The Editor’s Blog defines the end of a Chapter “…the last scene, the last paragraph, the last sentence—brings closure to one chapter but at the same time needs to lead readers and characters to the next scene and chapter and story event.”
This is where I find myself. At the end of a particular chapter of my life. This chapter comes to a close much the way it began; with a scar. Fortunately for me, the doctors have all agreed that I’m going under the knife one (hopefully) last time to have my mediport removed; the device that was used for my chemo infusions.
Fortunately, I’ll only have a scar to show for my little souvenir. One of many that I’ve acquired over this last chapter. I’m going to be stuck wearing a one-piece swimsuit this summer, that’s for sure. Sorry, no witty picture or video for that. You’ll have to use your imagination. You’re welcome. Yes, I’m aware that Rodan & Fields makes something for that. No, I’m not doing the before and after photos. You’re welcome.
I’ve spent a good bit pondering on this past year. It would be easy to say that this has been a “bad year”. I refuse to apply any sense of goodness or badness to this past year. Time isn’t moral. It has no agency or action. All it does is … pass. I’m not going to deceive myself and say that there were not some times during this past chapter that I enjoyed more or less than others. The French have an expression for that, “Well, duh!” Ever expressive, the French.
My pondering has left me to think that if the past 16 odd months haven’t been bad, what have they been? Difficult, without a doubt. Challenging, definitely. Disappointing, in some ways. We had made some plans that Seamus managed to derail. And as the great American philosopher, Mike Tyson, once said “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth.” Seamus had a heck of a punch. I learned a lot, so instructive maybe.
Regardless of my thoughts on this chapter of my life, it is being marked closed. Part of me, can’t believe it. It honestly feels like a lifetime ago when this particular chapter started; Halloween 2017. Most of all, though. I think I’ll leave this chapter knowing that what happened, happened and couldn’t have happened any other way. How do I know? I’m still alive.
Kind of an auspicious occasion. My first week without a chemo treatment. I’ve been laying low and taking it easy, trying to recover from the “normal” side effects that I’ve had over the last 12 weeks. Now, I’m just hoping that the more significant side effects go away as well.
The skin on my hands and feet are still pretty much like crepe paper. I’ve got old man hair, that’s for sure. It’s very fine and I can’t do anything with it. Let’s be honest. It’s not like I really did anything before with my hair, but that’s definitely not an option now. I think the worst part is that during a meeting today, I caught myself on camera from the back. Yeah… that bald spot is starting to become a crop circle. I always claimed that I would shave my head if I went bald. If my hair doesn’t get its act together we’re having a come to Gillette meeting in the very near future.
I was asked a few days ago what I was going to do this week, now that I don’t have a chemo infusion. “Go to work, I guess” was my response. It still is my response. I’ve been fortunate that after the first couple of stumbles I’ve been able to work while going through chemotherapy. I’m not going to say that it’s been easy, not by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve been able to work. I know too many other folks that have not been able to work while going through chemo to consider myself anything but fortunate.
I will ask you to do something these upcoming Thursdays. Whatever your favorite variety of cancer is, wear a shirt, an outfit, a ribbon, a something of the supporting color. If anyone asks why you’re wearing Pink, tell them it’s for Breast Cancer awareness. If you’re not sure what color corresponds with a particular type of cancer, below is a list of the most common cancer types:
- Lung cancer: white
- Brain cancer: grey
- Breast cancer: pink
- Liver cancer: emerald green
- Lymphoma: lime green
- Prostate cancer: light blue
- Stomach cancer: periwinkle blue
- Bone cancer: yellow
- Leukemia: orange
- Colon cancer: dark blue
If you’re curious, I’ll be wearing a pink shirt on Thursday. I have been for many years now for Breast Cancer Awareness and there is no reason to change now. There have been too many women that have had a significant impact in my life that have been effected by and succumbed to Breast Cancer for me to do anything less.
I faced Day Eleven with a good bit of trepidation. Let’s be honest, no one looks forward to their chemotherapy infusion. That statement is right up there with “water is wet”. Had some good things going for me. My oncologist pulled back the Oxaliplatin for my last two infusions. The numbness in my feet and hands has been causing problems. Since nerve damage is a side effect; cutting it out isn’t a bad thing. The other big side effect is cold sensitivity, so not having that is a good thing. I mean, it’s summer. It’s hot. I’d like something cold to drink.
