Friday, January 30, 2009

No Quarter is given

The Slaughter continues into the third day as many cancer cells wake up to the last sunrise they will ever witness. Hundreds more are expected to die today in a relentless attack of ICE on the whole upper torso region. 

"We will smoke them out of their caves if we have to. These evil doers will be destroyed without quarter and without mercy," says a defense department official. 

So far there have been many independent reports of fierce hand-to-membrane combat. Some rumors of rape has been heard but not confirmed since it's hard to rape a cell. 

Michael's body is starting to show some signs of fatigue. He no longer feels that he can get through a whole Macarena dance performance at a wedding and when it comes to the butt wave part, he would have some stiffness, more stiffness than usual. BTW, that's how the doctors here ask if you're healthy: Can you get through a Macarena?

"Although much has been gained, this will be a long, hard-fought war against a fierocious foe who wants to kill me," said Michael. "I'm tired. I need to watch a Clint Eastwood movie now."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Oh, the horror.

At 10:50 pm on Wednesday, the first sorties of something called ICE swooped down on Michael's body signifying the beginning of hostilities between two mortal enemies. 

Although details are still sketchy, there are reports that many cancer cells were killed in the first night alone.  The bloodbath continued early into the second day as hundreds of cancers went running for cover only to find death, destruction, sheer terror and chaos. No cell was spared. Yes, even baby cancer cells met a violent and destructive end. 

There are no reports from the cancer cells. The government has made no official comment. Their state run TV was showing a cooking show when last checked. The cancer cell Minister of Evil has not been seen out in public for a week, although there has long been rumors that he has a body double that often goes to mall openings.

On the other side, rumors abound that Michael is looking for an aircraft carrier to make his Mission Accomplished speech. This, of course, would be even more premature than the first Mission Accomplished speech. Plus, he doesn't know how to fly an F-16. 

Realistically, indicators look like Michael will make an offensive every other week for the next month and then see what has been gained. "We will not sleep until all those suckers are dead. Of course, we will also not sleep because the drugs keep us up all night," a defense department spokesman said. "But we are bound and determined to watch every late night episode of Charles in Charge if it comes to that. And I hope you know that Saved By The Bell is still on...Everybody loved Screech but Mr. Belding had better timing."

If many cancer cells have met their evil end, then the next step of cell transplantation begins. That's more complicated and a whole other article. But it all starts with the death of as many cancerous beings as possible now. 

We've enclosed an image of Mr. Belding because we thought it was much nicer than showing the killing fields of Michael's insides.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009


As I'm heading into the Heart of Darkness, there are literally hundreds of people who have helped my family and me. I can't thank all of them. But chances are, if you're reading this, you've helped in some way. The hard part is next followed by the part that sucks and is harder, followed by the part that really sucks and is harder. Thanks to everyone for every word. Now the work begins. 

Ready. Set. Don't go.

I spent all day waiting for and then listening to medical people. Tomorrow I check in. The fun starts then. 

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bein' playas

My wife is now in Houston. She'll keep the warewolves away for awhile. She's a beautiful woman–strong, independent, eternally cheerful. She would be either the most treasured of cancer caregivers or the most annoying. Probably depends on the person or mood. For me, it's never been anything but very cool. She's also a nurse. So that means she can understand what in the world those doctors are saying. 

We're both living it up at the Holiday Inn this week. While I'll be getting deadly toxins shot into my body, she'll be venturing beyond the environs of the Texas Medical Center to haggle with the locals about an apartment. I may have the more enjoyable of the two activities this time.

But that's later in the week. Tonight, we ride. That's right. We're painting the Texas Medical Center red. It's already mostly a pink hue. Somebody must have been here before us. I may even take her for some ice cream. Yeah. Uh-huh. Living the dream. Bein' a playa. A playa makin' Double Fudge Chocolate stains on that little napkin they give you. Enclosed is a picture of some gangstas cuz that's what we're gonna be tonight, cous. 

By the way, for those of you worried that I'm going to die sooner rather than later, rest assured. I refused to die in a Holiday Inn. I don't want people saying, "Yeah, they found him face-first in his room service meal of chicken fried chicken." 

Does The Buzz begin tomorrow?

