Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Boy In The Plastic Bubble

Good evening all!

Did anybody ever see that amazing 70's movie "The Boy In The Plastic Bubble" starring John Travolta?  Well I did, and I can tell you I felt like him this past weekend as I waited for my immune system to recover in the hospital.  Now in the movie he rides off on a horse with a blond girl, which is slightly different from me, as I rode off in a gold car alone.  Either way, I can empathize with the guy.

So yes, my white blood counts finally rose above the critical level Tuesday morning, and I was eventually free to go once the doctor signed off on my case.  They warned me of a potential need for blood transfusions as I was leaving, due to my red blood cells steadily dropping near critical levels.  This wouldn't involve admittance to the hospital, but it would take a few hours from what I gather.  I had to go back this morning for blood work, and since I didn't get a call from the office indicating my red count has become severe, it must mean that they finally turned back up as well.

So I sit here after an unexpected 4 day hospital stay, and I can see my next treatment cycle fast approaching.  I will be back in the hospital for the usual routine next Thursday for cycle 4.  I am starting to see the finish line off in the distance, so hopefully this will help pull me through cycles 4 & 5, as I've heard they can be some of the most difficult of the treatment process.  One very positive sign that I hope is the beginning of a trend is the way my body is reacting to the chemo once I'm done with treatment.  The amount of time I've spent actually feeling bad post discharge is really getting less and less.  I mean even though I had to go to the hospital this past week, I felt very good the whole time, and in reality my fever had broken by early Saturday morning, the remaining time spent was just precautionary. 

I hope this means that instead of being worn down by the cumulative effects of the chemo, my body might be adapting and getting used to the treatment.  I have really had very little nausea, and only lost my appetite a few times over the entire course of treatment.  I have yet to develop these mouth sores people keep talking about, and my energy level has remained steady if not quite 100%.  Of course this could all change with cycle 4, but I am really trying to convince myself and my body that I have this thing licked, so hopefully this mental "strength" will help pull me through these last few cycles.

Until I go back in next week though, I am going to enjoy this next week on the outside.  I am looking forward to a great weekend, and heck, I'm even looking forward to some productive days at work.  Thank you again to everyone who has sent cards, called, and checked in via email, it all plays a role in how well I've done to this point!

Oh, and any thoughts to the best Halloween Costume involving a bald man?  I mean Dr. Evil is a given, but I wonder if something funnier exists?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Change Of Weekend Plans

Happy Saturday all!  Since I last wrote on Monday I have been discharged from the 3rd round and experienced an illness free 3 days.  I felt really good on Tuesday - Thursday and really thought I might be able to sneak past the side effects this cycle.  I was very wrong. 

I woke up with a headache and nausea about 2am on Friday which was what I was sort of expecting to feel at some point this week.  The rest of Friday went about as expected, just resting and trying to subdue the illness with meds.  My parents came up to make me dinner, when we decided to take my temperature, as I was a little warm.  Turns out I had a 101 fever, which means you have to go to the ER to receive treatment.  Of course this is right before the Ranger game is about to start, so I am doing everything I can to convince my folks I don't need to go (and strangely enough, I feel about 100% at this point).  But in the end we went by the book and drove over to Emory Midtown.

To say I was a fish out of water at the Midtown ER is probably an understatement, but thankfully we convinced the staff to switch the tv from CNN discussing Islamic profiling to baseball.  We watched the entire game save the last pitch from the waiting room, when just before we went in to see the Dr.  The combination of my fever and low white blood cell counts made it impossible for them to not admit me for observation for an undetermined amount of time.  I am furious because I feel just fine, yet now face the prospect of spending my entire weekend in the hospital, whereas I could be doing all the things they want me to from the comfort of my couch.

I argued a bit with the doctor again this morning, but again, since my blood counts have yet to bottom out, they can't afford to send me home, because infection could strike at any time.  I finally resigned myself to my fate for the weekend, but still I feel if my stupid counts can turn tonight I might be able to salvage Sunday and enjoy football from home.  The first step towards discharge has been met in that my fever has broke, so no I just have to hope these silly white blood cells will start replicating a little faster.

