I Survived Chemo Infusion Round 1 of 8

Friday, May 30, 2008

Because of or in spite of 11 different chemicals coursing through my body I'm muddling through the "day after". As my poor family can attest to I'm quite irritable and generally unpleasant to be around though.

We did take some funny pictures yesterday at the beginning of my six hour visit to the "infusion" center at UCSD. I hope to have a full blow by blow published a bit later here when I'm feeling a bit better.

Thanks for all your thoughts and prayers. They're helping.

I Got My Port Put in My Starboard Side!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

It's a cool little device called the Smart Port CT "With Vortex Technology"!

Dr. Finch here put it in. Doesn't he look like he would fit right in on the "Grey's Anatomy" TV show?

The video below is of an older model of the port. "Port" seems to be a short name for "vascular access device" ("vascular" meaning big-ass blood vessel). The port is a device that goes in the chest just under the skin half way between the nipple and the collar-bone.

To get it in the doctor cuts an incision while I'm under sedation (not totally asleep but not totally awake) and then kind of digs a pocket out of the fat between my skin & chest muscle about an inch south of the incision. After tucking the device in he then snakes a catheter (tube) up under my chest skin, over my collar bone and then into my jugular vein. From fist poke to final sew the whole procedure could not have taken more than 30 minutes. They said I was asking questions through the whole procedure - I guess that's what they get for not knocking me all the way out.

The photo to the right shows the port that goes under my skin in the left hand. The device in the right hand is what connects to the port via a needle through the chest skin. the other end of that tube is connected to an IV pump I believe that helps them load me up with four IV bags full of chemo juice.

As always, the staff taking care of me could not have been nicer. The doctor was a fairly serious but friendly fellow named Dr. Michael Finch. The two nurses were very professional but happy to joke around a bit when Nancy and I asked if we could take a funny picture for our blog. Their names are Robin Garland, RN & Linda Lobbestael, RN.
(I hope I look this happy when "they" start using the port to fill me full of chemo juice every two weeks for four months starting next Thursday, May 29th.)

The "Doctor's Chair"

I was so happy to find out I only had Hodgkin's lymphoma a couple weeks ago I forgot to share the silly trick Nancy & I played on my oncologist.

We were both quite nervous waiting in the exam room for Dr. Castro to come in and give us the official diagnosis. It seemed like we were waiting an eternity. The picture to the right is me waiting "patiently".

Anyway, I noticed that the chair the doctor sits in was one of those chairs that goes up and down only by spinning the chair while holding the rolling feet still. I also noticed that the chair was screwed all the way down to it's lowest level - which made sense - as my oncologist Dr. Castro is a huge man professionally but - well I guess you get the picture. I asked Nancy, "Do you think he would notice if we screwed the chair up to the top so it was as tall as it could be?"

Like a ten-year old middle-school prankster I re-adjusted the chair all the way up, had a quick chuckle with my partner in crime and then went back to worrying about dying from cancer.

About five minutes later Dr. Castro came in and tried to sit on his chair. He immediately seemed to think something was amiss, got off and actually turned the chair upside down to see what was the matter. By then Nancy and I almost had tears coming out of our eyes from holding back a laugh when Dr. Castro gave us a strange look and then moved onto telling me all about my having cancer while at the same time trying to find a comfortable "Doctor-like" way to sit on an office chair that was almost as high as a bar stool.

Well it seemed funny at the time!

If You Can't Laugh At Your Brother, Then Who Can You Laugh At

Friday, May 16, 2008

My brother, Richard, was filming the family on Mother's Day. He put this together.
This short film gets my one nut of approval rating.
by the way, the tall guy: that's my cousin Ramone.

One Year without Righty

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My right testicle was removed one year ago today.
I remember the day clearly. Driving to the hospital with my parents. looking out onto the Sonoran Desert and the Catalina Foothills from behind the vans sliding door window. My aunt called from Michigan and prayed over the phone with me.
Once i checked in at the hospital and got laid out on the bed, the nurses were great. when they found out I worked for the Arizona Daily Star, they all asked about our columnist Bonnie Henry. One of my nurses had a daughter interning at the Star in the features department. Tucson is a small town, despite a million souls on record, i remember thinking.
i nearly passed out from all the needles. this gave everyone a good laugh.
eventually the anesthesiologist came around and injected me with the goods. as they wheeled me out of the pre-surgery waiting room, I started to fade. once we hit the corner and into the hallway, i knocked out. never even saw the operating room.
woke up about an hour later, my mouth sore from whatever tubes were in my mouth. drugged up and confused, I climbed out of the easy chair they propped me up in and crawled into my parents home. it was hot that day.
grandpa had flown in, just after fatty and Sarah flew out. carol ann came by that evening to check in.
at some point I checked myself out. surprised to find half my pubic hair had been shaved and i had a brand new scar to show. it took me about a week to gather up the courage to touch myself -- my scrotum -- again.
the operation was only the second or third step. next was the biopsy and its results. at the end of the week, I found out my tumor was cancerous.

