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The Cure; Phase 2 — Cancer Goggles

Filed under: Medical Adventures — dave @ 10:22 pm 2013/05/17

Today is Tuesday, May 21, officially Day 28 of The Cure, and day six following the second chemo infusion. Like the first infusion time, it set me back on my heels a bit, but six days out I’m definitely on the upswing. This time around I’ve had a bit more nausea, and things are still a little off, but not bad. Yesterday was a hungry day; I ate like a horse. Today isn’t quite so much so, but I can tell I’m definitely on the up-swing. Not quite back to where I was pre-treatment, but that will come soon enough.

One thing that’s a little odd today is that I can feel lots of twinges in my jaw; not sure if that’s just the deadened facial nerve messing with me or if it’s the tumor ‘convulsing’ (for lack of a better description…) The twinges seem to extend past the middle of my lower lip though, and feel a bit familiar to previous bouts with weird pains. It also makes me wonder if it’s the cancer reacting to the anti-cancer poisons in my system. If so, let’er rip. Kill that sucker.

Last week’s infusion almost didn’t happen on schedule… My PICC line dressing needs to be changed on a weekly basis, so I usually have that done on Tuesday mornings. Last week when I showed up for the change, the nurse looked at the orders on the computer & thought a blood sample was also needed that day, so took it by way of the PICC line, hoping to save me a poke in the arm the next day. Sidenote: Getting a blood draw from the PICC line is convenient in that I don’t have to get a needle in the arm; the line is already in a blood vessel, so it’s just a matter of drawing some out. But it’s a bit of a nuisance in that they can’t just pull blood directly out without first flushing it with saline (which gives a weird taste/smell along with it) then they have to waste some of the blood that’s drawn out so that it’s not contaminated with saline. Anyway, the sample was supposed to be taken the morning of the infusion, and really shouldn’t have been a big deal, but I got a call from the infusion center later that day telling me the numbers were a bit off.

The blood test that was ordered was for absolute neutrophil count (ANC.) They like to see a number above 1500, but mine was around 1300. In speaking with one of the nurses from Dr. Bleeker’s office, she said that they would likely test again the next morning, and the Doc would make the call whether to postpone or go ahead with the infusion. So the next morning another blood sample taken (this time from a vein instead of from the PICC line, which hurt like crazy, and the bruise is still there!) and the ANC count was in the 1800′s; a much better number! Dr. Bleeker said that sometimes if they have a patient with a low ANC count, he’ll have them take a walk and test again after; maybe the difference had to do with the fact that on Tuesday I drove to my appointment, had the valet park the car, and took the elevator up. On Wednesday, Yvonne drove, we parked in the lot, walked in, and walked up three flights of stairs before the blood draw. I’ll have to remember that next time! Maybe the painful poke had something to do with it too, but I’m not going to attempt a repeat of that.

Just to be on the safe side with the white blood cell counts, Dr. Bleeker had me go back to the Cancer Center on Thursday for a shot of Neulasta (aka Pegfilgrastim), which boosts bone marrow production and release of white blood cells. Since getting the shot in the arm, I’ve experienced the usual side effects; bone and joint pain, muscle pain, and yes, constipation. Wonderful stuff. Oh, and just to make things more interesting, they recommended taking acetaminophen to counter the first three side effects, but of course, that exacerbates that last one. Oh well.

The infusion went much more quickly this time; first go-round they need to be careful with the dosage on the Rituximab, and since they had already figured out how quickly I could take it in, it was done in a couple of hours instead of seven. Speaking of Rituximab, we got an itemized statement from Sanford Health on Saturday, laying out all the drugs and treatments I have received, and the price tags on each. The price on the Rituximab is a staggering $10,528 per dose. That’s like a liter bag of saline with the good stuff mixed into it. Ten-thousand, five-hundred and twenty-eight US dollars per dose, and that’s just the cost of the drug, not the infusion; that’s a separate line item. Must be some really good stuff!

In general, it’s a little humbling seeing the prices attached to a life-saving treatment like this; if life were judged as it is with used cars, I would’ve been long past the point of diminishing return, and you’d find my body among the rusting hulks out at the junkyard getting parts pulled off of it. But I think there’s still some value in this old rust bucket, and it’s worthwhile investing in a cure. At the risk of sounding a little morbid, seeing the dollar figures attached to the treatment makes me all the more eager to make my days count; it adds value to what I have left. Even without the “added value” they become more dear to me because I likely have fewer ahead than behind me (not because of the cancer; I’m just not getting any younger.)

The question I hear most often after the last infusion is still, “How are you feeling?” I really don’t mind the question, because I know that people care, and they know that the treatment can be difficult (it is), but honestly, a good answer to that question usually fails me because how I feel — physically — changes moment by moment, day by day with this treatment. Plus, the further I get into this treatment phase, the less concerned I am about how I feel physically at any given moment, because I know it’s going to change. I may feel rotten right now, but I know that there are better days ahead, and that is what I focus on. There may be worse days as well, but I try not to dwell on that possibility.

That makes me think back to an earlier post; I guess the one thing that I do feel that is somewhat consistent, and that can be more easily related is my feeling of gratitude, or thankfulness; grateful for everything and everyone in my life. I think of the friends who call or stop by or offer a meal, or just post something encouraging on Facebook or elsewhere… I think of my family… My brothers & sisters and my kids, and most importantly Yvonne. I’d be lost in all this without her.

