Thursday, September 16, 2010

A great ending to a tough day - thx for the Organic Dish meals!

One other note about our tough day last Thursday when I was diagnosed with the blood clots. So imagine this scenario - your 15 minute appt turns into an all day affair involving a trip to the hospital, your wife has got a mountain of work thrown on her because her boss decided to resign, you've got a code deliverable in the morning, you get home at 6:00 pm totally wiped from the day and now someone has to make dinner. Yuck...

But you've got a super secret weapon up your sleeve! Your awesome peeps at work have gotten together and donated some beer tokens (aka money) to set you up with free organic, vegan meals courtesy of The Organic Dish! So, I cracked open a Newcastle (thankfully my interest in beer is returning) and within a few minutes we had a great meal involving mango salsa, couscous and a tasty veggie ragout including beans, kale and zucchini. Man, what a nice way to perk up what was pretty much a train wreck of a day. Here's a picture from table-side:

As you can see we had a good  variety of alcohol to go along with the entree!

So thanks again to the folks at Flatirons that contributed to this very thoughtful and useful gift. Through their generosity we've been given a bunch of free meals that we'll use over the next few weeks whenever we hit a down or especially busy day. Good stuff!

Thrombosis? What Thrombosis? Who you callin' thrombotic? And other good news

Just finished a good checkup with my oncologist. As you the intrepid blog-reader will remember, last week I was diagnosed with blood clots in both my arms and was sent home from school with a week long assignment to inject myself with heparin everyday, stay out of the pool and get my veins less gunked up with blood clotty type stuff.

And since I haven't posted any slightly inappropriate body pictures in a while, here's a fun one of my stomach (please keep all comments about the lack of a six pack to yourself. I know it's a jelly roll but I'm blaming that on the prednisone!). Anyway... The heparin is an anti-coagulant and frequently you get bruising at the injection site. So, you get to:
  • inject yourself every day. Not too gross but that moment when you have the needle touching your skin and have to push it in is a bit sketchy.
  • the needle is very thin and doesn't hurt going in. But ah - the heparin. That, my friends, is a different matter. That stuff gives you a 2-3 minute sting like a mild bee sting. Not horrible but not in the "Gee, this is fun, I wish I could more of this" category.
  • And, you end up getting some nice purple bruises on your stomach. Self inflicted, BTW. And not completely clear that any of this is necessary. Yeah, that was fun!
  • The bruising in the upper left quadrant and lower middle-right section of the pic are courtesy of the heparin. More fun with the Geo science experiment!

Today I had my exam and passed with flying colors. My veins are much improved so no more heparin injections. I read the radiologists report of the ultra sound study and to my ears, it didn't sound like explicit clots as much as some general stiffness in a few areas of veins in both arms. And in the vein world, stiff is not good. Anyway, that seems to be much better so hopefully that's all behind me. They also did a bunch of tests for other diseases (like Lupus) that might start manifesting themselves with inopportune clotting. All those tests were negative which is a relief. Let's stay focused on one major disease per year, shall we?

Other news - my case was presented at the tumor board last week. I am officially classified as NED (No Evidence of Disease) and also as CR (Complete Response) to the chemo protocol I was given. These are both really, really good things to be in the cancer world. So now we'll do a PET/CT scan next week to confirm that everything is ok in my chest and then we're in wait and see mode to see how things go over the next few months.

Other news this week - I've been off the prednisone for a week and my lungs feel ok. They're certainly not perfect but my pulmonary function is still getting a little better every few days. I'm also starting to lose some of the fatty deposits the prednisone left me so I'm starting to see my midsection emerge from the roll of fat I had grown over the last 2 months. It's kind of funny - I think I'm adding muscle at about the same rate as I'm losing fat so my weight has been pretty constant. Although I guess that's a standard phrase that people use when they see fat going away from one part of their body but they're not losing any weight! So maybe I've now officially joined the ranks of people that have Good Excuses For Why I Don't Weigh Less. Of course, the best part of that club is that it's also part of the I'm Going to Live Long Enough To Worry About My Weight club, which is one I REALLY like being in (or at least I'm working hard on the membership application).

Let's see, what other news. Went to the LiveStrong wine tasting on Saturday and met up with Bob, Nancy, Josh and Sarah. It was pretty mellow but fun. We spent a bit more money buying some stuff they had for auction and felt good about contributing to a good cause.

On Tuesday, I was at School of Mines doing some recruiting and had to talk pretty non-stop for about 4-5 hours. That was a pretty good stress test of how my voice is doing. My voice was definitely hoarse at the end of the day but I made it through without any major coughing fits, wheezing, etc. So that was a good milestone. And BTW, my o2 sat this afternoon was 100, which is a good indication that I'm a happy, oxygenated guy.

