I'm Alive!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Did you ever have the feeling, "This is it!"?

On my drive home yesterday from work I was sure that today would be the day that the Lord had decided to call me home. To Nancy's general annoyance last night, I copied a will, a health directive & a power of attorney off the Internet (ilrg.com/forms) and got my neighbors together for a late night signing ceremony. But all for naught as I awoke from my surgery today quite alive and ready to put in 40 more years. (Actually when I woke up this morning I was actually pretty sure I'd be just fine.)

Except for the fact that I was having surgery, the whole experience could not have been more pleasant. In our private pre-op waiting room every member of the surgical team visited me and Nancy to answer any questions we might have and were all quite friendly and cheery. (See slide show below). Dr. Brumund did suggest we switch from sedation to general anesthesia as he was going in deeper than he initially thought he might have to - but even that was no problem as I woke up from the surgery feeling like I had a nice relaxing nap.

It turns out the "relaxing" was all the good pain killers. Eight hours later the goofy juice is wearing off & I'm pretty sore. We'll see how tomorrow turns out. Thanks to everyone for all the prayers. The prayers worked - I'm alive!

The surgeon, Dr. Brumund said they did a quick look at the lymph node under the microscope during the procedure to make sure they were collecting test-worthy biopsy material and he said the quick look was consistent with lymphoma of some sort. Next week we'll find out what flavor I have.

"Do Nothing Party" & Double Biopsy Day!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Our really cool neighbors through a back yard "do nothing" party for us this past Saturday evening. It was a "do nothing" as in that's what they insisted we do other than just come over. (It was pot-luck for everyone except us!)

I though it would be something of a pity-party but after discussing my situation for an obligatory 10-minutes everyone (thankfully) couldn't be less interested. That's why they're cool neighbors! (I must say though that people definitely give you better hugs when they think you might have cancer. Is that a good thing?)

The Moores UCSD Cancer Center just keeps coming through. I got the word late today that they'd be doing the bone marrow biopsy at the same time as my lymph node biopsy tomorrow morning. Ouch! Best to get all the hurt over at once, plus it cuts down on the waiting... for the FINAL DIAGNOSIS... (ominous thunder roll sound effect in the far off distance)

"Inside Dan" - A look at the MRI & PET Scan

Thursday, April 24, 2008

When I went to pick up the original files of the MRI & PET scan so the surgeon Dr. Brumund could take a closer look at the job we were requesting, I asked the labs to make an extra DVD of each set of images so I could see what all the fuss was about.

Here you can see a single still image from about a thousand images on the MRI. The video below is just part of the PET scan images. In the video I guess the trouble is the three dark regions that create kind of a triangle in the left shoulder. It's all pretty cool, huh? No wonder these tests (and having cancer) is so expensive.

I go in for a pre-operative meeting tomorrow morning with an anesthesiologist & someone else in preparation for what we hope will be a double biopsy (lymph node in the shoulder and bone marrow in the hip) next Tuesday. (Sounds fun!)

First Meeting with Surgical Oncologist

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The surgical oncologist we met with today is named Dr. Kevin Brumund and he looks a lot like the singer Jackson Brown. We were 30 minutes late to the appointment due to traffic and I was taken right in to the exam room. I nice fellow named Reggie took my vitals and then the doctor came in. He's grown a short beard but he still doesn't look a day over 40 (which Nancy noted by asking "How long have you been doing this?") What Dr. Brumund may lack in age though he mades up for in confidence and a business-like demeanor. (He answered Nancy, "A long time" - he likely has heard that question a few time before.)

Dr. Brumund took my history, looked at my records, felt my bumps and heard our request for an immediate excision the same day before stating that he would not be digging anything out of me until he could take a close look at my original MRI. He said that there's a "lot of expensive real estate" between my skin & the lymph node in my shoulder/neck area (like the brachial plexus nerve). He said he could theoretically do the biopsy surgery next Tuesday so long as the original MRI films (which we didn't have with us) indicated that was the most prudent course of action.

Since the original MRI films were still at the facility where I had the MRI done, I committed to going and getting them for him the same day so that the procedure could be confirmed - which I did.

