Cancer: The Great Battle
(posted in chronological order and updated as needed)
The Big C: I was diagnosed with colon cancer in April 2014, during a routine annual colonoscopy. This cancer was the result of having ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease, for over 30 years. Colon cancer is the end point for ulcerative colitis and it usually happens after 20-25 years ... so, I'm lucky in that I got to keep my (increasingly troublesome) colon for a few extra years.
Ulcerative colitis-caused cancer spreads fast and therefore, they don't do colon resections. They remove the entire colon and that's what I had done - a total colectomy. I was supposed to have my remaining intestine connected to my rectum but the colon started to leak during surgery and that made everything longer, complicated and more dangerous (infection issues). After 6 hours in the operating room, they had to stop (my blood pressure was dropping fast), so I ended up with an ostomy bag and eight days in the hospital - three in intensive care.
I was told that, if I underwent six months of infusion chemotherapy, the chances of cancer reoccurrence would drop to 18% in 5 years. And that's what I did, finishing treatment in November 2014.
Update: I had the ostomy surgically reversed in February 2015, reconnecting what's left of my plumbing. (posted 5/2/14, permalink)
Four-Wheeled Therapy: Regular readers of 'The View Through The Windshield' blog already know of my medical issues. In April 2014, I was diagnosed with cancer. I had surgery a couple of weeks later. The operation took longer than expected due to complications and I was hospitalized for eight days. In May, I had more surgery to install a port; in early June, I began a six-month regimen of infusion chemotherapy, to be followed by additional surgery early next year.
While this sounds ominous, the fact is that my post-chemo prognosis looks pretty good. Nevertheless, I can use any prayers you'd care to offer on my behalf.
I have had a lot of love from family and friends and am being cared for by an excellent team of doctors and nurses. But an unexpected area of support is the uplifting feeling I get whenever I slide behind the wheel of my '39 Plymouth coupe.
Driving it makes me feel like I'm 16 years old again. It makes me forget my troubles for a bit and enjoy the sunshine, fresh air and rumble of the old hot rod's Chevrolet V8 engine. (The small black box on my left hip is a portable chemotherapy pump.)
Attitude is said to be one of the key factors in overcoming disease. I am taking as many Plymouth rides as I can these days, realizing that, as the chemotherapy progresses, its side effects may prevent future joyrides in my old car.
I'm happy to be feeling good as I write this and am hopeful for a complete recovery so that I can fire up my old Plymouth whenever I want in 2015. (posted 6/6/14, permalink)
|Tip: If you're getting your chemo doses via infusion and you have a port installed, talk to your doctor about prescribing Lidocane cream, a medication for numbing skin tissue. (You can buy a low-content lidocaine over the counter but stronger levels require a prescription.) Apply 30 minutes before you're gonna get poked and after applying the cream, cover it with cling film to prevent it from getting on your clothing.
A chemotherapy port (also known as a "port-a-cath") is a small medical device that is implanted under your skin, usually in the upper chest, to allow easy access to your bloodstream. A port can be used to draw blood and infuse chemotherapy drugs. Because it connects a catheter to one of the main veins leading to your heart and you don't need to get pricked with new IVs at every infusion. I had one and it worked very well.
Chemo Complete: Yesterday (November 12, 2014), I received my final chemotherapy dose and had the portable pump removed. I began my chemo treatments on June 2nd.
I've lost quite a bit of hair but it seems to have stopped falling out. What's left is pretty white, too. I've been told that the hair may well grow back over the next six months or so. And some color may return; perhaps it will be something interesting, such as purple. Or green.
My wife took this photo after I returned home from the oncology clinic:
I have actually gained weight during the course of my chemo treatment. That's something most patients don't experience. But I never had nausea, loss of appetite, mouth sores or most of the other common side effects listed for the drugs I was given. I'm a very lucky guy.
Next, there will be blood work to see if any cancer remains, followed by physical exams, tests, scans and probably more surgery early next year. But I'm feeling pretty good today. And that's a good thing.
One day at a time. One step at a time. Put one foot in front of the other.
Thanks to all for your prayers and good wishes. (posted 11/13/14, permalink)
|Tip: A nurse recommended that I get a prescription for Lorazepam, an anti-anxiety drug. It did indeed help with anxiousness about my cancer but it also acted as an anti-nausea medication and helped me go to sleep at night.
