Friday, December 29, 2006

Poked and Prodded

Hello everybody. I hope you had as good a Christmas as I had. We had everyone over for Christmas Eve, about 17 people. It went very well. I gotta tell you, I love Eggnog. I put a shot of Southern Comfort in it and dust the top with nutmeg. Boo-Yah!

So yesterday I went to the hospital for re-staging. Basically, they re-evaluate where my cancer is, and how effective the treatment has been. I don’t have results yet, but I did get to have these tests:
- Chest and Neck X-Ray
- Brain MRI with and without contrast
- Blood tests (lots of these)
- CT Scan of the abdomen and pelvis (with and without contrast).

The worst is the CT scan because
a) They can’t use my PICC line to inject the contrast so they have to give me an IV. IVs hurt like living hell.
b) I have to drink barium (liquid poop) for an hour and a half before the procedure.
c) I get to have a barium enema during the test (I know, I know, TMI).

On the plus side, the actual CT scan only takes about 10 minutes.

The easiest test is the chest x-ray. Stand up, turn to the side, breathe in, and hold it, you're done. I get the results on Wednesday. I am not expecting any big revelation, and will probably continue with my IL-2 treatments on the following Monday.

How was your holiday?

P.S. You don’t have to be registered to comment anymore.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Looking Back

Well everyone, it has been a tough year. As a matter of fact, besides the year I was born (boy was that traumatic); it has been one of the toughest. I wanted to use this post to look back and thank the people that have helped me so much this year. I couldn’t have done it alone. So without further ado, here is my list of shout-outs:

Dr. Patrick Hwu, Dr. Paul Mansfield
I don’t have much faith in miracles, I have faith in doctors. I credit 99% of my recovery to these two guys.

The only way to test the strength of a chain is to pull it until it breaks. My wife is titanium steel.

I may not have always acted like I wanted to see him; but from the first time he came to see me in the hospital, he made it like home. He can ride on daddy’s magic chair anytime.

How my brother worked nights, spent his days with me, and still managed to sleep is a wonder of human endurance. He actually created hours in the day! Nobody has been more willing to help at any hour for any reason.

Driving me to the hospital, coming to visit me every other day like clockwork. He has been there for me like only a dad can.

Aunt Jan (Nanny)
She is so special to me. Why do I cry every time she visits me in the hospital?

Carol Lacey, Physician’s Assistant
Everything I know about cancer I from Carol. She is ne of the busiest people in the hospital, but never failed to answer a question for me or my family.

The other doctors and PAs in the Melanoma Clinic (Hwu, Bedikian, Papadapolous, and Kim)
When I go into the hospital for a treatment round, I never know which doctor will be taking care of me for the week. Because these doctors are so awesome, I never worried about it.

The nurses at MD Anderson, especially Ida, Lauren, Joseph, Grace, and Effie
Nursing has got to be one of the hardest jobs in the world. These are the ones that take care of me in every way you can take care of a person.

Claire, Mike, and Eric
My friends from school worked very hard to make me feel like I wasn’t even away.

My friends at SalvageSale but especially Scott, Ken, and Kim
These guys made me feel normal when I was out of the hospital. Thanks for treating me like a human.

The MD Anderson Cancer Center
What an amazing place! Truly a place of healing. I owe them alot.

Most of All: You!
You read my blog, comment, tell your friends. I love you guys.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Who are the lucky ones?

So, I have tried to stay away from overt reminders of my condition like movies about people dying of cancer. But, today I was flipping through the channels and “My Life” came on. I couldn't turn it off.

It is about a man with terminal cancer who uses a video camera to leave messages for his unborn son. Michael Keaton is awesome as the cancer patient, and Nicole Kidman plays the wife well.

The movie got me thinking, is it possible that the people that are told by the doctor “you have so many months to live” are the lucky ones? Ok, ok, I would rather die later than sooner. But given that everyone dies, is it better to know when in advance?

In the movie, Michael Keaton starts out as an “unexamined life.” He does not talk to his parents or his brother, and he has grown distant from his wife. He doesn’t share in the pregnancy by going to ultrasounds, etc… Over the course of the film (about 10 months I think), he is able to sort through his issues with his family, and reignites the love and passion with his wife. By telling his son about his life (via the videotapes), he examines and betters himself.

If he had never had cancer but died the same day as he does in the movie, would he have lived as good a life? He would not have had the chance to tell his son so much about himself. He would have died still mad at his family, still distant from his wife, and not really knowing himself.