So now the lymph node biopsy is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday April 29th. We asked the doctor's case manager, Susan Margolis R.N., if we could have the bone marrow biopsy done at the same time. Susan suggested that since two separate teams do the two different biopsy procedures, the odds of having both done at the same time were not good but she'd submit the request.

So anyway, Dr. Brumund knows what he wants to do and knows what he doesn't want to do with my lymph node biopsy - which soots me just fine. While he looks like Jackson Brown he's certainly no "Pretender".

First Oncologist Appointment

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A thorough googling of "lymphoma" quickly led me to the idea that I ought to be working with a major "Cancer Center" to get my "lymphoma thing" analyzed & properly diagnosed. The closest cancer center to me is the UCSD Moores center in San Diego.

I met with a recommended oncologist today, Dr. Januario E. Castro outcomes or courses of actions before a lymph node biopsy & a bone marrow biopsy were done to determine a firm diagnosis. While he said the biopsy might show one of 40 different lymphomas, if he had to gues. Dr. Castro's demeanor seem perfect for me and Nancy. We waited quite awhile for the exam to start but when it finally did the doctor seemed to have all the time in the world for us. He took a very a thorough history and did a physical exam. He looked at my MRI & PET scan reports and told us that it was impossible to suggest possibles he say some indications of stage 2a Hodgkin's lymphoma. He said if I was going to get lymphoma at all that Hodgkin's was the one to get since "that's the one you always see on TV where they get diagnosed & cured all in the same 60 minutes".

I'm going to see a "head & neck" surgical oncologist tomorrow to discuss removing one of the three abnormal lymph nodes to do a biopsy & diagnosis. He said once the two biopsies were done we'd meet again in two weeks, go over the findings, answer all the questions and he'd recommend a course of treatment.

I must say that if you're going to have cancer, UCSD's Moores Cancer Center is were you want to have it worked on. Every person there is so nice. Nancy & I feel like we're visiting Club Med. You can't go anywhere without having some nice person escort you so you don't get lost. Dr. Castro's very nice nurse case manager, Theresa Diaz R.N., actually came to find us in the laboratory waiting room to update us about our appointment the next day with the surgeon. Talk about amazing customer service!


About three months ago while exercising I noticed a lump the size of a 1/3 of a tennis ball above my left collar bone next to my neck. After about two months of wondering what the lump was I went to see my doctor. She suggested an MRI. A week later I got a MRI and the subsequent MRI report suggested a possible lymphoma and strongly recommended a PET scan.

I got a PET scan a week later and the PET scan report suggested that I had a challenge consistent with lymphoma. My doctor said the next step was to see an oncologist so a biopsy could be scheduled so that a diagnosis could be confirmed.

Where did my beauty go?

It has been a long time since I have walked into a room and heads turned in awe. To be perfectly honest...that never happened to me. Although I never thought of myself as a beautiful, pretty or attractive woman, I was told by both men and women that I was attractive. . Somehow, I took that as a compliment and added it to my "they think I am acceptable" bag. However, I knew that it was the clothes that I had picked out, paid a great deal of money for and wore proudly, that made me acceptable to the general population. Now...I know the truth. It was my age. The younger I was the better looking I seemed to be to everyone.

Now, at sixty-five, I wear my clothes with an mature air of sophistication; however, no one notices but me. A very wise woman told me that this happens as a woman gets older. I don't remember hearing this before or maybe I didn't want to believe it. So in one day I did a study. I changed my outfits five times. Wore Mac makeup, applied as I had been shown by the Mac representative and really put a great deal of effort into looking "attractive". But no one noticed and I was invisible even to my partner. But I knew I was here. What to do? What to do? Was I really too old to be beautiful, pretty or attractive?

What had happened was that I bought the hype about a woman's beauty. And now I am returning it for a full refund. I thought that no one noticed me because of the surgery I had for salivary cancer that left my face with an odd shape and an indentation on the left side of my neck. After the surgery, when I looked into the mirror...looking back at me was a stranger. I cried and screamed and begged for my own face back. Everyone assured me that I looked different but fine. That word "fine"...watch out for it! It is a non-committal word meaning "I don't want to tell you the truth".

