Archive for February, 2009

Dawn (still)

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , , , on February 25, 2009 by lawler

It seemed like a good time to re-post this entry. The details have changed a bit, but then again, it’s all the same. It’s one of the things that I’m glad to be able to repeat. Despite sounding overly sentimental, Dawn is my best friend and — as many of you have astutely noted — she has gone through all of this cancer shit right alongside me every step of the way. Even when she was hundreds of miles away, she has been with me. And it hasn’t been easy for either of us. So, I just wanted to say thank you to her again. It’s been too long since I’ve done so publicly.

Dawn

This entry is devoted to Dawn.

Her name pops up in many of my posts, for sure, and I pointed out to her the other day that many of you mention her strength and resolve in your comments, but I feel like she deserves a post all her own.

At the moment Dawn is working several different jobs. She works about 30 hours a week as an after-school teacher at a very cool preschool called Preschool of the Arts (PSA); she finished her last weekend as a gift shop employee at American Players Theatre (APT) recently (about an hour commute from Madison), and she is also teaching private flute lessons a couple of days a week at both the Monroe Street Fine Arts Center, and the Aboretum Music School in Waunakee (about a half hour commute). As if that is not enough, she is also taking a 3.5 hour class one night a week at Madison Area Technical College (MATC) as required by her work at PSA.

What else? Oh yeah, she happens to have a husband at home who has cancer and is going through chemo. So, during the first week of my chemo cycles, she rises early with me, and drives me in my larazepam stupor to the oncology clinic to hold my hand while the nurse pokes me with an IV. Then, since I need a way to get home, she will take her bike (which is on a rack on the back of our car) and rides the half hour or so to work at PSA. In the evening, after chasing three and four year old around all afternoon, she rides her bike home. Unless of course we happen to be talking about Mondays, when I always have a treatment, and Dawn teaches at the Fine Arts Center in the evening — then, she will ride her bike from PSA to teach for a couple of hours, and then ride home.

We have started this week to do some of the chemo trips differently, so that Dawn has more down time, but she still comes with me every morning just to hold my hand and talk to me about happy things.

The other night she found the time to cook up a storm too. She has in the last few days made enough Swiss Chard Minestrone, Cauliflower Cheese Soup, and Vegetable Lasagna with Tofu to fill up a starving army.

What can I say? Dawn is priceless. I’m lucky to have her. The last couple of times I went out to APT I just looked around and thanked the stars that the place existed. How would I ever have found my Dawn if I hadn’t on a whim decided to take a job in middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin with such an out of the way (albeit successful) theater?

This is when we all get down on a knee or two and give thanks for Dawn…no, really.

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EVISCERATED; or, don’t expect to get a good sense of what I’m writing today from this title

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , on February 24, 2009 by lawler

That’s the word that one of my co-worker’s used yesterday to describe her impression of my surgery. She said something like, “Considering that you were just recently eviscerated, you look good!”

Last night, Dawn said, “you really should put up another post on your blog — everyone thinks you’re not doing well.” I hadn’t meant my last post to sound that way. I realize now that it had an odd, disconnected header that could be interpreted as negative — but that wasn’t my intent. Sometimes the titles for my post are just the fist thing that comes to mind, sort of a free association exercise. I suppose you could read into that.

Anyway, no one is “rolling over” here. Things are progressing, albeit more slowly than I would like, and I’m more and more back into life everyday.

For the medical side of things, I’ve seen my GP three times in the last two weeks — which is a hell of a lot considering the last time I saw him was August 30, 2007 when he told me he thought I had testicular cancer. Since then it’s been a whirlwind of medical appointments, but none of them with him. When I saw him again yesterday, he asked to be kept more in the loop from here on out. It’s a sign to me that he is not only a good doctor that cares about my treatment, but also that he thinks my medical life will be much more mundane in the near future. Sounds good to me. It’s one thing in life I wouldn’t mind being mundane.

The reason he has seen me so frequently lately is a small issue with my incision wound. The area where it swoops around my navel did not like the staple removal, and we’ve been keeping a close eye to make sure it does not become infected. So far, it is sensitive and sometimes uncomfortable (and itchy!), but not infected.