Fast Rides: So, how's your February been going so far? For me, not so good.
In early February 2015, I underwent abdominal surgery - to get my plumbing reconnected following last year's cancer treatments - and was hospitalized for several days.
My recovery seemed to proceeding normally until late last week, when I started hemorrhaging. Badly.
After two ambulance rides (with lights and sirens) to two different hospitals and two procedures to try to fix the problem, the bleeding was finally stopped. But I had lost so much blood that I required three transfusions.
I think one of the pints was panhandler blood because, for three weeks afterward, I kept walking up to strangers and asking them for spare change.
I am now recuperating at home, with fingers crossed that the 'fix' holds.
Any good thoughts or prayers you'd be willing to offer on my behalf would be most appreciated. (posted 2/25/15, permalink)
Happy Birthday ... to me. I turned 72 years of age today (August 5, 2015).
Unfortunately, one of my birthday presents will be a dose of chemo and radiation. After six months of chemotherapy last year, my cancer has returned in the form of a golf-ball sized tumor. It's not a Titleist, I'm told. I am now undergoing a six-week, daily regimen of chemotherapy and radiation in an attempt to:
A: Kill this thing once and for all.
B: Extend my life by years.
C: Give me some more (unspecified) time, or ...
D: Try a Hail Mary pass.
The answers vary, depending upon which medical professional I ask. This is much different than last year, when there was a sunny prognosis and odds were openly tossed around by doctors acting like fedora-wearing touts at a racetrack: "Take this treatment and your chance of reoccurrence will be less than 20% in 5 years." Now doctors are sending me mixed and guarded messages with a lot of qualifiers. I guess I'm not such a good bet anymore. The racehorse has become a sick nag.
Ironically, thinking that I had this thing beat, I Just spent thousands of dollars on mechanical repairs to my '39 Plymouth coupe and had it repainted, believing that I had quite a few more Summers left to enjoy it.
The car does look good, doesn't it?
Man plans; God laughs.
If you're so inclined, please wish me luck and keep me in your prayers. Thanks. (posted 8/5/15, permalink)
Band Of Brothers ... And Sisters: Jimmy Carter has cancer. Last week, Carter had surgery at Emory University Hospital to remove a small mass in his liver. It was found that cancer has spread from his liver. "Recent liver surgery revealed that I have cancer that now is in other parts of my body," the 90-year-old former president said. The statement indicates that the 39th president's cancer is widespread but not where it originated, or even whether that is known at this point. The liver is often a place where cancer spreads and less commonly is the primary source of it.
I disagreed with almost every Jimmy Carter policy during his presidency. As an ex-president, he has been a foreign policy meddler who sticks his nose where it doesn't belong, sometimes to the detriment of the United States.
None of that matters now. Jimmy is in a fight for his life. Cancer is insidious, sneaky, voracious in appetite and deadly. Too many good people have died from it ... my mom, my godparents - Aunt Ceil and Uncle Tom - and other relatives. And friends.
The first time I ever carried a casket was when my friend and classmate, Bill Snyder, died at age 9 after a brutal encounter with brain cancer.
I still remember helping to load his small white coffin into a white 1950 Henney Packard hearse on a cold winter day some 63 years ago.
I too have cancer. I'm fighting. Every day, I travel down to the oncology center, lay on a cold hard slab and get my dose of radiation. Then I go home and take chemo pills - morning and night. The side effects are not fun - literally sickening. I'm fighting them too.
Recently, my daughter posted this on her Facebook page:
It was originally posted by Ragheb Alama.
Jimmy Carter and I are now brothers in the fight. I wish him well; he is in my prayers. If you are reading this and are battling cancer, keep fighting. I wish you well, too. (posted 8/14/15, permalink)
Straight Outta Auschwitz: An Oncology Center is not a fun place to be. Every patient carries a story and not a happy one. Some look pretty healthy, although that doesn't mean much. It's what's going inside your body that counts.
I have seen skeletal patients, looking like concentration camp survivors - bald, vacant-eyed, shuffling toward an infusion chair, assisted by a nurse on one side and a worried caregiver on the other. They are hooked up to a pump which will, hopefully, dole out just the right amount of chemical poison to kill their cancer cells without killing them. They still have hope, apparently drawing it from somewhere deep inside their souls. God bless them, because it sure looks like the cancer is winning the battle but this very room can be a place of miracles, where the nearly-dead recover, Lazarus-like and go about to live normal lives. Or not.