I no longer had the face that I had taken for granted and what I had was not what I wanted. It took me years to get use to the stranger in the mirror and I blamed myself for the lack of compliments coming my way. I hid myself with clothes that were styled in the Eileen Fisher mode... they hid my body but made me look modern and stylish. I wore big glasses and covered a great deal of my face with a haircut that tended to move forward. I was afraid to go to Sephora for a make-up consultation for fear of the reaction. One day I did go and the result was a great deal of sympathy and an attempt to cosmetically hide what couldn't be hidden...the physical changes to my face.

Today, and I really mean today, I have decided that I had it all wrong. I was allowing the fashion world and the entertainment industry to tell me what is acceptable and what is not. I had cancer five times. I am sixty-five. I was a principal. I am a good friend. I like to read, laugh, dance, do yoga and be kind to animals. I care about the world. I support Senator Obama. I do random acts of kindness. I use shopping bags to support the "Green" movement. I support the ASPCA and Move-On. I donate money to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. I have a spiritual life. I like to learn. And I trust the world will someday be at peace and accept all of us. Now, this is real beauty as defined by me.

When I looked in the mirror today, I looked into my eyes and I gently told myself what I wanted to hear...you are beautiful and you are a child of God. Be proud of who you are....AMF

Dee-Jade Chock, 29, RIP

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A classmate from the University of San Francisco recently passed away after a 12-year fight with kidney cancer. Try as I might, I can't remember Dee-Jade, but Doc Robertson wrote a touching tribute over at his blog
Rest in peace Dee-Jade. my heart goes out to her husband. I can't even imagine.
Here's the obituary that ran April 3 in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The last piece is wonderful: Dee wanted to create a fund to assist young people with cancer completing higher education. Donations, in lieu of flowers, will go towards the fund.

The Secret........or is it?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

My sister mentioned the book THE SECRET to me. So, off I went to the bookstore and I picked up two copies of it, one for each of us. My sister and I were going on "OUR SISTER TRIP" to a spa where we would be nurtured. We had been there twice before, but this time it was really important for me to get the most for myself. I was having a lung biopsy withing six days and I wanted to feel prepared. I thought that my sister and I could read the book and dialogue with each other about its contents. And that is what we did!

I found that the secret was already known to me but I had ignored it for so long. The secret is simple...what you think about you invite to enter your life, the law of attraction. You see when I am unhappy, I am unhappy. I nurture that unhappiness; I talk to friends about it; I seem to water it until it flowers into a big weed. The more I talk and talk about what is wrong in my life, the more things go wrong in my life. THE LAW OF ATTRACTION.

That has been true since I was a child. That was my mother's milk - she fed me with stories of loss, pain and grief. I never really knew how to free myself of this habit. I carried it with me all my life thinking - believing everyone lived this way. Yes, there were the wise ones who encouraged me to be happy, and to let go of my unhappiness. I just didn't get it...I didn't know what they were talking about or how I would do it. Until now...

The contents in the book THE SECRET were not a surprise to me. Over a twenty year span I had read or heard the messages before but this time something was different. I wanted to stop the pain, I wanted to be happy. So, I started slowly and this is what I did: I made a verbal decision to my sister that I wanted to be happy. I created a visual diagram of how to do it - thought, feeling, action, joy.

I started to closely monitor what I was thinking. Remembering that what I think invites more of the same. I checked my feelings. If I felt good. Great. If I felt badly - I went into action. I had a choice of actions - singing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" or "Sunshine On My Shoulders". Or I danced. I took an action that made me feel great and positively overshadowed the negative feeling that was caused by the negative thought. Within seconds I stopped the pain or unhappiness. And what I felt was new to me I HAD CREATED HAPPINESS AND JOY FOR MYSELF.

I didn't wait for a miracle or for someone else to make me happy. I am now home from the spa and I am being tested. I monitor what I am thinking and if something happens to me that causes me to have an unhappy feeling or to be angry, agitated, miserable (you have the idea) I go into action : thoughts monitored, feelings monitored, positive action taken immediately and back to feeling good.

So if someday you see a woman singing "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" or some other happy song...or dancing down the street...you will know it is me! Happiness and Joy to all of us! AMF