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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Monday's numbers look OK

Had a blood draw Monday afternoon and the nurse said the numbers weren't bad. Whew. The white-blood count was good but others were a bit low -- though not too low.

So a week after the chemo was removed its still having an effect on my body. I guess that's good. I have no problem with the chemicals, the radiation, whatever, kicking some cancer butt.

My endoscopy and PET scan both have been moved up a few days, the scope to Friday, Dec. 7, and the PET to the following Monday, Dec. 10. This so Dr. Boyer, Dr. Z, Dr. Diamond and their cast of thousands can review the results on Dec. 12. Surgery should follow within days, methinks, though no firm date has yet been established. Personally, the sooner the better as far as I'm concerned. I can't wait to get it over with.

In unrelated news, my Mom will be up in Orlando on Dec. 1, just in time for Jenny's wedding on the 2nd. Jen is quite psyched up and ready to rock, as is her finace, Chris. Mom is thrilled she'll be able to attend, though she won't be able to participate (earlier I dangled the carrot that I'd gladly stand aside and let her escort Jen down the aisle is she were to be better in time). She's fine sitting in a wheelchair and enjoying the nuptials. I, too, am happy to be able to attend the wedding, though my bald head might glare out the photo equipment.

In all, it will be a busy few weeks ahead, but rewarding in many ways.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Enjoying the freedom

It's been five days since the chemo pump was removed and I gotta say I'm really enjoying the freedom. Freedoms we normally take for granted, like tucking in shirts, like simple and quick showers, like numb-free extremities.

I'm still sleeping through most of the day, but when I wake up I'm also feeling a smidgen more energy.

Still, the anxiety about the surgery reminds me daily I'm not in the clear. And I'm still awake daily about 3-4 a.m. due to the stomach tube in me. Seems my body still tries to digest it, and the clamp I have keeping it from being sucked through my digestive system hurts as it's pulled tightly to my outer abdomen.

It's a bit bizarre that I'm feeling more nauseous now than, say, four weeks ago. After all, the chemo is gone. I can't figure that one out.

But another way to look at it is by this time in February, this will all be in the past. I will have gone through and survived the surgery after having a PET scan that affirms the cancer has not spread and an endoscopy that finds a smaller tumor. The pain of the surgery will be gone and I'll be settled back in at my desk in the Sentinel newsroom. That is my preferred way to look at things. In the future. A future that includes me.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A lot to be thankful for

For a while today I was thinking about that statement above. But it's true.

Besides my wonderful family and friends, there is a lot for which I am thankful.

I have my health (I'll address this in a sec.) after all.

But mostly I have my wife and kids and family and friends. Catherine is and has been amazing through nearly 28 years of dealing with me. My daughters, including one due to wed in less than two weeks, are amazing and a constant source of joy -- and negative cash flow. Their boyfriends (in other words, their ability to make wise choices) are great and always welcome at home. One of our two elder kids from Catherine's mistaken marriage, has been nothing but a joy; the other, well that's another story for another time.

My Mom has been a blessing throughout my life and her returning health is another source of thanks in this year.

Now, back to my health. One could look at the past few months and ask if I'm crazy for being thankful that my health is as it is. After all, I have a life-threatening disease that has made me ill for the past seven weeks, preceded by a minor surgery and which will be followed by a hazardous surgery. Then there's no guarantee that my health will be restored.

But the way I see it, I'm thankful that going into this ordeal I was restoring my health. I was losing weight intentionally (I'm down two pant sizes, though I'd much rather it was via a more natural weight-loss plan), my blood pressure had been down, I don't really have any other major medical issues. So my health as it is will help carry me through my cancer and help me survive the cancer.

How can I be more thankful, then, for my health as it is? My health will help keep me alive. In a very real sense. Others like to be "healthy" but my health will help save me.

Thankfully.

So on this day of thanks for all that we have, look at yourself, at your family and friends, even to those you don't like so much, and be thankful for all of them, for everything. One doesn't often get the chance to be so introspective, but that's a mistake. Everything we are, everyone we are with is a source of thanks.