I watched the video below this morning (thanks, Kelli!) that tells a bit of the story of a high school kid dealing with terminal cancer. In the last few minutes of the video his mom talks about the ordeal, and says,

I think that’s one of the blessings of cancer, is that you kinda come out of denial, and so in doing that, things are better. You know, that life is richer. Everything means more, beauty is more beautiful…

That is so true. Every day I am more thankful for the gift of life and health, the gift of friends, and the wonderful blessing that is my family, especially the loving wife that God has given me; I am so undeserving of the affection and love she showers on me. And so undeserving of the love and grace given by God above. Cancer has in a way put many things in my life in sharp relief, helping me better prioritize things according to a better standard. I only hope my distractedness doesn’t get in the way of this becoming a more permanent condition.

I guess I’m also thankful for the clarity that cancer brings; when I watched that video this morning and heard what Zach’s mom had to say about cancer giving a whack upside the head & making those involved appreciate things more, it made me think of the term “Cancer Goggles.” Kind of like “beer goggles”, except without the negative angle! I did a quick Google search to see if I was the first to coin the term, and sure enough someone else did just recently, and even threw a Blogspot blog together. Still, I think the term is very apt, and I think it’ll stick.

Video Link

I Love My Car

Filed under: BMW Of The Day,Cars! — dave @ 10:26 pm 2013/05/15

Well, that’s probably overstating things a bit; I really just like it a lot and am very content with it. And that’s why I’d kinda like to replace it.

My daily driver is the 1988 BMW 735i 5-speed that I bought for $1,200 and brought home in the fall of 2009. It’s a great car, reliable as the day is long; has only caused me to call for help once in the 2-plus years of ownership. It came with a long list of issues, many of which have been tended to, but many warts still remain. Of course, many of those warts are to be expected on a 25 year old automobile; it’s got cracks in the windscreen, some rust on the bottoms of the doors, a sometimes drippy clutch master cylinder, a slightly ratty driver’s seat and carpet, a far-from-perfect paint job, a sunroof that needs adjusting (and maybe replacing because of some rust), brake calipers that need rebuilding (and brake disks that may need replacing), a driveshaft that has an issue with the center u-joint, and several other little things that need attention. Yes, the cost of repairing the things on that list would be a lot, but the cosmetic things could easily be lived with for a long, long time. The things that I’ve done since bringing the car home have made it a great driver, but part of me yearns for something prettier, without all of the warts.

I only started driving it again this week after it was away for the last month or so, and discovered how much I missed driving it. It all started with this cancer business; pain meds were sometimes necessary early on, which made me a passenger rather than a driver when I was on them. Then Emily’s 318Ti developed a problem with the alternator in early April, so we towed it home and I tore into things to replace it. But in the process of removing the airbox from the car I broke the neck off the radiator. The car had recently topped 200,000 miles, so was due for a cooling system rebuild; I had already purchased all the parts, and was waiting for a prime opportunity to tear into it. Although it wasn’t the perfect opportunity, as much as I hate dealing with coolant, I decided that this was the time to just bite the bullet and do it all. Then with the trip to California for Ian’s graduation from USMC Boot Camp, the car sat in my garage for over a month before it was done. So while her car was down and out, she used my 735i for the four weeks of her internship at the hospital in Huron. When I was able to drive, I spent some time behind the wheel of Ian’s ’92 Mazda Miata, which really didn’t do much to endear it to me. It’s a decently quick and nimble little car, but it’s buzzy little motor, difficult entry &amp: exit, minuscule cockpit, low windshield… I’ve driven far worse, but I just didn’t enjoy the Miata experience much. I prefer the comfort of my e32 with the gobs of torque and smooth highway performance. I’m a happy guy again!

But… Recently a car came up for sale that’s the better looking twin of my car — a 1988 735i with a 5-speed transmission — and it has… or rather had me considering the possibilities… But alas, it sold last night.

So, unfortunately I need to sell the e32. Lost my job, and its gotta go. Looking to get $3500 out of it. 170k miles, gray on black.

The Good:

  • • Runs strong, shifts smoothly (just had shift bushings/linkage done)
  • • Paint is in great condition, though has been repainted by P.O. (8/10)
  • • Interior is in amazing condition (8/10)
  • • Front suspension is almost brand new with some spare parts in trunk (all done and from P.O.)
  • • Haven’t had any issues with any leaks since I had my mechanic do some work on replacing gaskets on both engine and tranny. The car sits for weeks at a time at my dads right now, and no puddles under it at all that I’ve noticed.
  • • Passes CA smog like a boss
  • • All the windows work!
  • • New Fuel pump, and fuel pressure regulator
  • • Have new fuel filter in trunk, along with new oil filter that I haven’t put in yet (Mahn or Mayle, can’t remember which)
  • • New O2 Sensor
  • • Tires are fair
  • • Brakes in great shape
  • • No slipping on clutch

The Bad:

  • • Drivers side air not working. Broken servo brackets according to my mechanic and no power going to heater valves
  • • Reverse lights stopped working.
  • • Turn signals are intermittent. I’ve tried switching the relays, however it seems to persist meaning it is likely either a cluster issue, or the relay in the turn signal stalk. Not sure
  • • Seats are not twisted right now, but do twist if adjusted too much.
  • • Stereo was stolen out of car since before I got it
  • • Sunroof needs adjusting. I have a spare motor sitting the in trunk in case it needs it.
  • • Airbag light is on. P.O. had some hack job done on the airbag, disconnected it, and put tape over the Airbag light. I’ve put a replacement airbag and steering wheel on, and connected everything, but don’t have the tool to reset the light, so the tape remains on it.