Six Million Dollar "Dan"

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Do you ever wonder what "they" do with all your health insurance premiums?

I used to think "they" spent it on fancy health insurance company Christmas office parties in Hawaii. Now I'm pretty sure they just save it up so they can spend it on me at the UCSD John Moores Cancer Center.

On Friday I go in for my second "procedure" ("operation" for all you old school types). "They" (not the insurance company "they", the Cancer Center "they") are going to install a "pass-port" into my chest to make it easier on everyone to administer chemo therapy.

"What's a pass-port"? Good question.

I thought chemo was like getting a shot in your arm. Apparently it's a little more involved - like a couple of hours of having health care practitioners pouring acid into your body. I guess doing it the old fashioned way through an IV in your arm runs the risk of messing up your arm veins (or your arm skin if the chemo fluid accidentally leaks out!)

So with the port "they" implant a little hollow squeeze box under your chest skin (no, not an accordion) that's about the size of six old silver dollars that has a tube that is inserted into one of the "big" veins in your chest. (Cool, huh?) Apparently, the basic idea is - if you're going to take a caustic pee somewhere, is it better to pee caustic fluid into a straw (you're holding in your hand) or into the Mississippi river standing on a cliff?

So anyway, I'm getting the port installed on Friday. They say it's a real operation but instead of general anesthesia I just get "sedated".

How does all this make me the "Six Million dollar Dan"? Well I was Googling the port procedure and one blog I found said "they" charge $5,000 for the procedure. It got me started thinking, "How much does having Cancer cost?"

Fortunately we have PPO insurance where we can kind of pick our doctors but we still have to pick up 20% of the cost of the dinner. I shopped around for the MRI, the first test that began this journey. After hearing I likely had lymphoma after the MRI I kind of stopped shopping around.

Bottom line? Pay your health insurance premiums first, buy food second!

Mothers Day

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Photo by Bean

I surprised my mom this year by walking in the door on Mothers Day. It was important to be home this year since I wasn't able to last year.
It has been nearly a year since my right testicle was removed. the surgery was two days after Mothers Day last year.
My folks spent last Mothers Day with Richard and Tina at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA. The day was real anxious. I was in Tucson with Fatty, Sarah and Alma, and I think probably the Gonzalez family. Just trying to relax, though we were all on the phone throughout the day. One of my memories from the day was mass at the Cathedral, where the presiding priest asked all the mothers to stand up for a prayer. But before the prayer, he said "look at all the lovely ladies." not the kind of thing you expect from a priest. in church. on mothers day.
Early the next morning, on May 14, 2007, my mother and father packed the van and headed east on I-10 to Tucson. We met at the hospital where I had a pre-operation meeting with my surgeon and had some blood work.
So a back yard barbecue one year later was a welcomed change of pace. grilled onion, pollo, carne, stories and laughter. everybody pitched in and cooked. the Bravo family stopped by as did Guadalupe and her nephew, Keanu.
funny -- the difference a year makes.

You've got "Nodular Sclerosis Hodgkin's Disease!"

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Me: What?

Doctor: Remember when we were talking about the "Hollywood Cancer"? The kind you want to get if you're going to have cancer at all? Well that's what you've got. But it's not really called "Hollywood Cancer" - that's just what we tell patients to keep them from freaking out. It's really called Hodgkin's Disease and you've got the flavor called "nodular sclerosis".

Me: Huh?

Doctor: So the good part is that there's at least a 80% chance you'll be 100% cured which means you'll probably still die in about 50 years but you'll likely die from something other than Hodgkins Disease.

Me: Oh, good...

Doctor: But I've still got to talk to all my home boys here at UCSD Moores Cancer Center about you. You see we get together once a week and brag about all the cool cancer cases we've got. Sure, yours is a pretty pedestrian case of cancer, but hey, it's still real cancer - don't let anyone tell you different - you still get a t-shirt at the end! Wait, what was I talking about? Oh, yeah - I've got to present your case to all the other cancer doctors here on Friday - and assuming that everyone agrees then we'll share the recommended course of treatment with you which will likely be four months of ABVD chemo followed by two weeks of radiation therapy. So six months from now it's possible this will all be behind you.

Me: Thank you God! Thank you Jesus! Thank you Holy Ghost! Thank you family, friends and friends I haven't met who have prayed for me, my family and all those who are sick in body, mind or spirit!

"And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean." Mark 1:40,41

This is not really what my fine doctor, Dr. Castro said. He said it all very professionally. I just reworded it to make the official diagnosis of my cancer sound somewhat light hearted and/or funny. Ha, ha. :) (Except for the last part where the hand of God has assisted those like me who are sick.)