of cancer and the treatment of cancer as some sort of adventurous journey is a complete crock of shit.

Let's be real, people, and let's be honest - cancer sucks and it's okay to say that it does*.

*Links to others who agree with this point of view:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Moments of Self Pity...and then back on solid ground

I have been building up to a bit of a meltdown recently. You can read too much about cancer and about people who have cancer and it can get to you. The sad stories of people who die within a few years of diagnosis after a long, protracted struggle and who leave mourning loved ones behind can really bring you down. I've found that I try to create my own sort of statistics by reading stories, finding out how long each person in each story with my type of cancer lasted, what they had to suffer through in order to paint an approximate picture of my own future.

Ghastly thing to do to yourself.

My sister is the most helpful person to me through all this without even knowing it. She sent me the super-smoothie recipe (earlier post) which I attribute to my relative health and well-being and she sent me this blog (click HERE) about a man, now 68 years old, who was diagnosed first with stage 4 lung cancer, then 3 1/2 years later, prostate and throat cancer all of which he has beaten. To celebrate, he is walking the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Mexico. It's an amazing story and what they seem to attribute his survival to is his exercise. I've been reading a lot of about this...that regardless of age, gender, race, etc., the main components of those who survive long-term (I guess that means over five years) is a quality of life that includes fairly vigorous or at least regular physical and mental activity. This is my life. I'm very active, some would say 'outdoorsy' or 'sporty', and I'm a grad student - lots of mental activity.

I can do this. Or at the very least, I can give it my best shot.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Chemo Insomnia

Chemo insomnia is a strange thing. I've had insomnia before, usually after choir practice (so much oxygen!) or a particularly ripping graduate class (brain just won't quit). Chemo insomnia is a little different. Sleep teases you - you might drift asleep normally only to be jerked awake by weird body spasms, an odd twinge of pain, or absolutely nothing at all. Seriously. There you are, nearly asleep and then suddenly - AWAKE! Almost asleep. AWAKE. Just about made it. AWAKE. It's like that weird struggle you sometimes have to make it to a difficult orgasm. Extremely frustrating. Tonight, I went through the usual back and forth until I had a weird sensation/dream that someone or something was right behind me, sort of whispering in my ear. I actually squealed. And here I am.

And what can I write about....hmmmmm...I had my PowerPort for chemo installed about a week ago. The bruises are nice shades of purple and green - quite lovely for the spring/Easter season...ummmm....I enrolled for my summer class on the Sociology of Death and Dying - that might make for some interesting blog entries...wweelllllll......I've been reading other blogs and I've got to say that some make me downright jealous. Some people are just really good, entertaining writers who write honestly and humorously about their lives with cancer and I'm not sure that I'm doing such a brilliant job in that department. I've been thinking that, like in other areas of my life, I'm not always that open and forthcoming..."I know you are a private person" someone recently described me as...weird...I never thought of myself as a private person...guarded maybe, but not necessarily perhaps that's the ticket. Open up, expose, send the guards home and fling open the gates of the self!

Or maybe I'll just go back to bed.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

First Post-Chemo Scan Results

I have chosen the illustration to the left (specially made by yours truly) to illustrate the effectiveness of two rounds of chemo. What you are looking at is dramatization of the inoperable main tumor that I have in my left lung. Pre-chemo, it looks angry and appears to have the potential to get angrier. After two treatments of standard chemo, it has suffered quite a shock. Good news for me - more time on the planet. Bad news for the tumor - it must now work harder - which if you think about it is really bad news for me, ultimately. For now though, I'm happy that chemistry has bought me some time.

KB and I have been searching for a home to actually buy - it should cost us significantly less than rent, and we'll be able to nest it and make it our own instead of tolerating all of the plain beigeiness that comes from apartment living. Our lease runs out at the end of May, so here's hoping we can get into something by then.

Until then, it's life as usual in the big city. I continue to be happy and thankful and to love.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Congratulations! You have pulled the Cancer Card!

Today is the 6th month anniversary of my pulling the cancer card! Bob Barker, what prize to we have for our guest today?

Well Burt, we have a brand new thoracic CT with contrast!

It's true. I celebrated this auspiscious day by getting a thoractic CT scan to see if the chemotherapy is successfully combating the cancer. I'll find out on Friday when I go in for my lab/doctor/infusion appointment.