On the flip side; we were meeting with the Oncologist and trying to find out what our next steps will be. That’s a bit easier said than done, even at this point. I was more than a little nervous and what we’d be told. More chemo? Other treatments? The unknown was weighing heavy going into that appointment.
I’d like to take a break from our regular scheduled programming and bring you this public service announcement. There isn’t a delicate way to have this conversation, but we’ll try. Get your pictures taken. Do your hair, brush your teeth, relax and smile. Not much more that you can do. There are other … less invasive ways to get screened for colon cancer. Isn’t technology wonderful? Any way you do it, get checked out. Trust me, you’re not too young. Now you know and well… You know the rest.
I’ve got one more Chemo infusion to get through. After that, there’s going to be a pause of about six weeks. Over the next few months, there’s at least one CT scan in my immediate future as well as a colonoscopy. Oh, I’m getting the pictures this time. After all, I need something to include with the Christmas cards, fight? Holding out hope that the CT and colonoscopy don’t show up anything; I’ll be repeating both of those every year for the next couple of years.
I crossed a milestone. At my desk, I have a white board that one of the many things I use it for is to track where I’m going. If I’m going on vacation, I write the dates in green. If I have to travel for work, I write the city and dates in blue. For my chemo appointments, I wrote the dates in orange. It helps me keep track of what I have going on and is a quick an easy way to for me to see if I’m going to be around for meetings and other things in the office. Why did I pick these colors, you ask? Because they match the colors that I use in my planner.
Of course they match the colors in my planner. We’ve met, right?
This week I crossed off the last date of my chemo appointments and wiped that section of my whiteboard clean as new fallen snow. A nice way to mark a milestone.
This week hasn’t been too bad. I’ve noticed that the skin on the back of my hands is starting to look like an old person’s. It’s all crepe papery and thin. My knuckles and webbing between my fingers has started to chap. All the lotions and creams that I’ve tried don’t help. The neuropathy in my feet hasn’t gotten much, if any better. I do notice that it’s worse in the mornings when I first get up. This portion of my triathlon is coming to a close. Now I just have to finish the swim and the bicycle race.
Finished up week ten. Only two more sessions until I’m done with chemo. At least that’s what I’ve been promised by my Oncologist. It seems like it say that every week was a tough week. Here’s a hint; they’ve all been tough in their own way.
In my defense most of this was my own doing. I did something pretty dumb. Well, I had agreed to it when I was feeling better, I just had to fulfill those promises when I was not so ship shape. So, I went out of town for work. Spent the week out in San Diego. I know poor me. The weather was horrible, 70 degrees and sunshine. What was bad was getting from here to there and back again. Travelling coast to coast is hard enough when I’m on my game. When I’m not feeling great, it sucks. I realized something important that week though. I don’t snap back like I used too. It’s a little harder to get up in the morning when I’ve been flying and running through airports.
Lessons were learned, that’s the important part. Every time I learn a little bit more of what I’m capable of and what my limits are. Here’s a hint; I’ve been finding out that my limits are a good bit closer to home than I always imagine.
A less than restful week leading up to Chemo left a little to be desired. I was whacked. I was down. It was a tough week. Thankfully, my God was looking out for me. He didn’t take my pain or neuropathy away. He didn’t take my symptoms away. What he did was nourish my soul and feed my spirit. Thursday night, I was struggling to eat some cold cereal for lunch. Not that I was hungry, but because I knew I needed to eat. My feet were really a problem. If they didn’t hurt from the nerve pain, then they were cold and hurt from the cold sensitivity pain that I’ve had. Either way, my feet would alternate between burning pain and numbness pain.
God sent a good friend and brother in Christ, Doug, that we haven’t seen in a long time. Doug and his family moved a few years back due to work, and I’ve missed my brother in Christ. His visit was just what I needed that evening. He just happened to be in town for work. He just happened to be nearby and stop. He just happened to hear God’s whisper that stopping by was a good idea. I can’t explain how much better I felt. Some time catching up with an old friend; spending it in the Word and I was a new man. It buoyed my spirits and I was able to finish up my week on a high note. The pain was still there; I still couldn’t hold or touch anything colder than room temperature, but God knew just what I really needed and delivered it right on time.
