Archive for February, 2010

Cancer girl takes to the radio

February 26, 2010

Gazette colleague who had colon cancer in 1991 and I have agreed to be part of a panel discussion group on March 3 at a colon cancer awareness event at Bronson Methodist Hospital. Today, I got a call asking whether I would agree to be interviewed on WKZO-AM on Tuesday as part the promotion of the event.

I agreed. The point, they say, is for me to “tell my story” and stress the importance of colon-cancer testing. Guess I can do that.

I’m off work today and spent the day lazying around. My two productive activities: Went grocery shopping with Harold, and made sweet and sour pork for Kathryn and her boyfriend. I did notice that both in the grocery store and in cutting up the pork that my fingers were pretty sensitive to cold. Oh, and in the grocery store, a stranger came up to me, asked me how I was doing and wished me well.

A busy, busy week

February 26, 2010

No, Mom and Dad, I did not fall off a cliff. I’ve just been very, very busy this week.

Blame work and night assignments for three consecutive days. Today, for instance, I left the house at noon and returned at midnight. In between, I had lunch with a source, visited my friend Bill in the hospital, covered a school board meeting and wrote two stories and a column.  I had similar 12-hour days on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“Your energy seems to be good,” my editor said to me this week, and it certainly seems that way, although the other side of the story is that work is about the only place where I’m exhibiting any energy. I’ve been a total slug at home this week, truth be told.

The stamina thing also goes up and down. Monday, for instance, I worked an eight-hour day and was totally out of gas by 4 p.m.  I headed for a nap as soon as I came home. 

Tonight, though, I feel fine. The blisters on my feet, incidentally, seem to be clearing up — probably I haven’t done the treadmill at all since Saturday. I’ll resume my exercise routine tomorrow, but decided to give my feet a break for a few days.

This week’s amusing story: I didn’t get home until 12:30 a.m.Wednesday, and Kathryn questioned me about it the next day.

“Why so late?” she asked. “Mommy, you really need to get your sleep.”

I was touched that she cared, and I told her so.

 “Well, when you don’t get enough sleep, it’s means more work for me,” she explained.

Oh.

Feet, don’t fail me now!

February 21, 2010

One of the weirder and more bothersome side effects of the chemo has been blisters on the soles of my feet.

I had been warned that a side effect of one of the drugs might be tender skin on the soles as well as the palms of my hands. (The reason, apparently, is that the chemo goes after fast-growing cells, and this are two areas with more rapid cell replacement. Also explains why mouth sores is a common reaction, although I’ve had minimal issues with that so far.)

At any rate, my foot issue has been exacerbated by the fact that I’ve been using the treadmill for an hour a day. The exercise is good for the rest of my body, but the treadmill is a hard surface and the bottom of my feet have suffered as a result. Last night, I got off of the treadmill and could barely walk, the result of a quarter-size blisters on both soles.

So today, I headed to Gazelle Sports and asked for advice. They sold me some super-expensive “frictionless” socks ($17  for two pair) and said that probably should do the trick.  I also took a break from treadmilling today to give my feet a rest.

But even in the foot issue, there’s a silver lining. For years, decades even, I’ve had corns on the bottom of my toes. Last week, one of the corns literally sloughed off. “That’s awesome,” Kat said as she looked at my newly corn-free toe. “And really gross.”

A circle of sickies

February 20, 2010

Yesterday after I had chemo infusion pump removed, I headed over to Bronson Methodist Hospital to visit my friend, Bill, who is marking his THIRD WEEK in Room E-226.

Bill is a co-worker who had has been battling kidney cancer for the past several years. He ended up at Bronson because of a bowel obstruction, and the first two weeks of hospitalization basically  involved medical folks fluttering around in a state of uncertainty.  Every day was another round of tests and theorizing and trying different remedies so they wouldn’t have to resort to surgery. Finally, last Monday, they threw in the towel and operated — just as well, since it turned out his intestine had gotten hitched on a staple from a previous operation, causng the bowel to twist and inflame.

So now he’s not in pain from the bowel obstruction anymore, but from the surgery. Poor guy! He can’t leave the hospital until the bowels are back in working order, which appears will take another few days at least.

