Category Archives: Cancer

Recovery: Slow Cooking

Lento, in Italian. Tarda, in Latin. Goddamn it let’s get going!, in Big Mike-ese throughout the month of March and into early April.

Slow.

I’ve learned to value slow. As in recovery. As in improvement. As in healing.

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My return to normality, if such a state is even possible for me now, has come at a glacial pace. I had delusions that as soon as my chemoradiation treatments ended on March 21st, I’d immediately — or at least within a few days — return to bouncing all over town, eating pizza, yip-yipping over my beloved Cubs, and otherwise navigating through life as though no such thing as My Olive Pit™ had ever existed.

As noted here previously, the worst was yet to come. The next three weeks were indeed the most torturous I’d ever experienced in all my life, worse even than the night of October 14th, 2003.

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Things are much better now, natch. Only the improvement has come incrementally — damnably so. In dribs and drabs. In fact, the betterness has arrived so subtly that from day to day, I hardly even realize it. The recognition comes to me in Oh-wow! moments, such as last week when, sitting at Lake Monroe with The Loved One enjoying a gorgeous sunset and the calm waters, it came to me that I was able to feel pleasure for the first time in months.

Taking a full inventory today, I now understand the truth is my state of being is 23 million times better than it was as recently as the second week of April. To wit:

  • I’m driving
  • I spend time at my old headquarters, Hopscotch coffee
  • I drop in at the Book Corner and even pretend to work a little on occasion
  • I drank my morning 14 ounces of water by mouth today
  • I eat both clear broth and pureed soups for lunch
  • I’m able to floss again
  • Taking a shower doesn’t whack me out for hours anymore
  • My mouth and throat are no longer chock full of horrifying substances
  • I visit Lake Monroe almost every dusk
  • I can speak again
  • I don’t have to spit or hork every few minutes anymore
  • My mouth is free of sores

I could go on and on but you get the point. Each of these little improvements came at its own sweet time. There was no dramatic moment, the kind you feel when after, say, battling the flu for a week you wake up one morning, take your shower, and realize, Hey, I’m better today. The flu’s all gone!

I still can’t eat pizza yet and that’s frustrating. But I’m not tortured by its absence as I was, oh, a month ago. That’s an improvement, too. A little one. Tiny. An increment. Something to value.

Recovery: Riding The ‘Roid Pony

Withdrawal

So, today I begin to wean myself off the steroid dexamethasone (generic for Decadron). Babies, that dope gotta be sumpin’ else because Dr. Wu’s withdrawal plan will take me through May 23. That’s five weeks to jump off a horse.

This particular steroid is given as a matter of course to many chemotherapy patients, primarily for its role as a helper in making anti-emetic drugs work. Anti-emetics relieve nausea and vomiting, among the most dramatic and tortuous side effects of chemo.

(BTW: my particular chemotherapy drug, cisplatin, is a medium risk gonadotoxin, meaning it can adversely affect my production of wiggly, lively spermies. So, it’s likely I’ll never produce enough live ammunition from now on to become the father I’ve never wanted to be. Just thought I’d toss this in, as long as we were speaking of side effects.)

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Jumping out of the dexamethasone saddle suddenly can lead to a dizzying variety of maladies including low blood pressure, fever, muscle pain, joint pain, stuffy nose, runny nose, sneezing, post-nasal drip, pink eye, painful itchy skin nodules, weight loss, and even death. Yeesh! I mean, it’s one thing to have to lug around a box of Kleenex all the time; it’s entirely another to keel over dead.

The good thing about this all is that now Dr. Wu expects me to be safe from nausea and vomiting, which — thankfully — I have been for a couple of weeks now. It had got to the point wherein I was horking so regularly that it wasn’t even a big deal anymore, just another little thing I’d do several times in my normal day. Ick.

Even though I’ve been belly-aching a lot about the glacial pace of my recovery, the truth is a hell of a lot of ugly side effects have gone away since I finished both chemotherapy and radiation precisely four weeks ago today.