If this is going to be anything like the last chemo run, I expect a constant buzz in my ear by this time tomorrow. It's a low buzz and very quiet but it's always working any time I'm awake. I've never heard any doctor or patient talk about The Buzz but that's probably because there's so much else to cover. Plus, The Buzz is generally harmless. Unless it tells you to kill a famous person. One time I heard a voice that told me to kill Mario Lopez. But I don't think The Buzz was telling me this. I think I really wanted to kill Mario Lopez. 

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Warewolves in Houston

For anyone with cancer, nighttime is when the warewolves come out. You can't sleep. You can try. But you end up thinking too much. And you really can't think too much when you have cancer. You have to train yourself to be a piece of meat. 

I check the clock and the warewolves still howl. I get up to check email and they still howl. I try TV but watch only knowing that they are waiting for me to turn it off. I am not crazy. I have cancer. And I remember I have cancer best at night. Because the warewolves remind me. 

Houston is quiet at ten o'clock at night. Of course, Houston is quiet at two o'clock in the afternoon. But I am in a hotel right next to a cancer hospital and I know that there are people inside the buildings. Many of those people are hear the warewolves too and worry about the warewolves. Every couple of minutes they think to themselves, "The only thing worst than the nighttime is the nighttime in Houston, Texas." What mall do the warewolves live by?

Fired Up and Ready to Go

Finally, the biopsy. This is the John the Baptist of cancer treatment. The last thing before the real thing. The true predictor of things to come. 

The last time I had one, I was under the whole time and then woke up with this bloated neck as the surgeon told me how difficult it was to get underneath my chest wall. He was old. Probably shouldn't be handling sharp objects. 

This time it went much smoother. I was awake. They gave me some Verced but to anyone who's had too much fun in college, Verced is a joke unless given in high quantities.  I was also not in a surgery room but laying right underneath a CT Scanner. They then gave me a local anesthetic, which did work. Then they took this needle with a tube in it and went right into the center of my chest. I watched them go in and fish around on the TV monitor. The "fellow" (which is an MD Anderson term for a really smart student, usually the smartest student in his or her home country which is rarely the US because we apparently don't make smart people anymore) then sent this wire through the tube to scrape a couple of samples. He did this a few times. But then a heard this sound and this Professor guy comes in, yells at the Fellow and does a few scrape jobs himself. The actual time under took about an hour. 

They told me I would have a very small scar. That makes four scars of varying lengths on my midsection. And we're not done yet. Ladies, watch out.

That's pretty much it for the tests. I'm on to actually getting treatment next week. My wife will be coming to town. I might teach her to do this so she can fill in for me when I'm too whacked out to make any sense. You all have to promise to be nice to her. 

Enclosed is a picture of what I would look like if I didn't have scars and didn't have nipple hair and back hair (which, thankfully will be gone with chemo next week) but did have bigger muscles and well-coifed hair. It also reflects my steely determination. 

I itch

I itch. I itch. I itch. I itch. I really itch. I itch all over. I itch. I itch on my toes. I itch on my nose. I itch on my chest. I itch in the west. I itch. I bitch and itch best. But mostly, I itch. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The rest of me

I mentioned in my last blog how my chest resembled a mattress. The rest of me isn't looking too spit-shine either. I was in the MD Anderson lobby today and a man of about seventy with no hair and grey skin slowly, painfully walked by. I turned to the guy next to me and asked, "Do I look like that?" He said, "Ah, well, you're a couple years younger." 

Concerned about this deterioration, I asked my doctor. I asked if increasing bad health hurts my chances for recovery. I asked him about other factors that would hurt recovery. I talked about a couple of statistics that I read and an article. He looked at me and said, "You need to watch a movie." It's a Syrian way of saying, "Chill". I think part of the grey-skinned, sunken-eye-look has to do with staying up all night and reading the Internet. A little knowledge is a bad thing. We lay people will never get a lot of knowledge. Beware the Internet. Watch a movie instead. 


Okay, so I start a new week. I get a biopsy of the cancer on Friday and that's really about it. Lots of waiting. Lots of people with cancer in front of me. From what I can tell right now, it looks like next Tuesday is my first day under the influence of highly-toxic drugs. Until then I wait and itch. Anyone can see the cancer now just by looking at my chest since it looks like an old mattress. Very lumpy. Not the most comfortable sight or feeling. 

