Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I believe in angels

I am not a religious man. Oh, I tried. After I got my stem cell transplant, the big goal every day was to see if I could make it to the cafeteria to get me some food in me and then to a church service which was right across the hall. At MD Anderson, they had a different service from a different Christian religion, so it was cool to see all the different religious philosophies and traditions play out. I particularly like the Lutheran and Unitarian churches. Really wonderful philosophies. That Martin Luther was on to something. The Catholic mass was annoying as usual but maybe that's because I had to go through that every week for twelve years in school. I only walked out on one religion's service. It was by this Asian Christian religion of some kind and they decided that instead of mass (which I had liked previously), they were going to spend the time laughing. I kid you not. It's supposed to be an effective way to cope. Whatever. But hey, I'm there to see if God can do something about my cancer. Not to laugh. 

And without even anyone sort of looking around to see if what this guy said wasn't a joke or something, suddenly there were about thirty or forty somber adults laughing really loudly at nothing. I started laughing only because, well, it was really stupid. Then after getting some rude looks because I was clearly not participating in the right way, I had to leave. It's one of those things that happen to cancer patients. Every once in a while you find yourself in a really wild scene. I think it's because your life is stuck in an extreme situation and you're looking for extreme results. Sometimes it just gets really extreme.

Any way, things didn't work out for God and me. He didn't keep his end of the bargain so I've gone back to having this sort of Hindu/Agnostic belief. Don't worry, I'm not going to lay it on you, although I have thought it out quite nicely and would put it up against any religion. And by the same token, I hope you don't fill my reply section to this blog with too many pleas to come back to God. I appreciate you doing it once or twice but please allow me some respect for my sort of Hindu/Agnostic religion. 

I bring this up because I do, for some unknown and completely irrational reason, believe in angels. I know of three of them. I'm convinced of it. they didn't have wings and for most oftheir lives, they're people. But for an instant, they became angels. I swear. 

In each case, I had stopped fighting. And was many of you know, when you stop fighting, you stop. Each time, I was in a lot of pain and mentally couldn't keep up the things you have to mentally do on a daily basis when you have cancer. I was at a point where I didn't care if I lived or not and a person came to help. One was a nurse who helped me get through the night after my stem cell transplant. Since I have little memory of my time during my transplant, I don't even remember her name. But I know she had a cool Texas accent and way about her. Not the dumb Texas way most know about. The other Texas with a little style.

Another is my wife. It was during my stem cell transplant and I was in so much pain, I was getting a little delerious. I couldn't eat anything. My throat was killing me and even if food got beyond that point, it would come back up the same way pretty quickly as I was feeling very nauseous. My body felt so strange and alien. I couldn't sleep. I was just laying there in this hospital in pain day after day. So one night, my wife went back to the hotel and made me a bunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Like ten of them. From childhood, I've always loved PB and J. And today in restaurants I'll order it if they got it. Because it's often listed on the kid's menu, I do get strange looks. But at a Chili's or Applebee's or some place where, quite frankly, nothing is good, the PB and J is always a sure thing. I know, making a PB and J sandwich doesn't seem too miraculous or angelic. But it's not the PB and J. It's the act. I needed someone to help me. She was there and she knew exactly what to do, although she was a little heavy on the peanut butter. She knew that for me, eating a good PB and J isn't just a meal, it's an event. Sometimes I even remember my grandma, who was a champion PB and J chef.

I met my third angel just recently. As I hinted to in my earlier post, I decided to go on that clinical trial. Well, the protocol called for drawing a lot of blood out of my body the first day. I would get stuck once every eight hours. And then after that, I would get stuck more times for tests. Now, usually I can handle this. For one thing, the plan called for basically two IVs. One IV for the medicine and the other IV for drawing blood. Drug trials are so regimented that you can't even have the same IV because of the fear of some kind of tainted result. So anywho, two IVs, I can handle that.

But that's not how it went. What I realized was, my veins became so different even from my stem cell transplant days. For any cancer patient, getting chemo makes the walls of the veins tougher. The more chemo you get the tougher the walls are until you really can't even stick a needle into them. I had a lot of chemo. My veins got really, really thick. Also, if you get stuck a lot, your veins get smart. Once they feel that needle coming, they back off into your body. So what happens is you will have a nurse sticking a needle way into your body, poking around muscles and bone, again and again and really hard because even if he or she can find a vein, they still have to get into it. 