That is literally everything I can think of. Overall, it is a solid driver, and I think would be a great car to anyone looking for one who is willing to sort those things out. I have driven it on/off for a while now, and have no hesitation driving it for long periods of time myself.

The biggest appeal with that car was the fact that it’s always been in the south and west — TX, AZ & CA — so the body has none of the rust that mine has. It also has a much nicer color combination; dark silver over a black leather interior; mine is Bronzit-Beige metallic over a parchment interior. Kinda bland, but in a nice way. Kinda. If you like General Motors colors. There were some obstacles in the way of cutting a deal on it though; about 2,000 of them, as in miles. The car was located in Del Mar, near San Diego, CA. A friend in San Diego was willing to go check it out for me, and I was ready to book a flight out there (only $177 one-way on Delta) for a fly-n-drive, but… C’est la vie.

Now I’ll just concentrate on making mine what I’d like it to be, and spend the money I would’ve spent on that car to spruce mine up so it’s what I want it to be. Or maybe just keep it mechanically solid and let it keep the rugged road warrior ugly to scare off the people with newer cars. I would dearly love to find a junked car with a decent black interior to swap in; the beige leather is so sad.

What A Difference Two Weeks Makes!

Filed under: Medical Adventures — dave @ 11:40 pm 2013/05/12

As Day 19 comes to a close, I figure an update is way overdue. The chemicals that were pumped into my system on April 24 made me feel pretty crappy for several days after, but it’s been just like Tim predicted; a few “tough days… followed by better weeks.” Two weeks and four days out, and I’m feeling somewhat normal. I suppose it takes that long for the body to flush all that out — but a few other things have happened that really helped as well:

  • Got the stitches out of my mouth; the sutures from that first biopsy on March 25 were still in place, as were the ones from the second dig on April 4, and they were all driving me crazy (yeah, I know; short trip.) They are supposed to fall out on their own within a couple of weeks, but after five weeks… Time to intervene. I stopped by Dr. Stanos’ office on April 30 after another appointment in the same building to ask about it, and was able to be seen by Laurie Gromer, the office PA, right away. She was familiar with my case, and happily pulled out all the stitches. Felt so much better…
  • Finished the last of my Prednisone doses. The Prednisone is prescribed as part of the chemotherapy (it’s the ‘P’ in R-CHOP) and helps the other drugs work more effectively, but one of the side effects is restlessness. I started taking the Prednisone on Day 2, and I didn’t sleep worth a hoot the whole time I was on it. Since my last dose on Sunday I’ve been sleeping better and better each night, and that makes a world of difference. Not to mention the fact that those pills are the nastiest tasting things on the planet… Reminds me of the times I’ve tried to chew regular aspirin tablets. Gah! I did figure out that the best way to deal with the nasty taste is to bury the tablets in a spoonful of yogurt, and just swallow the whole works down. What doesn’t touch the tongue isn’t tasted. (shudder)
  • The tumor seems to have stopped growing, and my jaw seems to have stabilized a bit. My lower front teeth still interfere a bit with the uppers, but the fit doesn’t change like it did just two weeks ago, and they aren’t nearly as sensitive as they were, which means I can actually chew my food! Seems like a minor thing, but just being able to pop something into my mouth and be able to mash and grind it up with my teeth is huge. The gap on the left side where the teeth were removed is still pretty tender, but is getting better. Because of that, chewing on that side is awkward, but I might eventually get the hang of it, provided it’s nothing too crunchy and doesn’t break into sharp bits. My lower lip is still numb, but I still get occasional “zings” that give me hope that it will come back. I asked the PA about that during my visit to Dr. Stanos’ office, and she said that the tumor may be putting pressure on that nerve as well, and as it shrinks (I hope) that should be better as well. Again, that’s the hope.
  • Spring has finally arrived in the Dakotas! Seeing some sunshine, even though I’m not supposed to spend much time basking in its glow, helps a lot. We got a couple of really-late-season snowfalls in April, but the snow didn’t linger very long. Now the grass is greening up, the flowers are blooming, the trees are budding, the birds are back… We’ve even seen a couple of pairs of rose-breasted grosbeaks at the feeder in the back yard. Very cool!
  • Prayer. I’m amazed at the crowd of people who have offered to pray for me over this whole cancer adventure. I’ve always tend to be one who is eager to help others in whatever way I can, praying for them as well, but don’t always feel comfortable asking for help or for prayer. Over the years I’ve learned though that as much as I enjoy helping others, others enjoy helping me as well. Same goes for praying; asking others to help pray my way through this is far more difficult than offering to pray for someone else, but God blesses those we pray for, and blesses us through our time with him, so who am I to deny a blessing to others by not asking them to pray for me or accepting their offers to pray for me? It’s difficult to explain how the praying helps because I don’t know exactly, but what I do know is that the peace I feel through this whole situation can’t be explained in purely naturalistic or psychological terms. Yes, I have some confidence that the oncologist knows what he’s doing, and the cancer center staff know what they are doing, and that the drugs will be effective… But still, through all of this, I haven’t been worried a bit.

The last two weeks haven’t been terribly eventful, but they haven’t been uneventful either. The PICC line is still there, and is still a pain in the neck.

