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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.