It actually could be worse though, because I am only on a drip for 20 minutes at a time every 4 hours, I am much more mobile than during treatment, which makes a big difference in getting comfortable under these 7 thread count sheets.  Also, I don't have CSS at home and would be unable to watch the Georgia game, but they have it here, so there will be no need for me to listen to my alarm clock radio, haha!

Thank you everyone, and have a great weekend!


Monday, October 18, 2010

Survival Of The Moderately Fit

Happy Monday all!   I hope everyone is doing well after a big football weekend, lots of upsets on Saturday really skewed the landscape.

Well I am still here at Emory University, set for discharge after lunch sometime.  This has for sure been the roughest stay thus far.  Yesterday was particularly frustration in that I became very weak and tired, I literally couldn't keep my eyes open most of the afternoon.  I hated to be in such a state because my sister and dear friend Captain Rudy drove down out of their way for a visit, but I just couldn't keep my head up and visit much.  I have bounced back this morning though, and I am feeling much better.  Perhaps in small part due to the fact that I will be leaving early this afternoon.  It really makes a difference knowing that you will be at home the next time you go to bed. 

The next step is of course the all important recovery week, so hopefully this one will go as smooth as the last two.  Thank you everyone for checking in this past week, it has meant a whole lot!

Go Rangers tonight!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Ah The Healthcare System

Hello everyone from Emory Midtown University Hospital.  Things are going well this morning, though humor me as I walk you through a scenario:

Imagine you have an 8:30 flight one morning.  You go through security and get to the gate on time, where you find out that your flight is actually departing from another nearby airport surprisingly.  This is no big deal, so you drive over to the other airport and get past security and get to the gate.  You find out that the flight is running late now, so you sit at the gate for 2+ hours waiting to board.  Finally you board the plane, but now you are informed that you have to wait on the plane for another 5 hours before taking off.

If this happened to you I bet you'd be pretty mad huh?  Yeah me too, but for some reason we have to live with these inefficiencies regarding the healthcare system.  This is basically what happened to me yesterday, as a series of delays kept me from starting my drip until 7pm, whereas I usually start around 2pm.  The problem with this is it will delay my departure on Monday from around lunchtime to potentially after dinner.  As someone who has studied healthcare a little, I can't help but not get too upset over this, after all, this is the most inefficient industry in the country, but I digress.

But yes, I'm back at University Hospital off Clifton Rd this weekend, room 702.  This is where I was during my first cycle and there are huge differences between the two facilities.  For one, the rooms here are bigger than at Midtown, and the window is wall to wall, which really opens up the natural light.  That definitely makes a big difference when you are to be here for 5 days just sitting around.  Another weird aspect of this facility is I strangely feel like there is a greater attention to detail by the nursing staff than at Midtown.  Here there is more double checking and oversight, but maybe that is just me.  This is no indictment of Midtown, but just a slight difference we noticed.

Tonight is a special night for me, as a lifelong Texas Rangers fan, this our first trip to the ALCS to face the Yankees.  I have been a Rangers fan ever since spending my first 9 years within earshot of their stadium in
Arlington, TX.  These years have been hard, as until this week's victory they were the only MLB team to never win a playoff series.  I wish everyone could have seen or heard my good friend Adam Powell (big Rangers fan) as we watched the game at my apartment on Tuesday.  If you could only hear us when the game ended, it sounded like Justin Bieber walking in on a room full of 5 young girls; I mean we were squealing with excitement.  For those of you that haven't watched this series but might tune in tonight, there are a few hand signals you can do at home that you will see the Rangers do:  "Moose" -  this is where put your hands up by your head like antlers, you do this after one of the Rangers steals a base or has a great play involving speed, then "Claw" -  for this you outstretch your hand in a claw shape when a Ranger gets a hit.  It sounds weird I know, but please join me from wherever you are, because I will hopefully making lots of "Moose" and "Claw" signals here alone in the hospital.

