Thursday, October 20, 2016

But, It Was Just A LITTLE Itch!

I just got back a little while ago from my latest visit for chemotherapy. They insist on setting my appointments as early as possible, so I have to leave Smallville in the wee hours of the morning in order to arrive in Gotham during the middle of the morning rush hour. For a long time I noticed that gasoline prices in Gotham averaged anywhere from 15 to 25 cents cheaper than local.  Since it takes almost three quarters of a tank to get there and back, I developed the habit of leaving town with just enough gas to get me there (with a little to spare) and filling my tank with the cheap stuff.  Suddenly something changed. Gas in Gotham was more expensive there than it was in Smallville. I figured it was just a temporary thing the first couple of times, but after three times I figured I’d better fill up before I left. Gotcha! Gas was twenty cents cheaper in Gotham today. Some days you just can’t catch a break.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve had some side effects from the new treatments. Most noticably, I've had a lot of itching on my back, shoulders and knees. Scratching at the itches has left a few small scabby places which I sort of expected…I wasn’t too concerned. The nurse asked me about the itch today, how it was doing, which I told her wasn’t severe and showed her one of my shoulders. “Hmm,” she said, “not too bad but we’d better have the doctor take a look at it.”

Doctor Whoosh arrived within a few minutes and took a quick look. “We’re going to give you a treatment today, but we need to postpone your next treatment for a couple of weeks and put you on some steroids to clear that up. I’ve seen this before in some of my patients and my concern is that if it gets worse, your skin could fall off.”  I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t smiling. He was serious. Terrific, just what I need…my skin sloughing off like an escapee from The Walking Dead.  If I start moaning “BRAINZZzzz,” and walking with a pronounced limp, you’d better give me a wide berth.

Upon returning to Smallville, I discovered that my insurance had denied coverage of the prescription for the steroids. I bought enough out of pocket to cover me for a few days while I call the insurance people and threaten to go Zombie Apocalypse on them if they don’t change their mind.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Cat Did It...

I awoke this morning to discover that one of the cats had knocked a nearly full can of green wall paint off a table and onto the kitchen floor sometime during the night. Our dog, a Jack Russell that can't sit still, then tracked it through every room in the house. Spotty green paths on dark brown going in every direction. Not to be outdone, the cat took the mayhem into the vertical dimension and tracked it onto chairs, beds, tables, desks, and whatever else it could find to climb on. We're still assessing the damage, but it looks like a trip to the paint store to get something to cover this mess up with is now on today's agenda.

In health news, my latest round of chemo went well. I've been experiencing a few minor side effects but nothing I can't handle so far. It's mostly some fatigue and excessive itching on my back, shoulders and knees. My next treatment is in about 10 days or so. The latest CT scan showed no growth in my cancer since the last one.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Immunity Idled

I finished the second round of my resumed cancer therapy today. The first treatment went well resulting in only one of the potential side-effects, mouth sores. I probably exacerbated the problem by eating pizza with banana peppers, jalapeno poppers and chewing cinnamon breath mints the day before I realized what was happening. What can I say, I love spicy foods! I’ll try to be more responsible this time and stick to chocolate pudding and cottage cheese…bleah. I’m also surrounded by people coughing and wheezing with what appears to be the flu. Since the cancer therapy compromises my immune system, I’ve been hibernating in my bedroom, only venturing out wearing a face mask and wielding a spray can of Lysol disinfectant spray.

You’ll recall that I had a vascular access port installed back in April to avoid the repeated poking of my hands by well-meaning nurses taking blood samples. Well, to paraphrase Robert Burns, best laid plans oft go awry. Last week the first home care nurse to visit me tried three times to access the port, then tried my hand. No blood resulted. The next day they sent a second nurse. She tried twice to access the port and ran out of the special needles required…they ran through a month’s worth of supplies in two days. The second nurse did succeed in painfully getting enough blood from my hand.

Today I asked the nurse doing the cancer therapy if they could leave my port accessed since I’m scheduled for another blood sample tomorrow by the local home care nurses. After looking at the port site, the nurse was horrified. There was still a significant mark where the two home care nurses had tried to access the port last week. Worrying about the possibility of infection or potential damage to the port, she contacted my oncologist and got the okay to take a blood sample while I was there. They also said they would be glad to do it for me in the future to avoid more problems. Sounds good to me, I just need to clear it with my family physician and the home care folks.

Some of you may know that I like to use Photoshop and participate fairly regularly in online contests. While I try to be a “model Christian,” occasionally a funny idea pops into my brain that is a bit irreverent or somewhat risquĂ©. I struggled with this for a long time. I love to make people laugh, but I don’t want to be branded as a “dirty old man” either. Being a deacon in the church just made matters worse. If some of the more conservative members of the church saw my work they would probably have an apoplectic fit. After a long time trying to balance the two extremes, making people laugh at something that’s somewhere out in left field and being a prim and proper Christian, I finally came to the conclusion that everyone has an occasional thought of that nature whether they will admit it or not. I don’t hide the fact that I’m a Christian online, but I don’t always fit in the mold either. I received a very polite e-mail today from another Christian who had read my online profile and admired my Photoshop work. I also have a few agnostics and/or atheists who follow my blog and make positive comments upon occasion. Sometimes you can be your own worst critic. When I stand back and look at things, I guess I’m not as a bad of a person as I thought I was.

