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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Busy end of the week in store

Friday will be busy for me. Early that morning I'll be back at Dr. Philip Styne's office and will undergo another endoscopy with dilation.

It's another minor procedure -- in the scheme of things. The good doctor, or, rather, very good doctor, will stretch out a stricture in my stomach-turned-esophagus to help me swallow and digest food.

The procedure is a standard follow-up to the exact same thing I had done two months earlier. It was planned at that time and is not unique to me.

So, back to Friday. I go in early that morning. Son-in-law Luis Nunez will drive there and back because I should be a bit woozy for the ride home. Also, because of the happy meds I may not remember too many things soon after the procedure, such as instructions from the doc and that kind of thing.

I'll then rest at home until it's time for work.

So that's what my Friday has in store for me. As always, I'll update the blog when I can after the procedure is done.

I just hope I don't gain another 10 pounds, as I did after the earlier endoscopy in August.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A year ago

Almost exactly 12 months ago, a nightmare began.

It brought out the worst in me and the best. I learned all about fear. Imminent fear of death, of losing my family, of my ill mother's fate. I discovered an anger within I never knew. I worried about my family's finances, about my family, where they'd go, what they'd do if I were not here. But I also learned that I had an inner resolve. I was not going to be overcome by all of these negatives. I would survive.

A year ago, I'd already been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, I'd undergone a PET scan that confirmed the diagnosis through an earlier endoscopy and biopsy of a tumor. I'd been counseled by a few wonderful doctors. My insurance company had expedited approvals -- and my angry shouts -- for the upcoming treatments.

Well, I'm still here. Not quite sure if I've won the great battle. Not sure yet if I truly am a cancer survivor. But I feel as if I am.

I am here a year later. Since the diagnosis, I've undergone radiation -- enough to light a small town, I'm sure, under the direction of radio-oncologist Dr. David Diamond. A great guy with whom I agree on almost everything but politics. I've undergone weeks of chemotherapy, administered by Dr. Lee Zehngebot, perhaps my favorite doctor of all time. Surgery by Dr. Joe Boyer was extensive, but seemingly successful.

Months of recovery and tests and more tests and treatments passed and I returned to work, weak and tired but alive. I'm bouncing back and feel pretty good. I've gone back on the sailboat three times since the surgery and can hold my own on the water, even if setting up the mast and breaking her down again is quite tiring. I'm gaining weight, something I haven't really done for more than a year, and feel like I'm pretty physically able.

Emotionally, scars remain. But you learn from your scars and I've learned a lot. I am no longer easily scared. I've faced death and feel like I've won, though this is yet to be determined. I also am no longer afraid of my anger, my rage. I respect the anger, and have learned how to rein it in. I've lost my mother, a friend and lifelong part of my life, and learned to live with this deep loss.

I still ache, but pills help there. I will forever need pills to help me digest food and control stomach acid. Physically, if you forget the cancer I am in better shape than I have for years.

Like Dr. Boyer once told me, I'll never be able to pitch for the Yankees. But that's OK.

I always played catcher.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another milestone -- 15,017

Not long ago, just a few hours actually, my two blogs, and, went past 15,000 page views.

In the scheme of things, that's not a very vast amount of traffic. But for me, it's ginormous. That's because it means my messages of health (cancer blog) and of a reunited family (kohnzone) are getting out to at least a handful of avid readers who keep clicking here, and, maybe, to more than that on a less-frequent basis.

My key goal is to get as many people I can to understand how I acquired cancer of the esophagus so that maybe, just maybe, they will not.

(Advertising interlude here: Please remember to click on the ads on this blog, as any money raised -- so far just $31.13 -- will go as a donation to Florida Hospital Cancer Institute. But Google won't cut a check until there's more than $100 in ad revenue, so get to work!)

So I'll recap. Yes, you can get cancer from heartburn. Heartburn causes acid reflux, which splashes stomach fluids onto or into the esophagus. When it happens too often, the esophagus gets defensive. It changes and takes on some characteristics of the stomach. This change, Barrett's Esophagus, is a pre-cancerous state. It opens the esophagus and other parts of the body to developing cancer. That is what happened to me.

So, almost exactly a year ago, I was diagnosed with cancer thanks to the expert endoscopy of Dr. Philip Styne. Hurriedly, he sent me to my wonderful oncologist, Dr. Lee Zehngebot -- Dr. Z for short -- who explained a lot and hooked me up with Dr. David Diamond, my fantastic radio-oncologist, who started my radiation program like it a matter of life or death -- which, after all, it was.