Other odds and ends - legs are feeling a bit less gumby like. I did some striding intervals today at lunch and could go 50-60 yards before I started to run out of leg juice. A month ago that number was about 5-10 yards so definitely good progress there. My hair continues to grow back. I'm now starting to get some more gray hair on the top of my head although in general my noggin still looks pretty black. Still don't have my normal compliment of eyebrow or armpit hair but I'm assuming those will come back at some point. My facial hair is pretty much back to previous fullness although still maybe growing slower than pre-chemo.

Anyway, a good checkup this afternoon. Next week I'll get a pulmonary function test and another CT/PET scan and the week after that I'll review with the docs. The following week we're off to Hawaii for a week of R&R which we're both really looking forward to!


Thursday, September 9, 2010

How to turn a 15 minute check up into a 5 hour trip to the hospital

Well, today was another "interesting" day. I went in to the cancer center for my weekly spot check to make sure my lungs are doing ok with the reduction in prednisone. Everything was good and then I HAD to open my big mouth and mention that my arm was still pretty sore when swimming. So, the nurse practitioner suggested I get an ultra sound of my arm just to rule out a blood clot.

So, over to Foothills hospital (just across the parking lot) to get both arms looked at. This turned out to be a pretty long process because they had a new machine and used me as the guinea pig for some training. The overall process took about 2 hours and everything was pretty chatty until the end when I asked the big question:

"So, how does everything look?" And when they get real quiet, you know it's time to start getting worried. "You know the drill, you have to talk to your doctor." Uh-oh, I think. Not good. So then they leave the room to show the pictures (95 of them!) to the radiologist. And then they come back and say "You need to go back and talk to your doctor." And if you have ANY imagination you are now thinking "I am FUCKED." They've just spent two hours looking at EXACTLY the spot where I had my tumors and now they're telling me I have to go back to my doctor. SHIT. Well, it was a pretty surreal trip across the parking lot. I'm thinking, "what kind of bad ass, end-of-existence cancer do I  have that it comes back after only 2 weeks of not getting chemo? And what's next?"

So I get back to the cancer center, get in the exam room with the NP and the first words out of her mouth are "we need to wait for the doctor to come in." Which is not translated as "we have such great news we just have to have the doctor give it to you". Rather, it's translated as "some bad shit is about to come your way and I'm not cleared to deliver that shit to your doorstep."

So the doctor comes in and tells me I have blood clots in each of my arms. And I'm SO RELIEVED that it's only blood clots that I'm about ready to throw some combination of man-hug/ head butt on him. You got me this dialed up for blood clots? Which I know can be serious but are way less threatening than what I had imagined.

Some people don't treat blood clots in your upper body as they tend to resolve themselves and tend not to break free and travel to nasty places like your heart or brain. But  my doctor has decided to treat these bad boys so I'm going to get 7 doses of heparin. These are delivered in a shot which I give myself. I quickly decided that I would put my predisone tummy tire to work and have it be the recipient of the heparin love. I gave myself my first shot this afternoon and it was pretty easy. A bit of burning going in but not terrible. Hopefully 7 doses and the clots go away and we write off another speed bump on the journey!

So that's the way you turn a 15 minute visit into an all-day ordeal, including a hospital visit, 2 doctor's office visit, self injection and a pharmacy visit.

But, lest you think that this has rocked my world, I did get a bike ride in today to boot! myGarmin post is here. Not a long ride but a good stress reliever after a day that didn't quite go the way I expected.

Monday, September 6, 2010

And today we will NOT be going to chemo!

Today is a day that we've both been looking forward to for the last 168 days. This is day 29 of cycle 6 of my chemo. But since we all know that there are only 28 days in a chemo cycle, this means that -  hells yes! - this is NOT a chemo Monday. This is the first every-other Monday in 24 weeks in which I didn't head in to get deadly chemicals pumped into my body. To celebrate, we climbed on the pain train (thx Josh for another great phrase!) and did a hard early morning run. Running still seems to be the hardest sport for me to do of the things I used to do pre-chemo. My legs feel a bit stronger this week and I did my 2nd best time on my running loop but boy, it was hard - sustained heart rate > 170 and I ended up doing some fartlek (stride-outs and walking recovery) for the 2nd part of the run. For those of you interested in the details, myGarmin post of that workout is here.