Eat, Skeleton

The most frustrating side effect of recent days has been my inability to eat food via my facehole since late February. I experienced a great breakthrough Saturday night when, after feeling rather green phlegm-free, I tried some broth. Lo and behold, the damned stuff tasted like good soup as opposed to the foulest poison ever to be introduced to my oral cavity. I downed a small bowl of the stuff and let the tears of joy drip down my face.

You had to figure I’d get giddy over this turn of events, so yesterday I took the remainder of the soup, a light beef pot roast variety, with plenty of broth remaining, warmed it up, and added some boiled ramen noodles.

The soup contained potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, peas, onion, and scads of other stuff. The broth still tasted delicious, but the solid ingredients continued to taste about as palatable as so many little chunks of Play-Doh. Not only that, they got stuck in my throat and so I had to rinse and gargle for about fifteen minutes after eating them. Not that it was a total loss — I was able to finish off all the delicious broth.

It’s impossible for me to convey how delightful it was to ingest any kind of food stuff and have it taste…, well, pleasant.

Sigh.

Pleasure

Pleasant. Pleasure. Enjoy. Feel good. Sigh of relief. These are words and actions that’d been notably missing in my life for a good couple of months. In fact, feeling lousy had become such a normal part of my every day that I hadn’t even realized the extent to which it had overtaken me.

I finally did realize this Friday. For the last week or so, I’ve been going to down to Monroe Lake and watching the water and the critters at the Paynetown State Recreation area marina parking lot. The sunsets there are magnificent at any time of year, especially in the spring when the observer is emerging from cancer treatment. All I want to do there is hear the sounds of birds, look at the fishes snap bugs off the surface of the water, and watch the golden sunlight move across the budding treeline across the way.

I was with The Loved One Friday night and after watching a couple of geese flap their way not three feet above the surface of the water, I said to her, “You know what? I’m finally able to feel pleasure again.”

Pleasure. Simple. What a fantastic medicine.

Recovery: Days Of Heaven

So, I’m changing my daily headline title now, considering my treatment — the three sessions of chemotherapy and the 33 of neck radiation — was finished four weeks ago. It’s Recovery from here on out, and, to tell the truth, this morning I felt as though I really am getting better.

Last night was a bummer, about as bad as Tuesday night was. The taste in my mouth was so evil it actually kept me awake. I padded around the house, did some crossword puzzles, played a few hands of solitaire, and even engaged the computer in a couple of chess matches (we split). Finally I was able to nod off.

I was confident, though, that I’d wake up this AM feeling well. That’s what happened Wednesday morning. IDK why but it seems the pattern is turning out to be super bad feelings in my throat at night are harbingers of better days ahead. Go figure. I’ll just take it.

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Sure enough, I woke up this morning with next to no green phlegm and as clear a throat as I’ve felt in weeks. Wahoo.

I even tried downing a few sips of water. It worked — I swallowed them, but they tasted terrible, as opposed to disgusting which is what everything has tasted like for weeks. Let’s say the taste of water et al have been like Donald Trump since late Feb. but today the H20 was a little more like Rand Paul. Bad but almost tolerable versus vomit-inducing.

Consequently, I woke The Loved One up and said, “Let’s go to the Farmers Market,” to which she replied with as much gusto as a pre-seven AM wakeup call on a Saturday merited, “Grmmppph.” Which I took for a yes.

A perfect Saturday morning. Brilliant sunshine, Crystal clear blue sky. Plenty of people out grazing for their week’s stash of herbs and sweet potatoes and cheese curds and even hog heads. The politicos were out: Geoff McKim, Holly Harvey, Bob Deppert, Scott Wells, Nelson Shaffer, Efrat Feferman, newly-hired Bloomington utilities boss Vic Kelson, and more. I spied law prof Dawn Johnsen waiting patiently in one line, sans hubby, the Mayor.

Outgoing Bloomington High School North librarian Kathy Loser and her husband, Duane Busick, along with a pal named Denise, hugged me tightly next to some cilantro planting pots.

Overall, I was walking on air, albeit with the aid of my trusty cane. Boy, it’s good to be alive. And to feel alive as well.

I spent a good six hours at the infusion center yesterday. Seems my blood pressure has dropped alarmingly, causing me to reel a bit every time I stand up. Doc Allerton took my sitting-then-standing BP and found my systolic pressure to have plummeted to about 90 in the time it took to hoist my huge carcass out of my chair. Ergo, he ordered me juiced up with a couple of bags of sodium chloride solution.

