Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Slice Is Right


At first, I didn't write a new blog because I felt terrible. Then I didn't write it because I finally felt good. I just completed a new round of CT/MRI scans and while I haven't yet had a doctor confirm it (test results posted online), all tumors in my lungs, lymph nodes, liver, etc. (that's just the L's!) have all shrunk. Shrank? Shrinked? Shrunken? B-dee, b-dee, they're all smaller now. Significantly so. I'm finally starting to feel like myself again for the first time since December. It's been a long road back, and that's what I'm here to summarize [in a similarly long post, I add while editing]. Turns out avoiding writing this entry made people start checking to be sure I'm still alive, so here goes:


For the TL;DR crowd: there is no imminent danger and things are, for now, stable & sane. To the many people I owe messages: apologies for the delay and I hope this catches you up on the latest.


But first: Thank you. You, dear reader, thank you. Thank you for your interest and attention. Thank you for whatever it is we've shared that brings you here to read about my silly life wherein resonates a refrain of gratefulness.

It's been a whirlwind couple months. My previously-private struggle has become a public one, which for a hermit such as myself required a large adjustment. I don't say the following lightly nor with any hyperbole: Nothing could've prepared me for the tidal wave of love and support from all directions. It overwhelmed me, like a whole bottle of Tide in a single load of laundry. So much care, so many lovely comments and such generous contributions, I still mist up over it. Little salty suds overflowing from my...eye laundry? (Can you actually feel the metaphor stretching?)

I try to ignore the difference describing events for public consumption makes from the former jotting little journals for friends & family, but I can't. And I'm thankful. Hidden among the headlining problems was an underlying stress I hadn't realized existed until it was alleviated by so many of you reaching out in myriad ways.  Your encouragement buoyed me through what was, so far, one of the most difficult, lowest points of my life. I'm a lucky fella.

(Depending on your device, you may need to click on images to see larger versions)

Well, some may argue that "luck" wouldn't involve having my head sawed open. Maybe there's some truth to that. Since I last wrote, I was given five days between the brain tumor discovery and surgery date for adjusting to the mental image of my Mental Imager laying open to the air. One of those entire days was spent on more tests, 9am to 5:30pm, at the cancer clinic. What remained were spent channeling my manic, anxious energy into being productive, including writing the last blog. What made my energy so nervous? Perhaps the official title of my surgery will lend a clue: "Awake Craniotomy."


Yeah. Sounds fun, right? More on that in a minute.

First, after my well-tuned, finely-crafted teaser has you filled with suspense, I've decided that rather than get out my soapbox for this entry I'll get out my pedestal.


This is Liz. She somehow manages to keep up her work on a psychology PhD and crowbar time to stay here-- whether here is home or hospital or clinic-- consoling me, pushing me to get out if I can or stay in if I'm too weary. She challenges me but never nudges too hard. I don't know what I'd do without her, my true teammate in the struggle we face together.

I want to express gratitude to my family who have taken turns enduring the guest room air mattress so they can help out/hang out with me during recovery. I also want to specifically and publicly thank those of you who chauffeured me to & from appointments, those whose contributions helped me afford the time off, and all of you whose offers of aid and whose check-ins kept me feeling the love.
 

Surprise! You need to sit down now
(Or: Battling the Hemo-Goblin)

Of all the life changes my medical adventure has wrought, the most impactful has been the anemia my duodenal lesion granted me. Where once I played center field twice a week in addition to home workouts, thanks to internal blood seepage I hit a point where I required lying down for 5-10 minutes to catch my breath after walking upstairs to my office. Might as well be a tumor in whatever gland secretes pride. Something so much less headline-grabbing than tumors or surgeries- a simple drop in red blood cells- and one needs to redesign even their most basic routines. In this case, the revisions mostly involved strategic distribution of folding chairs throughout the house.


The irony of brain surgery left my head to heal normally yet my torso tumors ran amok as though they were employing the classic "quick, I need a distraction" from every action film ever. Steroids, required to control the swelling in my head, forced me to stop the chemo treatments I'd begun for treating my array of bodily metastases, causing a sharp regression in my health. Those sneaky [new synonym for tumors needed]!

