oberon zell-ravenheart

Thursday, January 8, 2010

Well, Iíve now had five of these bi-weekly chemo treatments. Only seven more to go! If you are still interested enough in my continuing adventure into the realm of chemotherapy to keep reading, here is the latest installment:

To recap a bit, this adventure began last June with a long-overdue colonoscopy (a word to the wiseódonít put off getting regular colonoscopies if you are over 50!). One large tumor was discovered, in my descending colon (large intestine, left side). This was removed in a major surgery on July 28. The operation took out not only a foot of my colon, but also a large triangular wedge of mesentery with seven lymph nodes. One of those nodes was also found to be cancerous, indicating a degree of metastasis that could possibly infect other organs. Recovery from the surgery took well into September, and then I had a heavy schedule of travels and appearances through October.

On Oct. 10, I was given a PET scan, which found no indication of any tumors anywhere in my body. That put me at Stage 3, with chemotherapy being prescribed just to make sure Iím completely cleaned out of any cancer cells that might still be hiding somewhere in my blood or lymph.

On Oct. 14, I underwent minor surgery to implant a catheter port under the skin of my chest on the right sideówith a tube going right into my jugular vein.
On Monday, Nov. 3, I started chemotherapy, sitting in a special chair at the oncology center for four hours while they pumped this chemical cocktail into me through the catheter port. The mix consisted of Oxaliplatin, Leocovorin, Avastin, and 5-fluorouracil (5-FU). Each of these lists several possible side effects, but there was no way of knowing which ones I'd experience.

At the end of that 4-hour session, and every one to follow, they fit me up with a plugged-in pump and a pouch of the chemicals to continue the flow for another 48 hours. Then on the following Wednesday, I go back in and they disconnect me. Two weeks later I go back and do the same thing all over again. The side effects generally hit me after the pump is disconnected on Wednesday, and last for about a week.
So after five treatments, the effects are really starting to become significant. As Iíve mentioned before, the main objective of this chemo regimen is to saturate my body with chemicals that will inhibit cell division and reproduction. Since this is what cancer is all about, the idea is that if we can keep any lingering cancer cells from reproducing themselves for six months, they will all simply die off, leaving me completely cancer-free.

But this inhibition of cellular reproduction and regeneration doesnít just affect cancer cellsóit affects all the cells in my body. This is most noticeable in those cells that have a high turnover rateósuch as nails, hair, skin, and the delicate linings of my mouth, nose, and general GI tract all the way through. When these cells die off, they arenít being replaced. So my fingernails arenít growing, and my hair is thinning and shortening. Every morning when I brush my hair and beard, more hair comes out on the brush, and Iíve saving it in a baggie, which is getting pretty full.

Not only are my hair and beard much thinner, but theyíre now about half the length they were before. I donít know how far this will goówill I lose all my hair and beard, to look like Charles Xavier instead of Albus Dumbledore? Itís beginning to look that way, but only time will tell. At least I am encouraged in the long-run, as the doctors say that after the chemo, my hair will grow back better than ever. And the few friends I know whoíve gone through all this over the past several years have shown this to be true, with a lush 2nd growth of hair. But it will take many years to regain the foot-long beard and mane of hair down my back that Iíve sported for so long. I havenít shaved or worn short hair since college!

My skin is thinning and becoming more sensitive as subcutaneous nerves are becoming more exposed. The strangest aspect of this is that my fingers are now so sensitive to cold that I cannot touch anything colder than about 40įF without it feeling like I am handling dry iceóa painful burning and numbing sensation. I cannot take stuff out of the refrigerator, rinse my hands under cold water, bring in tools from outside, open the car door, shop for groceries, or hold a cold drink, without wearing heavy gloves. And, of course, itís winter!

This hypersensitivity to cold also affects my mouth and throat. I cannot eat ice cream, or even drink cold water. The last time I took a cold drink, my throat clenched up in a spasm, and I could hardly breathe!
My taste buds are now pretty much gone altogether. The doctor says my tongue is just smooth. I can no longer taste food, and I have a constant foul taste in my mouth that is somewhere between metallic and the taste you have after youíve thrown up. Nothing makes this go away. I also have a perpetual bloody nose, and when I sneeze or blow my nose, bits of flesh come out along with the bloody mucus. Yeech!
I am also finding that I have much less energy these days. I often donít wake up in the morning until around 10:00, and I still feel tired and lethargic all day. And my brain is all fuzzy. Itís hard to get any work doneóand I have so much to do!

But with all these negative aspects of chemotherapy, there are some positive ones as well:
I donít have to spend nearly as much time washing and brushing my hair, and I donít have to tie it up to keep it out of the water in the hot tub.

  • I have a good reason to wear a hat, and I have quite a collection to choose from (mostly pointy ones).

  • I donít have to clip or file my fingernails very much.

  • Sitting in the oncology center for 4-6 hours every other Monday is giving me lots of time to read.
    Since food doesnít taste good, I have much less desire to eat, so it is easy to diet, and I could stand to lose 40 pounds or so.

  • People cut me a lot of slack for having cancer and going through chemotherapy.

  • I am gaining incredible experience to teach me grokking and compassion for the ever-growing number of people I know who have been, are, and will be going through the same thing. The value of this is inestimable! I am learning so muchÖ

  • UmÖIíll think of something else, Iím sure.

And the good news remains that in all aspects other than the cancer thing, my blood tests, scans, etc. indicate that I am phenomenally healthyóas if I was 30 years younger than I am. My sense of humor remains relatively intactóespecially regarding the delectable absurdities of existence. And I am surrounded and inundated with love, prayers, and healing magicks. I have many wonderful and supportive friends, and a loving and devoted wife and family. I have a comfortable home, with a really good library of books and movies. I have meaningful and fulfilling Work to do, and have already established a considerable legacyówith much more in process. So I really have nothing to complain about.

And the adventure continuesÖ

Brightest Blessings for the New Yearómay you all live long and prosper!

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