Next week I will be traveling yet again to Indianapolis to see the surgeon and Dr. Einhorn. I had planned on driving myself, but when Dr. Nettum got wind of this plan (via his nurse Christina, who received the information during what we thought was casual conversation), he told us he would prefer if someone escorted me there. Fortunately, Dawn’s dad, Hartmut, will be able to make the trip with me so that Dawn doesn’t have to worry about shuffling her schedule around. It’s especially difficult for her because of her teaching studio, and all of the students clamoring for lessons! Thank you Hartmut!

I will be sure and put a post up next week to let you know how the Indy trip went. Thank you for reading — and thanks to everyone for your concern, your love and support, your prayers, food (we’ll get those containers back to you as soon as we can), your positive energy, and constant showing of hope.

rolling over

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , on February 19, 2009 by lawler

The other night in a dream I looked down at myself and where there is now piles of gauze over giant steri-strips there was nothing but a simple, long, almost attractive scar running down my belly and past my navel. When I told Dawn she said, “that’s a good sign.”

But when I awoke the following morning it was after a nearly sleepless night spent tossing and turning, and trying still to get comfortable. After two nights in a row of taking a dose of pain medication to help me sleep better, I decided to forgo the meds from now on, and I guess I paid the price. I tried to move my body (and mind) forward into the day, but couldn’t muster the energy. I teleconferenced in to a staff meeting for work, though I had planned on being there in person. I managed to stay focused throughout the phone meeting, but it was quite hard to hear distant colleagues through the phone line — like being in a crowded shop is for me now, my hearing still suffering from the rounds of high dose chemo in November and December.

Today I’m feeling much better, having somehow achieved a decent night’s sleep sans pain medication. I know that being active, and increasing my physical activity is the only true path to normal health, normal life, so I’m doing everything I can to push myself to take walks, and be up on my feet (standing upright!) as much as I can. I can’t help but think that — though I was feeling mostly back to normal following the high dose chemo hospital stays by the time I went back to Indianapolis to lie down for this surgery — this lack of energy and motivation is a cumulative effect of the last nearly four months of cancer treatment. Sometimes it’s hard to envision a Mike like the old one.

Sometimes, I don’t want to envision him, because I’m not that guy anymore — aren’t I more than that now? Hasn’t cancer given me something greater than what it has taken away?

Dana Jennings on cancer fatigue

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , , on February 17, 2009 by lawler

Today, the NY Times editor Dana Jennings — diagnosed with prostate cancer last year — wrote his blog entry about how cancer makes a person tired. I sometimes can’t relate to Jennings’ posts because they are, of course, tied so closely to his own experience, treatments, and type of cancer. But his words on the fatigue effect of cancer rang true for me. In part, he writes,

It starts with the diagnosis. Knowing that you have cancer exhausts you, stuns you into listlessness. Even so, there’s work to be done. There are doctors to be interrogated, a host of tests and scans to be had, treatment decisions to wrestle with and insurers to kick in the shins. With all that going on, it’s hard to get a good night’s sleep.

And later,

There’s one more subtle shade of fatigue: the fatigue of talking about your cancer. From the diagnosis, through treatment and after, the well-meaning questions seem to never stop. How are you feeling? What’s your Gleason? Where’s your P.S.A.? Will you need chemo?

It sometimes feels as if you have become your cancer or, at the very least, its spokesman. And it can be wearing. But I found that it’s crucial to shake off that languor and learn to speak. Sleep heals, but talking heals, too.

Amen, Dana.

You can read his entire entry, “The Many Shades of Cancer Fatigue,” here.

The truth about (my) staples

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , on February 16, 2009 by lawler

I know that you all meant well. I know you did. Truly. But, well, I don’t know how else to put this: you were wrong.

Or were you just trying to reassure me? My friend Keri said to me today while chatting, “Yes, I did lie. Sorry! I didn’t want you to worry. Sorry sorry sorry.” She had experienced staple removal in her knee area when she was much younger. “It feels like it’s never going to end,” she said.

The thing is, when I had my fifty two (yes, they counted them) surgical staples removed today it was not only uncomfortable through the entire process, it really f#$%ing hurt about a fifth of the time. I’m not exaggerating, folks. At one point, after my doctor had removed a particularly testy staple, I let out an expletive that I usually don’t let loose in examination rooms. Dr. Nettum said, very patiently, “you say whatever you need to, Michael.” I said, “Don’t worry, I will.”

