Saturday, March 11, 2017

Cancer sucks. Steroids suck. Newspapering sucks. At least I married well.

I'm on the juice. And it's not going well. In conjunction with my chemo treatment designed to evict a tumour from the left leg, I'm on a heavy dose of Dexamethasone, which the good people at Wikipedia describe as a a type of corticosteroid medication that has anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant effects. I'll be on it for four-day stretches over the course of this little journey, and I've been told it's a hefty load of drugs. My chemo nurse looked at my dosage and said, "Oh...that's a lot." The pharmacist at the B.C. Cancer Agency warned my wife that I may not sleep a single wink when I first started taking it at dinner time on Chemo Day 1 on Tuesday. I did get four or five hours that night. Good for me. It makes me edgy. It makes me cranky. I had a phone conversation with former Province columnist Cookie Gilchrist this week where I believe I set a land-speed record for cuss words. I'm not usually so foul mouthed. I don't like it. I'm trying to slow my mind down and take a breath before talking, in a bid to keep from embarrassing myself and especially Carol-Ann. I was on a heavy course of steroids during that first cancer occurrence with the tumour in my back in 2010-11, and I was similar, much to my chagrin. It got better when I could start to get in the swimming pool and wearing out some of the ornery energy. Right now, I have 24 staples in my left leg from the stabilizing rod they implanted in a surgery two Wednesdays ago, and I see the surgeon on Tuesday in hopes of getting them out. That should help. I hope. Carol-Ann probably hopes even more. She continues to captain our little Crush team with grace and courage. I punted well past my coverage. I know it. I do feel better than I felt in 2010-11, when I was hospitalized for six months. I need to keep that in mind. I'm actually trying to work a little. It's helpful to the newspaper at this stage. Bluntly, it's mostly me being selfish, trying to give my mind something else to think about. With chemo, infection is a major concern, so I'm trying to stay out of public places for all but short stretches, so I'm doing stuff over the phone. It's hard. Stupid hard. I wanted to cover the high school girls basketball provincials last week. I didn't get out of the hospital until Friday and I wasn't nearly mobile enough to go to Saturday's finale. I've thought about going to the boys basketball provincials this week but I don't know if that's a good plan for me health wise. I feel rotten about it, though. With the way things are going in the newspaper business, we've hardly been able to give the two tournaments any coverage. In case you missed it, the parent company to the Province and Sun announced Friday that they wanted to lay off 54 people from the Vancouver products, including 29 from the editorial department. It's crazy. I'm still not emotionally over Jim Jamieson and Gord McIntyre being transferred out of sports to news a few years ago. Jim's retired now. He took a buyout. We lost another 20-plus people in the past few months to buyouts, including sports editor Jonathan McDonald, soccer reporter Marc Weber and high school/university reporter Howard Tsumura. Howard hired me at the NOW Newspaper in 1989. He loves newspapers more than anyone I've ever met. He was my first mentor. I helped Marc get hired. He was at our wedding. He took me to a radiation session back in 2010, he snuck into pre-op for one of eight operations during that first hospital stay. I talked to J-Mac often three or four times a day when he was my boss. Those guys love the business. The fact that they think it's time to try to something else kills me. It's so depressing. I'm still smitten with newspapers. I want to stay. I want to fight. I loved the Province and Sun as a kid. I ate them up. I grew up reading Tony Gallagher and Jim Taylor and Archie McDonald and Iain MacIntyre. (Shameless cheap shot at I-Mac, a current colleague who is only a few years older than I am.) I want to stay and fight for those guys. We've brought in some top-shelf young guys in the past few years, like Nick Eagland and Dan Fumano and Patrick Johnston. I want to stay and fight for them. I want to retire as a Province/Sun guy. That's my goal right now. I need to be realistic, though. I need another 20 years. The business may not last. I need to at least be open to other options. At the plus side, I'm not dwelling COMPLETELY on cancer. The next chemo is Tuesday. We'll see how that goes. My understanding is we've got three or four months of chemo, and then likely a stem cell transplant.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Yes, that's a rod in my leg and, yes, I'm also happy to see you

Just got home from VGH. Being told that the Wednesday surgery to implant a rod in my left leg went well.
The care we received, once again, was amazing. The give-a-damn of the medical community in the Lower Mainland continues to astonish both Carol-Ann and I.
Surgery scares me more than anything. Yes, even more than cancer. I don't hide it at all, but our surgeon -- Dr. Peter O'Brien -- and our anesthesiologist -- Dr. Jacqueline Trudeau -- went out of their way to try to calm me down. Dr. Trudeau suggested a spinal (yes, Scott Rintoul...you can call me Spinal Tap for the time being) instead of the full pull and I found things a little less daunting.
We see our oncologist -- Dr. Kerry Savage -- on Monday to go over what's next on the docket, but I believe right now that we'll spend about 10 days healing, get the staples out of the leg and then have one radiation session before starting chemo/stem cell transplants/infusions.
The rod -- technically a "gama spike" -- was brought into play with fears that the treatment to knock the tumour out of my left leg would have left it susceptible to breaking.
My one concern remains that the rod in my leg is stainless steel, while the six rods in my back from our eight surgeries in 2010-11 are titanium. Will the other multiple hardware patients out there mock me because of various metals in my body? It just doesn't feel fashionable or trendy.


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cancer's back, but it better not get comfortable because it's getting evicted

I have a surgery some time this week to put a pin in my left leg. Hopefully it doesn't clash with the rods in my back.
The cancer is back. Multiple myeloma. I had been in remission for six years, but when I was diagnosed with a solitary plasmacytoma in 2010 we were told that there was a good chance that it would return. We received recurrence rates of anywhere between 30 and 70 per cent then.
Carol-Ann and I both understood the possibilities.
This week's surgery (likely Wednesday) is to stabilize the leg, with worries that treatment (chemo and infusion and stem cell) will leave it susceptible to breaking if something isn't done. Chemo, right now, is slated to start March 7.
It will be my ninth surgery, following eight on my back in 2010-11 after radiation led to the collapse of my t-2 vertebrae. I have six rods and a bunch of other shrapnel. We did six months in hospital, including about two and half months at G.F. Strong,  a rehab hospital where they started teaching me to walk again.
Crazy.
This is why we trained after getting healthy from the first cancer. This is why we got a trainer, Derek Baker. This is why we have dropped 100 pounds. We wanted to be ready to fight again.
The prognosis is good. Dr. Kerry Savage has said that, being in remission for six years, makes her think that whatever she throws at this cancer will send it packing.
It's still rotten. I'm angry and I'm terrified and I'm confused. I feel bad for Carol-Ann.
Dr. Savage has been great. We found out on Monday. I had my first of surely several meltdowns on Wednesday, wondering far too much if I was in jeopardy of losing the leg altogether. I sent her an email. She got right back to me. She was decisive, saying that it wasn't happening, that it wasn't that kind of situation.
I buy what she's selling. She diagnosed the original cancer in 2010, and she was blunt and to the point then, and she's been that this time, too.
This is a good place to be sick. That's what part of what I'm rallying Everyone we've dealt in the medical profession has been a rock star. The give-a-damn of these people is astounding. They're angels.
They seem to have picked this up early. I had elevated protein markers in blood work in August and December. That led to an appointment with Dr. Savage.
My knee had been bothering since October, but I had been toying with the idea of running a 5K. I had been training in the pool largely. I had been playing a little ball hockey.
The knee morphed into the quad in the past few weeks, after my initial appointment with Dr. Savage. We tried massage therapy and physio. The physio diagnosed it as a strained quad.
No such luck.
Stay tuned. Looks like we'll have reason to update this blog more frequently.