From what I've read on other cancer blogs and wall posts, CT scans of this nature can cause a great deal of anxiety - people are afraid that treatment is not working, or if they are having a scan to see if the cancer has come back, they are obviously anxious that the cancer has returned. Evidently, it's much easier to win the first round with cancer than subsequent ones.

I have to tell you though, I really haven't had any anxiet as of yet. I'm not sure why this is other than 1) I think the chemotherapy is working because some of my symptoms have gone away, and 2) because I have prepared myself for it NOT working. My whole life it has been this way. I prepare for the worst so that I'm pleasantly surprised if the news is good. What's helpful for me too, I think, is that I know that any good news is, essentially, temporary. There will come a day when my DNA mutation mutates again so that any treatment is basically useless. Don't get me wrong, I plan on seeking out different treatment options along the way, but I know where this train is ultimately headed.

Curiously, I'm okay with it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Best Chemo Smoothie Recipe Ever!

Most people know, if not by first hand experience then by common knowledge, that chemotherapy makes you feel like crap. You feel nauseated and exhausted. Even if you felt like eating, your taste buds feel like they've been burned or mowed over, and you have a sort of bitter and very unpleasant taste in your mouth almost constantly. Particular food smells and even the idea of particular foods can set your stomach reeling. I have been very, VERY lucky. My sister has taken it upon herself to do a ton of research and found for me The Best Chemo Smoothie Recipe Ever! Not to engage in the hyperbole so common in our time, but the recipe, found at the end of this article in (click here for article & recipe-->) Prevention Magazine as made a tremendous difference in how my body handles chemotherapy. Although I had the recipe for the smoothie before my first round of chemo, I figured I would only start drinking it if I needed it. Almost exactly 24 hours after my first chemo was administered, the effects of the chemo hit me like proverbial ton of bricks. I was suddenly exhausted, dizzy and nauseated. I drifted in and out of sleep and wakefulness for two days and remember very little of those two days from where I sit now. On day three, I ended up in the emergency room with a fever. Once I went back to work, I suffered from 'chemo-brain' and I would collapse at the end of the day. It took me a good two weeks to feel 'normal' again. Enter The Best Chemo Smoothie Recipe Ever! I started drinking it on day four or five post-chemo and it did help some at the time, but I kept drinking it - 20 ounces in the morning, 20 ounces in the afternoon, every day. My second round of chemo was much different. 24 hours after, I was still tired and did some drifting in and out of sleep, but during my times of wakefulness, I was lucid and I remembered what went on. All symptoms were much less prevalent. I went back to work and suffered no chemo-brain and no end-of-the-day collapse. It took me five days to feel normal. Round Two was more like a bout with a light flu. I am now nine days post-chemo and my energy level is amazing. I no longer collapse into bed and night and then have to drag myself out of it in the morning. I am able to exercise more. The Omega 3s in this smoothie are believed to enhance the effectiveness of my chemotherapy and the huge hit of vitamins helps my body stave off any infections. I truly feel like I've been liberated from the fog and am truly alive again. Although I did drink more water than I had the first round, the only difference between my behavior during Round One and Two was my blessed smoothie. It is somewhat costly and I think that people who live in remote areas might have trouble finding all of the ingredients, but I would advise anyone going through chemotherapy to do whatever they can to use this smoothie. Note: If you make enough of this smoothie that you are saving some for later, wait and add the flax and wheat germ to each individual serving. Otherwise, the grains soak of the liquid and the consistency is rather unsavory. It is truly health in a glass.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Offering Comfort

I had a conversation with my mother last night about how great the Gamma Knife is and how I'm glad that I don't have cancer back in the 1960s when so much of it was hopeless and really ugly. We talked a little about whole brain radition and I told her that if it ever came down to that, I don't think that I'd bother. I think that this upset her...not that I wouldn't bother, but that we were in the circumstance of even having the conversation.

So I guess my question for the day is how do you comfort the ones you love? Most people answer that since you are the one with the disease that your family needs to find other people to talk to or find comfort from. But just because you have cancer doesn't mean that you stop being a mother, sister, daughter, or whatever. Not that people should expect to lean on you 100% all of the time, but if you were one source of comfort in the past, why should that not continue, despite your disease being the source of discomfort? Am I not the same Ruth I was before I got the cancer? That Ruth would offer comfort.

