Conventional Medicine


Folks, the Chemosabe gang is at it again.

I started chemo again today. You may recall that I had chemo with the very popular pancreatic cancer drug, Gemcitabine, back in November. At the same time docs put a stent in my bile duct. Since the two chemo doses came so close to when I had the stent placed, it was hard at the time to tell whether the side effects I was feeling at the time were from the stent placement, or the chemo.

So, I stopped the chemo at the time to see if I could improve my strength, which I have.

I went off hospice on Friday. The people at Hospice Austin could not have been any better. But since hospice is designed to help the patient who has less than six months to live, the hospice doctors said that I no longer fit into that category.

Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Coincidental with all this is that during 2012 there was a long of talk in the pancreatic support groups about some great results coming from clinical trials with a drug called Abraxane. When I first heard the name, I thought it was the name of an album by Carlos Santana. I was slightly off; it’s called “Abraxas.”

Abraxane is very popular with breast cancer patients because it has helped those patients for their treatment and recovery. Fourth quarter 2012 I started hearing much more buzz about how Abraxane was showing strong results in clinical trials for pancreatic cancer treatment. It was not yet approved for pancreatic cancer patients, though. Then shortly after dawn of 2013, it was approved by FDA for treatment for pancreatic cancer patients after years of developing good results for breast cancer patients.

Meanwhile, after the stent placement I started getting stronger and putting some weight back on. I was feeling stronger.

So, the first three Tuesdays of every month going forward I will be getting chemo with Gencitabine and Abraxane. The only pain associated with the chemo is that applying the needle to my port hurts for that quick moment of insertion, but the chemicals don’t hurt during infusion. But, as we go forward and I get more doses under my belt, who knows what effect the chemo will have. Every treatment is different for every patient.

A special note: Those of you who have been following this fight with damien know that Patti and I have forged through this fight with a lot of logical thinking but a larger part of faith and prayers. I know there are family and friends who pray for us, and I made the decision to try again after a lot of prayer. This does not in any way mean that I have lost my faith. After considerable thought and prayer, I felt like this was an answer to prayer.

It wasn’t an easy decision. The sheet the doctor gave us about Abraxane shows about a 10:1 side effect ratio. Potentially, lots of the suckers. Things like appetite loss (who cares about that, I never have had one any way?), nausea, lose my hair (you can use this space to enter your joke about my potential hair loss), and others. I don’t want to bore you with other potential things we’ll be looking for.

As always, thank you all for your prayers and well wishes. We really do appreciate them. God bless you all.

As long as I have lived or traveled in the South and Southwest, I have treasured some of the colloquialisms that I routinely hear here. Of course, you don’t need to live here to hear all these unique sayings. One of my favorites has been, “Ya know, he’s just a leetle bit slow.” which is usually followed with the person saying the phrase holding their forefinger and thumb together to emphasize the degree of slowness.

I’ve heard this expression countless times. It’s very Southern to use such polite language to indicate someone is stupid or can’t cut the mustard or doesn’t have the sense to come in out of the rain.

Yesterday, I heard this expression applied to me. And I was thoroughly happy to be “just a leetle bit slow.” I was in my oncologist’s office to hear results from the latest bloodwork and CT scan. The doctor mentioned that my CT19 cancer numbers had fallen and the movement of the tumors in the panaceas, liver and lung were stabilized, showing very little, if any movement at all. It was great news.

So, today or tomorrow, if I hear my wife say, “Cancer-boy is just a leetle slow today,” it’s because the tumors are not moving forward aggressively, and, in fact, are barely moving.

Thank you all for your prayers, Cancer-boy really appreciates them. God bless you all and your families.

 

Here are just a few odds and ends from a busy week of treatments. Sorry, for its length, folks.

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damian

Since Patti and I have started this posting about my battle with pancreatic cancer, loads of friends and family will tell us to “kill that snotty little bastard damian” or some other such directive. I still don’t like giving the respect that a capital D would do.

After waging this war with the snotty little bastard, I would like to weigh in with a bit of a”postscript.”

I believe damian has already lost this war. The snotty little bastard is a loser. Here’s why. This whole cancer fight is really a fight between good and evil. And damian sure doesn’t represent good. What damian really wants me to do is lose faith in God, or blame God for this cancer, or be angry with God because I have this cancer. In short, lose faith in a loving God.

That is just not going to happen.

I believe in a loving God that is happiest when we are happy, worry-free, care-free and feel His presence all around us. Here’s an example from 1 John 5:14:

“This is the confidence that we have in our relationship with God: If we ask for anything in agreement with His will, He listens to us. If we know that He listens to whatever we ask, we know that we have received what we asked from Him.”