So enjoy dinner with friends, family, colleagues and thank them all for being a part of your life.

You'll thank yourself someday.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

5,001 and counting

It took seven weeks or so, but this blog just broke 5,000 page impressions.

I'm impressed with the concern everyone has shown for my condition and the wonderful comments many of you have left for me. I appreciate every one.

I created the blog to as a warning and reminder that heartburn can lead to cancer. Hard as it seems to believe, it's a fact. I am living proof of this.

So much so, that my warning has led at least three readers of this blog, including a relative, to see a doctor for endoscopy or consultation. I'm glad, since that was the goal. I hope more of you -- especially those suffering with heartburn -- get checked out for this disease or some of its precursors.

And if you ever, ever, ever have a difficult time swallowing food or drink, run -- don't walk -- to the doctor, as this could mean you are in an advanced stage of esophageal cancer, as was I when I saw the doctor in September. Run. Don't walk!

Meantime, keep reading and I'll keep writing as I travel the journey to being a cancer survivor.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

To friends, with love


Once again, my friends at work have left me speechless.

My friend and colleague Sharon McBreen stopped by today with a bag of goodies from my friends at work. Among them, chocolates, herbal tea, a game book, a book of thoughtful prayers, a digital card game, salves, lotions, swabs and a scrapbook filled with warmth, humor, cards, wishes, quips, jokes and lots of love.

I don't know quite what to say, except thank you all for the kindness.

Sharon said Katherine Norris coordinated this undertaking, and I must say she did a heckuva job. It's wonderful and it truly made my day. I feel stronger, honestly, because of the contents of the bag, the box and the scrapbook.

Sharon shot a photo of Catherine and myself holding the scrapbook, which appears at the top of this entry. The title really says it all, or so one would think. Until you open the book, and turn the pages from some who are quite expert at scrapbooking to others who admit they're not so adept. Still, every page is a treasure -- and a pleasure -- to explore. The cards inside were great, filled with humor and warmth, and the personal notes from so many people were a joy to read.

So, to all I'd just like to offer my thanks and let you know I'm really trying hard to get well. I'll continue to keep you posted and my phone is always open. If I don't answer it's either because I can't or somehow missed the call. But I'll try to get back as soon as possible.

Thanks! And remember, I'll be back.

Monday, November 19, 2007

I'm free, I'm free...

Yes, I know, more lyrics. Courtesy of The Who's Tommy.

"I'm free, I'm free,
"And freedom tastes of reality ..."

I say I'm free because my tethered chemo pump is no more.

It feels good to be about a pound or two lighter and no longer have that tube plugged into my chest.

While at the doc's office, they pulled more blood and my numbers are improving; my white count actually was in the normal range, though others were in the low zone. But by next week I'm anticipating good things. I hope I can put on weight (I'm down to 193) and get healthy going into the surgery in about three weeks, give or take a few days.

That's the goal of this "cooling off" period -- getting healthy after six weeks of self-inflicted poisons being added to my body.

Didn't get to see Dr. Z today, but I guess that's a good thing in that it means he didn't need to see me about anything bad. I must say I enjoyed our weekly visits; he's really a good guy and a very caring doctor. I miss our barbs about the benefits of either the Intel-based PCs or the now-Intel-based Macs.

But I'm glad the lack of a conversation means I'm healing.

"I'm free."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

'Better living through chemistry'


I know it seems trite and insignificant, but I just can't wait for this pump to be unplugged from my "medi-port" on Monday afternoon. Just a day to go and I will no longer be bound to this thing 24/7.

It's not horrible, but it's there and it is a pain in the neck at nights, when showering, when dressing and the like.

And starting Monday, the pump (pictured above with the tether that is attached to my body as it infuses 5-FU into my jugular vein) won't be any of those things. It will be gone. Amen.

My infection seems to be mostly gone and my cough is pretty much a thing of the past.