Thank you again everyone for the well wishes, I hope the weekend is great for all.  I leave you with another underdog team that also was also trying like heck to get to the World Series:

Thank you for the support!


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Round 3

Greetings all!  I trust everyone had a great weekend.  I know I had a good one even if some baseball games didn't go my way.

So here we are on the Tuesday before my 3rd admittance.  I am starting to get myself ready for Thursday morning, because I know it will be another grind.  As I posted before, I need to take some time to plan a menu so that I can avoid the nausea that inevitably accompanies patient dining.  Outside of a few sick days and some other minor side effects I have really felt good over the last few weeks.  I think that is going to make it all the more difficult to go sit in a hospital bed for 5 days.  Now that I am about to get over the hump, there is also the very real possibility that the side effects and sick days start to ramp up, as chemo is such a cumulative process.  I know having talked to a few other survivors who have had similar cocktails, it was really after the 3rd treatment and beyond that they started to succumb to more invasive side effects.

I saw the other day that baseball great Tony Gwynn was recently diagnosed with cancer in his salivary glands.  You think about him, Michael Douglas, Michael C. Hall, et the list goes on and on of famous people/athletes that have been diagnosed with cancer.  It just goes to show that cancer isn't a poor disease or white or black one for that matter.  Cancer can affect even those with the most healthy of lifestyles (Lance Armstrong).  It really is amazing how prevalent this disease is; according to men have a 44% chance, and women have a 37% chance of developing cancer over the course of their lifetimes.  That is not meant to scare people, but just help understand that at some point you very likely could be affected by this disease.

Something that a few people ask me about is what you can/can't eat in order to fight off or prevent cancer.  You see so many advertisements these days about how y causes cancer or x wards off cancer.  I am no doctor or nutritionist, but I do know that my doctors haven't said anything about avoiding x or doubling up on y.  I would take any claim with a grain of salt and just focus on eating a balanced diet, as that is all the nutritionist and doctors have told me to do.  I think you should use common sense in regards to your diet and lifestyle, because the other factors (genetics, environment, randomness) are mostly outside of your control.

I can't thank everyone enough for the prayers and support during this fight, they really mean the world to me. I look forward to seeing everyone who has reached out once I receive a clean bill of health, but until then, I am focused on fighting and surviving round 3 at beautiful Emory Midtown.  I have requested a room with a view of downtown, as staring at the Renaissance Hotel wasn't terribly scenic last time.  I will post again from prison the hospital, so hopefully everything goes well and I can report on a successful admittance!

Go Rangers tonight!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Shrinkage Confirmed!

Quick post on this Thursday afternoon.  I had my MRI and appointment with my surgeon Dr. Monson this afternoon.  Monson looked at the MRI and definitely noticed some shrinking and smoothing of the edges of my tumor.  He said this is all good news, and a sign that I am responding well to the chemo treatment.  I will have my next MRI in mid-November, so there should be even more shrinking yet again (knock on wood).  This is great news, but of course it also guarantees that I continue on the chemo cycle, which obviously involves more super fun hospital visits.  I don't care though, because it is working and I am on the road to recovery!!

Hope everyone has a great weekend, go Braves/Rangers/Dawgs!


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What Does Cancer Smell Like?

Greetings all, happy hump day.  I was hoping to post this afternoon with good news after my MRI, but of course after I showed up at the clinic I came to realize it isn't scheduled until tomorrow, so hopefully something good to report then.

I posted awhile back about how you should never be embarrassed to have something on your body checked out.  Nobody is going to call you a hypochondriac or anything, I promise.  As many of you know I am very fair skinned, and have always been literally scared of getting skin cancer.  I have always feared that I would get melanoma on my head (under my hair) which led me to always spraying my hair with sun screen, which of course gives even the cleanest hair the look of a sticky matted grease ball.  My passion for high SPF sunscreen is to the point that I get playful grief all summer long with friends, I recall one exchange on the golf course last summer:

Andrew:  Michael, that sunscreen stinks, stop spraying it everywhere
Me:  You think that stinks?  What do you think cancer smells like?!