Allerton’s explanation is my bod is using all its internal fluids like mad trying to keep up with my healing processes. Whereas normal human beings (of which, I like to think, I am not even when I’m in A-one health) need at least two liters of water a day to get by, I need tons more. Okay, so I’ll push fluids even harder now.

Anyway, the nurses at the infusion center asked me to speak to a new patient — let’s call her Mandy — who has cancer of the tonsils, something I didn’t even know exists. She’s had surgery to remove half her tonsils. (Her insurance company wouldn’t pop for a complete job, saying the non-cancerous half didn’t need to go. Welcome to Wealthcare in America.) She’s just starting on weekly chemotherapy sessions (thank the tarot cards I didn’t have to go through that much torture) and will begin radiation next week. She was distraught as all hell. She’s got a feeding tube in her belly and, she said, it hurts. She’s scared. She’s worried about feeling claustrophobic in her radiation mask. And — most pressing right now — she is frighteningly constipated.

Mandy cried throughout our little chat. I leveled with her. “This isn’t going to be any party,” I said. “Keep on crying. Cry whenever you need to. You say you’re scared and you should be. Feel everything. Deny nothing. It’ll be unpleasant but you’ll get through it. You’re making this deal because you’re more frightened of dying than suffering through this treatment. Lay back, listen to your body, and tell the doctors and nurses everything about how you feel, both physically and psychologically. Don’t hold anything back.”

I wish I could say Mandy grinned and said, “Huzzah, what a speech! Bring that radiation on!” No, she continued to cry. As she should.

Hell, I still cry to this day when I think back to what I’ve endured.

I left Mandy with a piece of very practical advice: “Do everything you can to relieve your constipation. Use whatever laxatives and magic potions the docs & RNs suggest. The longer you wait, the more it’ll feel as though you’re passing a bent tree branch. Believe me, I know.” I did have offer her a silver lining: “The good thing is, when that miraculous passing finally does take place, you’re gonna feel as though you’ve died and gone to heaven.”

That’s what we brethren and sisteren in cancer talk about amongst ourselves.

Treatment: Patience

Yeah, it’s been a few days since I’ve reported. Reason? Nothing much to report.

Getting back to normal — or somewhere near that neighborhood — is turning out to be a long, slow process. Getting zapped in the neck for six weeks by X-rays emanating from a linear beam accelerator with a triple chaser of cisplatin injected directly into my sub-clavicular vein whipped the living hell out of my body to such an extent that its healing capabilities are being tested to the max even at this late date.

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My pharynx is still burnt and continues to slough off dermal and mucous layers. I still have a throatful of green phlegm and a mouthful of ropey saliva, neither of which allow me to swallow much, certainly not food and not even a cooling sip of water. I’m still so weak Terra the Cat could probably thrash the bejesus out of me. Not only that, my hearing has been negatively affected — I have a chronic case of tinnitus right now. I have no idea how long it’ll last. Ear-ringing is a normal side effect of my particular brand of chemotherapy. Oh, and my upper register hearing is messed up so it sounds like I’m listening to my headphones with the treble turned down to zero.

But that’s just the bad news. There’s good news, enough to outweigh the bad. I’m driving myself to appointments now. The brushes I had with dehydration are in the past since I began to push fluids like crazy into my stomach tube. My potassium and magnesium levels are sweet. It still feels as though I’ve been suffering a two-month-long flu — exhaustion, sore throat, weakness, overall malaise — although each of these little symptoms seems to be inexorably albeit glacially easing up. Happily, too, I don’t have the sense that my skin is crawling off my body at bedtime anymore which itself is a boon to praise the gods for.

I brought in a couple of boxes of chocolates to the infusion gang today, a selection of Godiva wrapped mini-bars and a 12-pack of Ferrero Rocher hazelnut creamy chocolates in wafer shells. I immediately became the odds-on favorite to win the presidential nominations of both parties, although I would have traded it all in to be able to keep the boxes and jam the contents therein into my facehole until empty — a process certain to last no more than 33 seconds.