Further, for the past week and a half or so, my Mom has been out of the hospital and improving daily at a rehab center in Boca Raton. On Nov. 30, she'll transfer to a similar center here in Orlando. She's very excited about all the changes that have come about. And I did tell her about my condition once she was at the rehab center. I figure she was well enough to know the truth and she took the news quite well.

Catherine also has been doing well on her recovery from the chest cold from hell. It really sapped her as badly as it hit me, worse maybe because I ended up with two separate antibiotics to help me recover while she had just the Z-Pack.

Catherine has been amazing through all of this. She's put up with my crap, which isn't easy on good days, let alone a few months of bad ones, and she's remained focused through it all. I'm lucky to have her.

I think the time frame for my return to work might be a bit off. I was hoping to be back in early January, but now I fear it won't be until late January or early February. If the surgery is mid-December, like Dec. 12-17, add six weeks and that's about when I'll be back. Ugh. So figure early to mid February.

Unless my recovery from the surgery goes way faster than planned, which I truly am hoping for. After all, that would mean less pain for me. And as I told the nurses during all of this the only thing I'm allergic to is pain, so keep it to a minimum. That's my plan during and after the surgery.

I think the term I recall is "Better living through chemistry."

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A new doc, a new iPhone user

I met my surgeon on Friday.

Dr. Joseph Boyer (photo at right from Florida Hospital's Web site) not only is a nice guy who seems extremely qualified to cut out my tumor, but he also is very open and explained exactly what will happen when and after I go under the knife.

I was surprised to learn how complex the procedure is, and as a cardiovascular surgeon as well as head of the thoractic surgical team for cancer patients, he explained that the procedure actually is more difficult -- and dangerous -- than open-heart surgery. Heart surgery generally has a mortality rate of 1 percent to 2 percent, give or take. This operation overall has mortality into the 20 percent range, though his rate is "in the single digits." It involves two incisions, one to the upper abdomen and one to the right side.

Dr. Boyer said he did a similar surgery on a woman about my age just the other day, and she's doing fine. He did, however, explain how he lost a patient a little over a year ago, but he was 78 and had other medical issues. I think I'll make it through the operation pretty well, given my age and overall health.

My woes, I fear, will begin after the surgery. I'll have a tube down my nose and into my stomach to allow stomach gasses to escape without disrupting the surgical zone. The first day I'll be intubated. I'll have a button to press to provide me with those really good pain relievers every six minutes.

Day two, the tube comes out of my throat, so I'll breathe on my own. But eating will be through a j-tube, which will replace the g-tube now in my stomach. After that, the recovery will take up to two weeks in the hospital followed by several weeks of recovery before I can return to work. Dr. Z's office now estimates I'll be back in the saddle at work late January to early February.

The surgery itself involves cutting my esophagus to about a third of its size and bringing the stomach up to join with the newly reduced organ. My stomach, by the way, will be modified by being shaped more like a tube than a stomach. Dr. Boyer said that in time I'll be able to stretch it out to be very similar to its original form. Sort of like the results of a gastric bypass, I will have to eat smaller meals more often at first. Eventually, that might not be the case.

On the lighter side, I noticed Dr. Boyer is an iPhone user, and when we mentioned to him that Dr. Z likewise used the high-tech gadget, he had a message for my favorite oncologist. "Tell Dr. Z he's a copycat. I had it first."

Not sure if Dr. Boyer knows of my running gag with Dr. Z over his iPhone, so it was fun to get ammunition from one of the good doctor's colleagues. Heh, heh, heh.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Still feeling blah, hopefully not for long

The bronchitis that's been dogging me for a few weeks is practically gone, but my other infection seems to have returned. The doc's office took some blood work and made other tests yesterday and I go back Friday for more tests. Hopefully, things will appear improved.

Also yesterday, my appointment with Dr. Boyer, the surgeon, never happened: partly his fault, partly mine. Being a surgeon, he was in an emergency heart surgery yesterday and when he got out met his backlog of patients in the office. But after about two hours of waiting, we left about 7ish. I was just fried and feeling ill and couldn't wait any longer. I hear he was ready just a few minutes later. Ah well.