Everything seemed fine until I felt symptoms similar to what landed me in the hospital in January. They accelerated more quickly this time and while I hoped to get a couple outpatient units of blood, visiting the ER got me admitted to the hospital for 48 hours. From what I've been told, the average hemoglobin level for an adult male is 13-15. At my ER visit in January I scored 7.4, or half as much oxygen transport as I should have. At admission in March, I was at 6.2, which means I've grown more tolerant of the deficit. And that's...good, I guess? As an aside, I feel mildly ridiculous when medical professionals draw blood out one arm while putting it in the other. Tests, yes. I get it. Still something silly about it.


While I'm on this topic, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the mysterious, kindly strangers whose gracious donation of their life essence has improved my ability to recover. Many people asked about donating blood for me, personally, once they heard about my needs. However, the process is fairly localized and restrictive, not to mention the blood typing goes way beyond "A-" or "O+" in these modern times, making an exact match unlikely. Instead, for anyone who wants to help, please donate, whatever your type, to your local blood bank in the way my anonymous benefactors did for me. Someone's life will be similarly improved-- or saved-- by your generosity. It's a tangible way to help those suffering from similar or worse conditions.


Anyway, so, yeah, I got off the steroids a bit early to enable resumption of my previous treatments. It pleased me to discover what one can accomplish when one is wheeled into one's doctor's office ghostly and writhing in misery. Really grabs their attention. Somewhere in this med switch-over process I learned that I had yet more metastases I'd somehow previously overlooked. Lord among them was Sir Psoas, the tumor that was suddenly making walking very painful.


From this, I had my meds adjusted yet again. This time, the prescription was- and I found this very unusual- more cowbell. Just kidding. It was morphine. If one's goal is wakefulness or productivity, I can solidly recommend not morphine.

During the battle with anemia and my new meds, I tried working. My valiant effort was vanquished when I failed to complete even one page in a full workweek. (Ordinarily, I finish approximately 20 pages in a week.) I'd total maybe two hours of work done between naps after trying for an entire day. Then I'd lose the next day or two going to the clinic or the hospital for blood. So far, in total, I think I've received something like 14 units of blood.

Those are Mr. Brady's eyes and teeth from the original photo, because they were better than the bad photo I used.

Oh! I haven't even gotten back to my surgery. That's like, way more interesting than "wah wah, I kept running out of blood" or "pills this, meds that." I can confidently say that my brain surgery was easily top ten wildest experiences in life so far. Probably top five even.


Following the usual surgery prep, featuring nervous energy-fueled chatter with nurses, unflattering gowns and day-glow socks (with built-in grippy stripes!), I was wheeled on a gurney down to the O.R. containing about a dozen people who buzzed about their various tasks. I transferred to a table with arm extensions and was almost immediately zonked a bit with some anesthesia. I could tell because I didn't flinch for a nanosecond when, in front of a dozen strangers, a nurse pulled up my gown and catheterized me. Bloop! 


Next up were the two gentlemen whose job was to electrocute me from ankle to wrist. Gently...once I helped them calibrate the amperage. Stung a bit until then. They run a current at regular intervals so they can measure the consistency, alerting them immediately if the a team member cuts any of my parts they aren't supposed to. To assist the neurosurgeon, I'd previously done an fMRI to help locate my primary motor and speech neurons relative to points on my skull. Thanks to modern technological advances, the Good Doctor can point a special camera at my head and see on a monitor an overlay of what areas to avoid in real-time.


In contrast to the assertions of the brochure, which led me to believe my consciousness would be securely encased in blissful darkness by way of IV drugs during the "opening" process, I recall precisely how it sounded when the drill and then the saw took turns chewing on my skull. Oh, and before that, I'd had to request a bit more Novocaine be placed in my scalp. Sadly, injection is the only available placement method. Right, and before that I forgot to mention the step of the lovely halo. Sounds angelic, doesn't it? Ahhh. Well, you may be surprised to learn it is affixed with pointy screws to the patient's skull to keep it stationary.