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A favorite song — Asleep the Snow Came Flying

I don’t think it is new to say that the way we live our lives can be called the music of our life. Look at any good song and life is woven through its melodies, lyrics and notes.

While I certainly agree with this, I also believe that music stirs the soul, moves the body and affixes itself to our atoms and corpuscles. It becomes us.

imagesTo set the stage for one of my favorite songs, let me take you to Beartown Lakes Park, near Chagrin Falls, Ohio. It’s a very small park. Blink twice and you miss it.  First you go down one gravel road, then you turn down a dirt road and when you get to the end of the dirt road, you are there. It has a beautiful tranquil lake, loads of surrounding trees of a wandering variety but loads of maples, a dike at one end that serves as a great sliding surface for the little buggers in late Spring and Winter. It has a meandering hiking trail that goes around the lake and a good portion of one side of the lake is covered by a wooden walkway. In short, it’s one of my favorite places on earth. When Patti and I lived there, we’d go to Beartown at least once every season.

One year, Patti and I were kidless — they were away with friends — and we headed to Beartown. It had been snowing outside, sky was completely covered and the snow was the slow falling kind that seems to put a muffled blanket on any sound. When we got there, we noticed that all the trees were somewhat bare, but starting to get a gentle covering of slow, lightly touching snow. The ground was white. No breeze to speak of. We could see each other’s breath.  By this time in Winter, the lake was frozen. Our footprints were the only ones showing on the trail and the only sound anyone could hear was the crunch of booted feet on the snow path.

We had a great visit to the lake that afternoon, sat on a bench to watch the quiet snow come to rest on the ground. While we were talking, I couldn’t help but throw in a verse or two of Robert Frost’s Stopping By the Woods On a Snowy Evening. I just love that poem. Because of that day, whenever I hear this following song from Tim Story, I am overwhelmed with the beautiful sentimentality that Patti and I experienced when we went for that walk along Beartown Lakes. While some may say it’s a bit dark, I don’t think so. I think it accurately reflects the quiet stillness of an overcast day when the snow falls in abundance, but steadily quiet and, perhaps, timid.

So, here’s Asleep, the Snow Came Flying

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First chemo treatment and stent placement

Last Wednesday, we spent about an hour with Sharon at Texas Oncology. She basically gave us a pep talk about what chemo can do, what it can’t do, what some side effects could be and the impact on quality of life. She was very direct and very good. There was no question we had that she did not have an answer. After learning all we needed to know about Gemzar, we moved to the infusion center, where I was to get my first round, along with many others who were already in their infusion process.

When I walked into the room, the first thing that came to mind was riding alone on a train through Europe in 1972, reading Alexandr Solzhenitsyn‘s Cancer Ward. The novel tells the story of a small group of cancer patients in Uzbekistan in 1955, in the post-Stalinist Soviet Union. It explores the moral responsibility — symbolized by the patients’ malignant tumors — of those implicated in the suffering of their fellow citizens during Stalin’s Great Purge, when millions were killed, sent to labor camps, or exiled.

So, as you can imagine, the description of the wards was dire, grim, ghastly. That was not what I saw at Texas Oncology. There were small units of five chairs in a semi-circle, attended by one nurse each. Everyone appeared comfortable. Either a friend or family member sat next to many patients. It was mostly very quiet except for the nurses behind a counter that served as a gathering spot for all the nurses tending to patients. It was so good to see people who did not feel uncomfortable or in any pain. One man lay next to me and he pulled his skull-cap down over his eyes and slept through his treatment. A woman next to him was noticeably shivering. Her lips were quivering and her body soon followed suit. But very quickly, attendants brought her a warmed blanket and she quickly stopped the quiver and seemed to fall asleep quickly.

Patti and I waited and soon the nurse administered the lead wire to the port in my right upper chest. Most nurses who deal with my port “gingerly” administer the leads, or flush the port, but gingerly indeed. Thomas, my nurse who has been doing this work since 1985, just rammed the needle into the port. It so shocked me that I forgot it hurt for a moment.

When the chemo was complete an hour later, we simply got up and left. No drama, but as I left the infusion room, I turned around to notice other patients coming in, others leaving. Cancer is just as much a part of life as laughing or weeping. We will see if any side effects manifest themselves. We pray not.

The stent — On Friday, I was admitted to Seton hospital to have a stent placed in my bile duct to eliminate my yellow cast and to allow for easier discharge of waste naturally through the bile duct. An hour on the table and an hour in recovery and I was on my way home. They were successful, but they had to be “aggressive.” That’s short for: “It’s gonna hurt like hell afterwards.” Which it did.