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Potpourri

It's been a while since I last posted something personal, so tonight's missive is a little longer than usual and contains a medley of several things that I've had on my mind that have no connection to each other whatsoever.

Many years back at the home we lived in before this one, I hung a hammock between two trees. Everyone in the family used the hammock, my daughter even taught one of her cats to sleep in it. Sometimes there were minor arguments over who got to lay in it. When we moved to our current home, my oldest son moved into our old one. His family loved the hammock too.

Now we all live in the same house and because there were no trees close enough to each other, there was no hammock. Taking the initiative, my son bought a sturdy wooden post and sank it into the ground close enough to a shady tree that a hammock could be hung. The family hammock was once again a part of our lives. My grandchildren discovered a it was a great place to play. Everyone loved the new hammock.

A few weeks after installing it, a crew from the electric company showed up and said they needed to “trim” that tree because it was about to touch their lines. It was the only shade tree out of several dozen in our yard that they said needed work even though several are near the same lines. Trim is not exactly what they did. “Butchered” would be a better description. What is left can barely be called a tree. One large branch with a few small scrawny ones on it is about all that is left. Think of a larger version of the tree in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and you’ll have a pretty good image. A significant portion of what remains is just dead wood with no leaves at all. The entire top that provided most of the shade is completely gone
A new post has been purchased and we’re trying to decide which one of the other trees would be good to hang a hammock from. First item on the criteria list is that it can’t be near electric lines.

Tonight was “clean out the drawers in the bathroom” night at Grampy’s house. I’ve talked before about how many bottles of various shampoos and body washes my wife collects in the shower. That’s nothing compared to the drawers we went through tonight. My stuff fits in a tiny basket about 6” square; a couple sticks of deodorant, a bottle of aftershave, a handful of disposable razors and a couple of other miscellaneous items. The female paraphernalia on the other hand was a staggering mountain of perfume, lotion, makeup, lipstick, nail polish, hair ties, combs, brushes, and enough body cream to grease down a herd of elephants. Since the wife has low vision and all the bottles and tubes are labeled in 8 point font, I had to read just about every one of them for her. After two hours of weeding out empty containers and things that are no longer wanted, needed, or are unidentifiable, we ended up with two large garbage bags full of junk.

I finally resumed my chemo treatments on Monday, no noticeable side effects have manifested as yet. I’m still feeling better than I have in a long time. It’s been about a month since I last got out of the hospital and I’m certainly enjoying the newfound vigor. I realize it won’t last forever, but for the time being it’s wonderful to move around without dragging an oxygen tank or thirty feet of plastic tubing behind me.

My family doctor has had me on home care since April. I get a visit from a nurse once a week to check my vitals, take a blood sample and ask me the same twenty questions; name, birth date, no open wounds, no falls, nobody abusing me, I’m not depressed, no pain on a scale of one to ten, et cetera. About the only thing they don't ask is to have you recite the alphabet backwards.

One of the other things I’m set up with is called Telemed. It’s a little black box tied to the phone line with a blood pressure cuff, a pulse-ox clip and a scale attached to it. Every morning promptly at 9 a.m. it wakes me up and takes my vitals. It then immediately sends the data directly to the home care people. If I’m not at home it still calls them and tattles on me if I forget to unplug it before I leave. I’m away from home for good reason though. Some of my doctors in Gotham aren’t willing to adjust their schedules to accommodate an afternoon appointment so I have to leave home around 7 a.m. to get there on time.
The Telemed unit has a defect that causes it to add 10 any number that contains 30 to 39. So if my weight ends with 40 one day and the next day the number ends with 39, the unit reports 49 instead of 39. It sounds like I gained 9 pounds in a single day instead of losing 1 pound. I’ve told them several times about the glitch but I don’t think they believe me. It does the same thing on my blood pressure.

I had a “Power Port” surgically implanted the last time I was in the hospital so I wouldn’t have to go through being stuck in the hand multiple times whenever I had a blood sample taken. Apparently the surgeon didn’t position it the way the nurses expect because they always miss it the first time they try to take blood. They miss it even when I tell them where it is and they feel around for it. So I still end up getting stuck at least twice. At least it doesn’t hurt as much as getting stuck in the hand.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Where Do We Go From Here, God?