I remember helping them place the screws in locations that hurt the least. I also remember, somewhere mid-operation, misunderstanding a vocal directive from the surgeon regarding my body position as being a command to me and the immediate chorus of emphatic corrections of my misinterpretation, rendered mostly as "No," "Stop," and "Hold on" that erupted when I began assisting their placement issue myself. My awake, conscious, logical brain tells me moving during any surgery wins for Worst Idea but I will remind you, dear reader, that I was on loads of drugs. So many drugs, in fact, that when I heard my surgeon describing details to an attending resident, a minute frittered away before I realized it was my brain to which he referred. And, once realization poked me, I resumed drifting my stare around my blue surgical covering with a "...huh, interesting." That's a lot of drugs. Enough that I forgive myself for "helping" the surgical team. The real reason doctors kept me awake was motor and speech response tests. Those--the reason I was conscious-- I don't remember. I will assume I passed.


Guest Parade, take 2

Once the neurosurgeon casually announced my driving privileges were revoked, regularly attending my appointments an hour or so across town became a challenge. Liz had exhausted as much leeway as possible from her school, so eventually, the burden of ferrying me for hours of round-trip driving forced a temporary passing of the torch. My family rallied to the cause and my guest room became host to a rotating cast as parents and siblings took turns staying with me, making sure I got to those appointments. Friends filled-in between those visits. My social safety net proved itself astoundingly strong. In any other context, dear reader, society might frown on a net made of people. Thankfully, mine is made of good folks. And made figuratively.


The final intensive round of appointments remains my five consecutive days of radiation treatment. I so badly wanted to make a joke using "rad" but I already wasted that in Blog Number One. Maybe I should have ignored my shame, like Hollywood, and rebooted that joke. Or maybe I'm just covering for the fact I couldn't think of anything funny..? Nah, couldn't be tha-aat.


One millimeter. The maximum allowable movement during cranial radiation is one millimeter so the death rays only hit the bad parts, hence the plastic prison mask. If you're claustrophobic, I can solidly recommend not cranial radiation. Nurses reinforce bony landmarks on one's face as they make the mask from warm, melty plastic to immobilize one's head. I was put off by the idea until they told me I could keep the mask, at which point I did a complete 180 and looked forward to hanging out with rad, Eighties Grid Plastic Me in my hermit cave. Sadly, thanks to its locking edges, Rad Eighties Grid Me and I don't share the same hat size. Otherwise, Mask Me would have a library of headwear to model. As it is, his choices are limited.

Just realized I didn't specify: The hair will grow back in 6 months. Not the tumor.

My 5-day irradiation bestowed this bald streak across my head. Thus, for now, I have become "Hat Guy" and have myself enjoyed the headwear library that Rad Plastic Me has not. Admittedly, I'm enjoying the excuse to feel comfortable wearing hats somewhere other than sporting events and theme parks.

When does listening to one's body end and becoming a whiny baby begin? 

For a stretch in March, switching to those evil steroids had prompted a reversal of my previous healing progress. I believe I alluded to it earlier. All the graphs for all my blood stats zigged when zagging was desired and vice versa. I ended up hospitalized for transfusions on a weekly basis. My muscular tumors ached, especially in my right hip. I slept a lot. I bought a wheelchair. Not a fancy one, but my anemia and pain were so constant that the investment seemed worthwhile. Wise, even.

While difficult, I didn't despair. Instead, I got antsy to resume treatment, believing that we'd chosen well and my oncologist had me on the right track. I just had to last until it kicked in. I adapted. I shed my previous hesitation in asking for help. I used the folding chairs, the shower chair, the wheelchair. I built new routines around this series of chairs to get through the days..and I made it. With an army of friends and family, bolstered by the love sent from near and far, I made it.


My worst point was St. Patrick's Day. I woke up with no energy and white lips. I went in for blood and got stuck five times before they got an IV working. Four nurse's "misses" bruised my wrists with fiery pain. Then, right as the first unit of O+ started its way down the working tube, my temperature hit 101º. The nurses conferred just out of earshot whether to let me continue. I barely held off the panic until they returned saying I could continue with the unit as long as my temperature remained constant. That was the closest I came to despair: feeling awful, seeing the tube filling up red and waiting for a "yes" but fearing a "no."


I've said it before and I'll never cease to attest that red blood cells are surprisingly necessary. Once my meds, diet & rest healed the ulcer enough to halt my internal bleeding, my energy made a shockingly rapid comeback. In the one week between my radiation treatments-- into which I was wheeled by wheelchair-- and my brother's visit, I had regained the ability to withstand lengthy periods on my feet. No longer was I napping or half-asleep all day. Neither was I riding the electric cart at the grocery store. I felt human again. Independent. Like an adult once more, able to stroll to the kitchen & back without needing to utilize the folding chair that had been a fixture there for months. Hope was restored. Normality seems plausible again, aside from the hats.