The infusion center is a large nondescript room, full of chemo patients - sometimes 40 or more - attended by cheerful, efficient nurses. I'm sure that it's hard to maintain the happy demeanor; I suppose the nurses and doctors focus their thoughts on the success stories rather than the failures.
Considering the number of people in the room, it is relatively quiet. People nod off, pray, meditate, read books, listen to iPods or remain alone with their thoughts. Throughout the room are scattered little angel statues - a sign of hope and, perhaps, of being watched over from above. No nonbelievers have raised objections. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there seem to be none here either.
There's a dampening effect at work in The Room. It's hard to complain about your own troubles when someone a few lounge chairs away has obviously got it much worse.
In 2014, I spent six months getting chemo infusions - five to six hours in The Room, followed by being sent home with a portable chemo pump attached for a couple of days. The treatments caused me to tire easily and I lost some of my hair. But I was lucky because I dodged a lot of the possible side effects. And my hair grew back again. I got better and moved on with my life.
Eight months later, my cancer returned. Tests in June 2015 found a golf-ball sized tumor in my abdomen. It was pressing against my ureter (the tube which connects a kidney to the bladder) and was causing one kidney to not function. I had surgery to put a stent in my ureter to keep it open and save the kidney. After I recovered from that, I began the recommended treatment for the recurring cancer.
This time, the treatment was different - more aggressive. A one-two punch of radiation and chemotherapy. Every day for five weeks, I traveled to the radiation wing of the Oncology Center and got multiple axis treatments. The technicians were pleasant and kind. Afterwards, I would go home and take oral chemotherapy medication - twice each day. This time I experienced lots of side effects. Bleeding. Bad skin rashes. A few mouth sores toward the end. And absolute exhaustion - I spent hours sleeping during the day.
While lying on the hard slab, as the giant overhead radiation machines slowly whirled around my body like a high-tech Bizarro World amusement ride and zapped me with various killer rays, I mostly spent my time in prayer. I always made sure to include a special prayer for the sickest person at the facility that day. I don't know who they were - probably some emaciated soul in the chemo infusion wing at the other end of the building - but I'm sure God figured out who's in the most need.
I believe that prayer works. With a qualifier - you have to be able to pray.
Last year, I had a serious medical crisis in the infusion room - a sudden and very bad reaction to one of the many drugs administered. Suddenly, my mouth caught fire, my throat started to close and I couldn't breathe. I watched helplessly as my oxygen levels rapidly dropped from 99+% to the 80s. Nurses came running to attend me. As did my oncologist. A natural-born shuffler, I didn't know he could move so fast. I was given a big industrial-size shot of Benadryl and hooked to an oxygen tank - pronto.
"Breathe, breathe, Joe!" I heard the gathering exhort. I tried. "Take deeper breaths! Focus on breathing deep!" I felt dizzy and very drunk from the Benadryl. Everything seemed far away; I really thought I was dying. I was so busy trying to suck oxygen into my lungs that I wasn't thinking about God, prayer, Eternity or anything else. The cell-level, instinctive part of me was focused entirely on staying alive. My primal force was screaming, "Don't bother me, brain! No time for theological musings. Just breathe, dammit!" Eventually, I came around and was OK.
For those of you who think you can wait until the last minute of your life and then mumble a quick apology to God, hop on a passing jitney bus cloud and engage in witty banter with comely angels while sipping mimosas, don't count on it. You'll forget everything celestial, being too preoccupied with elemental things - like trying to gasp a few more centiliters of air. Or seconds of life.
Regular readers of 'The View Through The Windshield' blog may have noticed no reports of me taking drives in my '39 Plymouth coupe lately. I just couldn't come up with the energy to get behind the wheel. In fact, I hardly drive at all. My wife drove me to and from the center almost every day.
I also have balance problems (probably a result of the variety of drugs I'm taking) which require that I use a cane - my grandmother's 1955 model, in fact. Instead of my usual go-get-'em stride, I now shuffle like a 90 year-old. And, the worst side effect of all is crippling diarrhea, which - except for my necessary visits to the oncology center - has kept me pretty-much homebound.
I hope that these treatments kill my cancer once and for all because on some days I feel like they're killing me. I felt sick enough that I've already had the Last Rites at Church - although the euphemism "Sacrament of the Sick" has now replaced the former "Extreme Unction" designation. (I used to wonder if dying liberal Catholics received Moderate Unction.)
