Friday, August 26, 2016

A Health Update

I've been walking five miles a day. Over the past week or two I've hit the pickleball court twice and the tennis court once. I appear to have hurt my left knee.

That damn knee really does hurt, without any obvious trip or slip or strain, but I'm sure you'll agree that all of the above is a pretty positive lede for a guy with Stage 4 intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma who couldn't hold down a bite of food a few weeks earlier.

As crazy as it sounds, I feel good physically and even better emotionally. The forced "vacation" that is short-term disability is part of it, no doubt, but there's more. The psychology of borrowed time? I'm manic without depression, racing to tend to laundry and dishwasher chores, and often just deliriously happy for no good reason. My appetite is back with a vengeance, thanks in part to the steroids that come with the chemotherapy. Don't be surprised if the next entry here is a detailed analysis of Popeyes vs. KFC.

Now, my treatment is still in its first stage -- just chemo -- and it might be several weeks before the doctors stick me in the scan-o-tron to see whether the tennis-ball-size tumor in my liver has assumed more golf-ball-like proportions. But the anecdotal evidence sure doesn't suggest any move in the other direction. My blood tests aren't showing anything alarming under the circumstances. I'm still on an opioid (it's the American way!), but the pain is minor, and it's almost always "referred" pain that presents itself as a backache, not a flashing YOUR TUMOR HERE! neon sign on my abdomen.

About that chemotherapy:

A handful of things about my diagnosis have emerged as "lucky," and one of those is that it came just as Johns Hopkins was about to open a branch of its cancer center at Sibley Memorial Hospital, much closer to my home in Washington, D.C. The photos here are from my first visit to the new facility, with its private infusion rooms. This was the second and final infusion of Round 2 of chemotherapy -- a round is two visits in three weeks (infuse, infuse, rest).

Five or six hours in a chair sounds boring, but I could sit there twice as long. It is truly a highlight of my week. The nurses are smart and capable and funny. I have my books and my music and my Jacqueline. And aside from a little fatigue, I've escaped the side effects: I've had no nausea since starting chemotherapy, and I still have all my hair!

Soon we should be talking about the second stage of treatment, the tiny beads of radiation bombarding the big tumor directly. And in 40 years, give or take, they should be interviewing me for the documentary.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

The News Could Be Better

I recently learned -- gradually and then suddenly, like the bankrupt Hemingway character -- that I have cancer. Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma, to be precise. Stage 4, with a tennis-ball-size liver tumor and numerous little sidekick tumors. Not one of your kinder, gentler cancers.

Believe me, I have every intention of fighting and beating this thing. And my wife, Jacqueline, is helping me fight and beat this thing. I wouldn't bet on This Thing, quite frankly. Still, the odds are not in our favor, and we are nothing if not realistic. We are putting whatever faith we can muster in science aided by determination, not sunny affirmations or soft-focus memes. We will not shy from gallows humor.

For several years now, Jacqueline and I have looked at each other and shaken our heads and marveled at our good fortune. If we had behaved this way in front of other people, it would have seemed smug and boastful. But we really were grateful, and we still are. I have had a great life. I have a great wife, a great family, a great job, etc., etc. I would not trade 55 of these years for 75 or 85 or 95 of what's behind Door No. 2.

And isn't it lucky to have some warning, at a relatively young age and with my mind intact? Not all causes of death work that way -- I could have been run over by a car. This way, I have time, maybe a little and maybe more than that, to take it all in. To savor the little things. I get weepy now when I see trees and cardinals and cardinals in the trees. Am I really missing all that much if I never get to be a doddering old man?

Speaking of smug boasts, have I mentioned that I can swing neither of my cats without hitting a world-class cancer center? I chose one of the very best: Johns Hopkins is less than an hour a way, with a satellite even closer to home at Sibley Memorial Hospital (SMH, as in "shaking my head"). I've since learned that "my team of specialists" is a phrase that doesn't sound nearly as good as you think it's going  to,  but still, I have a team of specialists. And that team has a plan. I've started chemotherapy. Soon, there will be radiation, in the form of teeny-weeny little beads sent directly into the diseased  area.

In other words, as lucky as I am to be escaping doddering-old-man status, maybe I'll be really lucky. Maybe I'll end up a doddering old man.