I wondered, going into this how the procedure might be painless. I tried to imagine how the staples might be engineered to make them painless upon removal, but I couldn’t get the image of a standard office staple out of my mind — the way it punches through and then curls at the end to trap the paper. I wondered if my staples were more like construction staples, fired with pneumatic guns, going straight in, without bending at the ends. But that didn’t make sense, because what would give them their strength?

Well the fact is, at least for the fifty two staples in my body, that they do curl at the ends in order to keep the wound bound together better. This requires a staple remover tool that essentially pinches the center of the staple, causing either end to bend upward — the idea being to create an easier exit for the staple. This worked in a relatively pain free way most of the time. But some of those pesky things must have liked where they were, because they clearly did not want to come out.

Dr. Nettum and his nurse, Christina, worked on my staples simultaneously. She started at the top, he at the bottom (like digging a long tunnel, they met in the middle). The first staple he removed hurt like hell. By the end of the ordeal, I told Christina that every one of you that told me that the staple removal would be easy, pain free were going to get an email letting you know how wrong you all were. She laughed. I didn’t.

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Details

There was one area of my incision that opened up a little when they removed a staple. Because of this, my abdomen is covered with a very big bandage and I will be seeing Dr. Nettum again tomorrow to make sure it’s okay.

Beyond that, we still do not have dates set for appointments in Indianapolis with Dr. [name withheld] and Dr. Einhorn. We’ll keep you posted on that.

I will be seeing my local oncologist on Friday, but not for a medical visit. We are interviewing him for the Cancer Stories Project.

A worthy endeavor…

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , on February 16, 2009 by lawler

Although, I’ve always been a writer — which is to say, since I was a teenager, I’ve kept (mostly) regular journals, and have always written as a way to release creative energy — I just came across an interesting post on one of the NY Times Health blogs: The Power of Words for Cancer Patients.

standing up, sleeping, pooping, and other things we take for granted

Posted in cancer, Cancer Life, testicular cancer with tags , , on February 13, 2009 by lawler

Dawn said the other day that she was visualizing my progress with the “evolution of man” image in her head. You know, like this one:

I think Dawn must’ve been visualizing me as the third troublemaker from the left. Since Wednesday night I’d like to think I’ve least moved on to the fifth creature in the series. But not all the time. If you were a fly on the wall in our house this week (or one of our cats), it would not be uncommon for you to overhear Dawn saying something to me along the lines of “Stand up, Mike.”

As some of you have probably already heard me gripe, this dang surgery has thrown me for a loop. The pain, discomfort, and general disruption of even the simplest tasks and events in life were things I severely underestimated when I walked into the operating room a week and a half ago.

While I am no longer taking any pain medication (I stopped the regular dose on Sunday, I think, and stopped entirely a couple of days ago), I am in constant discomfort still. Not enough to warrant the side effects of pain medication, however, but still enough to make life uncomfortable — you know, things like walking, lying down, sitting down, working on the laptop, simple stuff. I’m just glad the constipation nightmare is over. Holy cow. I never thought I’d be so pleased to be gulping Metamucil!

Thanks to everyone for your support — to those of you who have dropped off food, well, you have especially endeared yourselves to Dawn. She is extremely busy at this time of year, and is still dealing with an invalid at home…so, thank you.

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Details

For those interested in such things it might be worth noting that I received a copy of the pathology report for my surgery/tumor from IU this week. Here’s the gist (from my obviously layman understanding):

They removed sixteen lymph nodes that came up negative for cancer.

They removed one tumor assocciated with one lymph node, sized 2.1 cm that contained “small foci of matura teratoma and cystic trophoblastic tumor.”

They removed (as far as I can tell, though I don’t recall this being discussed) “right gonadal vein and mass.” The mass (1.7cm) was not found to be malignant.

So, there you go. I will more than likely be headed back to Indiana sometime in early March to meet with the surgeon, and Dr. Einhorn for follow up. At this point, I am still under the impression that Dr. Einhorn is strongly recommending I take oral VP-16 for three cycles/months.