Saturday, August 27, 2011

DAY 1331 - Day 1089 in Recovery Paradise

Glacier Trekking - Skagway, Alaska
Just finished the second half of my three year Tonsil Cancer treatment check-up.  

Got the good-so-far thumbs up from my Head & Neck Oncologist a couple of weeks ago.  My regular physician checked my large catalog of recent blood tests and declared me fit for duty.

My Glaucoma eye specialist says my eye-drop medications ($200 for a 30 day supply each and I have 2 a day) are sufficiently holding off the irreversible slow digression of my sight (which ultimately only means I will hopefully expire of old age before I go blind - ha).

Getting ready to 're-boot' my heart
My Cardiologist (what a fan club my body is building - eh?) performed the latest Cardioversion last week to get my heart beat regular and strong - upped my meds - and re-certified me to head back into the game.  Send me in, coach!

If I have learned anything from this life-changing experience is the ultimate judgement of my time on earth will not be how I started but, rather how I finished.  The value of my hour has increased ten-fold.  

I am not as willing to sell or trade away my hours so cheaply anymore.  Maybe an hour a week is traded to my TV.  Starting the day after my 64th birthday next Wednesday, I will sell fewer hours to my work.  I love my job and love what I do...but as Carl Sandburg said ... "I have miles to go before I sleep".  

Intentionally going part-time is an interesting process and I have been struggling with that decision for about a year.  For 50 years I have strived to get more work-hours and gladly traded my seemingly, unlimited time for more dollars and greater benefits.  To intentionally give up the benefits (quite a decision based on my health issues - but I am still covered with Lise's work) and the work-hour dollars is a result of my restructuring the value of my hour.  As my hours appear to be diminishing in volume, there are not many situations that can really afford me anymore.

Just some of those that can now afford me with my new updated pricing structure are:

*Practice my bass for 1 hour.
*Create a new recipe in the kitchen for 1 hour
*Write this blog for 1 hour
*Sit on one my decks next to the fountain in the recently finished back yard with a glass of Merlot and and Italian Opera wafting through my iPod ear pods for 1 hour.

I can assure you there is nothing imaginable, outside my family, that can afford to buy me away from a half-glass of decent Merlot and Gianni Schicchi - O mio babbino caro and  Luciano Pavarotti - Ave Maria.

This is an excerpt from an email I sent to an unfortunate new member of my Tonsil Cancer Club.  Being a Cancer survivor (technically not for another two years)  is not unlike Alcoholics Anonymous or the Mafia - once in you can only leave via your wake.

Bob from Ca. here.  I just had my 3 year 'all clear' exams from Tonsil Cancer treatment that ended in 2008.

Most people don't know it means when someone says "been to hell and back!", but we all do for sure.  I don't know if this a plus, but my doctors were very blunt and seemingly unsympathetic ... no sugar coating.  They however,were right and there were no surprises.  That said, it didn't make it any easier to know what was coming- one cannot read or hear the words and even begin to grasp the concept.  

There is no one you can talk to better than the unfortunate members of this club.  Family, friends, doctors, etc. KNOW the clinical issues you are experiencing. but NO ONE KNOWS how you really feel until they have personally been through it.

There will be a day very soon when things get better a tiny bit every day.  I also hated the mucus part.  I had 'spit' cups everywhere, car, upstairs, downstairs, every room of the house, next to a 1/2 litre of water.  I remember gagging myself trying to pull it out with my fingers, because it was too dry and thick to spit out.  Radiation to your head every day weekly for seven weeks takes its toll not only on your taste buds, mouth, tongue, but also to your mental state of mind.

Most of us say that hydration is absolutely critical (lots of water- not beers -ha) as the dryness will probably be with you forever. 2008 BC (before Tonsil Cancer) I could put away a 1 of 'See's Chocolates' (big brand here in California) by myself (always was sick after, of course), but after treatment, I couldn't even stand to have a dime-size piece in my mouth.  I would have to spit it out.  Over the past year, it has improved a bit but, I don't expect the sweet buds to ever return totally (probably one of the tiny weight loss gifts God provided as a result of this big test of my over-all sense of humor).

I started a blog the day I was diagnosed and put my thoughts there regularly all through the first year.  I still post (I will again today) occasionally as not much changes daily like it did in the beginning.

If you would like to see a fellow Tonsil Cancer club member's thoughts as you follow the daily path to recovery...I will post the link here.  Note- we all have different variations of treatment and recovery, but the similarities are mostly the same.

 (much prefer the taste of that is a change from the old days) will most likely be an enduring reminder of this experience, lest I tend to forget.

All that said, I am a proponent of positive thinking and positive action.  In the 'half full-half empty' philosophical discussion, I am now happy if there is any damn water in the glass at all!...ha.

Your strength is that you survived it.  You came back from Hell and you will become a better, stronger person in an odd exchange of gifts for the pain you endured.

Every New Day is a Gift. 

Once the daily discomfort eases (AND IT WILL!) -  will all of us look at each new day and appreciate it more than others ... absolutely!  I would not wish this particular version of a 'Life's Wake Up Call' on anyone, but the the Cancer Diagnosis and ensuing treatment experience was just that for me...a tremendous wake up call.  