After that we had a casual breakfast and then celebrated our first non-chemo Monday with some activities I can't describe in a G rated blog. And boy was that a great counter point to all the other Mondays of getting chemo!!! Yes, life is looking pretty sweet today as I look forward to getting stronger and enjoying our Fabulous Fall. Last night we had a nice party with friends and tonight we're heading over to dinner with family. Tomorrow I'm back to work full time. Getting through the entire day without a nap will be a bit of a challenge but I'm looking forward to getting out of the house and getting another part of my life back to normal.

On the medical diagnostic front, I've got three events coming up:
  • This week is my last week on the prednisone. Next Monday I will stop taking it and hopefully my lungs will continue to feel ok. And with the prednisone out of my system I should start to put back on some muscle mass and will work on getting rid of the nice little tummy tire that the prednisone has given me.
  • In mid September I'll get a Pulmonary Function Test and we'll get a quantitative sense of how my lung function is doing. 
  • In late September I'll get another CT/PET scan. This will give us some insights into whether I have permanent damage from the bleo and also confirm that I have no abnormal cellular growth.
So for this week, back at work and living healthy is the order of the day. I'm going to modify my workouts to be a bit more tri-oriented and less focus on the bike. I'd like to get some swim and running workouts in next week since they both really work on recovering parts of my body (phlebitis in my left arm, gumby legs) that need work.

Enjoy the week and look for a blog update next weekend!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

On the downhill side of the mountain! (by Susan)

I was telling George that going through the cancer and chemo this year was like climbing a big mountain on your bike - hard, sometimes boring, sometimes feeling like you're not going to make it going up - then, just when you think your're going to collapse (or maybe you have already collapsed several times), you hit the top - pause for a moment to take in the view, and then start the long, fun descent that you've earned.    We've been sitting at the rest stop for the past week, just enjoying the scenery, catching our breath, and now we're about to hop on our bikes and start down. 

George is definitely getting better each day - getting his strength back, breathing better, voice more normal, and getting more hair!  He has actually been getting bored at home, which is a good sign because it means he's getting back to his old self.  I am also starting to feel as if I'm awakening from a long nightmare.   We are planning all kinds of fun stuff this fall - we're calling it "Fabulous Fall".  One thing these experiences make you realize is that you should just take your fun and good times whenever you can get them!  So, in the spirit of Fabulous Fall, I am declaring some things I am going to stop doing:
- Feeling guilty
- Doing things out of obligation
- Working too much (some people I work with might dispute that I have EVER worked too much, but I feel as if I have!)
- Justifying myself

And that's not even the whole list - I'm just getting started!

People have been so great to us throughout this whole thing - I am awed by the level of caring that our family and friends have expressed.    This is something you just can't buy (hmmm - wasn't that a Beatles song?)

A few people have asked how the veganism is going, so here's an update.  I have found, to my surprise, that after weaning myself from meat, I no longer miss it at all.  I have cut out all eggs and dairy, except for occasional cheese (because, as I've posted elsewhere, it is addicitive with opiates in it - no joke!)  The other thing I've fallen off the wagon for is sushi on several occasions.  So, I guess you can call me a Vegan with Occassional Cheese and Sushi.   George has never totally given up meat - he still has turkey and chicken for lunch, but he has given up most dairy and eggs and red meat, so he is eating much smaller amounts of animal products than he used to.

I am feeling really GREAT on the vegan diet!  Now that George is off chemo, my energy is coming back too.  It is weird that I used to collapse on the couch every Monday night after George's chemo sessions.  I think I was more stressed out about it than I knew consciously.    I have not lost any weight on the vegan diet (darn!) but I have not gained any either - I am pretty much at a stable weight eating basically as much as I want to.    I have not had my blood chemistry checked yet, but I will let everyone know the next time I get my cholesterol checked. 

Here are some of the vegan benefits I've noticed:
- Digestive system feels really good
- Joint pain has gone away
- Yoga feels really good (maybe due to absence of joint pain?)
- Energy level has been good
- You can eat batter and cookie dough without worrying about salmonella
- Don't need to worry about germs and rotting meat in your kitchen
- Improved sense of smell
- Don't need to worry about gross uncleanliness and e.coli contamination from Big Food enterprises (because we also eat organic)
- I feel like I am karmically one with the universe because I'm not eating animals!

If anyone is interested in going vegan, I highly recomend the 21-Day Vegan kickstart.  It has menus, shopping lists, recipes, and moral support for people trying to change their eating habits.  There is a new one about to start next week.  Here is the link:

I am hoping that this new eating lifestyle will help create a healthy future for George and me. 

We are both looking forward to having a fun, relaxing Labor Day weekend, then George is back to work next week.

We thank all of the people who contributed to help us get vegan, organic meals delivered to our home during these next few weeks - what a wonderful gift and so perfect!  You have obviously been reading the blog!