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

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Just thinkin'...

As many of my friends and most of my family will attest, this is dangerous ground. Ed "thinking" is something to fear, as I understand it, because it is pretty unpredictable in terms of conclusions and even communication. As in "how the hell did you come up with that" or "come again, I didn't follow you there." So be it. Just be thankful that you only have to endure this every once in a while. For me, it's 24/7/365.25, thankyouverymuch.

I have been reading compulsively these last few weeks. This is partly because I have more energy again, but it is also to find some answers. But, you ask, what are the questions? Ah, this is the rub - I am not sure what the questions ought to be these days. For the majority of 2007, I was submerged in a sea of anxiety, adrift in the impenetrable mists of interrupted normalcy, and too damned tired to reflect on the flotsam, jetsam, and general floating junk of living that whirled around me in that foggy ocean. So, I read. Fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, alternate histories, and historical) and non-fiction (predictive global warning, DNA, food manufacturing) - all set to distract me from the here-and-now, I guess. Questions like... what causes a cancer to develop and take hold in one's colon, or breast, or lung, are there any probably-cancer-causing variables that I should try to control (and which ones are random), should I further change some aspect of my daily "living" to enhance my chances of celebrating a longer life? Big questions.

And little questions too... should I walk to work in the sub-freezing temperatures of mid-January (improving my strength and energy, but possibly damaging sensitive and re-growing nerves in my hands and feet)? When is the right time to visit my general practitioner to "check-in" - she did not hesitate to suggest the colonoscopy that ultimately led to my new world, and I think she deserves to hear about my progress, but I am still on the clinical trial follow-up schedule and maybe another doctor visit isn't needed? And how important is that self-accumulating pile of paper on my desk, anyhow?

Work is another sticky dilemma. Some days it feels like the work challenge is really no different from being a cancer survivor. In both situations, we are trying to move past old habits by way of a new reality into a new organization of living - and we are struggling mightily without a roadmap. In both situations, we need a re-established baseline of "facts" upon which we can rely. And where does that baseline come from? How the heck do I know... but I know that I need it.

I am continuing with my exercise program - three days a week, for about 30 minutes each session so far. I am sleeping OK, if you can ignore the constantly tingling (to the point of annoyance) in both feet. Oh, and the flatulence! Woo-wee, that's a real stinky place these days. But is it my diet, or am I still readjusting internally to the lower abdominal resection of April, 2007? I won't go into any further detail, but the resolution of that surgical procedure can take as long as 18-24 months... and that does not seem to include any complicating realities forced onto the situation by five months of chemo-therapy.

Just thinkin'. Lots of questions, no apparent answers yet. Just thinkin'.

Friday, January 18, 2008

PowerPort surgery redux

It's been about six hours since I became "port-free" and my chest hurts a little. Actually, it doesn't so much hurt as it itches. You know what I mean, that kind of incessant itching that you just can't scratch? Not quite as bad as a mosquito bite itch, but pretty bad... By pressing on the bandage, though, I can at least ease the itching for a bit. But I am ahead of myself here, in that you are missing some essential details.

My appointment for port-removal was scheduled for 2pm - suffice it to say that Dr-time and my watch did not coincide today. By 2:30, though, I was sitting on a paper-lined table, awaiting the surgeon. I was simply instructed to remove my shirts and sit. The wait was not too long, and in walked the doctor and his nurse. We chatted about the time that had elapsed since my last visit (June 1st, when he put the port in), and about raising kids and the next thing I knew I was lying back on the table, with a blue cloth draped over my chest and betadine-colored skin. He told me that he was ready to go and that there might be a pinprick (I mentioned that the needle he was using could not come close to the weekly port accessing needles, and the blood draws, and what-not). After a few minutes for the local anaesthetic to take effect, he grabbed his scalpel and started to incise.

Very surreal. We are still chatting about the day-to-day, but I can see the entire surgical progress reflected in his glasses. Blood wells up a little at the incision site, which he deftly dabs away with a sponge. I then ask if I am supposed to feel the knife cutting through my skin... and he asks if it hurts. I respond, "no, but I can feel the knife cutting through the skin." He chooses to inject a little more anaesthetic, and then I feel no cutting. Those nerves are so easy to trick into silence, aren't they?

He works away at liberating the port from under my skin, even to the point of more work with the scalpel, and finally announces that it is free (imagine a lot of tugging and squeezing). "Ready for me to pull the tube out?," he asks. Being in the position I was, I immediately said sure and he gently pulled the (surprisingly short) tube out of my chest. He asked if I wanted it, saying I had bought it and it was mine to keep... so I am now the proud owner of a used PowerPort. Of course, with these devices as soon as you drive them off the lot they lose all value to anyone else, so I can't even try eBay... Ten minutes of subcutaneous suturing later (skin has some superglue and tape on it, sutures will dissolve in a few weeks), all is done.

Tomorrow I get to remove the bandage and take a shower. After next Wednesday (five days post-surgery) I can do upper-body workouts again. The last vestige of my colonic cancer treatment experience is history, and now we only have to endure and resolve the periodic examinations for the next gazillion seconds or so...

This is a good thing.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

What's next?

Well, that's quite the question I am struggling with these days. I am feeling pretty good, and my strength is slowly returning. I am working on two short-term goals with my exercise trainer - a skiing weekend in March, and a 40-mile bicycle ride (this year's LiveStrong Challenge) in June. I wonder if this is my new reality, or if this is just a lull in the cancer storm?

The tingling remains - fingertips and the soles of my feet. Cold temperatures make the tingling quite painful (and thus I am glad to live in the mild Willamette Valley during the winter), and holding cold objects is something I approach carefully. And the toxic flatulence continues (not that you asked!) But I feel like I am sleeping better, and that is quite a big deal.

Oh. Tomorrow I get my PowerPort removed. I must admit to a little apprehension about this procedure, as I am told that it is done in the surgeon's office with a local anaesthetic... As you will recall, the port is just under my skin on my upper-right chest, and there is a catheter tube that goes from the subcutaneous port chamber into a vein under my clavicle and into the superior vena cava just above my heart. During the removal process, I imagine a cut will be made through my skin, and the chamber will then be removed along with the catheter tube. As I will be awake during the whole procedure, I also imagine that there will be some tugging and then the tube will pop out of the clavicular vein and be out... but I do not have a clear understanding of what happens with the little hole that must then appear in that vein (where the tube used to pass in). I guess my logical curiosity is just going to have to await the outcome...

More tomorrow...