Click here for a photo of my PICC line, but be warned; it’s not pretty.

I’m supposed to keep it dry, which means I either take a bath or cover it thoroughly in order to shower. The dressing needs to be changed once a week (thank God for that!) and last week the nurse who changed the dressing gave me a suggestion for covering it that is pure genius; Glad Press’n Seal cling wrap. It’s a fairly stiff material that has a light adhesive on one side. The adhesive sticks lightly to most everything but itself; it sticks tightly to itself. To cover my arm I pull off about 24″ from the roll and wrap it around my bicep, making sure to completely cover the dressing top to bottom, but leaving my elbow free to flex. The length ensures a double layer of protection over the top of my bicep and keeps water from intruding through any gaps. Works perfectly. I’ve also used Press’n Seal for other projects, like painting mirrors on my car; far easier than trying to apply masking tape to an area.

My appetite has pretty much returned to normal also. I never did feel terribly nauseous, but my eating habits changed pretty drastically after chemo. The nurse explaining things told me I would crave a lot of strange things; although I wouldn’t necessarily call them strange, I would call them “high calorie”; lots of sweets and rich foods. I don’t remember exactly everything I ate — I should keep a food diary next go-round — but I don’t remember being hungry either, and I do remember enjoying the things I was eating. Neither have I lost any weight through all of this. I think that’s a good thing.

That second week, I was feeling pretty good, and got a little cocky maybe. I had been really good about avoiding large groups where the risk of catching a cold or flue was greater, but that week, Bryce graduated from tech school, and I went to the ceremony. The next day I was having lots of cold symptoms, and boy was I kicking myself. I stayed home from church for the second Sunday in a row, and skipped BSF the next Monday as well. I miss both of those groups. I took several vitamin supplements trying to get over that quickly, and somehow it worked; by Tuesday I was feeling much, much better. I did go to church this weekend, and am planning on BSF tonight. I managed to skirt past the large crowds at church, and had contact with only a few people; planning to do something similar tonight as well. It’s the last night for BSF, and… I’d hate to miss out on that & miss seeing the guys in my small group.

Last week was a little difficult; my hair started coming out. After getting through the first week without losing any hair I was hoping that I wouldn’t, but then last week I noticed a lot more, um, short & curlies laying loose in my undershorts when they were down, and others would come loose without much provocation. That made me wonder about the hair on my head; looking in the mirror I could see little tufts that weren’t laying down against the head with other adjacent hairs; a light pinch and pull was all it took for them to come out of the head 20-30 at a time. I decided to take charge of the situation; Yvonne buzzed my hair down to a basic training crew cut, then I went after the remainder with a razor. It took a few days to get used to the chrome-dome thing, but after several days and a second shave, it’s feeling pretty natural, albeit a little cold when the weather isn’t warm. Doesn’t take much to need a hat!

Now that it’s after midnight and officially Day 20, that of course means that the second infusion is only 50-some hours away. And that means the feeling of normalcy and health will be going by the wayside once again. I don’t look forward to the treatment or its side effects, but I do look forward to the impact that it will have on the cancer. Kill it. Kill it dead.

Chandeliering Ice

Filed under: Fun!,The World — Tags: , , , — dave @ 10:57 pm 2013/05/02

Here’s a weather-related phenomenon I had never heard of before today; chandeliering ice.

According to the NatureWorldnNws.com site, chandeliering “happens when warming temperatures cause a once solid mass of ice to splinter into fine, glass-like shards.”

That would be something to see. Too bad the video is a bit grainy, and there’s no close-up of what’s going on there. Very cool!

The Cure — Day 4 & 5

Filed under: Medical Adventures — dave @ 8:49 pm 2013/04/30

The weekend following my first chemo treatment — Days 4 and 5 — proved to be a bit tougher than days two and three. The first two days seemed to go pretty smoothly. Other than not sleeping well (probably attributable to the Prednisone) and in turn sleeping in kinda late, I made it to work both days. I kinda hit a wall towards mid-afternoon on those days though, so didn’t put in a full 8 hours on either day, but for the most part I felt ok and was functional. Encouraging comments from others about how I looked, and just being at work that quickly after chemo made me start thinking that this treatment wasn’t going to be a big deal at all.

Then came the weekend…

Cancer cells become a problem because their division happens at a rapid and uncontrolled rate, so the toxins that were dumped into my system are designed to affect the process of cell division. One of the unfortunate side effects of the chemotherapy is that any normal cells that are supposed to replicate and replace themselves rapidly stop doing so. Over the weekend I became painfully aware of the most notable places where that happens; the palms of my hands, the soles of my feet, and my mouth. Saturday was really the first I noticed any of that; my tongue started feeling kinda raw, and my feet and hands became especially tender. Walking any distance was uncomfortable, and anything that I did that stressed the skin on my hands just hurt. I thought it strange that that was the case with the feet and hands, but it makes sense I guess since those are parts that see a lot of wear, and if the skin isn’t replenishing itself as it normally would, it just wears out. Of course, I was told all this on Day One, but had forgotten about it, or at least how much it would affect me.

And on top of all of that, my energy level was at an all-time low, or so it felt. Just doing some routine stuff around the house on Saturday morning left me feeling totally shot. Resting helped, a little, but there wasn’t much there. The weather was so nice, and with the recent ice storm there was a lot to do outside, but one of the other things that cancer patients are told is to stay out of the sun, so I felt like the sickly little kid watching his buddies play ball through the window; wasn’t much fun. All of that added up to one big colossal pity party. I’ve been told that I’m entitled to a few of them, but it doesn’t make it any easier.

