Archive for November, 2008

patient

Posted in Cancer Life on November 23, 2008 by lawler

pa-tient adj. 1. Enduring affliction with calmness. 2. Tolerant; understanding. 3. Perservering; steadfast. —n. One under medical treatment. [< Lat.  pati, to endure.]

As I lie in bed this morning this word — patient — started to loll around in my brain, and I began to wonder how the two meanings — the adjective and the noun — had become entwined. Later in the day, knowing that my “main” dictionary was still MIA in a basement box (a recent search during a debate with Todd over the defenition of the word “machine” revealing this to be the case), but wanting to hold a book in my hands as I searched for the link between adjective patient and noun patient, I thumbed through my ancient, namelesss paperback dictionary and found the definitions listed above.

And now it is clear: I am patient if I endure; I am a patient if I am enduring — something, like, say, high dosage chemotherapy replete with blood transfusions, vomiting, quite noticable hearing loss, and a semi-permanent tube poking through my chest.

Today, I like to think I am not only a patient, but a patient person as well. I am currently on a sort of Leave of Absence — in the literal sense from my job with CTM of course, but more immediately from my stint in the hospital, and in many ways from life (or at least my life) as well.

Fortunately, I am home with Dawn (which is something like magic), with our cats, in our cozy house (the house that was supposed to be a post-cancer home), but I am also subject to a kind of house arrest. I’m still feeling quite tired, frequently nauseas, and this ringing in my deafened ears is at times a bit much to bear. It’s cold outside, and if I do go out in public, I have to wear a mask in order to protect my still fragile immune system from infection and disease. So, I’m staying in mostly. I am recuperating, and trying to bolster myself for the next round.

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With patience comes gratitude — and, man, I can’t tell you how full of the latter I am. I’ve said it many times before, in many different ways, and I suppose I can’t help but say it again: in times of despair, distress, and disease the walls that separate people (even those already tremendously close) simply evaporate. Friends, family, and strangers step forward with unbelievable resolve to shore each other up — we have a functioning bathroom to prove my point.

But, really, there were a few people who really stepped up to the plate for me over the last few weeks as I lay mostly prone in a hospital bed, surrounded by beeping pumps, tubes, and round the clock nurses taking my “vitals.”

First, there were three of my brothers, who all sort of showed up on our doorstep the weekend before I was to be admitted to the hospital. Aside from filling our house with that unique sort of Lawler charm that I’m sure folks just can’t get enough of, they also swept through our work-in-progress fixer upper and, to put it bluntly, got some shit done. It was wonderful to have them here, and it reminded me how much (down deep) I miss my family, and how I sometimes long for that time in my life when I was surrounded by them (quite literally). All of this makes it even more of a disappointment that our planned trip to California for Christmas this year will not be happening — a discovery that I fully made this morning, knowing how close to my discharge from the hospital Christmas is. I just don’t think I’ll be up for the trip at that point.

Aside from the “Lawler brothers visit,” I have to mention two friends that came to spend days on end with me in the hospital. One is a friend of twenty years that I met when I was 15 in sophmore gym class. Tara. She made the drive up from Cincinnati several times and stayed right there in the hospital room with me on a shitty little pull out sleeper chair (that’s right, chair) for a handful of nights. She kept me company, advocated for me with my nurses and doctors, and was the kind of friend I hope I could be to her too if need be. The other is the guy known around this blog as Todd the Drummer. He is a friend I’ve had for only a brief period of time, but he too showed up in Indiana for the last stretch of my time there and even stuck around an extra day to take me home when my doctors decided to discharge me on Thursday. I can’t begin to thank Todd and his wife Jeanne — who did for Dawn here in Madison what Todd did for me in Indiana, keeping her company and being a true friend — enough.

It’s hard for me to imagine how to repay people. So, for the time, I am focused on what I know they want me to focus on: my recovery. Some day perhaps I can repay each and every one of you that have shown me so much, taught me so much. I hope so.

Again, thank you.

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I’m Goin’ Home….or somthing

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags on November 20, 2008 by lawler

The  doctors have decided to discharge me later today with one condition: I stay in Indianaopolis tonight and report to the Bone Marrow Clinic tomorrow morning to have my platelets checked. If my platelets are in a good spot, we hit the road. If they’re low, they will need to transfuse some into my body, and then we hit the road.

Fortunately my friend Todd is here in town, and though he was going to head back to Madison today, he has decided to stay on an extra night to get me home, so that Dawn doesn’t have to come down here as originally planned. How’d I get such great friends?!?

Yippee!

Day 16

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , , on November 20, 2008 by lawler

One of my favorite nurses, Rebecca, left me a wonderful note this morning before she left her shift (and without waking me):

2.1

Mike, The voodoo worked!

Have a great day!

Rebecca

Translated, this means that my white blood cell count came back this morning at 2.1 (and my ANC is at 1700)! Though my Hemo is a bit low, and they will be giving me a bit of blood today, the doctors are currently discussing whether to release me TODAY or TOMORROW!

You may have noticed from Rebecca’s note that I asked her to put some “voodoo or something” on the blood she had drawn at four o’clock this morning.

I will keep you posted.

Day 15 (amended)

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2008 by lawler

Over the course of the day, I have had one central question for the nurses and doctors here on the bone marrow ward. Essentially, it has been this: what is the one number, the one count of cells, that will be the primary determining factor for my release from this round of chemo hospitiliazation? Thus far, I have been led (perhaps purposefully, perhaps not) to believe that it was my white blood cell count that would lead me from this bed, this ward, this hospital, this city, this state.

