My first radiation appointment (in this series) had no radiation, it was a planning session. While being mapped, I asked the two young lady technicians if they had a most memorable patient. They said no, patients come and go daily, nothing has really stood out in the parade. After a while, one of them remembered a tattooed patient who, for his final treatment had printed THANK YOU across his chest with a big felt marker. He was the most memorable. I told them my prostate surgery seven years ago was on the morning of St Patrick’s Day, and how I was going to tie a green bow on myself so when the surgeon pulls back the sheet to operate, he would say, “Oh – Yes… it is St Patrick’s Day!” But, I confessed that I chickened out. That doctor and team didn’t know me and could possibly suspect I was a weird-O. One technician thought that was really funny and wondered if I would do something on my last visit here. I had seven weeks to consider it, and they had seven weeks to determine the odds of me being any kind of weird.
My daily radiation treatments have gone as follows: allow time to get to my appointment considering traffic and parking. Go directly to the radiation dispensary, remove pants and shoes, put on a hospital gown, visit in the waiting room until escorted to the machine. Reciting the magic words (my birth date) gets me through the last door. I lay on the slab, put my legs into the “don’t move” mold made just for me, and to expose my new hospital tattoo laser targets, I slip my underwear down to the borderline that separates PG-13 from RATED R. The machine orbits my equator once while performing a scan, and once again delivering radiation.
I drove the 21.8 miles once again for my 38th and final radiation treatment. In the changing room, I switched to my brand-new, carefully chosen, Wonder Woman underwear. The technicians were properly dazzled when on the slab, I drew open my hospital gown and presented my colors. They were even more impressed when I lowered them to reveal the message my wife had carefully inscribed just north of the border with a king size Sharpie, “THANK YOU x38.” They said it made their day and would be talked about for a long time.
My Temporary Tattoo
I’m nearly six weeks into my seven-week series of daily radiation treatments. I’ve met several fellow radiation patients as we rotate through the waiting room. Everyone has a story. Some have unhappier stories than others: Unhappy – “I got cancer.” Unhappier – “My woman dumped me when I got cancer.” I met a guy yesterday who’s treating for throat cancer. His body is fighting the radiation by generating a super flem that adheres to the inside his throat. He said mornings are the worst part of each day. When he wakes he spends a block of time doing some serious throat clearing. For him, it’s a matter of life and breath. I didn’t realize until I was driving home that if there was ever an expert who might advise me on a product or routine that would clear my throat, he might well be the one. Certainly, he would be on the cutting edge. He may have discovered something that works for him that might quell my daily (sometimes quite intense) throat clearing episodes. Our appointments are not always scheduled for the same time each day, so I was happy to catch him there today. I told him I’ve had (endoscopy) test after (allergy) test and prescription after prescription trying to solve or determine the cause of my constant throat clearing. “Have you found anything that works well for clearing your throat?” I asked. He answered, “Well, I really don’t like it, but what clears my throat the best is when I throw-up… that really clears it!”
We don’t get treatments on weekends or holidays, so I got to make my annual trip to Brookings and visit my brother, Loren, over the Memorial Day weekend. I hoped to help him organize his pictures (on three computers). I’ve been sorting, tagging, naming, dating, and deleting duplicates of my picture files for years, and I can’t yet say they are completely organized. I don’t know why I thought we’d organize his in one weekend, but we got a good start.
We also checked the rebuild progress on his custom three-wheel Triumph and attended a car show.
He’s owned this trike for about 40 years
The owner of this glowing ’56 Chevy inherited it from his dad. He proudly showed us how his dad detailed the back of the license plate so it could be read in the reflection of the bumper.
MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
We also visited a couple of Loren’s construction business job sites
Tomorrow I will be three weeks into seven weeks of daily treatments. That’s three weeks minus one day because they called one morning and said, “Don’t come in – the machine is broken.” I imagined the unfortunate patient laying on that slab when it broke down, and then I wondered who would be the first brave Guinea pig to take it for a test run after it’s been “fixed?”
The mug shot we see daily when I verify my name and birth-date before each treatment
I printed the picture you see below (posted here on April 7th) and pinned it to the bulletin board in the radiation patient waiting lounge. When the assistant who came to fetch me saw it, she said, “Oh, she’ll enjoy seeing that.” “She’s here?” I asked. Yes, right over there she pointed as we walked to the treatment rooms lobby. My escort announced that I had just posted a picture of us two. The radiologist looked at me as if to say, “and who are you?” We went back to see the picture. In it, I weigh 30 pounds less, have no beard and almost no hair. She now has short hair and was wearing a technician’s gown. She quickly inspected the photo and concluded she hasn’t changed all that much. I agreed, “Neither have I.”
Each Monday after treatment, I consult with the doctor. He always asks if I’m experiencing any side effects. Last week, I answered no, and resisted suggesting he make sure the technicians have removed the lens cap (even though I’m sure he’s never heard that one). Yesterday I answered yes, my legs feel very tired and weak, especially my upper thighs. He said, “That’s not a side effect of radiation.” We agreed it’s probably due to the parking structure stairs I’ve been working-out on daily.
I loved that song Jim Croce sang in 1972 about saving time in a bottle. I’m saving time in a virtual Gigabytle. I finally finished shooting – copying – digitizing and archiving about 30 years of large, desk pad calendars. I first mentioned the project here. They were referred to as desk pads, but mine was always on my home-office wall.