First couple of days, no sleep because I could not find a comfortable position since my chest hurt. But it’s Monday and I’m starting to feel better and the chest pain has, for the most part, subsided.

 

A true thank you to everyone who has been praying for me, supporting me and keeping up with my fight against damien. I couldn’t do it without all of you.

Like I said in the post from yesterday, if life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. But, you see, I am diabetic and lemonade is really bad because of all the sugar, plus I just plain don’t like it anyway.

So, in an effort to be a little bit creative, when I got my lemons this past weekend, I knew exactly what to do with them.

I hope you enjoy it …

Oops, sorry, there are some technical glitches that need to be figured out before I can show you other things to do with lemons. It’s coming … after the glitches. Thanks for your patience.

 

Digestive system diagram showing bile duct loc...

Digestive system diagram showing bile duct location

Here’s an update from the recent hospital visit last Thursday through Sunday:

  • The procedure to remove a bile obstruction Sunday did not work — the pancreatic tumor had so encapsulated the bile duct that the doc could not get past the obstruction to remedy the blockage
  • The doc did offer a couple of alternatives, but suggested that we talk with the oncologist first
  • We have an appointment with a highly recommended oncologist tomorrow morning

The procedure would have made it easier for me to digest food and eliminate the food in a normal fashion. It would have also given me a few more choices if and when possible chemotherapy comes into play.

I want to thank all of you for your prayers and best wishes that have come in over the past few days. God is great!

Stay tuned and I will share with you the next steps after tomorrow’s visit with the oncologist.

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There are some things I learned during this past four days in the hospital:

  • When I am lying in the hospital bed, there is no better feeling than when a family member comes into the room
  • If you feel WELL going to the hospital, all it takes is one night when nurses come in the room at 10:30 pm, 11;30 pm, 3:30 am, 4:30 am, 5:30 am, 6:30 am and 7:30 am to make you FEEL sick
  • If you are swearing off watching news programs, as I am, it helps to have an iPod or iPad to wile away the hours listening to music that entertains you and gives you some rest
  • I find I say a few more prayers when I am in the hospital than when I am not
  • One night I turned out all the lights in the room and stood before the mirror — I was sure I was glowing in the dark after all the CT scans and MRIs that I had had so far
  • When the nurse was hooking me up to an IV fluid line, I asked her if I could have the sack that when it is administering the fluids, the process would leave a “steak and potatoes and Shiner Bock” taste in my mouth. Sadly, she said they don’t make IV fluid sacks like that yet
  • All it takes is a stay in a hospital room to help you remember all the vacations and trips you have taken to ANY place that does not resemble a small room with a bed in it
  • At the end of the day, I felt fully confident that the docs and nurses I met, and who provided me with care, truly had my best interests, as a patient of theirs, at heart.

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As a patient in the hospital, when the doc comes in and gives me the bad news that he could not successfully perform the procedure, I immediately recall a poster somewhere that said, ” When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, here is a picture of me with some lemons. I really don’t care for lemonade at all, and, as a diabetic, it’s not good for me.

Tomorrow, I will show you something you can do with the lemons.

Stay tuned to tomorrow to see what else you can do with lemons.

Greetings from a hospital room in Austin, with a beautiful view of downtown the weekend that Formula One racing comes speeding through the Texas Capital.

I am here to try to iron out some digestive issues. It could be that my nemesis, damien, has decided to give me long-deserved attention. And, when he chooses to give me some attention, he can be a very focused little fellow.

I will try to spare you the gory details, but I have been losing a little weight here and there the past six months or so. When I started the cancer fight, I was a little hefty at 187 lbs. At the weigh-in when i came to the hospital, I loaded up that scale with a hearty 149 lb. girth.

I have a bile obstruction that is not uncommon to pancreatic cancer patients. I need to have a stent inserted to clear that pathway. After numerous CT scans and an MRI, my gastro guy is ready to do the work in the morning. He will insert a camera and take a look down my esophagus and into my digestive system. Once the stent is inserted, then my urine, which now looks like a bright California sunset (red not yellow) will return to normal. And, it will have a pathway as clear as our F1 racetrack.

And, having this procedure will give me additional choices for chemo,which appears to be a potential next step.

Stay tuned for further notice. I just remember that “with God all things are possible.”

By the way, here is a photo from the hospital room of that doctor who is assisting tomorrow and her meal prep. God bless you all and your prayers.

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