The on-going, first-hand tale of a journey through medical oncology... and what happens after.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Things look (and feel) different now

So, as a cancer survivor, I sometimes find myself watching people and wondering. Wondering whether she has been thinking about how her bowels are working, or whether he even thinks about how efficient and effective his body is regulating the this-and-that of daily life. I find myself thinking about those taken-for-granted functions all the time. And with sincere apologies for the graphical picture I am about to paint, every bowel movement that I have (and believe me, they happen far too frequently) is a little adventure. Will it really feel like I've finished - that there is "no more coming", or will I sit and bear down, and bear down, and bear down, only to find that I wasn't as done as I'd thought. And what, pray tell, did I eat today that made that perfectly awful smell?? Can't really blame the chemo anymore, can I? I mean, it's been six months!

I know that I am one of the lucky ones. I (barely) had a tumor high enough to "save" my entire rectum and thus have no stoma to deal with every waking moment. I did not have radiation therapy - thus opening myself to a lifetime of potential side effects. And I have regained my weight and strength rather quickly. Can it be that last year at this time I was barely walking after major abdominal surgery?

We each walk through this life with our burdens, and our memories, and our trials. And the truth is that my trials are really no harder to bear than yours, or his, or hers. We all have those blasted trials. But I find that I am more tolerant these days, because things look and feel a LOT different this year.

And I, well, I really am thankful for that.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Didja ever wonder?

... about how things got to be the way they are? Today while I was walking to work, I had a familiar itch on my upper-right chest - right where the PowerPort used to live. I can't tell you how often I gently itched at that bump over the seven months it was embedded in my body. Surprisingly, I cannot recall a single stranger asking about it, not even a curious kid at the local aquatic center or at the pool on a cruise ship in the Eastern Caribbean. But that scar itches off and on all the time. And a tall, reach-to-the-sky stretch will immediately remind me that there was some cutting and suturing in my lower abdomen. And each night as I slip into bed, my feet tingle intensely until I can warm the sheets...

I know that there are simple explanations for those physical reminders of colo-rectal cancer and its treatments. Peripheral neuropathy and physical scars, you know. But there are the lingering questions about root causes: Why colon cancer in me now? What could have started the tumor's growth, and why didn't my normally reliable immune system kick it the hell out of my colon before it took up comfortable residence?

Was it the beer parties in high school and college? Or maybe that anti-fungal that I took when Julia arrived - taken by me to clear up some toenail fungus and decrease the chance that I transfer a fungus to her in the bathtub? How about a proclivity for steaks cooked medium rare with a glass or three of red wine? Or a lifetime of casual inattention to diet and exercise?

There is my family history - casually shared and remembered over the years, but ultimately the reason for an exploratory colonoscopy and the proverbial "ride" of my life. Father's side has some stomach and other GI cancers noted as 'cause of death'. Is this genetic, even though the markers are not there? What about all the milk I drank growing up (before rBGH, but certainly during the years of global nuclear testing above ground)? And phenlyalanine in certain diet cola drinks. Where should you stop in this wondering maelstrom.

Just wondering if you all think about this crap too... and what it all means. Scratch the itch.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The other shoe

I cannot say for certain how many times I have heard this line about "the other shoe" and its imminent behavior, or even when I first heard it. I know it has been many years. Apparently, there is a notion that an unfortunate circumstance is akin to a shoe dropping, and since shoes come in pairs then so too must unfortunate circumstances. Conversely (no pun intended), I have also heard that bad stuff happens in threes, and have occasionally participated in web discussions/arguments about that notion. The discussion starts with "how, for example, do we know which stuff counts as bad?" and continues with, "what is the time frame that we should use for the counting (days? weeks? months?)" Needless to say, I suppose, but we never really resolve the questions, and in my opinion the faith/belief perspective of the discussant plays a significant role in their positions on these measures. I am not a believer in twos and threes when it comes to bad things that happen.

Like many of us, I usually wear shoes as a matched set - you know, one for each foot, same color, same style. And before you all guffaw that EVERYONE wears paired shoes, let me remind you about our amputee friends and our trend-setting children. If a shoe dropping corresponds to a person's initial cancer diagnosis, then what is the "other shoe," and do you really want to know? My sense is that you are never really *done* after that first shoe drops. Sure, my family and I have dutifully endured the philosophical, physical, and mental assault of colon cancer in our lives. We have lived through the hell of chemo-therapy, and the anguish of diagnoses, prognoses, and test result waiting periods. It's over, right? Clean slate through one post-chemo round of CT scanning and colonoscopic imagery. Yeah for us!

Well, no, I don't think that it's over - or that it will ever be. I work daily to put cancer as far back in my brain as I can, and to fortify my body through exercise and healthy foods, and by avoiding unhealthy activities. But the threat of a tumor recurrence hangs over me - that proverbial shoe. When it drops, the sound will reverberate back through time to that first diagnosis in March, 2007.

Every day we hear about new cancer diagnoses. Are those additional dropping shoes? Perhaps there are too many shoes in our proverbial closets. Just this week I had the chance to visit with a friend struggling against metastatic cancer of the pancreas. His pain was palpable on so many levels. Cancer is rampaging through our generation, and we do not hear enough about it in the media. We need to do something beyond the individual, quiet, family-and-friends support for those that are on the receiving end of a cancer diagnosis. I am raising awareness (and funds) by cycling in the LiveStrong Foundation Challenge in Portland this June. Team WildWind (named for a street in my town) is our name, and we are hoping to raise $14000 to support cancer research and advocacy through the Lance Armstrong Foundation. You can find out more information at

Shoes dropping and other metaphors aside, we are a small family on this planet... even in our billions. We need to be aware of each others' struggles and look for opportunities to pick up those shoes.