As Bill and I were hashing over his situation, he got a call from his wife(another Gazette employee who sits next to me at work) who announced that another two work colleagues were in the hospital. What??? She had no details, so I went out to the front desk to investigate and found out that a photo editor who left the Gazette last month on a buyout is now in the Bronson’s cardiac unit. The other co-worker turned out to be at Borgess, not Bronson, and was being treated for a drug reaction.

Bill and I agreed that I should head upstairs to the cardiac unit, find out the deal with our co-worker there. I found Brad in great spirits for a guy who just dodged a heart attack. Says was feeling minor discomfort in his chest Thursday night and called his doc, who sent him to the ER. The ER folks took a look at his bloodwork and shuttled him to surgery,where he had a stent to open up a vein that was 90 percent blocked and also had a clot parked nearby.

The weirdest thing is that Brad, Bill and I are all in our early 50s, as is in the guy in Borgess. Is the stress of journalism making our bodies collapse? It is something in the water? We’re all perplexed.

At any rate. it appears everybody is on the mend and I made sure that Brad and Bill had each other’s room numbers, and hopefully they got in some male-bonding time today.

One other quick anecdote: As I was sitting in Bill’s room yesterday, his surgeon walked in, took a look at me and said, “Is the whole Gazette coming here?” 

“Do you know each other?” Bill said to the two of of us.

“No, but I see her puss in the paper about every day, and my partner did her operation,” the doc said. He also said he works with my sisters Marcia and Colleen.

It really is a small world,  after all.

Finally, a health update for my parents in Palm Springs: Felt surprisingly good today, considering it was the Saturday after chemo. I had enough energy to give the kitchen and bathrooms a thorough cleaning, make a batch of rice pudding and I also finished off our tax returns and Kat’s financial aid paperwork. Now off to the treadmill ….

Sleepytime continues

February 18, 2010

Unlike my last post-Thursday chemo, where I worked a double shift, I was completely dragging at work today. My theory: That big dose of steroids I was getting during previous chemos propelled my nicely into the weekend. Now that I’m on a “steroid taper” — no big boost, just a little bit of steroids for the next six days — my ‘roid boost has eroded. Ah well, no steroid high, but no steroid crash, either.

At any rate, I left work early today and came home and took a two-hour nap. No doubt, my co-workers were pleased. They’ve been expressing concern that (a.) I was “overdoing” and (b.) my superwoman act on chemo was setting the bar a little too high for anybody else who got sick. Feel free to take it easy, they were saying. Really. Seriously. No kidding.

On a completely differerent subject, someone sent me a link to a story in the latest Esquire on Roger Ebert’s fight with throat cancer.  It also mentions his blog, including a wonderful entry about his feelings on not being able to eat or drink anymore. Both are definitely worth the read.

Sleepytime

February 17, 2010

Treatment No.5 went off without a hitch today, although my platelet level was low.

This is is not to be confused with the issue two weeks ago, when I had a low white blood count. I had a shot to boost my immune system and it’s now at very healthy levels. The platelets affected clotting, and the normal level is 150 to 200 and mine was 95, not low enough to delay today’s treatment but enough to get a speech on staying any from knives and any activities that might cause bleeding.

Also, because of last week’s sudden outbreak of stupidity, I was given a much smaller dose of steroids today, with the idea that I’ll now take steroid supplements for the next six days. I don’t know if the steroid change was the reason, but I was exhausted when I got home from chemo today and headed up for a “nap” around 5 and woke up past 10.  Hopefully, I’ll still get a good night’s sleep cuz I’ve got a full day at work tomorrow.

A sick attitude?

February 16, 2010

After coming home for dinner tonight, I headed back to work for another three-hour stint. The big reason: I have chemo tomorrow, and wanted to polish off some editing work that I normally would do on Wednesdays.

I’ve been very intent on making sure that I work 40 hours a week, and that I do all of my normal assignments, even on my chemo weeks and even if it means working at night or my days off.

Part of it is that the newspaper biz is very precarious right now, and I’m very conscious of wanting to present myself as a productive employee. But I also realize that part of it goes back to my upbringing in a house that wasn’t very tolerant of illness. True story: When I was growing up and would miss school because I was sick, my mother would give me a list of chores to do. I think the point was to ensure that we wouldn’t view sickness as an opportunity to slack off, and boy, the message sure stuck.

