31

23 July, 2017
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While talking over coffee this morning, we realized that the number 31 has more than a passing significance for us. (As we discussed it, I happened to glance at the microwavehaha)

The 31st of May will be a day I’ll not forget anytime soon. Or maybe ever. I remember emailing my principals, telling them that I normally would never even consider not coming to school on the students’ last day (I never had in 23 years of teaching), but that this time, I think the Thriller needed to come first. I planned to accompany him to see the pulmonologist on the 31st about his vocal cord paralysis because I wanted to make sure we got all the information on what needed to happen next.

Of course they understood and said no problem. I look back on that day and marvel at what we didn’t know.

The 31st of July is the Thriller’s birthday. Yay! What should we get him? I’ve no clue, but I need to get on it. It’s a scant week away.

The 31st of December is our wedding anniversary. Aww. Looky how young we were.

So as the 31st approaches, we have the second chemo treatment, more vet visits (poor Pax — he’s still struggling to stand up for more than a few seconds right now, but we’re hopeful), school work and company coming to stay.

Thirty-one things to do today, and here I sit. Hope you’re enjoying your Sunday!

Much love to you, fiends.

#teamthriller

Crucial minutiae

16 July, 2017
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Relatively mundane tasks, given important meaning.

Chef Threeler

This morning, the Thriller is feeling exceptionally peppy. So peppy in fact, he wouldn’t allow me to help him cook one of his favorite meals (chili) in preparation for company for lunch today. His voice is stronger right now, whereas usually it’s little more than a whisper. He ate a big breakfast, and when our industrial-model Bunn coffee pot cracked, he went downstairs, unearthed the Keurig, got online and ordered a new carafe, and ran to Hawkins to buy some K-cups so we could finish our morning coffee-drinking routine. How about that, all by 10 a.m.?

These are the days for which I’m eternally grateful. I know there’s a rough road ahead, but we just discussed this morning about how easy it is to be placed on an arbitrary timeline or someone’s scale of what should happen, when in fact, it’s no understatement to say that everyone’s cancer is completely different. We’re in it to beat this thing into submission.

Are you having a good day? Hope so! Things are easy like Sunday morning here on sunny Sandusky Street.

#teamthriller

Treatment 1

8 July, 2017
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Well he came through it just great. Friday was our first chemotherapy session, and as I write this on Saturday night, he’s suffered no severe side effects. They told us that usually, side effects begin to manifest 48 or so hours afterwards, so we’ll see how Sunday and Monday go.

We dragged it out at 4:30 a.m. on Friday, hit the road by 5:45, and pulled into valet parking at the cancer center at 7:00 for a 7:15 appointment. We got him all checked in and wired up, visited the vampires, then reported upstairs for the consult with the oncologist.

I have to tell you, Dr. Velcheti is a cool guy, and we’re fortunate to have been referred to him by the attending physician during Michael’s hospital stay. He gives us all the time we need to ask questions, and his answers are never rushed or over-complicated or flippant. He listens, takes his time, and appears to be singularly dedicated to finding the best targeted treatment for the patient. I like that, and I like him. Although there are many talented oncologists out there, we feel we won the lottery with ours.

After the consultation, we hoofed it across the hall to get the chemo started.

The treatment rooms are quiet and private, sharing only a bathroom for every two rooms. After getting situated, he munched on some snacks and enjoyed the beautiful view. When the nurse came in and hooked up the medicine, I felt a definite sense of arrival; of peaceful relief. We’d been waiting for this moment since the 31st of May, and now it had come to pass. We’re finally on the road to controlling this hideous, mad disease.

After going through training with the doctor’s nurse about what to expect, when to call, how to handle symptoms, what to eat, what’s available to us, etc., the second round of medication began. (His specific cocktail is pemetrexed mixed with carboplatin.) After about 90 minutes in the chair, it was all over with.

My son texted me and asked how he was doing, and I sent him this picture. The response: “That is a brave man right there.”

Yep, he is. :-)

Much love!

#teamthriller

 

 

Rambling PSA

5 July, 2017
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Every morning, he looks at the ever-expanding collection of medicines on the breakfast table, and screws up his courage.

His lung tumors and swollen lymph nodes are pressing on areas of his larynx and vocal folds, as well as on his esophagus. Not only can he not ever clear his throat or get a productive cough (take a moment and envision going through that 24/7), but now he is having trouble swallowing. Taking these pills each day is getting to be an uphill struggle.

But he still found the humor to laugh about his clumsiness with attempting to put some cans of pop in the fridge and scraping his arm against the cardboard packaging. He proudly showed me yet another bandage on his arm. The man simply cannot stay out of trouble.