Every cancer is different. Some are mildly intrusive, easily cured with low reoccurrence odds. Some are worse. Some defy the stated odds and return with a vengeance and an appetite. Like mine, apparently.
My treatments ended yesterday, September 8, 2015. I've lost over 20 pounds; I'm now just below my best weight when I was a JV linebacker in high school. But I don't feel much like playing football these days. My wife snapped this photo over the weekend; I've looked better:
|With my grandmother's cane and my Miracle Hat - in times such as this, a miracle hat may be just the ticket.
The doctors say that I'm at the nadir of well-being in my treatments. It will take several weeks for all the side effects to abate and for me to become some semblance my old self again. I'm looking forward to sliding behind the wheel of my old Plymouth as soon as possible.
Later, there will be blood work monitoring to see if any cancer remains/returns, as well as physical exams, tests and scans. But I'm happy that this phase of treatment is over. I'm cautiously hopeful that things will turn out well for me.
|One of the 'benefits' of losing so much weight, even if it's from cancer, is that my old college jacket now fits me.
One day at a time. One step at a time. Put one foot in front of the other.
Thanks to all for your prayers and good wishes. (posted 9/9/15, permalink)
How Dry I Am: So, there I was on the floor dreaming about my '39 Plymouth coupe. It turned out that I had fainted and had done a face plant. I got banged up pretty badly although no bones were broken. The cause was later diagnosed as dehydration.
In the past, I have made humorous references to people being obsessed with drinking bottled water. It turns out that there is some truth to the matter.
Bottled water of sorts has been available for a century or more, but mostly in European countries: France, Greece and Italy come to mind. Bottled water became the norm over there because the tap water in most European cities was awful. Now you know why the French drink so much wine.
The U.S. had been disinfecting its municipal water since the early 1900s, making it eminently drinkable, but there had always been a small American market for bottled water - often 'miracle cure' products from 'health springs'.
Mineral water was drunk for its medicinal value, based on the Law of Cod Liver Oil: "Anything that tastes this bad must be good for something." Or because of its laxative properties.
Before 1977, most Americans drank tap water. Then Perrier launched a $5 million U.S. marketing campaign for its imported bottled water. Perrier's timing was perfect; it took advantage of growing pollution concerns and the emergence of brand-conscious Yuppie consumers who loved expensive, ordinary things with European (or European-sounding) names.
By openly carrying Perrier bottles around, Yuppies could demonstrate their sophistication and elevated status. Saturated advertising by Perrier's various bottled water competitors made consumers aware of and fearful about the dangers of "not being properly hydrated."
They had a right to be concerned. I remember growing up in the early 1950s and seeing the dry husks of people, lying on pavements, waiting for the municipal water truck to rehydrate them. There was nothing more heart-rending than the sight of dried-up midgets blowing down the street like tumbleweed.
In New York City, sanitation workers outside the U.N. Building were getting ready to haul away what they thought was a discarded heap of rags with wax Halloween teeth on top when one of them accidentally spilled water on it. It turned out to be a very dehydrated Eleanor Roosevelt.
In Philadelphia, the city had a fleet of water trucks which plied residential streets during the day, spraying water on the deathly thirsty. (In the evenings, the tanks were filled with DDT and the same neighborhoods were sprayed for mosquito control.)
Which brings me back to my original topic - the medical need to stay hydrated, especially if you are sick.
When you have your discussion with your oncologist, you are give an multi-page list of possible side effects of the treatment. The length of the list is, in itself, scary. One of the seemingly minor effects is 'dehydratrion'. It turns out that lack of water can cause serious problems.
I found out the hard way. Over the past few weeks, I have suffered several face-plants - keeling over as a result of standing up and moving too fast. Aside from bumps, bruises, a couple of cracked/bruised ribs and mean-looking scrapes to my face, I was momentarily losing consciousness from a drop in blood pressure whenever I stood up too quickly.
It has a fancy title - 'syncope' - a temporary loss of consciousness and posture, described as 'fainting' or 'passing out'. If I was 'out', it was only for a microsecond. Or two.
It turned out that I was simply dehydrated. At the doctor's office, my sitting blood pressure was 136/85; my standing BP was 94/54 and I keeled over like the proverbial stone. I was made horizontal, administered a bag of saline/water, felt better almost immediately and, after two hours or so, was good to go.