My chocolate-benders — as well as my pizza-, burrito-, lasagna-, pad Thai-, Italian beef-, blueberry pie-, and sundry other -benders — await further healing on my part. I know they’re in my future. I just don’t know when.

On the whole, I’m coming along and I’m alive, which is pretty much all a cancer guy can ask for.

Treatment: What’s That Smell?

Considering the fact that I am not engaging in much if any social intercourse these days, I’ve decided not to use underarm deodorant for the time being. I figure I’d give the old pits a rest and let them breathe god’s air without the mediation of a bunch of perfumy chemicals. After all, who am I gonna offend? Steve the Dog? Sheesh, he should worry about his own reek.

The Loved One doesn’t seem too put off by this. Then again, maybe she’s just trying to be a nice guy about it all. We’ll see.

Anyway, every once in a while, I catch a whiff of me and it’s jarring. It’s not that I smell dirty or bad — just unadulterated human. Verging on primate.

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I remember going to the Great Ape House at Lincoln Park Zoo years ago. The whole place stank to high heaven of gorilla. In fact, they even had a sign posted explaining the air had been suffused with the natural underarm odor of the male beasts because, well, their pits were so filled with Hey-I’m-a-guy-and-I’m-here glands that the aroma could travel for kilometers.

Now I don’t expect my bouquet to waft for kilometers, but it sure has reached my delicate nostrils on occasion. There was a time when every male human smelled somewhat like I do now — allowing for the fact that in the old days guys didn’t scrub daily with Irish Spring with Aloe and so, without a doubt, emanated what we’d consider today a far more pungent kayo. Catching a hint of the u-arm essence is unpleasant now, natch, but was it considered desirable way back when? Was a fellow whose pits issued strong airs considered more sexy than his less powerful contemporaries?

Many of our modern day efforts to conceal our odors are based on trying to suppress the animal messages our bodies send to the opposite sex. In trying to control our bestial rampant sexuality, society has decided it’s best to shut off the body’s outreach functions. Concealing our skin and shutting down our odors necessarily stifles the message Hey, come fuck me.

It’s gotten to the point where now people are offended by the sight of skin (witness the folks who are so put off by public breastfeeding) or the hint of distinctive male or female fragrance. (Of course, there’s the overreaction to this suppression and that’s the fetishization of cleavage and jiggly fannies that drives much of our economy — but that’s a topic for another day.)

If I went into work sans deodorant now, at some point one of my co-workers would crinkle his or her nose and then immediately engage in a whispery conversation with another co-worker. One of my own co-workers at Whole Foods Market used to go u-arm au naturel. I tried my damnedest to converse with him from a distance, although that wasn’t always possible. In tight quarters, I made certain our interchanges were brief.

And he wasn’t un-hygenic. He was clean and well-kempt. Yet he smelled. Of human. Had he smelled of Irish Spring with Aloe, I might even have complimented him. As if he were to be lauded for sudsing himself up with the following:

  • Sodium tallowate
  • Sodium palmate
  • Sodium cocoate
  • Sodium palm kernelate
  • Petrolatum
  • Polyquarternium-6
  • Pentasodium pentetate
  • Pentaerythrityl tetra-di-T-butyl hydroxyhydrocinamate
  • Titanium dioxide
  • Chromium oxide greens

Yeesh!

Usually I use Tom’s of Maine u-arm deodorant. Its ingredient list includes the following:

  • Propylene glycol
  • Water
  • Sodium stearate
  • Organic Aloe barbadensis leaf juice
  • Glycerol laurate
  • Natural fragrance
  • Humulus lupus (hops) extract
  • Organic Helianthus annuus (sunflower) seed oil
  • Ascorbic acid
  • Organic Cymbopogon flexuosus oil

Not things I’d like to sprinkle on my breakfast cereal but certainly not as alarming as Pentaerythrityl tetra-di-t-butyl hydroxyhydrocinamate, which turns out to be an antioxidant or stabilizer found in some 769 cosmetic products as reported by the federal Food and Drug Administration. Acc’d’g to the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) panel in Washington DC, it “… is safe in the present practices of use and concentration in cosmetics.” OTOH, the CIR is funded by the cosmetic industry’s trade association, the Personal Care Products Council, so you can take its findings or leave them.