So, the public service announcement…

Did you know that lung cancer is the #1 cancer killer of both men and women? According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer kills more people each year than breast, prostate, colon, liver, kidney and melanoma cancers combined. We have massive awareness campaigns for these other types of cancers, but where is the ribbon for the #1 killer? I’ve never seen a mainstream push for screening for lungs. Shall I start one? I wonder if the Thriller would volunteer to be the poster child. Hmmm…

You may ask: What is the screening process for lung cancer? Well, that’s where it can be a bit tangled and dark. Suffice to say that I know an encyclopedia’s worth of stuff about lung cancer today, compared to what I knew in May. As you might imagine, I’ve done little else with my spare time except read up on it:

  1. It often takes 10-20 years or more for lung cancer symptoms to manifest. I have read many personal accounts of people who never had any symptoms (persistent cough, weakness, breathlessness, constant fatigue, swelling of extremities or lymph glands, vocal cord paralysis, trouble swallowing, hoarseness, rapid weight loss, wheezing, chronic bronchitis) until their cancer was already in its advanced stage — which is exactly what happened in our house.
  2. CT scans are the best screening for lung cancer, but they are not without their problems. According to cancer.org, the trouble is that computed tomography x-rays often find abnormalities that look like cancer, but aren’t. This can lead to biopsies and other tests that potentially lead nowhere. Still, if it’s the best you have and you want to know, I’d go for it. I’m going to — believe it.
  3. Are you “high risk?” Then get thee to the doctor for a screening appointment.  To be in the high risk category, you must be aged 55 to 74 years, have a smoking history equivalent to a pack a day for 30 years, and currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years. The Thriller quit smoking in 2010, at age 58. That’s about when his COPD began to kick in. What we thought was the slow progression of emphysema was actually the rising onset of lung cancer.
  4. Lots of people who get lung cancer have never smoked. Just because you’re not high risk doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. I think *everyone* should be screened for lung cancer, right along with getting the mammograms and PSA counts and pap tests and colonoscopies.

I wanted to know some history of the disease, especially as related to cigarette smoking. Here’s the initial trend, from the Lung Cancer Guidebook:

 

Lung cancer is a relatively new problem for human beings. In the early 1900s, lung cancer was extremely rare. Although people have used tobacco for centuries, until the early 1900s, it was most often smoked with a pipe, in a cigar form, or chewed. The machines to mass-produce cigarettes were invented in the 1880s, but it was not until after World War I that cigarette smoking became prevalent in the United States.

During the war, American soldiers were given free cigarettes donated by tobacco companies to the U.S. military. Many soldiers left the military with a lifelong addiction to the nicotine in tobacco products. At that time, the medical community did not realize the long-term impact of cigarette smoking on health.

 

So here we are, a hundred years later, seeing the avalanche finally letting loose. It’s time to bring lung cancer forward on the parade route, not to supplant the other kinds of cancers out there, but to march on the same front line. Consider me endowed with a new purpose.

Much love,
#teamthriller

Slight disappointment

3 July, 2017
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Greetings, fiends — I have a tiny little setback to report today. It’s not really a setback, per se, but rather a bump in the road. We shall overcome.

Turns out we will not qualify for the Keytruda study after all. From their site:

 

Keytruda is a prescription medicine used to treat non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Keytruda may be used as your first treatment option when your lung cancer has spread (advanced NSCLC) and tests positive for “PD-L1” and your tumor does not have an abnormal “EGFR” or “ALK” gene.

 

Michael meets two of the three requirements. He has advanced NSCLC, and his tumors do not have the abnormal genes. He did, however, test negative for PD-L1. Unfortunately, all three qualifiers must be in place in order to proceed. So, we do full-on chemo. A bit of a bummer, but that’s OK. It doesn’t dilute his resolve, or mine.

We joked a bit over coffee this morning about him losing his hair and the mustache he’s had since 1976. Our grandchildren won’t recognize him. :-D Kidding…everyone will be fine with it. Fellow RtB citizen Stoney recently went through a repeat bout of chemo, and lost her locks. She’s on the rebound now, looking cute with her short, wavy style. I’m sure the Thriller will regrow his handlebar in due time.

Another update: I asked his oncologist if doing treatments in Mansfield would allow him to remain Michael’s primary physician. He said no, that a colleague would take over his care. Not happening. Not that there aren’t good doctors in Mansfield, but this guy is fantastic, and we like and trust him. Hence, we’ll go to Cleveland for treatments. It’s every 20 days or so, and he has his new wheels, so it’s pretty much a no-brainer.

This is the first time Michael has gone to Cleveland without me. I’m kind of ooky about it, but he assured me he will pull over quickly in the event of any coughing/choking fits. (I didn’t go with him today because we couldn’t be sure I’d be back in time for an out-of-town performance at 5 p.m.)

I think that’s it for this morning — thank you again for coming along on this odyssey with us.

#teamthriller