So, it's now drinking lots of liquids for me. On Thursday, I felt well enough to drive a car. I slid behind the wheel of my '39 Plymouth coupe and took a very pleasant back roads drive. And felt good. Things are getting back to normal.
At 10:00 am, it was partly cloudy, temperatures were in the upper 50s and it felt good to be alive.
This week, I'm thanking God for plenty of water available, plush wall-to-wall carpet in our master bath (to cushion falls) and lots of sunshine, although the rain returned on Friday.
Summary: If you're feeling out-of-sorts, start drinking water. Right away. (posted 9/25/15, permalink)
What's Around The Next Corner? There's always a surprise. Monday morning was a pleasant one. Over the weekend, some of my treatment side effects began to abate and I was feeling good enough to fire up my '39 Plymouth coupe and take a little ride along the back roads of Clark County.
The weather was gorgeous - 56 degrees under bright blue skies at 10:00 am - the roads were lightly traveled and I had a most enjoyable ride.
Did I write 'bright blue skies'? Yes, I did. But beneath the azure overlayer, there was a certain wanness - a sign that summer is definitely over and winter is working up a cold head of steam. Leaves are changing - the maples now sport those colorful 'Hey, look at me' shades, while others are losing their luster and settling into that dull green velvet that precedes brown, brittleness and falling to the ground.
The absence of cars on my rural loop made it hard to tell whether the year was 2015, 1959 or 1939, as you can see from the view through the windshield (a phrase befitting this blog):
James Lileks recently wrote, "Autumn is the time of contemplative ease with the occasional pang of bittersweet recollection." Nonetheless, the Fall is a season that presents itself well and I'll take as much of it as I can get. Just like I'll take any good days offered to me.
Grab life at every opportunity. Unfortunately, my side effects returned later in the day and were incapacitating by Tuesday. I'm trying a new treatment Wednesday. We'll see what happens. (posted 10/7/15, permalink)
Sudsy Prayers: Last week, my daughter made this Facebook posting: "Continued prayers for my Dad please - 4 weeks out from his 5-week course of Daily Radiation & Chemo he's still suffering awful side effects with more bad days than good."
I wish to thank everyone - on FB and elsewhere - who have been praying for me. (I've got a prayer list, too, having just found out that two of my high school classmates are on kidney transplant waiting lists.)
Last Tuesday was probably my worst day - I could barely get out of bed and had to cancel all outside appointments. The remainder of the week was filled with medical procedures - some unpleasant. But ... by Friday, something good was beginning to happen and I was experiencing some improvement. My energy levels remain low but I'm generally feeling better and some of the chemo/radiation side effects seem to be abating.
Thanks to God ... and thanks to all of you. Prayer works.
And so does soap. A few years ago, after reading one of James Lileks' daddy-daughter tales, I sent him this note: "When my daughter was about your daughter's age, she particularly liked motel soaps. They were a perfect size for her small hands.
Her 'collection' eventually took up a full dresser drawer. Whenever I'd come home from a trip, she'd hug me and ask, "Got any soap for me, Daddy?"
She used up most of the soaps while away at college. She is now an grown-up businesswoman but, whenever she travels, she now brings back motel soap for me." And she did so a couple of weeks ago. Thanks, Kathy. You brought back fond memories.
Prayer and soap - a powerful combo. (posted 10/13/15, permalink)
Variable Weather: I've been feeling better lately as the side effects from September's cancer treatments continue to diminish. I have been wanting to take a drive in my '39 Plymouth coupe but the weather has been conspiring against me. There has been a lot of rain lately; in fact, it poured so hard on Halloween that we had no trick-or-treaters for the first time in the 26 years we've lived here.
Tuesday dawned with fog and heavy overcast dark clouds but at 11:30 am, the sun started peeking through, so I went for a drive. There were still gloomy clouds here and there but where there was sky to be seen, it was a surprisingly strong color of blue and that made everything just fine. The temperature was a chilly 50 degrees and the traffic was heavier that I would have preferred but it was a real treat for me to get behind the wheel and sight down the hood of my old coupe.
The Plymouth ran great and I thoroughly enjoyed my back roads outing. I've said before that a drive in my old coupe is one of the best forms of therapy for me; it lifts my spirits and makes me feel like I'm 16 again - if only for a few minutes.