After a confusing discussion with Dr. Schwartz this morning about this very subject, she introduced the concept of neutrophils. We talked about it briefly, and what I took from the conversation was, well, not much. Somehow I gathered that the number the doctors were really looking at was this neutrophils number, which is a number or percentage within the white blood cell number.

Okay, wait.

Neutrophils are basically the ass-kickers of the white blood cells. They do the dirty work, sort of like the first cops at the scene of the crime. We need them to walk down the street and stay healthy enough to make it to our destination. So, this is the number they really need to know about. But Dr. Schwartz explained it in terms of percentages, and almost seemed to be hiding my own holy grail from me. I sought a simple enough answer, I thought: what is the number you will be basing my release upon?

Later in the day, I brought the subject up with my RN, Kelly, who provided me a much clearer picture of the situation. The number they are really looking at (and it is based on the white blood cell number) is something called the Absolute Neutrophils Count (ANC). The number is derived at through the use of an equation that is beyond my understanding of any of this (see previous link). But what I know now is that they are waiting for two consecutive days when my ANC is 500 or greater, or a single day where it is 1,000. Today it idles at a mere 300 – but wait, that’s good too. Because remember for the past days, the past weeks, they haven’t really been in there at all doing what Dawn would refer to as “hi-yas” (aka karate chops).

Does everyone get it now? I’m just relieved to finally have been given a clear indication of what this waiting game is all about.

Oh, and if you are further curious, here is the the dry-erase board that has been tracking my blood counts since November 5:

Tracking Mike's blood

Tracking Mike

Buy This Book (for all of your cancer sufferin’ friends)

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , on November 19, 2008 by lawler

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Upon request, a friend (thanks Charlie) recently sent me a copy of Miriam Engelberg’s “memoir in comics” called Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person. So far, it’s right on the money — and not in the sort of way you’d expect: self-pitying, self-loathing, pessimistic. No, just an honest account of having cancer in your life.

The author died in 2006 after a battle with breast cancer.

Day 15

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , on November 19, 2008 by lawler

White Blood Cell count: 0.7

Platelets are at about 7, so I will be getting another platelet transfusion.

That is all (for now).

Would You Rather?

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , , , , , , on November 18, 2008 by lawler

Yesterday, while watching some exciting TV (one of those author talks on CSPAN), author Bill Bryson made some interesting comments about the idea of being taken out of your normal sphere, your daily routine, and put in a place where you have all the time in the world to think. He was referriing to his time spent hiking the Appalachian Trail (about which he wrote A Walk In The Woods), and the sheer mental challenge of having severely limited his lists of tasks for a given day. Just lots of walking, and lots of thinking.

Sitting in a hospital room is not much different. Unlike Bryson, ambling through Appalachia, the contours of the land and the natural beauty of his surrondings giving some kind of focus to his inner monologue, I have been holed up in a small room with a singular view containing mostly other buildings for two weeks now. When I go for a walk here, it means nothing more than dressing up in a silly (albeit necessary) costume consisting of a robe, booties, gloves, and a duck-bill shaped mask, and ambling the u-shaped hallway that makes up the Bone Marrow Ward. There are no windows in the hallway.

This leaves plenty to think about. Sometimes it’s too much, and the easiest thing to do is pick up my Nintendo DS and play soccer with my custom team (Saul Bellow is my goalie, Sam Peckinpah and Art Vandelay both forwards).

So, when I manage to let myself think what happens? Not much usually, which I suppose is okay. Though on the other hand I recognize it as a privelige of sorts that most people aren’t afforded — Dawn, for instance, is at home in Madison running around every minute working, rehearsing, teaching, and generally holding our life together (and that statement encompasses a whole lot). She hasn’t the time to lie about and think about anything but her day, her moment, her next task on a very long list of tasks.

I think about Thanksgiving, and how fortunate I am to be able to be at home in Madison that week, seeing people that I don’t see much of like Aurelia, and Andrew, and the Walton’s.

I think about what to do with my life when I can once and for all kiss cancer’s ass goodbye. Will I keep forging ahead, planning and plotting new creative projects? What will they be? Will I be more motivated to see more of them through to completion? Will I finally start trying my hand at painting? Will I break free from work (paying bills) that brings negativity into my life or that I am not well-suited for?

What else do I want to experience? Should I train and hike that Appalachian Trail as Bill Bryson did? Anyone want to go along?

Tara, who spent pretty much all of last week here in the hospital with me, occassionally jettinig back to Cincinnnati to teach, bought a silly book one day called Would You Rather? Don’t get me wrong, it is not a particularly thought-provoking book (sample question: would you rather have nunchucks for hands OR ice making nostrils?) It’s the title itself that seemed most appropriate for this post.

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The Nitty Gritty Details

I am currently at day 14 in the hospital. For the past couple of days, the doctors I see everyday have been telling me that my white blood cell count should spike at any time. This is really what we’re waiting for in terms of my discharge for this visit. I was disappointed this morning when they came back only slightly higher than yesterday, and not nearly high enough. They continually tell me that it usually happens quite abruptly, so perhaps tomorrow will be the day those suckers make a showing. Once they do, I am uncertain of the wait period before they release me back into the world. I will, of course, keep you posted.

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My Little Corner of Humbleness

This morning my nurse Angie walked into my room with a bundle of mail and said, “I feel like UPS.”

I simply cannot express enough my feeling of gratitude to you all for the cards, notes, custom postcards, books, videos, pictures, heart and soul that you have sent my way. It brings tears to my eyes when I pause and think about all of you around the country taking a moment or two from your day to think about little ol’ me up here in Indianapolis of all places. Life is funny thing, and I thank my lucky stars that I’ve managed to gather up the right kind of people in my life. I don’t know how I found you all, or how you found me, but I’m glad it happened.