So that's where I'm currently situated. Well, okay, Twitter Guy in my head, my couch is where I'm currently situated. Metaphorically, I am here, on the precipice of a New Normal, working on completing as much of my lingering to-do list and home-reorganization as possible before I return to work. Mentally, I'm seeking a new balance between the PTSD of enduring life-threatening news & procedures and the newly-treasured quietude of routine. The truth is that I can't return to the Old Normal, the old Square One, because it's gone. However, I'm hopeful now that I can build a new, improved Normal, with enhanced appreciation features and sharper priorities.

I'll keep you posted on my progress.


Real talk

[I debated at length whether to keep this section and/or how much to leave included in the final draft. My intention is to temper expectations, to clarify to anyone who may have Googled my condition that the numbers aren't as dire as they appear. Neither are they breezily in my favor. The current 8% figure for five-year survival rate is based on patients who began treatment in 2001 or 2002. Many advancements have occurred since then that are to my advantage. And I'm (relatively) young. I may have a faster-growing Clear Cell variant, but I'm also responding very well to treatment. Thus, I'm attempting to share my balanced outlook.]


This entry took me longer to write because not only has a lot happened, but a lot has changed. Regardless of how I feel physically, I know my odds. Every day when I wake up, it's difficult to behave like an adult and not a Make-A-Wish kid. I want to be present in the now, not relive these moments of challenge. However, I find that facing down the probability of a reduced future increases pressure on deciding how to spend my time. It freezes me in place.


Do I work on productivity, sharpening skills, having fun, or daily maintenance? They're all necessary for mental health. For as much clarity as I experienced about my priorities initially, I now struggle to force myself to do real-world necessities. I'm certain, like most of this whole Cancer Experience, the challenge will ebb & flow. For this past week, building Lego sets from my hermit cave holds the pole position.


If you want to know what finally feeling closer to "normal" feels like, return yourself to the mentality of a kindergartner who doesn't want to give up at bedtime. The FOMO is pretty intense. [That's Fear Of Missing Out, to save the older crowd some Googling. (Google is how you search on the internet for the super old crowd.)]  All activities are great so long as I focus on what's in front of me and not on the fact that any choice is exclusionary. Hermit life is not conducive to avoiding rumination...so it's a crapshoot of whether I feel more Zen or more fro-zen. Carbonite, not "Let It Go," for the record. I'm an adult.


These new scans encourage me, though I am wary of repeating my Holiday 2017 Overconfidence Mistake. What I do know is that I'm happy to be here now. Ten years ago, stage 4 renal clear cell carcinoma was practically a death sentence. New drugs are giving me a chance-- around 10%-- of cure, which was never previously possible. But, most importantly, they are giving me time. One of the drugs, on average, stops working after a few years. The other can eventually cause my immune system to turn on my organs. I need most organs, I'm told. But, again, I'm so thankful to belong to the group that experiences a significant rollback in tumor size under this treatment combination. Even if I'm not cured, I stand a decent chance of feeling completely normal again for a while. I believe the exact words from the nurse on the voicemail were "really excellent" regarding my latest results.

"Maybe he'll be one of the lucky ones" you might be thinking. I would argue that I already am lucky. I have you, dear reader, that cares enough about me to read through all of this with interest. The past few months have opened my eyes in a profound way to how many people there are scattered around the country and the globe who rally behind me for the fight. If that isn't good fortune, I don't know what is.


I will update again in another month or so. Until then, remember, no news = good news!


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Now in Kidney Free!

"Has anyone gone over your CT scan?"

Dr. Wallace walks into my room, situating herself between Liz on her recliner and me on my bed. Dr Wallace is kind but no-nonsense. Practical. 

"Your scans show metastases in your lungs and especially your liver. The largest is up to 7 cm at this point."

I know she continued but I had already tuned out. A day earlier, I was signed into the ER here because my hemoglobin was suspiciously low, causing me to constantly near-faint. Now I have metastases? Already? I just completed my "No worries, I survived" tour. Now I have to make a "Cancer strikes back" blog? This is so embarrassing.