The leaves have all turned and many are now on the ground. The old-car driving season is almost over and I wonder how many more rides I'll have before the seemingly endless wet gloom of winter arrives. (posted 11/4/15, permalink)
Testing ... One, Two, Three: Recently, I had follow up tests to determine the effectiveness of my chemo and radiation cancer treatments. I had CEA blood work and a CT scan done. The CEA test measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen - in the blood. Mine is now 1.1, which is within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L). In August, prior to treatment, it was 7.5.
The CT scan indicated that the tumor has already shrunk by 30% and is expected to continue shrinking as the effects of radiation continue (even though the radiation treatment was completed in mid-September). There is no lymph node enlargement and some of the lymph nodes near the cancer site have shrunk.
There are "no new signs of progressive or metastatic disease." My liver, spleen and prostate are fine. It appears that the tumor may no longer be pressing on the ureter.
All of this is good news, although I'll be getting tests every few months to monitor things to make sure that the cancer doesn't reassert itself. My next tests will be in late January and will include the usual CEA blood work as well as a PET scan.
I am still dealing with some side effects of the treatment, including peripheral neuropathy which has resulted in foot drop in my right foot. This has caused me to trip and fall flat on my face - seven times. At first, my falls were caused by dehydration which dropped my blood pressure and caused me to faint. Even after addressing that problem, I was still falling; I finally figured out that foot drop was causing me to trip and fall. I got pretty beat up in the process - black eyes, multiple bruises, a cracked rib, and a couple of large hematomas. I am now using a cane for stability; I am also getting treatment to help lessen/eliminate the foot drop. I expect to be fitted with a foot brace next week. And I'm receiving physical therapy. There are some other medical issues to be dealt with as well.
Thank you for your good wishes and prayers on my behalf. As I've said before, I believe in the power of prayer and I thank God for the good news. (posted 11/21/15, permalink)
It's Always Something: In September - a time of chemotherapy and radiation, I fell flat on my face numerous times. Eventually, I figured out that it was caused by two different medical issues - dehydration and foot drop (both are side effects of chemo).
I was left with a bunch of bumps and bruises which eventually healed, except for a large hematoma on my upper right leg. Because it was becoming more painful, I went to my primary care physician who diagnosed it as infected. I had surgery last Friday to clean out the infection. I am now healing up but am not ready to run any marathons. Or walk them, either. I'm back to using my cane to get around.
This is another side effect of my cancer treatment. I'm not feeling great but I'm certainly in better shape than I was in September and October. (posted 12/8/15, permalink)
Good News: Follow up tests - a PET scan and CEA blood work - indicated that the cancer hasn't returned. The CEA test measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen - in the blood. Mine is now 0.5, which is well within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L). The PET scan indicated that the tumor has shrunk further; in fact, they were unable to find it. My next tests will occur in early May.
My foot drop condition has improved to the point where I no longer use a cane or a foot brace. I've been exercising my feet, concentrating particularly on toe curls and other strenghtening exercises and I believe this has eliminated the foot drop issue. (posted 2/1/16, permalink)
Blue Skies, Smilin' At Me. Nothin' But Blue Skies Do I See: Early last week, I visited the Oncology Center for blood tests and a CT scan. On Friday, I saw the oncologist and got the results. All is well, at this time. The blood test measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen - in the blood. Mine is now 0.6, which remains within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L). The suspect area is unchanged in size - a further indicator that the cancer is dormant or, possibly, dead. My next blood test will be in mid-July.
Friday was a gorgeous, sunny day, with blue skies marked by an infrequent one-dimensional cloudy wisp here and there. Temperatures were warm and everything is in bloom with lots of verdant grass to be seen.
As soon as I got home, I fired up my '39 Plymouth coupe and took a celebratory lap around the county's back roads. At 12:30 pm, there was some lunchtime traffic but I didn't mind. The temperature was a balmy 73 degrees. By late afternoon, it reached 82.
I saw a couple of unusual vehicles, including a red Polaris Slingshot - man, that sucker is low, followed a few cars back by a 1959 Chevrolet four-door with loud pipes.
I had a very enjoyable ride and a great remainder of the day, celebrating with some wine later in the afternoon. My kids arrived on a very sunny Saturday and we had much to celebrate in addition to Mother's Day.
