CANCER / Eat your broccoli! … and what I told the Angel

CANCER / Eat your broccoli!

One year ago this week I returned home from Walter Reed after having part of my lung removed for cancer. Three more operations for more cancer elsewhere would follow through the end of September.

Have completed my one year checkup. No bad in sight. The Robin Williams suicide has made me reflect. In the middle of my chemo and radiation treatments I remember thinking that if an Angel appeared and said I could let go if I wish and move on: I would have. Cheerfully.
If the Angel were to visit me today: Kiss my ass. I ain’t going anywhere. Life is good. … but darkness can visit us all.

Goodbye Sher! Sweet hugs!

Earlier this week I just lost a dear colleague, Sher Evans. She was a recruiter up in Maryland that was just absolutely a bundle of energy and joy. She went out of her way to help anyone looking for a job to find one — even if it was with a different company.

She had survived breast cancer in the mid-2000s and was doing well. A month or so ago the cancer raged back and just overwhelmed her.

I enjoy each day myself, knowing that there are no guarantees.

CANCER / HOPE / =^) … DNA technology provides new outlook

CANCER / HOPE / =^) … Met with Oncology today and my current health assessment: Am healthy in every way except for the effects of radiation and chemo … but am doing well in living with that. There are no detectable indicators of cancer (blood/chest xray/urine/physical exams for tumors, etc.). Comprehensive testing (MRA/PET Scan) will begin in February or March once my body settles down from radiation treatment — which creates false positives.

They had more good news … recently published research links specific DNA markers within my cancer with a potentially fatal weakness identified in the cancer … the tradeoff is that I must continue on with more chemo to get the possible payoff.

I want to see grandbabies and grandpuppies and see if social security gets fixed and to be a pain-in-the-ass factchecker for another 10-20 years.

Sign me up! I told the doctors — but I did have one question: Is it possible to get my chemo in chocolate flavor? … because the regular stuff sucks!!!

Chemo … my chemical romance with the future

My oncology doctor called and asked me to come in. She wants to discuss my future treatment.

Due to the characteristics of my cancer, my treatment plan has often see-sawed between: do this, cancel that, try this, let’s do next … just a week ago they told me that I could possibly skip the 12 weeks of chemo planned for January-March 2014. Today they say that is still the plan but they recommend continuing with my current chemo past December 13th and continue it into early January.

>>> The GOOD NEWS: Am doing well in all of my checkups. Just last week my internist raved how they ran every body fluid test imaginable and that I passed with flying colors. Some test results even improved from good to better. Not a single test result yielded concern.

Yet I must tell you that I feel like a shell of myself from just a few weeks ago. Yes, that is me just whining. I know that I am going to live and to have a good life to come … but … this has been a very tough week. Doing both daily radiation and chemo has taken its toll on me after six weeks. I am ‘alive’ and that is as good as I feel right now.

Docs says that I am doing ‘great’ … as expected … =^) … but they also want to extend my chemo past December 13th because of the theory: comeback could be a bitch. Since there is no intent of a ‘cure’, just the ability to overwhelm  the cancer now and to manage the cancer in the future, then let’s try to do this right the first time.

I can do the extra treatment … but I barely feel human at this point. Chemo makes the world taste, smell and feel like your body is full of ashes 24/7.

Please excuse my whining. I am an Optimist and  am doing my best to live up to that moniker … but …

CANCER, Kids and happy, happy smiles

I wake up each day smiling. Sometimes it takes me 30 seconds to get in full gear but I still smile … and usually I do so all day long.

This was today’s wakeup video, courtesy of my good friend Connie.

I loved seeing the faces of the kids in this video … and some of the nurses weren’t bad either.

Be brave. Stay strong. Life happens. Smile.

Kudos to Walter Reed civilian staff members – working while furloughed

Was at Walter Reed on October 8th and had the opportunity to chat with various staff members. It seems that many of the civilians at the military hospital are officially furloughed due to the shutodwn — yet they are showing up for work to make sure that the hospital continues to fully function.

They are working in expectation that some deal will be worked out and that a pay deal will be forthcoming.

Kudos. My own adventure in the hospital had a successful outcome. Am again at home, healthy and enjoying life.

The Sequester had already imposed its own major impact on services at Walter Reed beginning back in August 2013. The government shutdown has added to that burden — but it good to see that things have a way of working themselves out.

Cancer Coin Toss, Medical Ethics and Burning Bridges … et tu, Fate?

September 12th UPDATE to my original post.

The academic argument has been settled since I wrote the piece below several days back. A CT/PET scan of September 11th shows a metabolically greedy hotspot. That translates to a new cancer has appeared. Will be meeting with doctors on Friday the 13th to battle this and then it is on to the chemo, which I have nicknamed ‘Charlie Cool’. It will be up to Charlie Cool to beat Bad Bart’s ass so that I can wake up one day and take the grandkids to Disney … and since I don’t have any grandkids yet then Charlie Cool is going to need the help of my ever helpful and ever present guardian angels.