Tom’s of Maine’s website main page features a carousel of images of grinning mothers cuddling grinning babies, grinning pretty little girls hugging bunnies, and a tube of toothpaste set in a field of some kind of grass or another. None of these hint that Sodium stearate, acc’d’g to Wikipedia, “is found in many types of solid deodorants, rubbers, latex paints, and inks. It is also a component of some food additives and food flavorings.”

Keep in mind many ingredients in cosmetics and foods are used in a surprising variety of non-edible and even toxic products. This does not necessarily mean they’re poisons.

Anyway, see what’s going on here? Being under cancer house arrest has compelled me to think about a lot, a lot, a lot of things — way, way, way too much. Ergo, this pointless post.

Oh, wait, there is a point. I swear to you I’ll be wearing underarm deodorant just as soon as I free myself back into the wild.

Treatment: I’m Free! (-ish)

So, I took myself out for a ride this AM. Yep. Got in the hot rod and drove myself down to the square and visited Margaret and Patty at the Book Corner.

First time I’d driven in well more than a month. First time I’d been out on my own in the same span. I felt like a 16-year-old with a brand new drivers license. The only things I didn’t do were squeal my wheels and blare the radio.

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The visit was exhausting, even though I spent 95 percent of the time sitting. The old bookstore smell was a mighty perfume. Magazines have their own smell, too. The gals and I hugged each other constantly and swore our love for each other again and again.

Man, it was good to see them and actually be out in the world.

On the way home, I decided to drive through McDonald’s and order a #2 combo meal — two cheeseburgers, fries and a coke. Hell, let’s see what I can get down my gullet, I reasoned. I got home, threw the french fries in the micro for 20 secs. and proceeded to give things a try.

What I learned:

  1. Sweet things still taste like sewer water. I dumped the coke after trying two straw sips.
  2. The french fries (I ate two of them) weren’t horrific but the salt hurt my mouth.
  3. I didn’t even try the burgers.

You may wonder what possessed me to fetch McDonald’s but — honest to gosh — there was method behind the madness. I figured if the grub tasted okay that’d be cool and I’d be able to continue shoving provisions into my facehole until that glorious day in the (hopefully) near future when I can scarf down my homemade lasagna. And if, say, the #2 tasted wretched — so bad, in fact, that I’d never want to put said combo meal in my mouth again — so what? It’s McDonald’s, right? What would I be missing?

End result: I can swallow chewed food but it still tastes frighteningly bad.

All in all, a very positive experience. I got to see two people I love. I inhaled actual fresh air. BTW: it’s amazing how much food I could smell when I got out of the car. If you’re downtown every day, you start to ignore the ambient aromas. Coming back from exile, it was like walking into the biggest kitchen in the state. And speaking of food, I know I’ll be munching promiscuously again soon.

As The Loved One said when I gave her a full report via gmail IM, “Little steps.”

Treatment: I’m Sent To The Corner

So, I’d been bellyaching these last few days about the stultifying sameness that’s descended over my life. I called it a jail. I revealed how this whole cancer business not only has played havoc with my physical body but the contents of my coconut as well.

Give me some variety, I pleaded. Help me out of this depression.

Well, I got variety today, that’s for goddamned sure. A trip to the emergency room and a threat to have the police throw me in the meat wagon and cart me off to an insane asylum.

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A little background. Saturday I wrote up a thorough and detailed report on my recovery from chemoradiation, both aspects of which had ended two weeks ago today. The two weeks post treatment traditionally are the worst in terms of side effects, I’m told, and lo and behold, that’s precisely what I experienced. The pain and discomfort, the never-ending yucky symptoms sprouting out from head to toe, the inability to eat and to talk. I was becoming a wreck. It reached a head by Saturday.

I wrote up the report because I had my two-week post-treatment appointment with Dr. Wu this morning. I figured if I wasn’t able to talk much, a written report would do the trick. So I counted down everything — the agonies, the triumphs, even how often I was urinating and what color it was. Like I said, thorough.