After the bad news, I got a free ride down to the GI clinic, where they put me into a twilight and cram a camera contraption straight down the ol' gullet. When I come to, Dr. Goyal is showing me a picture of the ulcer in my duodenum, that transitional area betwixt the stomach and intestine. I thank him more cheerfully than perhaps the situation warranted (anesthesia!) for finding the source of my missing blood cells and enjoy my free ride back up to room 2252.


Unsurprisingly by now, the duodenal biopsy came back positive for cancer. For those not counting, we're up to three now! In cancer forums, metastases are referred to as "mets" for short. I didn't have anything against the baseball team before, but I think I may root against them this season.




Couple days later, down to the cancer clinic we go, getting our targeted therapy on. Liz and I spend all day in the clinic, from about 7 am to 3 pm. All the cool doctors stop by. Feels kind of like buying a car. Numbers, charts, all blurring together. They run all sorts of options by us, but my low hemoglobin keeps me out of the current studies. We choose the next best thing, taking a combination of pills to eliminate some cancer-based angiogenesis and an infusion every 21 days to potentially reverse these suckers to kingdom come. This is an already-completed study, performed by the very doctor whose patient I am, for which he has just given his presentation announcing his supported findings. We have a winner! 



I'm happy to report that so far, no real side effects of the first drug. Second drug? Well that was originally scheduled for this upcoming Wednesday, but I hit a teensy little snag at my cranial MRI a few days ago.


Fast forward to now. I realize this is all written in present tense, so it's always felt like now to you, dear reader. That's a fancy writing trick from fancy writers. I'm picturing ones with sleeves like in Interview With The Vampire where Lestat says "Oh, Louis, still whining after all these years..." and flicks out his sleeves, invigorated. Y'know, fancy.



Right, so: now. I'm back in the clinic here, composing my blog while I wait between waiting rooms. Those endless rooms of waiting. Got my latestest test results in, and...not really a shock anymore, but: brain tumor! I'm getting perilously close to completing the set. Collect 'em all, I say. Usually.

Don't want to bury the lede here, so hey, what's a little brain surgery this upcoming Thursday? Check this out though: I go home (probably) the next day. Yuss! Tired of these hospitals. IV machines won't let a fella sleep. No infections and I'm free to go!


Guess who's got two thumbs, one kidney and is getting a plate in their head? This guy! Gonna need a special scan or TSA-pre from now on, y'all. Upside of this little sucker is that he's not converted brain matter, just some random interloper. Thus, removal, especially since he's near the edge, make this roughly 1×1" intruder a g-g-goner. Out, damn spot! Out!

Just like so many of my other tumor whatnots, these are mostly asymptomatic so far. Catching them while the catching is good. Like Pokémon: Stay. The worst part is the low hemoglobin. Turns out that stuff is important. Who knew?


To boringly reiterate my soapbox from last blog, I've seen these prices on the drugs and goodness me-oh-my. One month of one drug is over $14,000. I don't know how anyone could pay these prices. I'm fortunate to have a quality cancer center in my town. They provided me with forms allowing the drug companies to ask cancer institutions for money on my behalf. Not sure exactly how much they provide but there's no other conceivable way to pay for this. Kind of a sneaky way to get their ridiculous prices paid if you ask me. I don't know how I feel about it. I don't really have a choice though. So, again, welcome to an inside look at our healthcare system. Bizarre and messed up. As long as their support keeps me in the meds, I'm good. Fingers crossed.


So, in conclusion: I have a few of these metastases. That rhymed. Doctors are letting the body metasateseses brave the infusion, but dat brain one hopped straight to the front of the line. Removals, right this way, please. You and the edema you rode in on. Enjoy the pathology bucket! 

I will end on a lighter note. Not every visit to the doctor has gone poorly, I'm happy to report. Why, just yesterday I stopped by the ER because I had a strangely swollen right testicle. Where does a cancer patient's mind go? Duh. So I had it checked out. 