But I did learn today he heads the Cancer Institute's gastrointestinal surgery team, which eased my concerns. So I look forward to our first meeting, whenever that will be.

Now I'm just hoping that I get rid of the bronchitis and the other infection so I can focus on the cancer, which itself is sapping my energy every day.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Radiation and doughnuts

I know, those two items don't seem to go together. But tomorrow, Wednesday, is my final radiation treatment and I'm bringing a box of Krispy Kremes for the radiation techs from whom I've had my treatments these past six weeks.

I am attaching to this post several images which basically are charts of my blood counts -- white blood, red blood, neutraphils, hemoglobin and platelets -- these past several weeks. I hope they make sense, but those who asked to see my numbers will understand.





Monday, November 12, 2007

Good news, not so good news

The good news is I'm just a week away from ending my chemo and two days away from concluding my radiation. Found out today that Dr. Z needs just a week more of the chemo for it to be considered a full course. Whew! Then, he said, I get to recover from the treatments for a few weeks.

On the downside, my numbers -- specifically my white blood count -- is below what Dr. Z wanted to see when I first met him. But I told him I'm feeling better considering the two infections I'm coming off and he agreed to keep the chemo pump on my for the final week. Whew. I really do want to kick this cancer's ass, and if that means wiping me out for another week, I'm up to the challenge. The doctor's a good man, and he knows I think the world of him.

Also today I learned that I'll have a PET scan Dec. 12 and that I will schedule an endoscopy with Dr. Styne for a day or two after that, so when I see Dr. Z Dec. 18 he'll have all the info he needs to stage and diagnose where I'm at.

My surgeon will be Dr. Boyer, and I'll meet him for the first time this Wednesday. He apparently is up to speed on my situation because I've been discussed at the Wednesday cancer committee meetings of which Dr. Boyer takes part. So it's good to be in the hands of someone familiar with my case specifically even before we meet.

I imagine my surgery will be sometime after that Dec. 18 meeting with Dr. Z and before the end of the year. I'd like to keep the surgery in 2007 so I don't have to start the 10 percent co-pay all over in 2008.

There finally seems to be light at the end of this dismal tunnel.

Back with a vengeance

Well it took about a week or so to really feel better. I'm almost there now. Between the bronchitis and another infection I've been pretty blah the past week. Nausea also has set in a bit more than I have been experiencing, adding to my desire to just sleep and rest when possible.

But most of those two obstacles are gone and I'm back with a vengeance now. My blood numbers are holding their own (I'll find out for sure this afternoon at Dr. Z's) and my weight actually went up from last week.

On a good note, just two more radiation treatments and I'm through with that phase of my treatment. A few weeks to go for chemo. I've been scheduled for a PET scan on Dec. 12 and today I've been asked to find out from Dr. Z who my surgeon will be.

This all means things are moving forward, thankfully. And now that I'm gaining weight again after a couple of weeks of reducing, I guess I'm back on the path I was before the bronchitis struck.

Meanwhile, I feel as if I helped Dr. Z out medically last week when I stopped by on Friday to discuss my condition and noted that there was a report on CNN and elsewhere that iPods and iPhones could be hazardous to your health. Seems the ear buds and some internal components could kill you -- or at least poison you -- if you ingest them. So don't chew on the wires to your ear buds or nibble on internal parts. Apple, meantime, was fined harshly for these issues.

I'll update after my doctor's appointment this afternoon with Dr. Z.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Chemo's back

It feels as if I'm at the top of a coaster's main drop. The chemo's back and I'm ready for the fall.

The chemo pump is back tethered to my body but that's OK. I'm feeling good for the moment and a weekend of freedom helped get me to this place.

On an up tick, though, I have only seven radiation treatments left. Then it'll be up to the chemo to continue the fight.