There is truly no “just happened” or coincidence when God is involved. He cares for us in the ways that we don’t even know that we need.
Gonna have to make this one a BOGO; Buy One Get One for those of you not up on the lingo. Had some technical issues and internet gremlins ate my homework, so to say.
Day 8 was a bit of a let down. Had my Chemotherapy Infusion right before Memorial Day weekend. That has a tendency to put things in perspective for you. Regardless of what you believe or how you choose to celebrate; Memorial Day started out Decoration Day and was a time to tend to and decorate our Veteran’s graves. It doesn’t matter where it originally started or when, the truth of the holiday remains. Those sobering thoughts are what struck me during Day 8.
Every two weeks I show up for my treatment. Same Bat-Time; same Bat-Channel. I start to see the same people every time. I start to see them slowly waste away from their treatment; thinning hair, skin going pale and translucent. Whether it’s a battle or a disease; I see them slowly losing their struggle. Some days, I’m not sure what’s worse. Seeing the same people every week or not seeing them. Did they reschedule their treatment that day? Has their treatment run it’s course? Is there another reason they’re not there; is their struggle at an end?
I’m in my early 40’s. It weighs on heart to keep seeing posts on Social Media remembering family and loved ones who has succumbed to Cancer. It hurts to keep hearing about funeral arrangements; sending flowers; crying during phone calls. Cancer is a relentless killer. It doesn’t care who you are, what plans you had with your life. It keeps coming for you.
A story was share with me that a woman described cancer like a mountain lion. It chases and follows you relentlessly; trying to kill you. Your only hope is to find a bear that lives at the top of a mountain and get it to attack the mountain lion.
Going into Day 9 was tough. For the first time since October of last year, I got sick. I’m not talking the flu, roto-virus, or even a stomach bug. Nothing exotic, just a head cold knocked me on my keister for four, maybe even five days. Truth in lending, I’m probably still not completely over it a week and a half later. The first day, I spend 90% of the day with a thermometer hanging off my lip like a nerdy Steve McQueen.
The doc had the stuffing scared out of me getting sick with a fever over 100.1. Now, that’s not much of a fever; I typically run at 98.8 or so. Pop 100.1 and it’s not go to the Doctor but hit the Emergency Room. Needless to say, I spent most of the first day off work chugging Dayquil and taking my temperature. The second day, was spent catching up on Netflix, Dayquil, and drinking all the fluids I could handle. Not even the good fluids, like a cold glass of water. Warm Gatorade. Yummy. Since Cancer sucks and doesn’t take a day off; this is all in addition the “normal” side effects that I go through every week. Sore hands, sore throat, can’t hold an ice cube, can’t drink anything colder than lukewarm; my quasi new normal.
But that’s OK. At least I’m not doing something stupid like going out of town for work for the week. I’m on chemo, getting over a cold, and gonna get into a sealed metal tube with 200 of my closest plague bearers. What could possibly go wrong?
Lucky number seven is in the books. It’s official, I’ve passed the peak and am officially on the downward slope of my chemo treatments. This one was tough. If you’re familiar with Jackie’s story, you know that we won bout the worst lottery you can imagine. If you’re not familiar with her story; it’s hers to tell, not mine. I’ll just say that we got rocked pretty hard. It left us questioning quite a few things and asking God some pointed questions. That’s OK. Our God is one that can withstand scrutiny. At the end of it all, we know that God has a plan. However bad our lottery winnings may seem, it is for a purpose. Granted a purpose and plan that we may not understand or be witting of, it is still for a purpose.
After my infusion was over, Mom and I went out and grabbed a bite of lunch. For something different, we stopped by a nearby mall and hit up the Panda Express at the food court. Gotta admit, they serve the best panda. I was a little … perturbed when I received the following fortune in my fortune cookie.
The strength of your character will come in handy this week.
For realz? I’ve got fat pandas trolling me now? Not cool. I’m still holding out for the “Help! I’m trapped in a fortune cookie factory!” Yeah, not exactly what I wanted walking into this week.
After a break of two infusion sessions, my old friend Oxalplatin popped back in for a visit. Ah, Oxalplatin.
How do I love thee, let me count the ways.