Our pulpit minister passed away yesterday, the entire congregation is in mourning and saddened by the loss. I’m not sure exactly, but he’s been preaching here for about 20 years. We are going to miss him for a long time to come. His funeral is Sunday and then we’ll be faced with searching for a new man. It will probably be a while before we find someone as good. The flock still remembers the loss of another great minister due to a tragic car accident on Christmas Eve many, many years ago. You never really fully recover from something like this, you just have to go on the best you can without them.

Our congregation is facing some major changes in other ways as well. We were a small church in a rural farming community for many years. Due to some dynamic leadership by elders, deacons and ministers, we have grown to be a relatively large and active congregation with many young families who have lots of children. Several things have limited our continued growth in recent years. Being in an out of the way area has been a big factor for a long time. While all roads may lead to Rome, very few roads lead to Mule Town. That’s about to change. Fifty years in the planning stages, a major regional highway is finally being built on our doorstep. One of the few exits is literally in front of our building. The chance that we might become a “mega-church” is a real possibility with the right planning, leadership and God’s blessing. There are many things to consider, one of which is do we really want to be a mega-church?  We currently average around 250 to 300 members, depending on how you count. Even at that size it’s almost impossible to know everyone. As a former deacon, I was sometimes embarrassed when I didn’t know the name of people that had been there for several years. I can’t imagine the confusion of leading a church with hundreds more. Whatever direction we go from here will depend on many factors, but one of the major ones will be who we select to preach from the pulpit. He’s got some gigantic shoes to fill.

I had my regular 3 month office visit with my primary care doctor yesterday and it went very well. My A1C is down to 6.0 and he surprised me by saying that it’s too good. I get to reduce my insulin dosage for the first time in several years. My other vitals looked good as well, I’ve lost weight since my last visit, blood pressure is near normal, I’m doing without supplemental oxygen most of the time and able to get around without a wheelchair for short distances.  I'm also scheduled to resume my long delayed chemotherapy on Monday if all goes well and I don't wind up back in the hospital for some stupid reason. 

 As the popular saying goes, I’ve got cancer but cancer doesn’t have me…at least not yet.

Monday, August 15, 2016


I’ve got something serious I want to talk about today, so no humorous stories this time.

Following my most recent hospital stay, I have had some significant improvement in my overall health. I can now get up and move around the house without trailing thirty feet of oxygen tubing behind me and can walk short distances without a wheelchair. The adjustments to my medications and some antibiotics seem to have helped me quite a bit. I realize that this is just a temporary thing and I don’t expect to have this much freedom forever, but for the moment I’m celebrating.

Conversely, while I’m doing better, I have a good friend who is about to pass on. The pulpit minister of my church, a man I have known for many years, lies in a hospice bed. His doctor’s prognosis is that a day or two more is all that he has left. He has cancer also. While I have renal cell, his is myeloma. Both diagnoses are pretty much a death sentence. Neither can be cured at the present time. The only hope is to postpone the inevitable for as long as possible. We are both the same age. He became aware of his cancer some time before mine was rediscovered, but I estimate we’ve both probably been suffering from our respective diseases for about the same amount of time. 

His wife, a professional writer, has been posting progress reports every couple of days on her Facebook page. A fluent and expressive writer, her descriptions of the pain and suffering that they have been going through, the small glimmers of hope, the poignant comments and the encouraging messages from others have been difficult for me to read and often bring anguish and tears. I am about to lose a good friend. This is a man with whom I have shared moments of joy, sorrow, and a joke or two. I’ve helped him with many projects for the church. I’ve seen his family grow up. He has shared many thoughts and anecdotes from the pulpit as well as privately. 

And now he is about to leave us. This post is a hard one to write. I want to express my sympathy without getting too maudlin, yet the heartache is real for myself as well as our entire congregation. And I feel a little bit guilty somehow. Why should he be dying while I am doing better? Life is not fair, I realize that, but it seems so unjust. For a man to be struck down in the prime of his life by something out of his control is just wrong on every level. I’m sad, I’m angry, I want to scream “You’re not playing fair, God!” And yet, in the back of my mind lurks a sobering scripture; “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Nobody said life was fair. Just because you live a good, moral life doesn’t mean you’ll be somehow exempt from suffering. No matter how many people you help, no matter how many good things you do, it is what it is. It’s hard to accept, but you can’t get around the reality that life must eventually come to an end whether you’re ready for it or not. And no amount of good deeds is going to change the outcome.

In the face of that fact is that doing good things is a big part of what being a Christian is all about. Walk in the light, not the darkness. Follow the Golden Rule. Love your neighbor as yourself. Turn the other cheek. We trust that it’s not all in vain, that our faith and hope in that which is unseen will be rewarded when we pass on to the other side of the veil. In the end I believe it’s worth it all, you’ll not convince me otherwise. A lifetime of suffering is but a moment when compared to eternity. By the grace of God we endure and are able to face it without fear. I don’t want to rush it, but when he shows up on the doorstep, I plan to look death in the face and say “Bring it on!” And I do believe that’s how my friend will greet him as well.

Death is not the final chapter of life, it's just the end of the prequel.