So the coaster ride continues, with its solid ups and its harsh downs. I hope they don't get as bad as last weekend. Dr. Z said today he was close to hospitalizing me (has asked that I not use a direct quote) but relied on my opinion -- or maybe my fear -- to let him know whether I needed to be there or home. Another day he might have made a different decision; I'm glad he didn't this time.

(Speaking of Dr. Z, I just saw a new TV commercial for the iPhone. It's the one where a New York dancer blogs with her cell phone and posts photos as the dancers perform. Hello, I was doing that months before the iPhone was released with my trusty Motorola. But I still find the iPhone very cool for other reasons, most of them visual. So I'm glad Apple and AT&T have caught up to Motorola and T-Mobile. Now we're all on par.)

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Albert "Buddy" Zuckerbrow

My Uncle Buddy passed away this weekend. Friday about 6:30 p.m. in Arizona. I didn't know he was so ill until late Thursday.

Uncle Buddy was a good guy, father to four of my cousins, Trudy, Kirk, Jill and Mindy, and grandfather to their children. As a kid, I remember Uncle Buddy always enjoying himself and his family and pastimes. He loved golf, loved the Yankees and loved his wife, my Aunt Irene "Ida," who preceded him in death, also in Arizona.

I remember him shooting wiffle ball golf balls from the backyard of the house on Avenue N in Brooklyn and rooting with Kirk for the Yanks. That was a pastime I never got into, since I was a Mets fan. I understood his passion, no matter how misplaced it was.

Later in life, after retirement to Arizona, Uncle Buddy became an avid volunteer with local schools and youth groups. He was honored as volunteer of the year a few years ago. That's the kind of guy he was. Always looking forward, always happy.

Here's what he told The Arizona Republic last year: "Teachers tell me that the students have improved a lot in reading and the parents thank me. That makes me feel good."

I'll miss Uncle Buddy and I'm sad I won't be able to attend his funeral Tuesday. I'm sure that after the past couple weeks of medical issues, he is at rest and once again is reunited with Aunt Ida.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Thursday Night Fever

I was able to take a shower today without my chemo pump. No tether, no limit to back into the water. At all. But quite a price it was.

Thursday night my temperature spiked to 102.4, which is 2 degrees above the threshold that should have sent me to the hospital. But cautious doctors kept me on antibiotics and I gladly avoided checking into the cancer institute. Last night, too, my temp rose but not above 100.8, and Dr. Z said if it went over that I should call. Whew.

Earlier Friday, I saw the doc to follow up with my Thursday night fever. He had some blood drawn, and the numbers were better than we expected. White blood count were up, platelets were down. I'm sticking to the antibiotics and monitoring my temperatures.

But the best event Friday was Dr. Z's decision to pull me off the chemo pump for the weekend to give my body a break.

Thus my shower this morning. What a relief. (Truth up front, I did get dizzy and somewhat collapsed in the shower for a few minutes, though I managed to sit down before falling down.) Still, the shower felt good and I am feeling much better now.

Another bit of good news today was when, for the first time in months, I was able to speak to my mom. Well, actually that's not true. I've spoken to her often, but this was a two-way conversation. She spoke back. That is the first-in-months event, and it felt good. She sounded great. Truly. It was her voice, though slightly higher pitch, but definitely her. It made my day. Made my week and month, too.

So I am happy to take the bad with good news like that.

Sounds like a fair trade to me.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Riding over a hump

The past couple of days have been kinda blah. When I have not been coughing up my lungs I've been feeling as if I need to heave up the contents of my guts. Pleasant thoughts, I know.

Good news is Dr. Z prescribed, what else, a "Z Pack" to fight the bronchitis. It seems to be working. Though my voice is pretty shot.

I had a call from a nurse consultant and it was rough answering all her questions, but somehow I managed. She's trying to help, but somehow at this moment it really wasn't. But I cooperated because that's the kinda guy I am.

I fear that this week I will not record a weight gain. I've been eating a tad less due to the nausea, though maybe I can turn that around over the weekend.