I guess that's my answer.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Expiration Date

You know, I'm kind of tired of talking about cancer. It has become all-consuming and, although it can be interesting, I guess, and certainly enlightening, it also makes life very dark and myopic. I feel like I'm losing my sense of humor, which is not good. I'm hoping this realization is a turning point, mentally, and that I can make a grasp at normalcy. I'm tired of living my days swaddled in dread and anxiety. It's been almost six months since my diagnosis - isn't it time to lighten up a little?

Not to be trite, but we're all dying, essentially. It's just that people without a terminal diagnosis can pretend that they're not because no one has stamped them with an expiration date yet.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Chemo Teamo

My first chemo was back on February 28th. Dressed in cancer t-shirts and companied by my daughters and sister, we descended on the Robert Lurie Cancer Center. It all went rather smoothly for about 24 hours. After that point, my energies started to fade. I became majorly fatigued and nauseated and spent the next 24 hours fading in and out of sleep and wakefulness. The next night after my support team had left, I developed a fever. After a couple of calls to the doctor on call, I was directed to the emergency room where they took blood, gave fluids and determined that it was merely a reaction to the chemicals. They let me go home.

My second round of chemo was just last Friday and I was a bit more prepared. I had been drinking super nutritious smoothies for three weeks and I had hyper hydrated myself by drinking tons of water. I have been keeping up the water consumption since and did not have a fever this time. They did, however, have problems finding and keeping veins for the chemo, so I was informed that I will need to have a port installed before the next round. I was somewhat bummed, but everything I've read seems to indicate that people prefer it. So what the hell. What's one more scar?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Can a "Can-Do" Attitude Really DO Anything For You?

In a recent article in the New York Times, Richard Sloan talks about personality traits and whether or not they have anything to do with surviving a violent incident, such as the recent Tucson, Arizona shooting, or an illness such as AIDS or cancer. Highly recommended reading.

I found it interesting because, since my diagnosis, people have been telling me things like, "You've got to fight it!" "You're strong!", "You're gonna beat this, I know it!" and "You have to believe you can win the war to win the war!" All of these come from well-intentioned friends and relatives who care for me and don't want to see bad things happen, and I appreciate them, don't get me wrong. But Mr. Sloan has a point. Throughout my lifetime, I've seen lots of people, mostly celebrities of one stripe or another, who have been terminally ill and who, on their last legs claim, "I'm confident that I'm going to beat this!" only to die a short time later. Belief or attitude doesn't always win the fight. Sometimes, the virus or the cancer or the bullet of a disturbed young man can put you in your grave despite your spiritual resiliency, and I'm not sure that it's healthy to deny that. Not that I advocate curling up into the fetal position and waiting for death, certainly not. I'm all for doing everything I can to live as long as I can...but I, and the people who know and love me, need to come to terms with the fact that I might not be around for as long as we anticipated. Bad shit happens to all kinds of people. Sometimes they live and sometimes they don't. And to, in some twisted way, determine that they didn't make it because they weren't strong enough or they didn't want it enough or lacked some sort of character is just wrong.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Surgery can make you feel less than human. You tolerate a parade of strangers who, although mean well, are there to rate and judge you or parts of your body. When you go home from the experience, you realize that your body is not the same as when you left it. It's probably swollen and bruised. Parts of you may be misshapen either temporarily or permanently, and your body may lack feeling and be numb in a number of places, making you feel like somehow, you aren't in touch with your body in the same way anymore. Someone may have written on you and left it there for you to scrub off with (personally, I think they should offer you special soap for this job). Is it any wonder that in addition to cancer, surgery might make someone feel a little down, a little depressed? I don't want to get used to the 'new normal'. Mofo, I want my old normal back. Ugh.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

VATS (rhymes with DRATS!)

VATS is an acronym for Video-Assisted Thoracic Surgery (see photo) -->

In my case, this surgery was done to get a large enough tissues sample to determine which DNA markers are affected by my cancer and, therefore, which treatments would work best.

To be honest, I was feeling a bit of dread before I went in for the procedure last Friday, but it turned out to be not that big of a deal.