Furthermore, I gave my daughter a ride in the Plymouth in the 82-degree Saturday afternoon heat. She shot some Through The Windshield video which she posted on her Facebook page. To experience the sights and sounds of a virtual ride in my old Plymouth, go here.
We got thumbs-up from a couple of vintage (late '60s) Camaros as were driving along. (posted 5/9/16, permalink)
Good Summer News: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for a blood test. The test measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen - in the blood. Mine is now 0.4, which remains within normal range (0-2.5 µg/L). Next round of tests are in mid-September. (posted 7/25/16, permalink)
Fall 2016 Update: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for a blood test and CT scan. All seems to be well, at this time. The CT scan shows that the suspect area is unchanged in size - a further indicator that the cancer is dormant or, possibly, hopefully, dead.
The blood test measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen - in the blood. Mine is now 0.7, which remains within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L).
The weather was very Fall-like: rain and turning leaves. The next round of blood tests are scheduled for mid-January. (posted 9/28/16, permalink)
Dashing Though The Snow: Last Monday (1/9/17), I had blood work done at the oncology center. That was the easy part. The roads were slippery in spots but I had no problems. Meeting with my oncologist on Friday was a different matter. There was a huge snowstorm overnight on Tuesday, which dropped over 8 inches of snow on our driveway and local roads. Then it got cold and nothing melted.
On Friday morning, the temperature was 10 degrees. Thankfully, my daughter had arrived early Tuesday evening with her nimble Subaru Forester. On Thursday night, we put chains on the rear wheels and drove to my morning appointment without incident.
The result of the blood test, which measures a cancer marker - carcinoembryonic antigen - was 0.7, same as last time. That's good news; the normal range is 0-5.0 µg/L.
So, I celebrated my bloody good fortune with a Canadian Manhattan with two cherries, expertly prepared by my wife and served in a Waterford Crystal glass. The next round of blood tests and CT scans are scheduled for April. (posted 1/17/17, permalink)
Sunshine And Good Results: In April '17, I visited the Oncology Center for a blood test and CT scan. All seems to be well, at this time. The CT scan shows that the suspect area remains unchanged in size - an indicator that the cancer is dormant or, possibly, hopefully, dead.
The blood test measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen. Mine is now 1.4, which remains within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L according to my oncologist).
I returned home at 11:20 am; the sun was shining brightly and the temperature was a mild 55 degrees. It eventually reached 68 in the afternoon. Given that it had rained all week and more rain was forecast for the foreseeable future, I decided to take a celebratory ride in my '39 Plymouth coupe.
I drove along the lightly-traveled back roads of North Clark County, admiring the Spring greenery and realizing it's a good time to be alive. Mt. St. Helens remains covered in snow as do the Eastern Cascade foothills.
On the return trip, I passed a black '40 Ford coupe headed in the other direction. It was quite shiny with gleaming chrome. It's beginning to look like old car weather around these parts. (posted 4/25/17, permalink)
Summer 2017 Update: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for a blood test, which measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen. Mine is now 1.0, which remains within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L according to my oncologist) and is lower than my last test.
The cancer has not returned, so far. When I got home, I hopped in my '39 Plymouth business coupe and took a victory ride. Then I had a celebratory, pre-lunch Canadian Manhattan with three Luxardo cherries in a Waterford Crystal glass. Luxardo Maraschino cherries are the ones served in Manhattans made at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills.
My next blood test and CT scan are scheduled for November. (posted 8/1/17, permalink)
Fall 2017 Update: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for a blood test, which measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen. Mine is now 0.8, which remains within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L according to my oncologist) and is lower than my last test.
I also had a CT scan, which shows that the suspect area remains unchanged in size - an indicator that the cancer is dormant or, possibly, hopefully, dead. Measurements of kidney and liver function have returned to normal - another good sign.
My next blood test is scheduled for March. (posted 11/7/17, permalink)
March 2018 Update: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for a blood test, which measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen. Mine is now 0.9, which remains well within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L according to my oncologist).
Here are my test results over time:
My next blood test - and a CT scan - is scheduled for mid-June. (posted 3/12/18, permalink)
June 2018 Update: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for a blood test, which measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen. Mine is now 1.2, which remains well within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L according to my oncologist). I also had a chest-to-pelvis CT scan, which showed no activity or change.