As the plan was supposed to go, it wouldn't be that big of a deal because I only needed two IVs. No problem. But they were not only having trouble finding a vein and then getting a needle into it, they also had trouble keeping the needle in the vein. It would just pop out. By about noon, it was clear they weren't going to go with the two IV plan. They had to stick me every hour. 

This day, without a doubt, turned into the most painful day of my life. I'm not a wussy about needles. I used to be. But I got so used to getting stuck that it stopped bothering me. But this day, I went through about twenty sticks and about seven different nurses each trying their technique. Some of them would talk to the vein, some of them would yell at the vein and then at me, almost all of them would poke hard. They tried both arms, both hands and were discussing whether they should go into a leg or somewhere untouched. 

By seven pm, I was done with the blood tests but not done with the other tests. Now, with these tests, they use a bigger needle because they have to shoot nuclear stuff through you. The nuclear stuff gives you the Hersey squirts but hey, a little Hersey squirting was nothing at that point.  

I really didn't know what to do when I met the nurse who had to stick me for this part of the day. He was a guy. I've had him before. He remembered me and asked me how I was doing. Like my angel from Texas, he grew up in the area and had gotten the better parts of the culture, even though he was from a completely different part of the world. New York is a strange place if only because of the residents. There are the rude people and then there are people who are unbelievably nice. Sometimes they're the same person, just in different moods. Of the nice ones, many actually turn out to be really laid back. Like they've seen everything, had gone through the whole stressed out city thing and had come to a place where they were just comfortable with life. He was one of them. He looked at my arm, which was black and blue and didn't say a word. Most nurses would look at my other arm but he didn't. I told him I might want to pass on this today and he said to give him one shot. He said that he sees a vein that is "crying out to be stuck". And in an instant he got me. I barely felt a thing. I was exhausted, completely spent and he got me like it was just a routine part of his day. When I told him what had happened, he said he could tell by looking at my arms but then he went on for about ten minutes showing me all the veins he could stick with one poke.

The thing is, with each of these people, it was no big deal. They all think they're just doing their job. I think that's what makes them angels. They don't know it's a big deal even though it can mean life or death to the people on the receiving end. And then they go on with their lives. Maybe, eventually to the next kind act when and if it happens again like it's a part of life. But the thing is, it's not a part of life. Like I mentioned before, a cancer patient's life is much more extreme. The pain can almost always be tolerable but sometimes it just can't. And then this person comes around and fixes you like it's so simple. 

My Hindu/Agnostic religion differs from most Christian sects in many ways. One of them is the issue of angels. The Bible makes you think that they're these beings with wings who watch over you. I think they come to unknowing people, do their very little and unspectacular thing and then are gone. And unlike my Christian religious colleagues, I have proof.

As for my new treatment, it's working so far. I have no growth to even some small reductions and that was after only one treatment. But I still have a lot of itching, night sweats and nausea related not to the treatment but to having too much cancer in my body. Still, it's a start. 


  1. Another adventure in your long journey....Angels do walk amongst us and interact with those in need. You are blessed and God will continue to bless you and your family, and yes, send more Angels to comfort you. I still think a Nurf bat would help you! LOL

  2. I am trying to get my arms around the idea of reincarnation because I really want to come back as a dog living with a family suburbs. Not a worry in the world, the humans clean up your crap and feed you and you can pretty much nap whenever and wherever you want. Throw in the fact that you lick your own nuts and it pretty much sounds like nirvana.

    I've been a little ticked off at myself since I haven't posted here in quite a while. I offer no excuses, there should always be the time for things that are important.

    We went to Vegas back in August for Katy's 21st birthday. While I bemoan the fact that 21 year olds have not become any wiser as to their alcohol intake from when we were young and stupid, I do admire their resiliency in being able to puke at night and fire up with a bloody mary in the morning. I also admire Katy for being able to lose all of her money in Vegas, not just once, but twice. On our last night, she managed to be just about broke early in the evening before winning back everything on a slot machine. Sadly, by morning it was gone again. She did manage to turn $20 I loaned her the last morning into well over a $100 and it only took her a few hours on the first day to pronounce her love for Vegas. It was also great fun to watch both her and her friend call the machines dirty little whores when they were not winning.
    There was also some bizarre little dance, but I can't remember the details of that one.

    Now that football season is upon us, I am trying to plan a trip to Madison with my son for a game as we have not been in 2 years. It's quite a different experience being in Madison sober and watching a football team that manages to win more than one game per year.

    Glad to hear the newest treatment is taking effect and as always I admire your ability to take it all on with a good attitude and a sense of humor. Be well my friend.