Ordinarily, among all this other "important" news, this would never have gotten a mention. However, as my doctor rounds the curtain, he announces himself as Doctor Johnson then asks about my testicle in his Outside Voice, I had to work hard to keep my expression from changing. I mean, c'mon. Doctor Johnson? All results were surprisingly normal, no IVs, no phlebotomizing, just a little pee, a little ultrasound, and the normality of my testicle was loudly touted for all to hear and enjoy.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Good Thing I Had A Spare:

A Melodrama in way too many parts

 

"Do I need to check out at the front desk or anything?" I said to the ultrasound technician. At the end of August, I'd gone in to see if the firm spot in my lower abs was a hernia.
"No, you're all done. Good lu-...Have a nice day," she replied.


At the time, I thought "Ha, telling a patient 'Good luck!' is probably not a great thing for medical professionals to say." In retrospect, this must be her usual patient sign-off but she caught herself and changed it based on what she found. An hour later, the doctor called to see if I could  come in for a CT scan ASAP. There was a large mass on my kidney. 


Thus began my adventure as a cancer patient.


This post is intended to answer as many questions as possible about my diagnosis, treatment and current condition.



How was it discovered?

 

One normal evening after a normal day, spending normal time with my normal(ish) S.O., Liz, when a normal hug from an unusual angle put her hand on an unusually firm spot on my otherwise normal abdomen. It wasn't super obvious nor pronounced, but, like Ryan Gosling's crooked eye, hard to un-notice once pointed out. We googled'd it and came up with everything from Hepatitis to Liver Cancer to Inguinal Hernia. The lump seemed too low to be my liver or anything super vital, and was frontal. I put my money on Hernia. I regularly played softball and the whole sprinting-while-scooping grounders and throwing on the run seemed a plausible cause.


Turns out, Clear Cell Carcinoma of the Kidney is often minimally symptomatic. I had no outward signs like acute pain nor blood in my urine (TMI?). The tumor measured 13.5 cm X 9 cm X 5 cm, appearing in scans larger than the kidney it had displaced significantly forward. The fact there were no blatant signs was impressive. In retrospect, though, my lifestyle had done a great job of masking any fatigue because of my late nights working and disguising any mild back or side pain with the two nights of softball weekly. I just thought age was catching up with me, making me tired and creaky. On the bright side, at least I am not yet that old.






Seems like an obvious statement but it's hard to convey how quickly and how severely one's priorities change. Suddenly my To-do List included items like "Living will." I gained a second job of coordinating appointments between facilities, keeping notes, organizing information, undergoing tests and sitting in waiting rooms. Talk about a lousy unpaid internship. Er, well, that analogy doesn't hold up, so imagine a very clever joke for comic relief involving lack of compensation. Ah, now the accumulated tension is somewhat alleviated through the healing power of laughter. We all feel better and can move on to the next section. Unless you're enjoying this meta sidetrack. I mean, I can keep going. Who really wants to talk about cancer anyway? Seems like a great way to bring down one's day...


Why keep everyone in the dark?

 

Until I had a reasonably complete picture of what I was facing, I didn't want to tell anyone what was going on. Once the verdict came down of Stage 3 Renal Carcinoma causing a thrombosis in my vena cava and requiring radical nephrectomy of my right kidney, I informed my immediate family and the few colleagues for whom my surgery schedule would have an impact. I debated whether or not to tell additional people, how many, who, how, etc. I had fun imagining bizarre and stupid gallows humor jokes to use in general announcements on social media, some of which I may include here to break up the monotonous monolith of text.


I consulted with a close friend who had undergone a major surgery and how he dealt with informing people. His valuable advice boiled down to "keeping yourself mentally healthy is priority over anyone's feelings." As much as I wanted to let you all know why I was kind of unavailable (which isn't that different from my normal, daily hermit life), I also was experiencing massive anxiety and dread about my upcoming surgery. It isn't every day you hear you'll *only* have a 5-10% chance of death on a specific upcoming Wednesday. 


 

 For someone pretty uneasy with needles, the idea of having your midsection cut wide open is quite unnerving. As a result, my coping mechanism was to stay as busy as possible to keep from thinking about it. Denial seemed the only method capable of managing my stress at all, let alone go into surgery in the best possible health. My logic dictated that higher number of folks informed, the higher probability of well-meaning interactions reminding me of my perilous position. On top of that, recipients of the news were powerless to help and may experience their own anxiety over what to say or do or outcomes, etc.

So: silence became my strategy.


Blah blah, get to the point: What happened?