Personally, I would want to know. I am a “planner,” and I would want to “put my house in order.”

What would you want? The comment board is open.

Double-goose in your eye

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Cancer 101 Part 2 - What Causes Skin Cancer?

In the last post we looked at what cancer is. We know cancer is basically cells that refuse to stop dividing (gone crazy). In this post, I will try to explain what causes cancer. Please note: I am neither a doctor or cancer expert. If anything that I say is misleading or wrong, please let me know and I will change it immediately. What I put here I have learned from my doctors over the last 9 months fighting cancer.

So, there are these crazy cells that won’t stop dividing right? What causes that? Don’t they know when to stop, and why doesn’t the problem just fix itself?

It starts with DNA. DNA is the “user manual” for a cell. It tells the cell what kind of cell to be, and how to be that kind cell. It also governs the cells lifecycle by telling it how to divide and when to stop dividing. OK, it is actually much more complicated than that, but one can think of DNA as a cell’s brains. Unfortunately, DNA can be damaged, and that is what causes cancer.

A common cause of cancer is radiation exposure (think nuclear bomb or power plant meltdown). Radiation causes damage to DNA, changing it slightly or damaging it just a bit. Usually, small bits if damage to DNA have no effect. All they really do is make the cell unable to function or reproduce. Imaging if you took the instruction manual to your oven and randomly changed 1000 letters in the book. The odds are good that the book wouldn’t make any sense anymore. However, what if you just happened to change the first sentence to say “put your head in the oven and turn it on.” Those random changes just made a big mess.

When DNA damage causes cancer, it means that the cell’s “user manual” no longer contains the instructions on how to stop dividing. There are many things that can change the “words” of a cell’s DNA. Radiation (nukes) and chemical toxins (chemicals in cigarettes) are two of the most common.

There are also genetic traits that can predispose you to getting certain kinds of cancer. This doesn’t mean that my son will get cancer because I did, but it does mean that he is more likely to get it than someone whose dad did not have skin cancer.

So what causes skin cancer? If we only knew… Current conventional wisdom points to UV Radiation. The sun’s light is composed of many colors (ever see a rainbow). Some of those colors we can’t even see. One of those colors us ultraviolet. If you could see ultraviolet colors through a prism, they would be just beyond purple in the rainbow. As it turns out, exposure to this UV light damages the DNA of melanocytes, the cells responsible for the color of your skin. If they are damaged enough, they can go crazy and become cancer.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States with 1 million new cases diagnosed every year. The best way to protect yourself from getting skin cancer is to wear sun block when outdoors ALL THE TIME and do not tan. If you do tan, you run the risk of being a great looking corpse, because you died of skin cancer.

Next in this series we will look at the current treatments for cancer, how they work, and what is on the horizon.

Death to Cancer

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Cancer 101 Part 1 - What is Cancer?

As most of you know, in late April of this year I was diagnosed with Metastatic Melanoma (cancer). I don't think I have ever taken the time to fully explain what this disease is, what its symptoms are, and how my treatments fight it. So, I now begin the first of a 3 part series. This post will explain what Metastatic Melanoma is (I hope).

Everybody has skin (some have more of it than others). Melanoma is a form of cancer of the skin. You can get cancer of almost any organ, and your skin is your largest organ. So what is cancer? According to Wikipedia, cancer is the uncontrolled division of cells that has the ability to move throughout your body.

Your body makes new cells by dividing existing cells. When you get cancer somewhere, your cells basically go crazy. They keep dividing and dividing and they don't stop. That is why people develop tumors; uncontrolled cell division creates growth in that type of tissue. For example: Somebody gets liver cancer so their liver cells keep dividing and dividing, creating a lump of liver tissue where there shouldn't be one.

Melanoma is cancer of the skin cells that cause pigmentation (melanocytes). These cells are responsible for the color for your skin. These cells go crazy and won't stop dividing. Since they are dark colored cells, when they form a mass on the skin it looks like a mole.

So, why do people die of extra skin cells? Well, they key is in a process called metastasis. When cancer moves into an area that can transport it somewhere else, it hitches a ride and then implants itself somewhere else. For example: someone has skin cancer and the cancer cells get into the blood. They hitch a ride on the blood all the way to the person's brain. They then implant in the brain and start growing there. The cancer is said to have metastasized.

