Archive for December, 2007

Get on with it, Lawler

Posted in Cancer Life on December 18, 2007 by lawler

Yesterday was another noncommittal visit with Dr. Arbaje — which is to say that while I have been waiting for months for the moment a doctor, any doctor, would say to me: “You’re done, the cancer is gone, go home,” it has yet to happen. We expected the urologist to say that after he removed the tumor (and testicle), because we had been led to believe this would be the case. Instead, we were shown pictures of tumors. We expected the oncologist to say it once chemotherapy had finally ended, because, again, we had been led to believe this would be the case. Instead we were met with words like “concern,” and “unclear.”

At this latest visit we looked at very cool 3D images of my body, provided by the PET scan, cross referenced with sections of my thorax, provided by CT scans. The rotating image of my body, from head to nearly toe was so cool that I asked the doc if I could get a copy to use as my screensaver. I don’t think he realized I was serious — perhaps because Dawn told him not to listen to me. The PET scan shows that the tumors that once had dug in in my right lung had been wiped out by the chemo, but there is another indication of something else, also in my right lung that Arbaje cannot identify. Is it cancerous? Yes, it could be, but it isn’t as clear as the tumors detected in earlier PET and CT scans.

My tumor markers are also being rather unhelpful. The alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) marker, which was elevated above normal in my last test, has now come down slightly — though still not to normal. The Human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) marker, which was below normal levels last time, has now spiked a bit, and made itself once again abnormal. The good news is that Arbaje and the testicular cancer experts at Indiana University do not think my tumor markers (as they are now) are a sign of trouble in and of themselves. Just a warning to keep a close eye on.

So, where does this leave me? Do I still have cancer? Sort of, I guess. But I have realized recently that the question is futile. I have to move forward, and I can’t rely on the doctors to make my life normal again. I must take charge and do what I can in my own life to keep the cancer at bay. There are several things to concentrate on. Namely, diet, exercise, and my emotional, psychological well-being.

Dawn and I have already agreed to focus together on our diet, which, I have to say, was not so bad in the first place. We’re going to make it even better. Several of you have already given us valuable tips for doing so, and we welcome them. Keep them coming.

Another friend turned us on to an area of cancer research that believes there is a link between heat and cancer cells. That is, cancer cells don’t like heat — it kills them. So, heat treatment ideas have begun to pop up, including saunas and even nanotechnology. But, why not just try the Lance Armstrong way of creating heat? Exercise. I haven’t really started yet, but plan on beginning a real exercise routine.

Lastly (but not leastly) is my mind. This I have decided to heal and condition through meditation and yoga. Yoga is something that I have practiced on and off in my life for many years, but I have never really tried to meditate as a regular practice. I am now reading a fantastic book called Mindfulness in Plain English that focuses on the Buddhist practice of “insight meditation.” It has helped me enormously already, though I have yet to take the step into practicing meditation.

So, yes, I’ve decided that regardless of what the doctors can or cannot tell me, I must get on with my life. And not just get on with it. But improve it in the process.

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unknown caller

Posted in Cancer Life on December 3, 2007 by lawler

This evening, as I was preparing to head home from a long day of working in the theater’s shop/rehearsal space/storage facility, my cell phone began to ring. The caller was unidentified and the display read “unknown caller.” I hate that. I rarely pick up such calls, ignoring them and sending them to voicemail. But, because preparations for our upcoming show (which loads in a week from today), I have been taking all of my calls, since any one of them may be a desperate plea from a designer or something. So, I picked up.

“Hello, Michael?” said the voice on the other end, breaking up due to a weak signal.

“Hello?” I said.

“Is this Michael?” And with this, the voice became familiar. It was Dr. Arbaje, my oncologist. My heart rate quickened. Why is he calling me unexpectedly like this? Were the results of my PET scan that bad? Good news, as they say, sleeps in — it doesn’t come at 6:30 in the evening, after the good doctor should be at home with his family. Well, it wasn’t good news, but it wasn’t all bad, either.