As I briefly mentioned before, I will be in Houston for my whole treatment, which could last as long as six months. The deal is I get zapped with chemo one week, then zapped again two weeks later. This counts as one "cycle". That shouldn't do the trick. So I'm getting anywhere from two to four cycles. The chemo is some powerful-bad shit. It will basically shut down my body's functions minus the important stuff like breathing. When all is dead, I get the actual stem cell transplant. Now, I've gotten a few offers from people who want to give up their stem cells but with this type, I'm actually replacing my own, only mine's been washed, cleaned, buffed and shined. 

By the way, Houston still sucks. The cost of a cab fare from the airport (named George HW Bush, that should tell you something right there) to a hotel near the hospital is about $65. And all you're doing is passing strip malls. There are no neighborhoods unless you count the ones you don't want to go into. And everybody drives. No walking. Why walk? It's not like you're a citizen of one of the fattest cities in the US. 

The people are Texas-friendly, though. The weather is better than in Chicago. And there's always the barbeque. 

Enclosed is a picture of an old mattress in the middle of what looks to be any neighborhood in Houston, with an addition of a strip mall. 

Friday, January 16, 2009

The end of Test Week

Yes, it's Friday and that means the tests are just about over. I had all kinds of fun with needles and radioactivity this week. 

It all started with my PET Scan. This is an ingenious test. You starve yourself of all carbs for a day. Instead, you can only eat steak (without seasonings), fat free jello and eggs. That's really about the total list of food that has no carbs. The next day you lay on a bed and this big nuclear reactor thing scans your body. While this is happening, they shoot carbs into you. Since cancer cells are really just bigger, badder cells that grow faster and eat more, you can tell how bad your cancer is by seeing what cells are eating like slobs. Besides the annoyance of not eating, this test is pretty simple. 

Another day I had my CT Scan, which is really just a good X-Ray. Of course, at MD Anderson, they gotta do three different versions of it. Most people get a needle of barium while they lie on the bed of another type of nuclear reactor. But here, they give you the needle, make you drink two pints of berry-flavored barium and then, as the topper, shoot another pint or two up your pooper. They call it an enema. It's really a bag of barium going up where things should only come out. Now, some of you may find this strangely erotic and I would like to say that you're really sick if you do.  

And after the usual blood draws, I experienced something only water-boarding candidates should encounter – a bone marrow biopsy. This is not good. You lay on your stomach. Then while you're staring at a wall worrying about the impending pain, a doctor starts sticking a thick, long needle into your hip. After passing a few muscles and some veins, the needle gets to your bone. Then the doctor digs the needle into your bone until it gets to the juicy middle. You can usually hear it digging. It's best to think of a song and start humming to block out any other sound. I tried "Dirty Little Secret" by the All-American Rejects. It's very catchy if you think about it. I'm not really sure it worked. Then the needle sucks out the juicy middle. After that, they get the needle out, which is fun, too. 

For the life of me, I don't understand why they don't put you under a lot of drugs to do this. But they don't. The first time I had this done, I was yelling and yelling until I started yelling in some Middle Eastern language. There isn't a curse word to describe the pain. Trust me, I tried them all, even the Middle Eastern ones. 

Of course, I should say the second and third time wasn't so bad. Because right when I thought I was done and breathing a sigh of relief, the nurse says, "Um, stay down. The doctor would like marrow from both hips." MD Anderson. They are very, very thorough. 

Is this heaven? No, it's Houston.

I'm getting ready to get treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Hospital in Houston, Texas. Yes, that's right. Every morning for the next six months I'll rise from my slumber, rip open the curtains on the bedroom window and say, "Yes. I choose life! Yes, I choose Houston!" 

MD Anderson isn't nearly as humdrum as Houston. It is  the best hospital in the world for treating cancer. Any oncologist will tell you. They also may say something like, "Too bad it's in Houston." How good is this place? Today I asked a nurse, "Hey, why do nurses have such good hand-writing and doctors have such bad hand-writing?" The nurse then went on to say how the hospital puts pressure on both nurses and doctors to make sure they have good hand-writing. "That way, it eliminates mistakes or even wasted time trying to track down the doctor to figure out what he or she wrote." They are very thorough here. 