Some of them flashed the month and year in LARGE FONT, like breaking news headlines, while a couple series appear to have had little interest in going public with the current month or year. My personal, historical notations are the most significant inscriptions, but an extra treat was finding several ticket stubs. They were tickets to events, now they’re tickets to the past. They are, along with name tags, sticky notes, and other souvenirs, fastened to appropriate days or nearby margins.
When I put all the months in order, I found that some were missing. January 1990 is missing, as is August 1995. The entire years of 1998 and 1999 are missing. Maybe we tried an alternative calendar then, but two random, single months? My perfect alibi is shot. Maybe in those missing months, I urgently needed some crushed paper packing materials, or something to quickly protect the floor under the cat-food dish. I’m solid from September 1976 through 2007, except for those missing pages – those missing memories. It’s not that they aren’t filed away in the database of my mind, it’s that the physical calendar pages turned out to be the “product code” that unlocks them.
If anyone has been waiting for the opportunity to rewrite a little history, I’m accepting bids on a full set of like new, never marked, but naturally aged 1980 (20″ X 25″) calendar pages.
My Urologist and my Radiation Oncologist agree the prostate cancer has returned. My options appear to be:
- Do nothing – and probably enjoy 10 years before quality of life issues become apparent.
- Wait, watch, and maybe do something later. PSA will sometimes increase and hover around 0.2 for a long time with no real problems.
- I can have targeted radiation treatments now.
Improving my likelihood of long-term survival, and the fact that I am currently employed and have fairly good insurance are good reasons to act now (although the Multiple Myeloma – or the unexpected – could change my circumstances at any time). The only negative my Radiation Oncologist listed (other than the ever-lurking unexpected or unlikely) is before the treatments are finished, I should expect to experience some inconvenient bathroom related issues. These symptoms usually subside after the treatments have ended.
The Radiation Oncologist explained that when prostate cancer returns, it’s usually found in one of three places: the old prostate neighborhood, the lymph nodes, or the bones. Since they know historically it’s in the prostate area 75% of the time, that is where I will receive daily radiation treatments for seven weeks. I returned to the Cancer Center in Beaverton where seven years ago, I had 24 daily treatments not realizing it was a rehearsal. I was mapped, scanned, and tattooed (again). The treatments and commuting will begin on April 18th.
This was seven years ago, the last day of my 24 treatments. I wonder how much radiation exposure my technician has accumulated.
On the positive side – I signed up a couple weeks ago for the second annual Chubby Bunny Challenge, a weight loss competition at work. I joined it to be involved and supportive, and for the $20 sign-up fee, you get a nice T-shirt and Pizza. Last year I actually lost six pounds. With my previous radiation treatments, I lost 30 pounds. This year I may have a pretty good chance of winning first prize!
I saw a Gastroenterologist. The result of our visit was a prescription to treat symptoms caused by excess stomach acid. I’ll take it twice a day until further notice. He also made an appointment in May for a camera down my throat. If my symptoms go away or are notably reduced before May, I may not need to swallow the camera.
I also saw a Speech Pathologist on what may be the last stop (win or lose) on my way to solving this throat clearing issue. About my constant throat clearing, she said, STOP IT! It reminded me of this Bob Newhart skit. It turns out there is a little more to the STOP IT theory than you might first imagine. It’s true that something is causing this to happen, but it turns out that throat clearing causes irritation, and irritation causes throat clearing. If the cycle continues long enough, it becomes part of you. If you can STOP or REDUCE it, you might break (or damage) the cycle.
Watching TV with Cats
She offered a list of suggestions of how one might STOP IT, most of which I am already doing. The bottom line is, if I can stifle the throat clearing, at least to some degree, the instances and/or severity may be reduced, at least to some degree, regardless of the primary cause.
I had the follow-up PSA test last week. I haven’t talked with my Urologist yet, but, the test results were automatically posted to my (Medical Stuff) web site. Test data often appears to be in Greek (Latin?), but these numbers were quite clear: 0.19. Now that’s a cliff-hanger. More than .2 indicates a recurrence of the cancer. I’ve given up trying to predict what a doctor will say or do, I’ve been wrong so many times. I’m sure it will be interesting when we talk next.
I’ve been working on a theory about time; specifically, the passing of time and the perceived passing of time. I know I have the same number of hours in a day as everyone else, and the same number of hours in a day as when I was younger. I think the hours were somehow fatter when I was younger. I could accomplish a lot more in those fat hours. My hours seem much thinner these days. They stack tighter and can be passed quicker. It’s hard to get things done in a thin hour.
Everyone is busy. We all have things to do on weekends, and things we’ll try to get done after work. There are things that need to be done before you go, and things to finish before they arrive. I have indoor projects best suited for dark, rainy winter days, and projects postponed until the longer, warmer summer days are here. Lately I find myself considering a vast, new scheduling option: “soon after retiring.” It appears to be wide open.
Taken recently on the way to visit my brother, Mark, in Salem
Today is St Patrick’s Day. On St Patrick’s Day 2011, I had prostate surgery. I’ve never been zealous about the holiday, but the night before, I asked my wife to find a green ribbon I could tie in a bow attached to myself where my surgeon would lift the blanket and be surprised to see I was celebrating St Patrick’s Day. That might have been fun, but I had just recently met my surgeon, and that could have made me appear to be irresponsible, or a weird-O. So I didn’t. Looking back over our seven year relationship, the doctor and I have shared a few laughs, and I’ll bet the green St Patrick’s Day ribbon likely would have made a unique and memorable surgery.