 

I'm happy to report that I just passed 4 weeks post-surgery and am feeling about 90% normal. Finally starting to get my wind & stamina back and no longer live in fear of coughs nor sneezes. When sporting thirty five staples across my abdomen, sudden core movements were on par with a prison yard shanking (assuming TV has portrayed it accurately). Bending way over for shoe interactions or twisting with force are still not comfy but increase in comfy-ness by the day. What was an anxious, near-panic, roller-coaster few months is now down to a slightly relaxed work schedule while this belly of mine heals.

 


The good news is that the surgeons were confident the primary tumor is 100% out, gone, finito, adios, sayonara, etc. Additionally, both my removed adrenal gland and lymph node checked out negative for lesions. Stoked on that, except for the 50% thrill reduction from engaging my fight-or-flight response. Get it together, lone adrenal gland!




My 7 days in the hospital recovering were not my favorite. A few dozen strangers barging in at random times to stab me with needles or put various materials into my various holes takes adjustment. Unfortunately, no acclimation period is provided. You just kinda wake up there in the room full of tubes and whatnot. I never before realized the impossibility of getting good sleep as a hospital patient. If a nurse isn't putting a blood pressure cuff on you or feeding you a pill, an IV machine starts beeping. The interruptions are non-stop. And don't get me started on the N.G. tube; four and a half days with no food nor water tested the limits of my sanity.




Fortunately, Liz, my mom and a couple others were staying around in boring, uncomfortable shifts to keep me company so I didn't lose my mind. While I'm sure at least someone reading this would have also visited, as much I appreciate the support, I spent most of my time loaded on painkillers and half-asleep. You didn't miss much.

Oh, speaking of painkillers, I guess a good shorthand for how things have been going after being granted injection parole: I haven't taken so much as a Tylenol™ since arriving home. The drive away from the hospital on the long bridge over the bay Halloween afternoon felt like a victory and still feels that way.



Looking forward

 

From here, there's still a lot of monitoring to ensure that any secondary trouble spots are caught early and treated. I may have some follow-up treatments anyway, depending on what they think is best. My oncologist appointment is soon to go over all that stuff. While I'm not certifiably, 100% out-of-the-woods, this is so far the best possible outcome considering the circumstances, not to mention how much less psychologically taxing it is knowing there is no longer a giant tumor in there. Ahhh...so much more room for my other, more loyal organs. And let that be a lesson to them! You try to kill me? I KILL YOU! Right in the garbage! So, like, work properly and stuff or you get the knife!



That's more or less it for now. Seems fun to wrap this up by threatening my own organs, so hey, carpe the diem. I hoped to be as thorough as I could here, but feel free to ask if you have anything you want to know. I don't mind talking about it. 


Oh, there is one more thing: 



Healthcare Soapbox

 

At the risk of sounding preachy, I would like to remind people as they read about the healthcare debate in the news about what effects this could have on people like your lovable old pal/relative: me.

Before insurance companies were barred from exclusions based on preexisting conditions, a freelancer like myself couldn't get insurance. Not for lack of trying nor budgetary concerns, either- I spent HOURS and HOURS filling out forms, sitting on hold, searching other providers for plans, etc. Non-group coverage for (at the time) married younger couples was considered too much of a risk even without any chronic or recurrent illnesses. They flat-out said "No. We're not underwriting any coverage for you." Had the tumor happened before the law changed, I'd be either bankrupt or headed for Stage 4 even with the Catastrophic Illness policy I bought.




Now, depending on how things go regarding metastasis, if the law changes back, I may again face the choice of bankruptcy or death. No melodrama or hyperbole intended here, just food for thought. If you're reading this, the people threatened by the healthcare debate are no longer a faceless mass; you know me and I'm in that group. Not that it justifies being able to receive care, but I've worked full-time (or more) for 22 years straight. Even with this surgery, I've still never taken more than 2 full weeks off work since I was 18. I'm already back to work, albeit not yet at full pace.


There's no amount of work nor productivity that can shield people from the massive expense of cancer surgery, testing, and treatment. This isn't a gamble anyone should have to take. We really need, as a first world society, to have guaranteed healthcare. Income and profit margins shouldn't dictate one's survival odds.



And, finally, I'm so thankful to be here that I would have totally won Thanksgiving if anyone had kept score. Unless it's by plates eaten rather than thankfulness, in which case I would have tied at best.