It is my week to be a guinea pig.

Met the most enthusiastic senior cancer researcher today. She came in to chat with my wife and I about the different views on where my treatment might be going. Today was the day for me to sign my consent form to begin chemo treatment … yet that will wait another day. It turned into a counseling session instead. Very informative. Very interesting. Bewildering.

She summed up my treatment plan as practicing the art of medical care rather than the science thereof.

The researcher said that my case is getting plenty of discussion among the cancer doctors. And they are involving more doctors to get their opinions, as well.

It seems that the doctors and researchers are uncertain as to what should happen next.

My specific case has three medical ethical challenges:

  • Clinically my body is free of cancer. Taking chemo will hurt my body in some way. To take chemo will be to do some harm with a range of possible side effects. Today I asked the researcher what I have asked the other doctors: whether she believed that my cancer was truly gone. She said that the DNA of the cancer indicated metastasis. Multiple metastases is common.  General consensus is that there is cancer somewhere in my body and it is only a matter of time before it makes an appearance.  Medical “dogma” is however that I should be sent upon my way and that further treatment is unnecessary. “Dogma” was the researcher’s word, not mine … and she used it several times. Appearance of being cancer-free may be an illusion, or it may be real.
  • The second ethical challenge is that even if there is cancer, there is no evidence that the chemo that they recommend for me will work. It is NOT that this treatment has given poor results in the past — it is that the doctors are treating me in the blind because there is almost no data or protocol history to judge how this cancer will react to treatment using chemo. There are well under 50 cases of ENT BSCC, and fewer with metastasis.
    Note: Taking the chemo will probably cause a mutation in any existing cancer, whether it works or not. Radiation is not currently appropriate because there is no cancer to radiate.  If cancer exists microscopically then chemo needs to be a comprehensive first strike. Yet taking chemo now or later will be the equivalent of “burning bridges” (the researcher’s words), because what they have in their arsenal is as good as it gets .. so if an existing cancer mutates, which it should, there are no chemo alternatives for a counterattack.
    Option: Only take two of the three recommended kinds of chemo and save the third type for a later counterattack. Using only two kinds would however remove the ‘comprehensive’ attack approach.
  • Thirdly, to wait for the cancer to return is not such a good plan either … not when it could return in several places that you want to avoid cancer at all costs (bladder, liver, kidneys … almost anywhere actually). Waiting could itself render the chemo of little value if used then instead of now. So saving the bridges from burning now may mean that the cancer burns them later instead, before symptoms present themselves and the cavalry can render assistance.

I do not mean in any way to imply that the doctors are ethically challenged, only that there are challenges which pose ethical dilemma for medical treatment.

Where is it all going? My choice will be either a partial (maybe full) salvation by preemptively weakening the cancer’s ability to return, or a cup of unpredictable hemlock.

The doctors will go with my choice — they are very much refraining from making any specific recommendations … although they are obviously making recommendations just by assisting me so closely in my adventure via tests and an overwhelming collaborative search for options.

The good news is that I am otherwise very healthy, have a great team of curious, motivated doctors that promise to be there for me every step of the way, and I am in the hierarchy of most likely to do well in any treatment … assuming treatment works, whether now or later.

There is no reality check in this situation per se — I may outlive everyone offering me treatment. I am continually impressed by the quality of my care and the willingness of the doctors to brainstorm what it all means.


Treatment: My consent form will have to wait a week or so later before we get back to it. The docs are giving me tests galore to create a baseline of my body before we do anything. Today I contributed more blood for more tests (but got no cookies for my effort) and on Wednesday I will take another CT/PET scan that can supposedly find cancer down to 5mm in size. Being a good American I have no clue how small that is … except supposedly really, really small … which in this case is a good thing.

Note: My assumption is that they are turning the machine up to its highest setting because previously we were told on several occasions that the standard CT/PET scan was only effective at finding bad stuff at 1cm in size.

Early next week I will do more tests and get a chemo port inserted into my chest and throat.

Then we will all meet again and rediscuss the challenges of what to do next.




Hope for Medical Breakthroughs via Video Gaming!

There is great hope for a number of scientific and medical breakthroughs via a skill learned from many hours on Sony Playstation, Microsoft XBox, and such: collaborative exploration, information sharing and collaborative attack, aka problem solving.

GE’s Focus Forward website highlights advances in technology. It recently highlighted an amazing advance using a game called ‘Fold It‘:

    Biologists spent ten years trying to map the structure of the elusive Mason Pfizer Monkey Virus, a problem that could unlock the cure for AIDS. The Contenders solved it in three weeks. Using the online puzzle game Fold It, scientists are enlisting video gamers to solve real- world problems.

Many thanks go to my friend Connie Moser for sharing this video with me. Collaboration does not require a game, just friends with a mutual interest … who know about games and such.