My next blood test is scheduled for late September. (posted 6/21/18, permalink)
October 2018 Update: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for the usual blood test, which measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen. Mine is now 1.1, which remains well within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L according to my oncologist). My next test is scheduled for early January 2019. (posted 10/4/18, permalink)
January 2019 Update: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for the usual blood test, which measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen. Mine is still 1.1, which remains well within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L according to my oncologist). I also had a chest-to-pelvis CT scan, which showed no activity or change. Good news.
My next blood test is scheduled for April. (posted 1/14/19, permalink)
April 2019 Update: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for the usual blood test, which measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen. It has been five years this month since I had my cancer surgery. My blood CEA is 1.2, which remains well within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L according to my oncologist). Continued good news.
My next blood test and CT scan are scheduled for late July. (posted 4/22/19, permalink)
July 2019 Update: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for the usual blood test, which measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen. My blood CEA is 1.4, which remains well within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L according to my oncologist). Good news. I also had a chest-to-pelvis CT scan, which showed no activity or change. Also good news.
My next blood test is scheduled for early November. (posted 7/30/19, permalink)
November 2019 Update: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for the usual blood test, which measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen. My blood CEA is now 1.2, which remains well within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L according to my oncologist). Good news.
My next tests will be sometime in February 2020. (posted 11/5/19, permalink)
February 2020 Update: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for the usual blood test, which measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen. My blood CEA is now 1.0, which remains well within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L according to my oncologist). Good news.
I also had a chest-to-pelvis CT scan, which showed no activity or change. Also good news.
That afternoon, I took a celebratory drive in my 1939 Plymouth business coupe, my Therapy Car during the dark days of surgery, chemo and radiation.
It was a bit chilly (49 degrees at 1:30 pm) but the skies were bright blue and I had clear views of snow-covered mountains - Mt. St. Helens to the north and the Cascades to the east. Traffic was light and I had a great old car drive. The Plymouth ran perfectly.
My next blood test will be sometime in May 2020. (posted 2/21/20, permalink)
May 2020 Update: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for the usual blood test, which measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen. My blood CEA is now 1.0, which remains well within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L according to my oncologist). Good news.
Notable changes have been made to the oncology facility due to the Wuhan virus. When you arrive at the door wearing your required face mask, you are greeted by a technician who takes your temperature with a non-contact thermometer and then places a sticker (with your temperature handwritten on it) on your shirt noting that you have passed. Then you line up for the check-in desk with proper social distancing. There are low tables in front of the reception desk so that you can't stand too close. You are given forms to sign but you keep the pen - they don't want it back.
About two-thirds of the seats in the waiting area have been removed and there are no reading materials or puzzles as in the past. Scheduling seems tighter to shorten waiting times and making the waiting area less full - a good thing. Everyone you meet is masked; some are also gloved. Nevertheless, everyone I met was patient and pleasant.
My next tests will be in September 2020. (posted 5/28/20, permalink)
Milestone: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for the usual blood test, which measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen. My blood CEA is now 1.0, which remains well within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L according to my oncologist). Good news.
I also had a chest-to-pelvis CT scan, which showed no activity or change. Also good news.
This is a big deal because it has been just over five years since my last treatment of chemo and radiation. My treatments ended on September 8, 2015. The side effects persisted and actually worsened for almost two more months. Some minor side effects are still present.
When the treatments were taking their toll, one area of concern was my platelet count, which was in free fall. To cheer me up, my son and daughter presented me with a bottle of wine, which they relabeled as Red Platelet Cabernet Sauvignon:
Now that I've got five cancer-free years under my belt, I opened the wine over the weekend and celebrated.
I no longer need to be tested every quarter. According to my oncologist, yearly visits will suffice. My next tests will be in September 2021. (posted 9/28/20, permalink)
Six Years And Counting: Last week, I visited the Oncology Center for the usual blood test, which measures cancer markers - carcinoembryonic antigen. My blood CEA is now 1.2, which remains well within normal range (0-5.0 µg/L according to my oncologist). Good news.
I also had a chest-to-pelvis CT scan, which showed no activity or change. Also good news.
This is a big deal because it has been just over six years since my last treatment of chemo and radiation. My treatments ended on September 8, 2015. The side effects persisted and actually worsened for almost two more months. Some minor side effects are still present.
On Saturday, we had celebratory drinks. I had a Canadian Manhattan with three cherries, in a Waterford Crystal glass. The next round of blood tests and CT scans will be in September 2022. (posted 9/27/21, permalink)
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