Andrew, to answer the question I posed, there is no smell.  There is no taste and very little feeling (in my case), which makes it so scary.  Cancer is silent in many forms, which is why so many people literally stumble upon it and discover it via luck.  I think back to say the day before my lump popped in and I went to the doctor; I technically had cancer that day (the cancer didn't develop and grow in one afternoon, but over a period of months), yet had I undergone a full physical by a good doctor, there would have been no way he/she would have discovered the cancer.  They say hypertension (high blood pressure) is the silent killer, but I'm convinced you could argue that cancer could claim that title as well.

Another ironic story that technically took place after I probably already had cancer growing in my body took place Memorial Day weekend.  I was again lathering up with sunscreen, when some buddies informed me of an article that had recently been published expressing concern over some key sunscreen ingredients, and how they might potentially promote the development of skin cancer.  Of course I freaked out when I saw said ingredient was in my bottle, so I immediately switched to a brand that was considered safe, good thing to, ooops!

The moral of this story is that there is very little you can do to prevent cancer from growing in your body.  No matter how much broccoli or whatever "anti-cancer" food you eat, if your cells allow one mutated cell to grow and replicate, then you could very well come down with cancer.  You can however wear sunscreen and get annual checks to ensure you don't have skin cancer.  I don't care whether you are tan or pale, you can get skin cancer, and melanoma is one of the most aggressive forms of cancer, so it can be a huge deal.  Please for my sake wear bullfrog SPF 15 or greater, and go see your dermatologist annually.  I prefer to not have to read a friend's cancer blog, because they were careless in regards to simple sun protection techniques (that and I will have used up all the good cancer jokes).

Thank you all again, and please stay tuned to hopefully some news of shrinkage tomorrow evening!

Go Braves and Rangers!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Only 25 Times? Sure!

Happy Friday everyone!  I can imagine everyone is excited about getting home for the weekend, though I will say I am hopeful that I will continue to feel good this weekend so I can get out of the house and enjoy the nice weather for the first time in a while.

I was pretty sick on Wednesday with similar symptoms to those I felt at the low point of the first cycle.  I bounced back a bit on Thursday, and by this afternoon I feel 100%.  I hope being sick on the 2nd day of recovery isn't a sign that I will struggle as I reach my valley (Monday - Wednesday), but at this point all I can do is take it one day at a time.  The key is to recognize a good day and maximize what you get out of it, because trust me, you ain't doing much on the bad days.

I had my first Radiology consult yesterday and it was interesting to learn more about what that process entails.  Basically I will receive 25 treatments that last about 20 minutes (5 days a week for 5 week) each.  The goal of radiation is to shrink the tumor even further through local treatment before surgery.  Some of the side effects she mentioned were short term:  fatigue & irritated skin, and long term:  local discoloring, local hair loss, sterility, and 2nd cancer (remote).  She said that it is a good thing that I stored my sons and daughters, because with the location of my tumor, there will definitely be some rays that hit the testicles (which are very sensitive to radiation apparently).  2nd Cancer is cancer that is caused down the line by old cancer treatments, isn't that great?  I can cure this cancer by doing something that could cause it further down the line.  I feel like the U.S. Gov't constantly refinancing debt, just to put off the inevitable a few more years.  The chances of this are very low (1-2% tops), which normally are good odds unless you somehow developed a .001% chance cancer recently.   Speaking of odds, did anybody hear about the Maryland guy who just won his 2nd lottery jackpot this year?  I mean what is going on here!?

In the mean time I'm focused on  getting through this recovery period and hopefully receiving some good news after my MRI that is scheduled for next week.  I am hoping for the type of shrinkage that you only find amongst polar bear club members, so please cross your fingers! 

Good luck to all the college football fans this weekend, I am not going to predict a UGA victory anymore this season, so perhaps that will put us over the top.