Monday, November 16, 2009

I may have been quiet, but I STILL HATE CANCER

... and his body gradually grew stronger, the cancer surrendered and fled, life seemed to get better every day, and they all lived happily thereafter.

Or something like that.

Here's a more detailed, slightly longer summary of the past seven months. After leaving the hospital on April 24, I spent a good month at home recovering from the surgeries and working hard to eat, drink, sleep, walk, breathe, etc. with some degree of normalcy. On June 19, I "visited" my many friends in the UofL Hospital Radiology Department for a CT Scan of my chest, pelvis, and newly-remodeled abdomen. The scan showed no tumors, and to ensure things stay that way, it was decided that the next step would be six months of chemotherapy.

So, on every other Tuesday since June 30, I've spent about 6 hours at the Brown Cancer Center to have three chemotherapy drugs infused via a "Powerport" in my chest. And then there's homework -- I leave the place with a small pump strapped to my side infusing the final chemo drug (a brutal one named 5-FU) over a 24-hour period. Then, on Wednesday evening, a home health nurse arrives to remove the IV, check my vitals, review my side-effects, and wish me well.

For the next few days, I am couch-bound, weak, hurting, and useless. It was pure Hell for the first couple of rounds, and the side effects were so debilitating that I considered quitting the entire chemo plan. The doctors responded by cutting the dosage of the at-home drug: I'd now have a 24-hour infusion rather than the 48-hour infusion of the first two rounds. The lower dosage is much more tolerable, and I've been handling chemo well since then.

The anti-nausea and painkilling meds help tremendously, but they do rob me of any amount of energy I'd otherwise be able to muster. But I'm not complaining: the side effects aren't as bad as those endured by a lot of the other patients. I experience deep fatigue, body aches, soreness, nausea, extreme sensitivity to cold, and a slow, muddled brain. I can handle that. Plus I haven't lost any hair, and I don't "look sick" which helps tremendously. The "chemo brain" phenomenon is wild, though -- will make for an interesting topic of a future post.

Generally, by Sunday of chemo week, I feel better and start to regain energy. I feel really good by the end of those non-chemo weeks. Having a full week between treatments is great -- my body and mind seem to rebound fairly well, and the week of freedom allows me to live in a way that at least resembles my pre-cancer life. I love those freedom weeks!

I believe that this schedule is the reason that I've been able to tolerate the chemo so well. I think I'd be a very weak, sick, and angry person if I had to endure that poison every week. Instead, I'm strong, optimistic, and anxious to get back to living my life and having some fun. I'm doing all I can to make that happen soon.

In addition to the treatments prescribed by the doctors, I take supplements: curcumin, vitamin E, melatonin, GNC multivitamins, L-glutamine powder, and protein shakes. My main form of exercise is walking -- often, with my life-saving dog Guinness. I also do stretches and light strength training, and I get an occasional massage. Once the chemo is done and my port is removed, I'll be able to add quite a bit to the exercise regimen. More massages too. Definitely more massages.

As of this writing I have completed 10 treatments with only 2 more to go. I'm scheduled to start chemo #11 on November 17. So, if all goes as planned, I'll be done with this particular cancer chapter in about 3 weeks. The main thing to worry about is the potential for my chemo schedule to be delayed by a bad blood test, an illness (damn you, pig flu virus!), or some other health issue. It hasn't happened yet, and I don't expect it will happen now. I've been in semi-seclusion to avoid all the germs lingering in the outside world, and I'm eating well and working hard to get healthy. Living the life of a hermit has been rough on my psyche, but it's keeping me on my treatment schedule. And that's most important.

Ready for the end of chemo. Ready for 2010.