In the interests of full disclosure, I recounted my episodes of discouragement and depression. Here’s one line:

I was warned that once chemoradiation therapy was complete, my condition would get worse before it got better and that’s 100 percent correct. My discomfort level deteriorated to the point that the Friday after my last therapy sessions, I was feeling bad enough to want to die.

And another, a couple of paragraphs later:

My psychological state deteriorated concurrently. I struggled to remain upbeat and argued with myself over the theoretical merits of suicide.

Did you catch that? “… [T]he theoretical merits of suicide.”

Note, I didn’t say I wanted to commit suicide nor did I confess to laying out any plans to do so. Like any sentient being in my situ., I mused to myself, Wouldn’t it be better if I just ended it all? This said, natch, in a more theatrical sense than as any real threat.

Only I’d committed that musing to paper (or, more accurately, my flash drive which I gave to Dr. Wu so he could read the report).

Well, read it he did and the result was he was fixin’ to break my head when he came into the examination room at the radiation center this AM.

It turns out the mere mention of the S-word compels medical professionals to order an immediate suicide evaluation for the mentioner. That would be me.

“This is a lot of trouble,” Dr. Wu said, after grilling me about my plans for self-disposal. “This is very serious.”

The poor guy was beside himself. He’s busy, of course, trying to save a life or two here and there among the dozens of people who stream into his radiation center every day. Now he’d have to notify the IU Health Bloomington Hospital emergency room that I’d be coming in to see the psychiatrist on call — stat. He’d have to follow through to make sure I didn’t shove my head in the oven and, for all I know, there’d be reams of paperwork for him to fill out. Oh, he was steamed.

“And if you don’t show up at the emergency room,” Wu added, “the police will come to your house and ask you questions and take you to the hospital for evaluation.”

Serious stuff indeed. When institutions — either for-profit or charitable — find themselves at risk of a liability lawsuit, they get serious. Should I have drunk a quart of Drano and the police later found out I’d breathed the word suicide, Wu and company would be hauled up in court and pilloried in the worst way possible.

Off I went to the emergency room. I walked up to the registration window and said, “I’m here for a suicide evaluation.” I glanced sideways to see if anyone in the waiting room had heard me confess to being the nut who was gonna blow his brains out.

I never got medical service so fast in my life. The registrar slapped the hospital ID wristband on me and bade me come in to the intake room.

A stroke of luck — it turned out the receiving nurse had spent years practicing in oncology before she switched over to emergency. I told her exactly what happened and why I wrote what I did. Then I said, “I want to make an official statement: I do not wish to commit suicide. I have not planned nor am I now planning to take my own life. I merely mentioned the word to illustrate how low my spirits had sunk. I wanted the doctor to know my psychological state.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” she said. “We can’t keep you here against your will so I’ll ask you, Do you want to be admitted to the hospital?”

“Hell no!”

“And you say you have no plans to hurt yourself or commit suicide?”

“None! For chrissakes, do you think I’d go through all this misery if I didn’t want to live anymore?”

“No,” she said. “What you’re feeling is perfectly normal.”

And with that, she pressed a computer key and deleted my admission report to the emergency room. “Good luck,” she said. “And know it’s going to get better from here on out.”

Well. That was one of the most satisfying encounters I’ve ever had with a medical professional. Only a little more drama awaited me. I had an appointment at the infusion center for blood labs, another bag of sodium chloride and maybe some added potassium and magnesium immediately after my Wu appointment. I walked into the infusion center late and was directed immediately to one of the private rooms with a bed, the first time I’d ever gotten that accommodation there. In the room were my medical oncologist, Dr. Allerton, and his nurse Mike. Allerton was holding a copy of my report in his hand.

I shook my head as I entered. “What a load of fucking bullshit,” I groused. The two of them heaved sighs of relief. Allerton peppered me with Q’s about my plans for the future, most specifically whether I saw a future for myself or not and, satisfied, launched into a scold.

“Here are the rules,” he said. “You don’t commit putting the word suicide to paper unless you want to start a whole lot of trouble.”