In my 30 years in the workworld, I’ve very, very rarely have taken a sick day and, truth be told, I’ve tended to be judgmental about those who do take sick days. At home, I’ve adopted a similarly hard-ass attitude about illness when it comes to my husband and kids. Trust me, they don’t come to me for nurturing when they’re not feeling well.

In some ways, it’s an attitude that’s served me well. But in these circumstances, with everybody — including my mother — telling me to take it easy, I’ve finding it very, very hard to break out of a lifetime pattern of sucking it up when it comes to being sick. The idea of missing work because of chemo seems to bother me a lot more than it bothers my bosses. But the fact is, I feel huge, huge, HUGE guilt about taking any time off.

So it’s off to chemo tomorrow. But before that, I’m doing an interview for a story. See what I mean?

Impromptu club meeting

February 14, 2010

Today, I visited my  friend  Bill in the hospital. He has kidney cancer and has had three surgeries in recent years, but it wasn’t the cancer that nailed him this time but a bowel obstruction. The theory is that all those surgeries have created adhesions and scar tissue that are now screwing up his intestines. He goes under the knife again on Monday so doctors can figure out what’s going on.

It’s a very frustrating situation for him. In the past, he’s been hospitalized for a set amount of time for a very specific reason — i.e. a surgery on Monday and expected discharge from the hospital on Saturday.  Not this time. He’s spent two weeks in the hospital so far, with not end in sight at this point, and resolution of problem remains uncertain. He feels, he says, like his body is betraying him.  To complicate matters, Bill’s mother is dying of pancreatic cancer and is on borrowed time and he feels awful about losing this time with her.

He was in considerable pain during my visit, and I was wondering if my visit was such a hot idea. But he assured me that seeing people is a helpful distraction. He particularly likes visits from “people from the club,” he said — the cancer club.

During this situation, in walked state Rep. Robert Jones, who is being treated from cancer of the esophagus. I actually happened to see Jones at the West Michigan Cancer Center a week ago, and we had a very nice chat.

So here the three of us were, each with a different kind of cancer, making inquiries on each person’s condition. I didn’t stick around long, but it did feel like a club meeting of sorts. Jones gave me a big squeeze as I left.

Bill did share one sort-of-funny anecdote. He’s the restaurant critic for our newspaper, and once the nurses figured out who he is, he said there’s been a steady stream of hospital staffers stopping by for restaurant tips. Bill normally loves these conversations; but recognize he hasn’t eaten in two weeks and is wracked by abdominal pain. Talking about restaurants and food is about the last thing he wants to do. The whole restaurant-advice thing is “wearing thin,” he said.

Incidentally, here’s my column that ran in Saturday’s paper about how my body and I are having communication issues. I’m sure Bill could relate.

Just to be clear ….

February 12, 2010

… Marcia’s comment yesterday may have sounded snarky in my retelling, but it was actually laugh-out-loud funny in the original presentation. You have to imagine Marcia, who is one of the wittiest people I know, delivering this line with mock wide-eyed earnestness — and it followed my comment that I needed every brain cell that I have.

Besides, Marcia bought me a pint of raspberries yesterday. Which I didn’t share and which clearly makes her my new best friend.

With the hormones back in regular production, today went just dandy, especially thanks to a several-hour afternoon nap.

Tonight, Kevin had a concert and we were planning to go to that, only Kat announced last night that she couldn’t go because she had to go the basketball game. Because she happened to be elected to the Winter Fest court. And she might be elected Winter Fest queen. Only she was debating whether to go at all because the whole thing was “stupid.” So why did she put her name on the ballot? It was a lark, she said. I convinced her that she needed to go, and I needed to go, although I was unsuccessful in persuading her to wear a dress. Her idea of royalty-wear, apparently, is skinny jeans and cute boots. 

So I ditched the concert for the basketball game. (That was actually a treat in itself; Kalamazoo Central has one of the best b-ball teams in the state and the halftime score against Portage Northern was 41-14.) Kat was not crowned queen –that honor went to basketball star Devin Oliver and his girlfriend — but at least she was there and so was I.

Feelin’ groovy

February 11, 2010

After yesterday’s steriod-deficient-induced meltdown, I’m feel MUCH better today. Obviously, the ol’  body decided to reboot and start producing steroids once again.

I was telling my sister Marcia about my problems yesterday and she agreed that I had cause for concern. “You need to tell your doctor that you simply can’t afford to be any stupider,” she said.

Thanks, Marcia.