Monday, March 23, 2009

Say hello to Carlo and Francine

I've been living with these bumps on my chest for so long, I feel like they're old pals of mine. So why the heck not make them friends? 

Carlo is the bump on my left side. He's about 5 cm big and has this major Napolean complex. He's stubborn as all get-out and tough as a bouncer in David Yang's old neighborhood down in the slums of St. Louis. Perhaps as a result of the Napolean complex problem, he's been the leader. He was the Main Bump the first time I had cancer and was the first to come back the second time. Every morning after I wake up, I say hello to Carlo first, out of Godfather-like respect. And like the Godfather, he can destroy me if he so chooses. So I'm nice to him even though I'm doing my best to kill him. I send my army every couple of weeks. But so far, Carlo is virtually untouched. Carlo loves me. Because each time I try to get rid of him, he keeps coming back. I hate him and someday I will dispose of him the way I should. Through my backside. 

You may think Francine is Carlo's number 2. But she's not. That title goes to a 6 cm mass of madness that sits under my sternum. She's still tough and she's loud about it. Like my boy Conner when he was a baby, she's full of sound and fury. Francine would do just fine in David Yang's old neighborhood (I know this because David showed me his old neighborhood and it looked a little down-trodden. Plus Nelly went to his high school. Nelly's not that tough but he is a rapper. You know how that crowd gets into trouble these days.). About three months ago, Francine broke through my pec muscles. She's stuck around ever since. Recently while getting ICE, she started to get bigger. She moved around a few muscles and made her presence known. Now that she's up against GND, I think she's quieted down a bit. I'm trying to kill her, too. But she won't die. 

If any of you would like to give Carlo or Francine a message, please feel free. Reed, Todd and Glenn, please watch your language and remember to be respectful to Carlo. Also, Reed, Francine loves old eighties heavy metal. She still thinks Ronny James Dio is a god. And ah, Carrie Seanor, you can't date Carlo. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

You got a Second?

The second day after chemo is actually the worst. You would think it would be right after getting the sick syrup but your mind is pretty scrambled at that time. You feel bad but you're too confused to know how bad you feel. So, really, the second day is the one to watch out for.
Tonight is no exception, although this stuff feels less poisonous than the other two cocktails I've had. Generally, I feel pretty yucky but not horrible yucky. There's always some food waiting in my throat almost like it's in line, waiting to get on a ride. Right now, the puke is pissed because it's been waiting all day. If you've been to Disney World, you understand how pissed the puke is (The Volkman kids are going to have to use their imagination since they've tragically never been there. Dad Volkman won't take them.). We waited in that dumb Family Robinson line and all we did was walk up a tree. The chemo ride is fun for the food since it usually travels 10-20 mph on a trajectory that can end up anywhere. I don't have as much fun. 

Successfully going through the day with chunks of hurl waiting in your throat is mostly a matter of discipline. Make sure your mind is busy, keep your mouth shut as much as possible (don't want an accidental hurl) and tighten your belly. The problem is trying to sleep at night. You're afraid to go to sleep because you're afraid of relaxing and hurling. Tonight I'm going to take a couple of Benedryl to knock me out. Sometimes it works. Sometimes I'm sitting around Room 440 at the Rotary Club looking out for the wolves.

Obvously, when talking about cancer and drugs, people mention chemo. Or marijuana, but that depends on what type of person you're talking to. Benedryl is actually more fascinating. Cancer patients can't take aspirin or Tylenol or Aleve or anything like that since those drugs mask symptoms. So doctors tell you to take Benedryl. You got an itching problem? Benedryl. Headache? Benedryl. You get the idea. Anyone who's ever had the pleasure of experiencing Benedryl knows that its biggest characteristic is that it knocks you flat on your ass. Personally, I think it has no absolutely no curative qualities except for the sleep thing and that becomes the curative quality. Who knows if your headache is really gone when you're drooling on your pillow in deep slumber dreaming about Mrs. Marcott and fifth grade. I've taken many, many Benedryl so it doesn't have as sleepy an effect on me. But still, Benedryl is fast becoming a hero drug. 

The picture is of Alydar. The poor guy came in second at the Kentucky Derby, second at the Preakness and second at Belmont. A Triple Crown of second. I guess we shouldn't feel too sorry for him as he spent the rest of his life getting paid to enjoy romantic afternoons with a slew of sexy mares. Not sexy to me. To him. Just wanted to make that clear. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Post Poison Thoughts

Took the poison yesterday. That means one full treatment is in the can. I'd like to thank the makers of Diet Sprite for keeping me from puking. As Bono says, "My body is begging to get back." Of course, Bono was talking about something much more poetic than chemo like ending world hunger or something having to do with Africa. With his new songs, I can't really tell who he's talking about but I know they are well-deserving. 