Later in the afternoon, when the sun wasn’t so high in the sky, we went out for a walk. Our usual route takes about 40 minutes, but Yvonne knew I wouldn’t be up to that so changed things up to cut through Spellerberg Park & make it about 20 minutes instead. Walking up little inclines felt like hills, and the “huge hill” that had to be climbed to get home just about did me in. No energy. I have to admit though that after that walk, and a short rest afterward, I felt much better. I slept a bit better that night as well. Tired is good in a way, I guess.

The lesson from all that was that I’m not so tough, and this chemotherapy thing isn’t easy. I did receive a lot of encouraging words from friends who have been there, and that helps immensely. Tim has been through two bouts of prostate cancer, and had this to say last night:

Know that there will be tough days… followed by better weeks.
There was always a time lag after a treatment for me: first day or two were fine… then sick for a day or 2-3, then better for a week or 10 days.

As long as you know what to expect, it gets much easier.

That last line should be bolded, italicized, underlined, highlighted, and emblazoned in red; knowing what to expect is huge. The unknown is the worst. Now that I’ve been through one treatment, I know better what to expect. Today, Kathleen told me that when she went through breast cancer treatment, she found there was a slightly cumulative effect from the treatments; each successive treatment hit her a little harder. I think I can deal with that, especially when having somewhat of a baseline expectation. And above all of that I need to remember not to expect too much of myself, and not to push myself too far.

Back to last weekend: Sunday went much better. When I hit that wall on Saturday, I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn’t going to accomplish much on Sunday, which is as it ought to be, so planned to just stay home from church and lay low the whole day. There were some things going on at church that I wish I could’ve attended, but the admonition to avoid crowds was pretty strong; too many germs floating around that can wreak havoc on a compromised immune system. Yvonne & Caleb did go to church, so it was nice to have some quiet time on my own; wish I could say that I made good use of the time, but I can’t, other than just recuperating from Saturday. Yvonne came home with smiles on her face from all that went on, which really lifted me up as well.

And now it’s already Tuesday; Week One is nearly done, and today felt almost normal. Ready for Week Two!

The Cure — Day One

Filed under: Medical Adventures — dave @ 3:58 am 2013/04/25

“Hello. My name is David Thornton. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”*

That’s a photo of my dad from somewhere in the 1930s or ’40s (handsome fellow, isn’t he?) In the fall of 1986, I was just a young newly-married pup, and my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. He knew something was very wrong much earlier than his first visit to the doctor, but was really reluctant to have it checked out, so the cancer was pretty advanced by the time they started his treatment. He died in June of 1987.

That was kinda like the Iron Age in the science of cancer treatment; the drugs used were effective at killing the cancer, but the dosages tended to be high, and the collateral damage on good growing cells was really high as well. I’ve often wondered if it was the cancer that killed Dad or the cure, but since the cure wouldn’t have been administered without the cancer, the cancer is still the enemy.

Considering the advances in cancer treatment over the last 27 years, I’m confident that the odds of a win in my case are a lot better. The photo below is from 1984; he planted & cultivated 30-some acres of corn with horse-drawn implements, just like his dad did when he was a boy. He always wanted to do that (but realized quickly that there was a reason his dad bought a tractor for the farm when he was twelve!) I still miss Dad, a lot sometimes. You know how they say a man never really appreciates his father until he hits his mid-20′s? That was me. Cancer took Dad from us, from me, before I could really get to know him as a man. This fight is personal. Not just in a vengeful kind of way, but I don’t want to let that happen to my sons.

My cure got kicked off this week; got my PICC line installed on Tuesday, and had the first chemo infusion on Wednesday. Still feel ok, at least functional, afterward, but it was a heck of a day.

All in all, things went pretty smoothly today; the first of the four drugs in the R-CHOP treatment was Rituximab, and it took the most time because it’s the one that’s most likely to bring about nasty side effects during infusion. The nurse went over all the possible side effects of all the drugs beforehand, but there was one point where I suddenly felt a bit warm, so Yvonne stepped out of the room & asked the nurse for a damp washcloth; within 30 seconds there were three nurses and a nurse practitioner in the room. I guess I didn’t realize feeling a bit warm was one of the first warning signs of a reaction to the drug (she had said “hot flashes” earlier, and that didn’t register just then!) but by the time they started asking questions, I had also started to feel a little queasy (which I did remember) so their sense of urgency was spot on! They turned off the pump for about a half hour while the anti-nausea med they gave me went to work, and everything went pretty smoothly after that. Started at 8 am, finished at about 5:20. Heck of a day! I missed a follow-up appointment with the doctor that did my second jaw biopsy surgery, but I’m not having troubles with that (other than getting impatient with the stupid stitches in my mouth) so they didn’t feel we even needed to reschedule.

The evening after, could feel my pulse when I lay my head on the pillow, and sometimes my hands seemed to throb with my heartbeat; I’m guessing that has to do with the volume of fluid that was pumped into me throughout the treatment. That probably has something to do with the nagging headache I had that evening. Nothing major, but it was there, and probably understandable, and will likely go away as my organs absorb all that extra fluid. One of the drugs that went in yesterday was colored bright red; it’s a good thing that the nurse warned me that I would be peeing orange for a while after, because she was right, and it was a tad shocking at first. That and the headache were bearable though after feeling a great disturbance in my jaw, as if the voices of millions of tiny cancer cells suddenly cried out in terror and were silenced. I like to think we’re making some progress.