While a mass of uncontrolled growth on your skin might be annoying, that same mass growing inside your brain can be downright problematic. Without treatment, it can (and probably will) kill you. Once cancer metastasizes, it becomes a very serious situation.

Cancer is broadly characterized by the type of cells that it affects (skin, liver, blood, brain, lung, breast, etc…) and the stage of the cancer. Cancer comes in four stages:
  • Stage I – the cancer is still where it started (in situ). It hasn’t moved or grown much.
  • Stage II and Stage III – these cancers have stared to invade or move. In the case of Melanoma, stage III means the cancer has spread locally to a nearby lymph node.
  • Stage IV – this means that the cancer has spread into the rest of the body (metastasized).

My cancer is stage IV Malignant Melanoma with metastasis on the peritoneum. My primary tumor (where it started) was on my back and was removed surgically 6 years ago. So, my cancer started as crazy cells on my back, that burrowed down to the blood or lymph system. They then used that system to hitch a ride to my gut, where they implanted on my peritoneum.

So that is cancer. The next post will explain how cancer causes problems (symptoms).

Peace and Love.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Getting Ready for Christmas

Happy Holidays Family and Friends!

I hope the holiday season is going well for everyone. I am having a great time so far.

For Thanksgiving, Jen's parents came over for dinner. I cooked the turkey, as I always do, and it turned out great. I added breakfast sausage to my mom's stuffing recipe (actually my Grandma Connelly's recipe), the first change I have ever dared . I was happy with the result. Lots of people ask me for my turkey recipe, but it is one of those "a little of this, a little of that" recipes. This year, I took careful notes and pictures. I hope to release the recipe soon, in time for Christmas.

Jen and I saw Borat last weekend. It was hilarious but be careful if you plan to see it. If you are easily offended by anything, don't see it. The movie manages to try to offend everyone at one point or another. It rocked!

I am feeling fine, and have been living pretty normally (see previous post). I go back to the doctor December 28th for re-staging. They will give me X-Rays, CT Scans, blood work, and a MRI to decide what to do next. For me, it is just really a formality. The doctor is already planning on 2 more cycles before we quit. I plan to start the next cycle on January 8th.

Thanks for reading.

Death to Cancer

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Everything is Normal

Given the situation, "everything is normal" is not a phrase that seems to apply. However, that is how I have felt. Going to the hospital every three weeks or so and staying for 6-9 days is normal. Flushing my permanent IV every night with blood thinner to prevent clots is normal. Being stuck in the house, unable to drive for up to a week at a time is normal. Re-acquainting myself with my family when I get home from a treatment is normal. Forcing myself to eat and a few days later eating all day is normal. In short, I live a normal life.

Jen and I are getting to be pros at fighting cancer.

People have been asking about the new treatments. If you recall, I have been switched to the "High -Dose Interleukin II" treatments, which require me to be in the ICU.

Basically, I go into the hospital on Monday, and get admitted to the ICU. There, they hook me up to all sorts of machines. These machines monitor my heart rate, heart activity, oxygen absorption, breathing, blood pressure, etc... For about 24 hours they hydrate me with fluids, then on Tuesday the fun begins.

Starting on Tuesday, they give me a dose of Interleukin-II every 8 hours until my body gives out or I crack. The drugs don't have an immediate effect, I can't tell when they go in except that the nurse tells me they are starting a dose. The doctor has to approve each dose. They even call him to wake him up in the middle of the night to ask him about my 1 am dose.

About 2 hours after the dose gets into me, I get cold and start to shiver. It happens very quickly, going from normal to flapping like a fish on the docks in about 5 minutes. The nurses come and wrap me in these nice heated blankets and give me a dose of Demerol. The shivering can last up to an hour. Then I throw up. Dose complete. Repeat.

The first time I had this treatment it wasn't very bad. My resting heart rate tripled after 8 doses and the doctor quit. The second time, I was able to go 7 doses, and I cried uncle. It was the first time I asked the doctors to stop giving me cancer drugs, and I regret it somewhat. Even though the doctor said he was ready to stop them on me anyway, the fact that I was going to quit represents a failure of will that I didn't like. I guess I am not Superman (note: I really am Superman).

I am home now, recovering. I am out of the hospital until the new year (yippee!) and am going to try to stay busy. I have been doing alot of cooking and plan to take a few 1 day cooking classes soon.

I hope everybody is having a great holiday season!