I'm pretty tired today. And fat. In the next one and a half weeks, I'm only going to get more tired and more fat as the poison drops my white blood cells and other things chemically related. As I think I mentioned before, the plan is to get a treatment one week and then another the next. That counts as one whole treatment. I don't know why two treatments count as one treatment. But it does and I've already asked too many questions to ask about this one. 

A cancer patient is told by everyone, every blog and every book to ask many questions. But the reality is people get tired of you. Really, we all know what a three-year old is like, right? Or a client. So it's actually best to conserve questions. Find out some of the easy stuff online. Then ask the important questions like, "Am I going to live?" 

Anyway, after the first two treatments which is for some reason called one treatment, I rest one week and start up again after that. If all goes well, I'll start the Stem Cell transplant in May. My math may be a little off here but I think that's about right. 

The big question I ask myself every couple of minutes is, "Is this working?" It's early but I think so. I had two lumps on my left chest, one Frankenstein-like bolt coming out of my neck and a lump on my right side. The ICE did a good job of reducing the Frankenstein bolt. The other lumps are melting, melting away. Why, just the other night, I heard a terrible, shrieking voice say, "If it wasn't for you and that dumb dog..." and I thought, "My dumb dog is in Chicago and who is this witch talking to?"

Houstonians are fat and slow. When I leave Room 440 at the Rotary House I feel like I am in a world of slow motion. It's just as well since I'm going half speed myself. I have free time but no energy to fill it. I try to get one or two things done in a day. Tomorrow is laundry. My clothes smell like walleye. I looked up walleye in the Spanish to English dictionary online and the word is "walleye". Did that just to make sure the cleaning staff wasn't too disgusted by my dirty clothes. If they were, walleye would have certainly come to mind. 

My biggest frustration is having all this free time and not being able to fill it. Or to waste it. The Rotary House has a bar. Yeah, I know. It closes at nine. The Rotarians don't rock out. The Rotary House also has a pool, hot tub and work out room. Can't use anything with water and as for the work out room, I did run a little under a mile on the treadmill the other day. But I paid for it that night. I wonder if Hemmingway or Faulkner had cancer and were stuck at the Rotary House, would they be writing a great book? My answer is, of course, no. They were both angry, slobbering drunks. They would have been at the Rotary House bar way past nine, cancer be damned. 

Enclosed is a picture of Eric Blair, aka George Orwell. A great writer who wasn't an angry, slobbering drunk. He would've written something real swell while here. Maybe "Animal Farm II, Return to Animal Farm Mountain." 

Monday, March 9, 2009

Generals fired. New team in place.

In a move that was expected by many, Michael Herlehy fired his leading Generals today. Making this announcement outside his palatial estate in Bartlett, Mr. Herlehy said, "I regret to inform you that this morning, over a bowl of Lucky Charms, I asked my top Generals to step down from their positions of leading my armies against the evil-doer cancer cells. They have served my body well but unfortunately we weren't able to see the progress we desired. I want our people to give 110%. Apparently they were only giving 20%."

Mr. Herlehy went on to draw solace from President Lincoln, who had to go through many generals until he found one that fights. He said, "I will have no Joe Hookers in my mediastinum" referring to a failed Civil War general who's headquarters was once described as "part bar room and part brothel". 

Sources close to the situation said that this was just a matter of time. "ICE was like Shock and Awe but the only thing that was shocked and awed was Michael as he wondered if he could live through firey nights and days of extreme fatigue," said a source close to the situation, probably in the pelvic area. 

Replacing the old guard are three generals code-named "G" "N" and "D". Their identities are not fully revealed because of security reasons. Not a lot is known of them at this time other than to say that they are bad motha toxins who love to kill, maim and destroy cancer cells. 
"My new team is already in place and ready to do battle quickly. Don't get me wrong here. I am more committed than ever to seeing cancer cells die in a tragic, violent and horrific way. In fact, I'm all for a mass murder of cancer cells. Severed membranes everywhere would be fun!"
Mr. Herlehy did not have any other information at this time only saying, "Now, if you will excuse me. I have to play Dance Dance Revolution with my daughter. I'm trying to get a C to that Michael Jackson song."

Attached to this article is a picture of "Fighting" Joe Hooker. He didn't earn the nickname "Fighting" because he was good at it. It was a clerical error. 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I got nothing

Having a hard time posting anything. Not funny anymore. The failure of ICE took a lot out of me. 

I'm heading back to my palatial estate in Bartlett for the weekend. I need to see the kids. Conner called me at 11 pm last night. There was big news in Bartlett. Some burglars broke into a house next to a school. So, of course, every school had to be notified and they all freaked out about it and of course, the kids found out. So he was scared. I told him to shut up. Act like a man and deal with it, ya puss. Then I mentioned that we have a dog and if she's crazy enough to eat her own poop, she's crazy enough to attack some punks. He then asked why I didn't call in two days. I had but he wasn't around. It's unbelievably hard to call home. You wouldn't believe how hard it is. People think it's brave to endure chemo. It takes more guts to call home. 