It's mostly uncomfortable, although it does get downright painful when the pain meds wear off, but I'm able to take in pretty deep breaths and cough (as instructed) to stave off any possible pneumonia. I had a bike accident last July and I cracked a couple of ribs. It was MUCH more painful then to take in the deep breaths from that than from this. I think the most uncomfortable thing was the drain tube that is left in your lung for a day or so to drain out excess blood and fluid. Again, more uncomfortable that painful, but there were some very strange pinching/poking sensations in the front of my armpit that were slightly disconcerting. They went away when they pulled out the tube which, again, was not that big of a deal. It felt a lot like when they pull out a larger IV catheter.

So all in all, I have survived another in an ever-growing line of procedures without too much suffering. If anyone reads that who has to go through this procedure, know that there are much worse things out there. This is a pretty easy one.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Fear of Fifty

This weekend while waiting to have lunch with friends, I was browsing through Powell's books store and my eyes caught the title, Fear of Fifty, by Erica Jong. Although this book met with mixed reviews, it was the title that triggered a feeling of disgust. Once we approach middle age, women, in general, fear and/or are encouraged to fear those little signs of aging. We have a storehouse of anti-aging products, not to mention the availability of cosmetic surgery and shelves of self-help books to help us love ourselves despite our aging exteriors. That in itself is annoying and saddening, but it sort of pissed me off. I, and perhaps people like me, are not at all fearful of fifty. We are, in fact, fearful of not reaching fifty. In my mind, let fifty come with the wrinkles, dry skin, grey hair, sagging breasts and booty, and menopause - I don't care. I just want to make it with my faculties intact and with the ability to enjoy a good book and a conversation with my friends. The thing is, death is out there for all of us, always available, always possible, every day. So why do we fear fifty? Or any other age, for that matter? A pox on all people who get 'work done' in the effort to look younger. Our values are askew. We need to re-think them. Seriously.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Back Story Photo Album

<-- This is a photo of the same sort of hardware that currently resides in my right hip & femur.

This photo is of the scar thatresulted from the insertion of the hardware pictured above. -->

<--This is me waiting for my brain mets to be zapped. The cage was screwed into my skull in four places and, despite claims to the contrary, it really, really hurt. Also, once this is affixed to your head
and they give you a sandwich and a banana to eat, you become very creative finding ways to fit the food into your mouth.

This is how I looked for four days after my gamma knife surgery. At one point, both of my eyes were nearly swollen shut. The brochures
all claimed that, "there will be slight swelling on your forehead, which the nurs
e will give you ice to alleviate." No one mentions that you will look like an extra in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy for four days.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Back Story - The Short Version

I've always been a pretty healthy person. Never smoked, drank only a little socially, I ran, watched what I ate-low fat, high fiber, lots of green leafies. Last summer, I notice a little groin pain when I walked and a LOT of groin pain when I ran that would not go away, no matter how much I babied it. I made an appointment with a sports doctor thinking that I had pulled something. She did some range-of-movement exercises and gave me and x-ray and an MRI thinking that I had a compression fracture. What she discovered was some sort of metastatic tumors in the neck of my femur and pelvis. After spending a week in the hospital have scan after scan after x-ray after scan, the doctors tell me that I have advanced adenocarcinoma of the lung. Further scans found two small metastatic tumors in my brain.

After undergoing hip surgery to repair my femur, gamma knife surgery to zap the brain metastases or 'mets' as they are called in the cancer biz, and 10 sessions of radiation therapy to assorted bone tumors, I now await VATS surgery (Video Assisted Thoracic Surgery) to obtain a biopsy that will tell my oncologist what DNA strain is affected and whether or not I can receive an oral-type treatment along with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is set to start before the end of the month.

The projected outcome for my type of cancer is rather bleak, I'm afraid. Through the shock, terror and mourning, I have discovered that there is room for humor in all of this. In fact, there have been moments of great ridiculousness and hilarity that beg to be shared. The intent of this blog, in addition to be cathartic to me and perhaps comforting to any possible readers, is to share the honest ridiculousness and humor of cancer and cancer treatment. It is important that we all keep our sense of humor. If we can keep that, I think we can face whatever comes our way.

God, I hope so.