Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fun With Cancer

Fun With Cancer

Right before my daughter’s wedding in 1996, I noticed a lump.  I went to our GP who sent me to a surgeon to do a biopsy.

I told him it would have to wait until after the wedding as there was no way I was not going to dance at my daughter’s wedding.  I thought I had a hernia, he suspected something else.  We postponed.

After the wedding, I scheduled the biopsy as outpatient surgery. 

I was still groggy, coming out of the anesthesia when the surgeon came in and said “It’s Cancer, make an appointment at my office,” and promptly left.

His gracious bedside manner was very comforting.  However it left me with some questions.

What kind of cancer was it?  What was the treatment?  Who should I go see for treatment?

My wife and I went to the local library (we didn’t have a computer much less internet at home) to do some research.

Based on the symptoms, or lack of symptoms other than the lump, I self diagnosed myself (I was right), looked up the treatment recommended, and waited for Monday to make the appointment.

I called the surgeon’s office, and made an appointment.  While on the phone, I asked the person who answered the phone, who she would recommend as an Oncologist.  She gave me a name and I called and made an appointment.  I figured the sooner we got started the better.

When I showed up at the Surgeon’s he confirmed my diagnosis.  He got mad when I told him I already had an appointment with an Oncologist (maybe he gets a kickback) and wanted me to rat out the person in his office who had given me the name.  Needless to say, I didn’t, and never went back to him.

I went to the Oncologist with my wife, who oddly felt she had a stake in this.

He went over a treatment regimen and wanted to do additional tests.  I said, lets get started immediately, like today.  The tests wouldn’t change the course of treatment.  He agreed, but said we had to do one test first.

This test consisted of me lying on my stomach, while he tried to poke a hole in my hip bone so he could draw out some marrow to see if the cancer had spread.

I asked if it was painful, I was told some people can take it, some scream.   Great!

He sent my wife to the drug store to fill a prescription for anti-nausea medication and also so she wouldn’t hear me scream.

The test began.

He was having trouble getting the needle through the bone, so he ended up with his knees on my back, trying to pound the needle through the bone (no osteoporosis for me).  It would have been comical except it hurt.

After the test (I didn’t scream), I had my first treatment, which consisted of me sitting on a recliner, hooked up to an IV while they put 4 different chemicals into me.  This was called CHOP or the Red Devil, for the color of one of the components.

A couple of weeks after the first treatment my hair started falling out. Not willing to wait for wispy hair, I shaved my head.

One of the benefits of this particular side effect, was saving on shampoo and not having to shave, since my beard stopped growing.  I began to see possibilities here.

I went to Annie’s Costume Shop and bought an earring (clip on) and eye patch.  I looked somewhere between a pirate and Mr. Clean.  My wife said “NO PARROT”.  I wore the eye patch and earring whenever I remembered to put them on or wanted to make a favorable impression.  I even took my nephew to Annie’s and got him one of those scalp coverings that made him look bald, so we could pal around and frighten people.

I wore them to my next treatment.

Oncologists are not known for having a humorous outlook.

I entered the office hunched over like Quasimodo, limping, with my bald head, and earring.  “It’s the side effects” I told the nurse.  She burst out laughing.

She called in the other nurse, who also laughed.  They decided I had to show the doctor.  They put me in an examination room and sent in the doctor telling him there was something wrong.

I repeated my performance.

“What” he said startled, “I’ve never seen side effects like that.  What happened to your eye, what is that hunchback?”  As I said, not a fun type of guy.

I had several treatments over 4 months, but was disappointed I never got the wine and cheese I asked for during the treatments.  If I was going to sit there for a couple of hours I should be made comfortable I said to them.  They agreed but never provided the wine and cheese, just old magazines.

He eventually discharged me with the caveat that this type of cancer can reoccur.

Sure enough, about 4 years later I felt another lump on my neck. 

The GP send me to another surgeon who specialized in Ear, Nose and Throat.

He did the biopsy and removed the lymph node and a salivary gland by “cutting my throat”.

 I usually tell people my wife arranged for my throat to be slit.  They usually respond by saying they can understand why.  I have no idea what they are talking about.

The biopsy came back positive.

Sure enough the Cancer was back. 

I had to go to a new Oncologist because we had changed health plans.  He had a better sense of humor. 

He started me off with a new treatment that didn’t have the harsh side effects of the other one.

But first I went back to the surgeon so he could evaluate his handiwork.

Why should I let him off easy?

Back to Annie’s for something to give me the appearance of a Frankenstein like scar around the neck.  The scar from him is almost invisible.

I sat in his waiting room with the “scar”.  Patients would look at me and gasp.  They began to be uneasy about what to expect.

I went into the examination room.

The nurse started smirking. The Doctor entered.

“How are you doing today?” he said.  He noticed the scar.  “What is this?”

He rushed over to examine me.  “I didn’t do this, what is this?” he exclaimed.

He quickly realized it was my little joke.

“You didn’t wear this in the waiting room, did you?” he asked hopefully.

“Fraid so”, I responded.  The nurse was giggling by now.

“I don’t think you have to come back” he said. 

He did smile, but asked if I could leave the back way.

The treatments were successful, the Cancer went away.

About 4 ½ years later it came back. 

This time it caused my leg to swell and took 2 biopsies to diagnose what type of cancer cells I had.

The Oncologist (the one from 4 years previous), put me on two different regimens. 

My wife agreed to let me have a stuffed parrot, I had saved my earring and eye patch. 

This time I really had side effects.   My hair started to fall out, and then started to grow back.  I told the doctor’s partner maybe he should check on the validity of the cancer drugs he was getting from his supplier since my hair was growing back and it shouldn’t have.  To my credit there was a current news  story about counterfeit cancer drugs.

He thought I was accusing him personally.  We didn’t seem to get along.

The nurses thought it was funny.  They liked my sense of humor and cooperated with me on some little jokes. 

For instance my wife wanted me to paint the living room.  I got one of the nurses to write on the prescription pad “Paint fumes are very harmful for cancer patients”. 

Didn’t help, I still had to paint.  The nurses sympathized with me (I think) when they asked me what happened the next time I had a treatment.

The side effects got worse, at one point my red blood count really dropped and I struggled to get out of bed in the morning.  I went in for a treatment.  The treatment nurse directed me to see the doctor.

I was waiting in the exam room when the doctor came in.  I was tired, didn’t have any strength or energy and was very pale.  He actually seemed concerned.

My wife who had driven me to the office decided to come in to the exam room.  She had never met this doctor as I had always gone myself.

I couldn’t help myself.

As she entered the room, I looked up at her and turned to the doctor and said “Do you know this woman?”

The doctor with a shocked look on his face that some stranger would intrude said “What are you doing here?”

“Don’t listen to him” my wife said, “I’m his wife, and it’s only his weird sense of humor”.

I figured if I could fool around, how bad could it be?

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