Apparently, the results of my PET scan were a cause of some confusion for Arbaje. The tumors that were in my right lung prior to chemo are certainly gone, but there appears to be another collection of something that might be cancerous in what Arbaje referred to as my “chest wall.” He isn’t certain what it is, though, which seems to be a common reaction to my cancer. No one is certain why things are unfolding the way they are.

After examining my past and present PET scans and CT scans, Arbaje spoke with an oncologist at the University of Indiana (or was it Indiana University?) who is particularly knowledgeable about testicular cancer. The consensus at this point seems to be “wait and see.” The plan, as of now, is to test my blood regularly (every three or four weeks) and keep close tabs on me. I have my next appointment with Arbaje on the 17th and we will go over my PET scans then, and further discuss my options.

For now, wish me luck with CTM’s upcoming production of A Christmas Carol — for those of you in the Madison area who are in the mood for some Christmas cheer, come see it! It runs from December 14 through December 23. Okay, enough shameless plugging.

I will keep you posted.

What comes after the blues

Posted in Cancer Life on December 2, 2007 by lawler

In lieu of the mildly bad news of last Monday, there is one thing for certain — one of the central ideas of life that my father taught me by example: no matter how unfair, or seemingly challenging life may get, it goes on. And it’s the going on part that has stumped me since the beginning of my cancer journey. (When I arrived home from the doctor visit where I learned that I probably had testicular cancer, I did not expect Dawn to arrive for another hour or two. I thought I would sit on the couch and stare at the wall for a while, trying to imagine how I would share the news with her — trying to imagine what such a diagnosis really meant. But, as fate would have it, Dawn had an early day that she had not expected. As I turned the key in the back door, she was turning the key in the front door, and we ran into each other in the kitchen. She had a big, beautiful smile on her face, pleased that her day was short, and that we both arrived home and could spend some together. “Hi Honey!” she said in that way she does when she’s really pleased with life — like she is twelve again and romping around her parent’s property in the summer light. But life hadn’t given me any time to think that day, and I broke down when I saw that smile. She took me in her arms, and we used each other’s shoulders as tissue. The rest is, as they say…) Where was I? Oh yes, going on.

In some ways, I can’t help but wonder where this disease came from (which has a lot to do, I think, with the direction it’s pointed me in). In the back of my mind, I also can’t help but believe that the countless people who have read my blog and know me have wondered the same thing. Was it some residual effect of exposure to chemicals when I worked in photo labs (like Charlene’s brain tumor might’ve been), or all of the toxic air I’ve breathed as a scenic carpenter, building things for the theater with all sorts of adhesives and foams, treated woods, and metals? Have I not been eating the right foods (I was a strict ovo-lacto vegetarian for eleven years, and now eat meat and seafood sparingly–though vegetarians are supposed to have drastically reduced rates of cancer)? Has it been my less than stellar exercise routine? Or was it in my mind? My emotional state? The anger and stress of life building up inside me, and finally breaking down my inner defenses enough to let the cancer in? Oh, why obsess over these things, you may think, but these things matter for the future, I think. How many radical steps am I prepared to take to ensure lifelong health, so that neither I, my wife, or any of you have to go through this shit again? There are at least a couple of things that I feel I must do: first, concentrate more heavily on my diet, being sure to eat right, and eat well. But what does that mean, exactly? So many of you have your opinions, to be sure, as do I and, well, everybody. But even the experts don’t always agree, which leaves me eating pretty much like I did before the diagnosis. I think I have been a fairly concientious eater in my adult life, trying to balance my health with my concern for the larger issues that surround food and its origins. Second, I need to begin a real exercise routine. The emphasis here is on routine. My lungs, for instance, have been unquestionably damanged by the Bleomycine, one of the three chemo drugs that was pumped into me for over two months. It has left a thin layer of scar tissue on my lungs, and the only way to combat that is to exercise, and get my lungs back into shape (even shoveling snow in the drive this morning was enough to start me panting like a dog).

And so, as I await the medical word on my health, I have begun to realize that I can no longer wait for the next test or the next treatment — the next opinion or dreaded consultation — to take steps forward with life. I have to move on, even if the cancer hasn’t. Perhaps by doing so, the cancer will get the idea and pack its bags too.