I stood on my head to convince him suicide wasn’t in my immediate plans and within moments the three of us were making suicide jokes. “I know who you are and how you act and talk,” he said. “I wouldn’t have reacted so strongly to this. But any other medical person would. Dr. Wu did what he had to do. I’m not saying you’re wrong for writing this. You wanted him to know how you felt. That’s good. Believe me, it’s how anyone would feel going through this.”

So, crisis averted. The dogs were called off. The all-points bulletin was rescinded. The nurses pumped me full of a 1000 mL bag of NaCl solution. My electrolyte levels are getting near normal, my kidney functions approaching swell.

The only thing wrong with me, apparently, is I’m a writer and writing can get a guy in deep trouble.

Treatment: The Mind Needs Healing Too

My Sentence

I haven’t left my home on my own since early March. I haven’t driven a car since then. I haven’t been able to take a walk around the neighborhood. I haven’t been able to clean house or even work in my garage office. I can’t concentrate on much and any physical exertion — up to and including taking a shower — results in me being whacked out and collapsed in the recliner for a good long stay.

I am, in essence, in jail.

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The greatest fear I’ve ever had in my life, even greater than that of death, has been jail.

As a punk kid, mixing it up with a bad character or two and getting myself into mostly harmless but occasionally serious trouble, I lived in fear I’d be nabbed doing something stupid and be slammed away for a few months or even years. The very idea petrified me. In fact, the one time I was nailed for a real crime and was compelled to partake of the hospitality of the Chicago Police Dept.’s accommodations, I was so mortified that I actually changed my whole life around. I ceased hanging out with the bad character or two as well as participating in any trouble, kid stuff or serious. Suffice it to say the realities of a cell toilet sans toilet seat and bologna sandwich meals did the trick.

The jail cell I occupy now is a tad more homey. It is, in fact, home. I’ve got my comfy pillow and my blankets, my slippers, my books, the dogs and cats, The Loved One, heat I can control, and windows I can throw open when it’s glorious out. It’s a hell of a gilded cage.

But it’s a cage nonetheless.

The whole confinement thing has depressed me no end. My world has shrunk to an area of about 1700 square feet. I can walk from the bedroom to the study in fewer than ten seconds — and that’s with me shuffling along on chemoradiation-weakened gams. I’m awfully tired of looking at the same tile pattern, the same pine floor grain, the same pictures on the walls with no variety ever entering into my days. I’d love to see a painting hanging on the wall of IU’s Art Museum, or the shelves of Penguin Classics at the Book Corner, or even a flat-screen TV picture of some stupid soccer game at, say, The Office Lounge on 3rd Street.

Give me anything other than what I have to look at 24 goddamned hours a day here at the Big Mike Correctional Center.

Fortunately, the skies have been brilliant blue and the sunshine radiant gold the last couple of days. I don’t know how I’d feel if these last few days were overcast. I don’t want to know.

Of course, the spectacular weather might even be adding to my misery. I’d love nothing more than to go outside and gambol in the sun. Steve the Dog and I haven’t gone down to Lake Monroe for one of our long walks in months. I haven’t been out in the backyard in just as long.

I see bikers furiously pedaling by on SR 446 outside my study window, preparing for the Little 500 in a couple of weeks. Joggers and walkers pass by too, some of them with their own hounds on leashes. I have the urge to throw the window open and shout to them, “Help me! Get me out of here!” but I don’t think they’d understand.

In any case, what comes as a surprise to me throughout this ordeal is the knowledge that my psyche as well as my bod need care and nurturing. I had no idea this cancer stuff could harm my mind and spirit so profoundly.

Flavor Mire

I crowed from the rooftop (well, on social media at least) yesterday about at last being able to get a half bowl of creamy butternut squash soup down my gullet. Now, this is a big deal for someone who hasn’t swallowed in better than a month. I’m told I could even have lost the ability to swallow and would have to learn, with the help — believe it or not — of the radiation center’s Swallow Team, how to do it all over again.

For a veteran trencherman such as I, learning how to gulp anything would seem to be something written large and deep in my genes, but apparently not.

In any case, the soup slid down as if it somehow knew it belonged in my belly. Home, as it were. The problem was, it was the most foul tasting stuff I can recall ever introducing into my facehole. The soup, per se, is fine, see. It’s one of the the aftereffects of chemotherapy that change a guy’s taste for a while after treatment. My taste is abominable at this point in time.