I just got back from a trip to Alaska, spending money I don't really have - but using the TIME I do have,  where I flew in a helicopter out to the middle of a glacier for a trek (unbelievable) 3 year anniversary of Cancer treatment gift.  

On my 1 year anniversary gift to myself,  my family and I took a hot air balloon ride over the Napa Valley (wine area in Ca)...a gift from my sister, who was the best friend, during the tough times, a person could ever have...she lived 200 miles away, but mailed me a funny humor card EVERY DAY for the entire seven weeks of my treatment.  She gave me a giant poster of about 100 beautiful hot air balloons taking off over the valley at dawn to put on my wall next to a gift certificate for me to personally go, when I was able.

Year 2, my wife and I went on a Class 4 whitewater raft trip down the South Fork of the American River.  When our raft upended and threw everyone out into the rapids...everyone was freaked out except me...I was the one laughing, because it wasn't even close to  the experiences I had just lived through).  

Not to be too morose, but a friend on this forum once said something to the effect that the surest way to beat Cancer was to live long enough to die of something old age.

We all wish you well - with strength, courage and humor.  As much as you are able, as soon as you are able, put behind you what happened to you and focus on all the wonderful time you have ahead of you.

Ultimately, we will be judged not on how we started our life, but rather how we finished.  

So, what are you going to do with the next 40 years?

With much love and profound empathy,


"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the one thing I can, and the wisdom to know it's me.“ - Unattributed

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

DAY 1321 - Day 1079 in Recovery Paradise

Just had my 3 year post treatment update.  All is OK for now.  I have been dealing with a sore throat in the same part of my throat as 3 years ago for the past month and was dreading the visit. Note- it still has not gone away, so not always psychosomatic....

I have been assigned a new regimen of daily (up to 8 times a day in the beginning) saline nasal wash, heavy salt throat gargle and Vaseline in the nasal passages.  I am to use a humidifier and put 'Biotene' moisturizing gel in my mouth at night and use a 'Biotene' mouth spray.

Also got some sobering news from my Head & Neck oncologist:
         Although at 5 years, post treatment,  I can say I am a survivor of this type of Cancer, I am now 10 times more likely (vs. people that haven't had Cancer) to get another Cancer.

     She also said that in her experience (30 years), most new cancers (not a recurrence of first cancer) that occur, come in the 7-10 year post treatment time frame. Tick, Tick, Tick...

She does not advocate CT and Pet scans on a regular (every 6 months etc.} basis.  She says the additional exposure to radiation could be a significant factor in a new-cancer-later possibilities.  

A person that has had 5 CT scans has been exposed to the same amount of radiation as survivors of Hiroshima in WWII (survivors of the atomic bomb attacks at Nagasaki and Hiroshima who had significantly higher cancer risk were exposed to about 100 millisieverts of radiation. A CT scan delivers approximately 20 millisieverts – and since radiation accumulates in the body, a person who has had five CT scans in their life would have the same radiation exposure as an atomic bomb survivor.)

I have had 5 now, 2 in the beginning of 2008 and 3 more (1 week apart) last year when they thought the Cancer had spread to my liver.  It is like the good news now is the bad news.

Also in the news today:  There is now a 'cure for certain types of 'Leukemia' tumors.  Go here:

When I asked my oncologist what I could do to make myself less at risk for a recurrence of Cancer, after the obvious (no smoking, drinking, diets high in fat, poor health behaviors, etc.),  she said that there is very little knowledge of why people generally get cancer and her advice was to live a happy life, drink lots of water, and enjoy occasional comfort foods (vs. living on berries, etc.) as a happy, stress-free person is about as immune as a person can get in today's world.  She said that as we are organic beings like plants and animals, we are mortal and have a limited life cycle.  She said there is nothing she could advise me that would absolutely prevent me from getting Cancer again.

Dying from Oral Cancer is 45th on the list of major causes of death worldwide, with violence, measles, diarrhea, suicide and traffic accidents way ahead as possibilities.

Live as healthy of a lifestyle as you can, do the things that make you happy, try not to have any regrets. 

The number one cause of death, worldwide, is due to cardiovascular issues.  I have had issues for an irregular heartbeat for awhile and the meds have stopped doing their job, so in about 7.5 hours, I go in for my second Cardioversion (cardioversion uses a therapeutic dose of electric current to the heart, at a specific moment in the cardiac cycle.) in about six months.  So, why am I still more concerned about Cancer recurrence than my heart issues? 

I have an appointment the day after tomorrow with my ophthalmologist for a recurring eye infection and oh, left hearing aid stopped working ha..., I just got back from a  7 day cruise in Alaska, taking the time I do have and spending money I don't really have, to take a helicopter ride out to the fast receding, not so eternal, glacier for a trek...the one remaining thing on my list...note: I scheduled the Cardioversion for after the glacier walk, just in case...


"The years seem to rush by now, and I think of death as a fast approaching end of a journey - double and treble the reason for loving as well as working while it is day. - George Eliot 

Just about have this song down for my next puns intentionally intended...