But… From what the nurse told us at the beginning of the day, the real symptoms probably won’t show up until the first part of next week; that’s when the toxins will start to kill off the cancer cells, and the collateral damage starts to make itself known. I’m tentatively planning to go to work today (Thursday) and doing as much as I am able, without overdoing it. It’s not like the work of a mouse herder is all that strenuous. The fifth drug in the R-CHOP regimen is Prednisone, which is a steroid. It’s in the mix because it helps the other drugs do their jobs more effectively, but has the side effect of making you feel like a million bucks. I don’t know if that’s the case yet, because it also makes you a bit hyper & jittery, so taking it at 5:30 in the afternoon wasn’t recommended. I get five days of that; I’ll post something on that stuff later.

The one thing I’m not terribly excited about is this PICC line; it was installed on Tuesday, and is the channel through which four of the meds are administered, but it’s a bit of a pain. It stays for the whole six weeks, and can’t get wet. It enters my arm on the inside of my bicep, just below where the armpit hair starts, so of course, the bandages protecting it caught all kinds of hair in it. And keeping it dry for showers requires tape to be wrapped around that same area; I ended up just trimming back that hair. Those were my complaints about the PICC line from Tuesday; today it’s less of a bother though. Getting the hair out of the way was big, but on Tuesday that was kind of the new irritation so all my focus was on the PICC line. Now it seems less of a bother, probably because I’m more used to it, but probably more that I’ve had the first round of chemo there are other things to focus on, and the PICC line is just background noise.

* For those who may not be familiar with that quote, it’s a paraphrase of a famous line from the movie, The Princess Bride, delivered by Mandy Patinkin playing the character Inigo Montoya. If you haven’t seen the movie, why the heck not? If not, no big deal, really; I may have watched it enough times myself to cover a small theater full. Watch the clips below to understand the paraphrase better, but best is to watch the movie! Or read the book. The movie is incredibly faithful to the book, so either way… It’s all good!

The Game Plan

Filed under: Medical Adventures — dave @ 3:29 am 2013/04/24

Well, we had an interesting day at Sanford on Tuesday of last week (and I’m just now getting around to finishing up the post…) It all started off with an early morning appointment with the Good Doctor Bleeker, where he did a quick once-over on me and asked about any issues that had come up since our last visit. Not much was new; my mouth is still a bit sore, not only from the surgeries and the missing teeth, but the other lower front teeth are still giving me trouble (double-portions of it a few nights since then; waking me up in the wee hours…) and, oh and by the way, there’s this weird rash that showed up about a week earlier.

The thing with the teeth wasn’t a big surprise to him, and didn’t seem to be much of a concern either. He surmises (as do I) that the issues I’ve been having with the teeth are caused by the tumor that remains in my lower jaw. The tumor is a very indistinct entity — it was only identifiable in the PET scan, but it is definitely occupying some space in the lower jaw — and as it grows it is moving things around, ever so slightly. It seems to be subject to external changes as well; changes in weather have caused increased pain levels, as did flying. Changes in altitude bring about pressure changes. The tumor is essentially replacing bone tissue as it grows, and the difference in density between the two materials is what causes the problems and the pain. Or at least that’s what the theory is.

The good news is that the upcoming therapy plan should eliminate the cancer that is creating the tumor that is replacing the bone in my jaw. But the bad news is that when the tumor is gone, there’s no guarantee that the bone will come back on its own. So I might be losing more teeth before it’s all said & done. And when it’s all said & done, I’ll have to go through some reconstruction to get my teeth and jawbone back. But first things first; let’s get rid of this sucky cancer.

Dr. Bleeker laid out the game plan for eradicating the cancer during that visit; the primary treatment will consist of chemotherapy, administered in three infusions separated by three weeks. My first infusion will happen tomorrow (April 24, 2013), and should wrap up six weeks from tomorrow. At that point we’ll reassess, and hit it with radiation therapy if it’s needed.

The chemo consists of the standard R-CHOP cocktail (click the link for details; this is getting too long already.) The doc says that the treatment has an excellent success rate with my type of cancer — over 90 percent fully cured — and that my general state of health, the chemo shouldn’t hit me so hard that it will keep me away from work too much, which is all very encouraging. What rattles me just a bit is that ~10 percent, and the fact that the doc had never seen this kind of cancer show up in this particular place and only in this particular place.

For now though, I’m operating on the positive, that 90 percent, and the desire to kick this thing’s butt. There are a lot of slightly selfish reasons behind that — wanting to spend more years with Yvonne, to see any grandkids that might materialize, etc… I’d also like to think I might be missed by some, and I hate to let people down.


Filed under: Medical Adventures — dave @ 9:47 pm 2013/04/15

Since being diagnosed with the dreaded ‘C’ word, people keep asking the question, “How are you doing?” or, “How are you feeling?” Weird as it sounds, it’s not an easy question, and most of the time the answers I give feel inadequate and sometimes trite.