Sadly, I doubt if I’ll ever be able to eat that specific flavor of Pacific brand boxed soup again. The whole association thing, you know. A small sacrifice, I’d say, for the sake of experimenting to make sure I don’t forget how to swallow.

Treatment: Um, Optimism?

Well — what the hell do y’know? — I’m seeing a light.

No, not that Heaven Is for Real, divine light, near-death experience nonsense. Light. As in the end of the tunnel. As in, Hey, I just might pull out of the world of torment yet.

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Forewarned by my oncology nurse, Mike (“It’s gonna get worse before it gets better.”), I did indeed get worse. Really, really worse. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and even into Monday, I was in such post-chemoradiation misery that I didn’t really care if I’d live or die. Truth.

Had some scamp Satan nudged me in the ribs and said, “Hey, sailor, I’ll pull the switch on all this wretchedness right this minute, only you’re gonna kiss this planet goodbye and come to hell with me and shovel coal for eternity. Deal?”

I would have thought about it long and hard.

A few Monday morning blood tests revealed my kidneys to be functioning about as well as the American presidential election process and my potassium levels to be as low as, well, Donald Trump.

The kids at the infusion center snapped some bags of juicy goodies into my Portacath and pumped me full of several grades of the good old unleaded, including premium. Then they insisted I come back bright and early the next AM for another batch of blood tests and if necessary, more of the good stuff. It was necessary. As it was today, again.

And I’ll be going in tomorrow for the same tune-up.

The transformation has been astounding. Not only do I feel it but The Loved One as well as all the pump jockeys at the center see it. I don’t feel as though I’m dying anymore. Nor do I want die. Hey, Satan, kiss my ass.

Potassium, an electrolyte, plays a vital role in building proteins, the body’s utilization of carbohydrates, building muscle, controlling the body’s acid-base balance, and — most important — making the heart beat a hundred gazillion times a day. When my potassium level fell significantly below recommended figures last week, my already stressed ticker simply leaned back and said, “I’ll pump your goddamned blood when I’m good and ready.”

Needless to say, it was nowhere near enough for my hungry cells, specifically my eager-to-contract heart muscle cells. I was, essentially, shutting down.

Now, no. Now, I’m turning on.

Not only that, Dr. Allerton today put me up on the lift, examined my undercarriage and determined it’s time for me to start swallowing things. Jello. Pureed stuff. Maybe a sip of water here and there, but be careful, he warned, water’s tricky to swallow when you haven’t practiced the act — as I have not — in better than a month. So, the microsecond The Loved One and I got home from today’s long stay at the infusion center (it takes four hours for 40 MEQ of potassium chloride to mix with the blood) she got to work making a bowl of raspberry Jello. It’s in the fridge as I type this, gelling.

It’ll probably taste like the worst stuff I’ve ever put in my mouth — I’m still under the sway of green phlegm — but it’ll have to be done. Okay. I’ll try it.

If it gets me nearer to eating a delicious slice of Salerno’s pizza or even a bite of a corned beef sandwich (I had my brother go to the Kroger Theme Park while he was here and get me two flat cuts for the freezer — it’s a yearly tradition of mine) I’ll be more than happy to gag on some foul tasting Jello.

And if it doesn’t taste foul, well, damn it all, we’re gonna have a Jello orgy at Chez Big Mike tonight!

Treatment: Let’s Hope It All Worked!

We’ll know in June when I get my next PET scan. If nothing lights up inside of me, I’ll be cancer-free.

I’m not going to worry about it just yet. I’m sure as we get closer to the test date I’ll start chewing my fingernails but for now, hell, I don’t have to lay down under that goddamned ray gun anymore nor do I have to endure five hours of poison dripping into me at a time. That’s enough relief and joy to last a guy three months, don’t you think?

Anyway, here’s the vid from my infusion center graduation. They sang a song for me! Then I rang the bell.

Again, thanks for allowing me to wallow in my joy and love.

Now, I think I just may get back to my infamous Hot Air posts tomorrow. And don’t worry, I’ll be updating you on my healing process as well.

Peace, love & soul.

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