First, both docs had me go into Winter Park Hospital to be outfitted with my high-tech bodily accessories -- a medical port so Dr. Z could infuse my body with wonderful chemical cocktails and a feeding tube so Dr. Diamond could be sure that if I couldn't swallow food the old-fashioned way I could drink it without it ever passing through my lips.

Then I was tattooed and set up on a radiation program, which began a day or so later. A few days after that I had my first dose of chemo, a several-hour procedure where I was doped up pretty good at first and then -- bang! -- saturated with poisons to kill the cancer, or at least keep it from spreading as the radiation bombarded the tumor. I had radiation five mornings a week for several weeks and at the same time had a new buddy -- a chemo pump that slowly dripped the chemicals into my medi-port 24/7 for the same amount of time.

Nearly two months of this went by -- all while my mom was often unconscious recovering (I hoped) from heart surgery and lung complications -- and then I was free of both forms of helpful torture.

(Remember, this is the condensed version.)

I then had a month or so of a cooling-off period. This was from mid-November 2007 to late December of that year, during which time my mom transferred to a rehab center in Orlando and my daughter Jennifer Kohn became Jennifer Kuz when she married Chris Kuz in December. The Friday before Christmas 2007, it was Dec. 21, I went under the skillful knife of Dr. Joseph Boyer, the chief of thoractic surgery for cancer patients at Florida Hospital and, yes, a Yankees fan. But first I had to undergo a PET scan, which found two "hot spots" of possible cancer and then the two biopsies -- to my liver and chest near the lungs -- to confirm that they were not cancerous.

After the surgery, I spent nearly three weeks in the hospital -- one of them in the ICU with a tube running from my stomach, out through my nose and to a suction and a TV whose sound would stay on after you bash it with your arm -- before I was able to go home weighing about 75 pounds lighter than before I was diagnosed with cancer.

After another recovery period, in which I consumed many oxycodone and then hydrocodone pills to ease the constant pain, I was cleared to return to work and in mid-February 2008 I walked back to the Orlando Sentinel's newsroom. Shocked, truly, I received two standing ovations from the many friends who supported me with cards, letters, calls, a scrapbook, e-mails and prayers during my ordeal. These are the people dreams are made of, wonderful friends and colleagues who kept me going, folks who I'll never in my lifetime be able to forget or repay for their many forms of kindness.

So in a nutshell, that is what I went through. And it's why I want to help keep others from going through the same thing. Maybe that's why I've made it this far; to keep you from coming down with this horrid disease. So I'll repeat some of the facts and tips here:

Cancer of the esophagus is among the most deadly forms of the disease an it also is among the fastest growing of the cancers, as society and work habits evolve. By the time you find out you have the cancer, it's practically too late. Luckily, it was discovered in my lower esophagus before the disease spread to my lymph nodes and the rest of my body.

I found it because it was difficult to swallow, so remember, if you find have difficulty swallowing food or drinks, see a doctor. If you've had heartburn for a long time and it seems to have gone away without medical help, see a doctor. It probably didn't. Both problems are signs of cancer or at least Barrett's Esophagus. Remember, Tums and Rolaids won't relieve you of cancer, they just ease the symptoms of heartburn. See a doctor. Get an endoscopy by a qualified gastro doc. Listen to what he or she says very carefully.

Oh, and keep a positive attitude. You'll need it for what's to come.

But first let's pray it never gets that far.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Another chance under the scope

I'm all scheduled now for another endoscopic exam on Oct. 3. Dr. Styne explained that this dilation is a standard follow-up to the one I had in August -- they usually do a second dilation two months after the first, I guess to make sure it takes.

So far the first one has taken, almost too well. I've literally gained about 10 pounds since that endoscopic exam. Dr. Z said that's most likely because now I'm actually able to digest my food. I'm still taking Reglan to help me digest the food. But it seems to be working.

So while I always look forward to seeing Dr. Styne, because he's really a good guy and a talented doctor, I just hope this time I don't put on too many more pounds afterward. I enjoy having a loose fit in a size 36.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Good visit with Dr. Styne

I had an appointment with Dr. Styne this morning and it went well.

After the pleasantries, we discussed my endoscopy from last month.

He said Dr. Levine did a great job dilating the stricture at the union of my stomach and esophagus. He dilated it 18mm, which he said is quite a bit. But he wants to ensure it remains open and is scheduling another endoscopy for me for early October, roughly two months after the first dilation.

Dr. Styne also wrote a new prescription for me to replace the Pepcid I now take twice daily. I've sent the script along to my mail-order pharmacy.

In all, he seemed pleased with my progress. So am I.