Besides treating and trying to eliminate one of the worst diseases the world has ever seen, MD Anderson provides something else that's almost as impressive – a yummy cafeteria. They have stations for different types of food like Asian, Mexican, Italian, etc. In the middle is a solid salad bar. And then in the corner, a quiet little corner, there's the "Smokehouse". Barbeque. Oh, heaven. Usually I get some brisket smothered in sauce along with two tasty sides. Now, for those of you who wonder if this is attributing to my cancer, you can't get Hodgkin's from a crappy diet. You can, however, die of a heart attack. 

I should point out the irony that all this great food is in a cancer hospital. Many cancer patients can't appreciate these fine culinary delights. Chemo kills lots of things. An appetite is definitely one of them. So really, the only people who can enjoy the food are the employees. And many of them are from other countries. So you can imagine that the barbeque line isn't very long. 
Enclosed is a fake stock shot of what the doctors and nurses would look like at MD Anderson. They usually don't have the blissfully ignorant look on their face. Unless they're from Texas. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Let's get it started.

A big part of cancer is dealing with what you don't know. People with large imaginations or who worry or think too much, well, cancer's not for you. Too bad you can't choose your own life-threatening disease. 

I had a hard time dealing with the unknown the first go-round. This time, I'm much worse. I know that if anyone is wrong about any possible condition, I'm cooked. So, naturally, I think about every possible condition. 

The biggest time of not knowing is before treatment, maybe because during treatment, you're just too screwed up. That's where I am right now. I'm still doing all kinds of tests. I'll go through that later.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Moment isn't really a Moment

When you're told you have cancer the second time, there's no dramatic moment. It would be hard to make a movie that centered around it. But if they did, I think Glenn Close would have a part in there somewhere. Not because I'm necessarily a Glenn Close fan. I'm not really. It just feels right for her at this time in her career. 

When you're told about cancer the first time, yeah, there is a dramatic moment. And a lot of dramatic moments after that. But by the second time, you've already seen the signs. You've experienced the symptoms. You know it's there. You're just ready for someone to say it. Sort of like smelling a foul odor and waiting for someone to admit who farted. 

I farted on January 1. I went into the emergency room. Here's a tip that I'm sure hospital professionals don't want you to know. Tell them you have chest pains. they will see you first and immediately start working on you. Now, of course, if you have a broken arm you probably can't tell them you have chest pains and expect them to be happy about attending to you. But if you do have chest pains and don't want to go through the many strange and surreal hours of sitting in a emergency room, don't worry. You'll skip right past the guy who fell on his head. 

I still feel bad for the doctor who told me. He probably was pained. But once again, I wasn't. 

Cancer Lite and Mr. Murphy

Here's what I got: a recurrent form of Hodgkin's disease. Now, many of you cancer-heads out there are probably thinking, "Oh, well, you have cancer-lite". And you used to be right. Hodgkin's is a very curable form of cancer. If caught early and the situation is right, people have something like a 90% chance of complete remission. I wasn't one of the 90%. I hate crowds.

That means I get switched to the "Recurrent Hodgkin's" file. Not so nice. To get a cure here, the odds are much lower and you have to do the nasty with something called Stem Cell Transplantation.

The other response from peoples is, "Ah, what's Hodgkin's?" It's cancer of the lymph nodes. Usually, that doesn't provide any more insight. And I understand since I had the same reaction when I first heard about it. Imagine being told you have cancer of something you don't really know about. My biology professor, Mr. Murphy, was a good teacher. But come on. You're going to interest a high school kid on the many functions of a lymph node? I was busy with spit balls. 

Without a quick referral to the world's formost expert on everything, Wikipedia, lymph nodes are all over our body and help us fight colds. Mine are fucked up. Even the first try at chemo couldn't make them better for more than a couple of months. 

During my first run-through I read all the stuff I could get my hands on. But there wasn't much about people with recurrent diseases. I was wondering if that's because they're all dead. Or are they too vegged-out to type anymore?

Is this the 10 millionth blog in the world?

Just what the world needs. Another blog, right? Well, let me tell ya. Even despite the several hundred blogs about working in cubes, I've been up many nights looking around for information, any information, about recurring cancer and can't find that much. Sure, there's the science part. But nothing from the point of view of the recurree. And as anyone who's had cancer could tell you, that's a big difference. Doctors can tell people what to do. Patients can talk about what it takes to make it doable. 

The goal here is to tell you what I'm going through. My tone will be dictated solely by my status. I hope to make it entertaining but there will certainly come a time when I just won't care. More than anything, cancer treatment makes you just not care.