I haven’t been started on any treatments for the disease just yet; everything so far has just been diagnostic work, so I don’t really feel much different than I did before the diagnosis. Physically I feel pretty much fine, with the obvious exception of the post-operative pain in my mouth, and feeling somewhat incomplete with those two teeth missing, and feeling out of sorts because of the medications I’m taking. And I’m always feeling like I’m missing out a bit on some of my favorite foods, because the pain in my teeth makes eating anything that requires chewing a bit difficult. I sometimes feel a little melancholy, and a little weepy when I’m feeling sorry for myself. But mostly, I’m just Dave. At least so far.

But when I think of the many ways that I’m blessed, I can’t help but be thankful. Thankful for the wonderful wife who puts up with my whining about all the things that are wrong, and puts up with my spontaneous pity parties… Not only is she a great wife and support through all of this, she’s also trained as a nurse; yes, this whole business is different than the world of labor and delivery where she works, but the fact that she is there listening to what the doctors tell me with her medical ears is more than huge. Likewise for my soon-to-be-a-doctor-daughter; it was a total God-thing that Emily was done with some of the heavy lifting she had in med school last month and staying at home while I was going through many of the diagnostic appointments in the last couple of weeks. Having them both with me at every appointment meant so much to me, I can hardly express it.

I’m also thankful for the many friends and relatives who have expressed their concern and offered to pray for me, and have prayed. Last week, a friend stopped me at church & said that if he had as many people praying for him as I did for me, he could do anything; I responded that I hate to think how much worse things would be if they weren’t praying for me… And it’s true; the effect of prayers of God’s people on my behalf has been huge, and very evident to me. Another friend at work last week said that when she was told of my condition after seeing me in the break room, she thought sure it was a case of mistaken identity because I didn’t look sick at all; on the contrary, she said I appeared to have a glow about me that was new… The glow certainly wasn’t me, as I haven’t felt all that great, so I can only attribute it to something else, and attributing it to the prayers offered on my behalf only makes sense.

I also need to say that I am thankful for a good health insurance policy. I was just looking at My Sanford Chart, which shows all of my medications, my appointments, and my billing information. So far, this whole adventure has cost upwards of $40,000, and it’s all been outpatient care. I haven’t had a single overnight stay at the hospital, and hope to keep it that way, because that total would be more than doubled if I had. Even so, insurance has covered all but about $1,300 of what’s been billed. I have no idea how we would pay that if not for insurance.

And that makes me extremely thankful for my job and my employer, without whom I would likely not have such good health insurance. And the people I work with have been extremely flexible with all the appointments I’ve had to keep the last couple of weeks, and have made it clear that I can expect the same as we head into the treatment phase of things.

I haven’t reached the point where I’m thankful for the disease that I have. Nor am I thankful for the unknowns surrounding this whole ordeal. How long will it take to get rid of it? Will I get rid of it? How did I get it? I suppose the answers will come, maybe. And there may come a time when I see how God has worked through this illness to build something better in me, but for now, I’m not so thankful for the trial.

At any rate, I think from now on when people ask how I’m doing or how I feel, I’ll just answer, “Thankful.” Mostly because I am. Thankful, that is.

Some Good News…

Filed under: Medical Adventures — dave @ 3:46 pm 2013/04/07

Which I consider to be Some Good News. Or At Least Not Bad news anyway… Which is good, in a way.

Got a preliminary report back from the oncologist, Dr. Bleeker, yesterday; what I have is an early stage diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, and with all the testing, have only found evidence of it in the jaw. That is music to my ears! I’m definitely not out of the woods yet — DLBCL is still a fairly aggressive cancer, so I still have chemotherapy and probably radiation therapy in my future — but considering it’s been caught early and it’s only made itself known in that one spot should make the task of eradicating the bugger a bit less of an ordeal. But reading between the lines, it sounds like DLBCL is kind of a hopper where all the I-don’t-know-exactly-what-it-is kinds of lymphomas end up. So I’m not exactly sure what to think, other than trusting that God has it all under control.

Just to back up and recap on what’s happened since my last post, on Thursday of this week, I reported back to Sanford Hospital for another round of surgery. The goal was to reopen last week’s surgical site to dig out a second sample of tissue from my jaw. The worry was that the oral surgeon had been too thorough and there wouldn’t be enough left to give them the information they needed. They also wanted a bone marrow sample, and had originally scheduled that to happen on Monday, which made no sense to me at all; if they are putting me under for the sample from my jaw, why not take advantage of the opportunity and grab the bone marrow at the same time? That procedure is usually done in the office under local anesthesia, and it’s supposed to be a painful procedure; I have a relatively high tolerance for pain, but still prefer to avoid it when possible. Thankfully they were able to rearrange things so that both could be done on Thursday while I was sedated.

Got a good laugh from one of the docs though; I don’t remember his name, but he was a pathology resident, fresh out of med school, and he came into the room to give me the rundown of the procedure and the risks involved, and to get me to sign the consent form. Wow, was he nervous. Not a huge confidence builder, seeing him like that, especially when he said that he would be doing the procedure (with Dr. Putnam assisting), but he looked like the introverted type that was more comfortable and competent around the pathology lab than around people, so didn’t say anything. It was funny though!

In the end, the surgeon was able to get some good samples from the jaw, and the bone marrow thing went without issue. By the time all that was done it was about 3 pm; I was pretty shot when we got home and hit the sack until about 8 pm, then got up for a bite to eat. By 10 I was ready for bed again; those drugs do nasty things to a body, but still preferable to getting things done without.