For you medical types, below is a video of my doctor on You Tube. Although I'm very proud to be his patient, I can tell that he doesn't like me very much. I'm a little emotional when we're together. My temper gets a little high, among other emotions. I see him mentioned often in my many, many daily searches on the Internet. He could be the Elvis of Hodgkin's.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The results (changed from earlier today)

You won't find a lot of healthy looking people who aren't medical personnel at MD Anderson. Only some of it has to do with Houston being one of the fattest cities in the US. It's more because of the obvious--there are a lot of sick people here. They really look the part, too. Many don't walk upright or walk at all. They move very, very slowly. Many have a dark gray complexion and that gaunt look. And that's before you even talk to them.

I don't see myself as one of these patients. I move much faster and still look pretty fit. But apparently that's not what it looks like inside of me. I was expecting a good reduction in the tumor and was hoping that much of it would be gone. I didn't get that. My doctor said that the tumors have only decreased in size at the most around 25%. Both sides of my chest still contain active tumors. And my labs are still down. He is now going to put me on a new chemo regimen. This one entails getting a treatment every eight days for the next month. He won't tell me what Plan C is if this doesn't work. He said that this chemo has a 50% chance of further reducing the tumor. Although I didn't think those were good odds so early on in my treatment, he disagreed. 

With these results I thought I was categorized as something called "chemo-resistant" and wrote about it in a previously title post. That's a really bad thing since survival rate odds go way, way down. As in I would have a 10-30% chance of seeing Bobby Jindal kick off his Presidential election campaign. But Dr. Wendy straightened me out with one phone call.My body responded  to the chemo. It just didn't take to it enough. Looks like I'm going to have to fire a few Generals in my army.

This is crappy news, for sure. But so what. I'm going to move on. And I get to experience the joys of Houston for at least another month. 

One interesting tidbit. In all the waiting rooms there are TVs. A little more than half have that Fixed News station. Remember, it is Texas and most old people are patients. The hospital has these signs about not changing the station no matter if it's on a real news station, like MSNC, or Faux News. Still, I make it a point to change the channel to MSNBC whenever possible. I figure I'm either annoying a Fixed News fan (which is actually a delight) or I'm pleasing someone who's not. Either way, I think I'm doing my part to educate Texas. 

Sunday, March 1, 2009


It could be chemo or it could be the simple fact that I'm taking in more milk products, but each time I've gone through a treatment, I've had a lot of gas. I mean a lot. 

If you think about it, that makes sense. Toxins do come into my body. They have to leave somehow. The dead cancer has to exit, too. So I'm thinking the gas is from the treatment. I have no medical proof, of course. Something tells me that doctors don't study farts. 

Now a lot of you may wonder how my wife is taking all this. I can assure that she is absolutely fine with it. You see, my wife is kind of smell-challenged. I'd come home from work and the house would reek from some cooking or something and she wouldn't even know. She's been that way ever since I've known her. 

Men, I know what you're thinking. This makes her quite an unbelievable catch. Even more than being a great cook, a loving wife, a responsible and caring parent, having a wife that can't smell your farts puts you at the pantheon of great mates. Right up there with Mrs. Cleaver and Edith Bunker. Looks come and go. But a woman who can't smell your gas, now that lasts forever. Who would ever want to divorce a woman with this rare and incredible quality? 

So I fart away with almost complete impunity. I say "almost complete" because I still have to make it silent but deadly. If it's loud, my wife may know something's coming and then try to smell something. That throws everything off because her nose is on alert. But if I position my cheeks just the right way and it squeaks out ever-so-stealthily, she is eternally fooled into thinking that I am one sweet-smellin' fella. 

That's all I have for today. This weekend was uneventful. I'm trying to remain low-key to allow for my white blood cells, platelets and everything else to get back to normal. 

One interesting tidbit from the world of MD Anderson. I had to go to the medical supply area to get some, well, medical supplies. After I placed an order, the girl wrote it up, then turned around and yelled, "Customer waiting!" She did it every time. It replaces the usual, "Order!" or "Order Up!" I thought that was pretty cool. The guy who gave me the supplies was this gangsta looking gent with gold chains, a grill and a tee shirt that had the words "Street King" written across his chest. I said to him, "I feel like I'm in high school trying to buy my drugs off a guy with a Street King t-shirt." Even though he could clearly fuck me up good for making such a blatantly racist statement, he thought I was funny. He obviously wasn't Asian. 

Enclosed are pictures of my puke buckets. I'm not using them now but I thought I'd show them to you anyway. As you can see, my kids designed them.