I love thee to the finger tips and the toes
My tingling can reach, when the feeling goes
My hands can ache, when grabbing a drink
or anything that’s cold, I really do think
My throat is a mess, undoubtedly sore
these are the things that make me love you more
I love thee to the level of every effect
Most are annoying, some leave me wrecked
I love thee freely, when you leave me like mush
I shall but love thee better after from my body you are flushed
All apologies to Elizabeth Barrett Browning for butchering her Sonnet-43. That two hour infusion of Oxalplatin gives me significantly more issues that the other two medicines that I have to deal with. I’m not gonna lie, after a couple of weeks of catching my breath on easy street, I got hit with a rude awakening. All of the old side effects started coming back: cold sensitivity, tingling in my fingers and toes, throat sores, nausea. What can I say but, it was a wonderfully, fun filled weekend.
Slowly but surely the side effects are going away and lessening in their time. I have been checking, no super powers yet. Which is really disappointing at this point in time. What’s the point of going through all of this if there isn’t at least a small chance of shooting flames out of my fingertips, maybe even turning green and doubling my size? I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Pretty sure at this point that it’s not an oncoming train, but you never know.
Finished up Chemo week #6. Made it to the 50 yard line. Halfway there. As exciting as that is, it was a tough week. I had a lot of pain this week. The neuropathy in my hand was still bothering me. With the sore throat and mouth sores, I just didn’t feel like eating some days. When I did, it was because I knew I needed to, not because I was hungry or really wanted to eat. Add in some other things going on that have been taking me a while to wrap my head around; I’ll admit, I was in a craptastic mood most of the week.
Chemo itself was a mixed bag. On the plus side, I had luxury accommodations. A nice private room, with get this. A hospital bed to relax in. No beat up hospital recline for me this week. I was living large. Since the Doctor cut out my Oxalplatin for another week, I was expecting a nice and short appointment. Nope. Apparently, someone previously had the Leucovorin over 30 minutes (like I just had last time) and was complaining about his skin itching. Now, I’m not a doctor, but Leucovorin is similar to folic acid, a B vitamin. Hmm. Large dose of a B vitamin. Itchy, burning skin. If I was asked my expert medical opinion, I would give the poor person a large glass of water to help with the flushing. Strangely enough, they didn’t ask me. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to poke fun or minimize anyone’s chemotherapy. This IS my blog, and it’s all about me.
Even though I handled it just fine last time, I was on the slow train of chemo. Because one person (who was not me) had an issue earlier (even though I didn’t). So, I took advantage of the hospital bed and had a nice, long nap. Since, we didn’t have lunch before chemo, I treated my Mom to Smash Burger. Love that place. It’s starting to become my go to for a good burger and fries when I’m having a less than stellar day.
Wrapped up Chemo Day #5. Went into it with a lot of the side effects from the last treatment still bothering me. The neuropathy in my right hand and arm were pretty prevalent. Not to mention starting to get some tingling in my feet. This stupid sore throat wasn’t any better walking into chemo either.
The Oncologist decided to cut back one of my chemo drugs, Oxaliplatin, as it is the primary culprit to the symptoms that I’ve been having. We’ll have to see if cutting this out lessens the effects this upcoming week or not. This is getting old.
On a lighter note, I got my old infusion station back. The one looking right down the hallway. Last time I did my best Jeff Goldberg. This time, I figured why bother just being eye candy. I was born to be a front man. Lucky for me they happened to have a house band, The Bad Decisions. Took me a bit, but we hooked up some smoke and laser lights and we were able to jam out a couple of songs.
I started with an old favorite. The optional third verse to the Air Force Hymn. It’s, of course, dedicated to all the missileers that I’ve known. Hey. If Garth can have an optional third verse, so can I.
Lord be with those under the ground;
Watching TV and sitting around.
Pushing buttons, turning keys, Lord help their hands move with ease.
Hello creamer, my old friend
It’s time for coffee once again.
You make my coffee taste so good.
Call you nectar of the goods I would.
Your words of nutrition
Are written in a tiny font
On your back.
You give taste. To coffee.
Unfortunately, I had to deprive the screaming masses an encore. Always leave them wanting more. Without having to wait for the Oxaliplatin, my treatment was over in just under an hour. The upside was that we were able to hit up Smash Burger for lunch. In other words. Lunch was fantastic… My chemo nap was just as good.