Friday morning meant another trip back to Sanford, this time to the Van Demark Clinic for another test, a PET scan; for the PET scan, I was injected with a radioactive compound, and given another compound (bromide I think he said) to drink. I then had to sit quietly for 45 minutes for the stuff to circulate through my bloodstream in preparation for the scan. The idea is that the isotope somehow (magically) attaches to cancerous cells, and the PET scanner’s x-ray highlights those areas that contain cancer cells. Or at least that’s the gist of what I caught from how things were described. Funny how you put your trust in these people you’ve never met and let them inject you with this or that and run you through that or another machine, trusting that they know what they are doing. The PET scan machine was like the CT, but more like the MRI procedure; it took about a half hour, during which I was on my back being moved through a tube barely wide enough for my shoulders. Good thing I had taken a hydrocodone before the appointment, and was given a muscle relaxer when I got there; I was in a happy place!

So back to the good news; the PET scan showed no other hot spots, and the bone marrow tests came back negative. The samples from my jaw started to tell them what they needed to know, and all of that together with last week’s CT & MRI showed that the cancer is isolated to that spot in my jaw. Having a proper diagnosis is huge, and knowing that it’s just in that one spot is bigger still. I’m still in for a round of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but knowing that it will be relatively minor is a huge boost. I was so pumped Friday night that I wanted to dance! It’s Sunday now, and I still feel pretty rough; my back hurts from the bone marrow extraction, and my mouth hurts from the biopsy there, and my lip is still numb & feels like it weighs about 40 lbs, but Friday’s news felt like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. Now that I’ve come down from the cloud I know I’m nowhere near out of the woods, but having the enemy identified and located feels so much better.

So very thankful that Dr. Bleeker took the time to give us the news before the weekend; couldn’t have picked a better doctor! And so thankful for so many friends and loved ones who have been praying; a good friend mentioned this morning that if he had as many people praying for him as I have had for me, he’s not sure what he could accomplish. All I can say is I hate to think what things might have been if people hadn’t been praying for me… The end result may have been no different — that God is allowing this to play out for some bigger purpose — or it may have made all the difference in the world. Either way, I am thankful. And humbled.

Still Waiting…

Filed under: Medical Adventures — dave @ 10:09 pm 2013/04/02

Not a lot has happened since my last post, other than getting my head on straight and putting the panic behind me. Saturday was a bad day, and Saturday night/Sunday morning was even worse, which combined with the uncertainty of the preliminary diagnosis made me imagine the worst.

Monday morning, bright & early, we met with Dr. Bleeker. Very nice guy; I think he mentioned he’s 6’8″ (but wasn’t interested in playing basketball in college) and a Dordt College graduate, so was an instant hit with us for the Dutch connection. He remembers going through several undergrad biology classes taught by Yvonne’s dad, and said the tests in his classes were “legendary.”

Anyway, he had a little news for us on Monday; Friday’s MRI and CT scan showed no other areas of suspicion in the head, neck, or lymph nodes, which is a huge good, but did show a spot on one of the kidneys which is likely cancerous. That’s bad, but not hugely bad, because it’s likely totally unrelated to the problem I’m having in my jaw. It will need to be dealt with, but being caught early, it shouldn’t be a problem getting it out, and being caught early, I get to forego the symptoms that would typically alert someone to the problem. Kind of a get out of jail for not-quite free card. So while it’s not good, it’s just a little bad.

Sadly, he still hadn’t received the final report from the histology lab, so he had nothing more he could tell us regarding the path forward. We were really looking forward to that, but the news he did give us was at least a little encouraging. One of his assistants got on the phone with the lab, and they were hoping to get a final word on the biopsy by Tuesday (today), so Dr. Bleeker promised to call me when he got word on it.

Most of today came and went, and the call finally came about 5:40 this afternoon. Still no final word on the biopsy, but part of the reason they are having trouble is that they don’t have a “live” specimen to work with. So he suggested that they do another surgery to extract another tissue sample from my jaw for biopsy. Not exactly what I wanted to hear, especially when things were finally healing up in there and I was hoping to see some of the stitches falling out. But if that’s what needs to be done, I can suck it up and get through it.

He also said that they would like to take a bone marrow sample for testing; non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of a type of white blood cell, and because white blood cells are generated in the bone marrow, lymphoma cells also like to hide out there, so that’s another place they can often be found. The lymph nodes are the typical place they are found (hence the name) but because my lymph nodes are asymptomatic, it makes sense to look elsewhere for the disease. He said the procedure to extract the bone marrow can be quite painful, so they’ll likely put me out for that.

While I’m out, they’ll probably perform a PET scan on me as well to determine which bits of me are maybe not functioning properly. He explained that the body normally uses a certain amount of sugar in normal functions; the heart uses more because it works more, and they can tell through a PET scan if other organs/bits are consuming more sugars than they ought, which can be a signal that something’s not right. I don’t pretend to understand the process, but that’s the gist of what I heard, so take that for what it’s worth.

So, more testing. One potential problem in all this is timing; we’re due to leave next week for California to attend Ian’s graduation from USMC Boot Camp. I asked Dr. Bleeker if the testing might interfere with that, and he didn’t seem to think so. He thought we could easily get it in this week still. We may be able to get one of the procedures in tomorrow even. Not really looking forward to that, but I am looking forward to getting it done, and sooner is better I guess.

So, we soldier on, trusting that God has it all in his mighty hands. Yvonne posted something about all of this on Facebook tonight, and it was a huge encouragement to see how many people responded that they will be praying for us.

God is good. All the time.

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