A Morning at the Cancer Center

17 July 2016

As I may have mentioned earlier, I have a case of advanced prostate cancer.  I’ve two of my three bites at the apple and now it’s time for the third — my urologist dispatched me to an oncologist for further treatment.

The cancer center is on the third floor in a shiny new building, built for this purpose.  It’s a nice place.

In visiting my urology guy these past sixteen years, I could sit in the waiting room, check out all the other waiting patients and imagine what brought them to this place.  Ah, the woman in pink, bet she has a bladder infection.  Over there, that man with the pained expression has stone.  The young man next to me might have gonorrhea or possibly syphilis.  Ah, the old dude; bet he has cancer too.  It was a nice little game to play while awaiting my turn.

But the Cancer Center is different, and I knew it the moment I walked in the door.  It was in the air: An earnest and somewhat anxious solicitude on everyone’s part.  They gushed kindness.  Peace be upon you, my son.

When we got on the elevator, we encountered an emaciated woman in a wheelchair accompanied by a man her age and a younger woman.  Probably her husband and daughter.  She looked like hell: Veins showing through a darkened, blotchy thin skin and a face ravaged by wrinkles.  When the door opened Jo and I stood aside; Oh, please – after you madam. Was she here for chemo? X-rays? Maybe some of the new medicines that seem to actually stymie, if not cure, cancer.

The registration desk was set in a quiet area (everything there was quiet) with a room full of large comfortable looking chairs.  Most of the chairs were already occupied.  It was a somber tableau, for everyone I saw had failed the standard treatments and now here they were, ready to take the last and final stab at averting death.  Me included.  No bladder stones or syphilis here, everyone within eye-shot had terminal cancer.  Everyone.  It was a strange feeling, and not a good one, let me tell you.  This was the City of the Walking Dead.


My oncologist is a nice young fellow from Ceylon or India or someplace in that part of the world.  I’d checked him out on the internet and the clinic’s website and he looked to be an OK doc.  Of course I brought Jo with me.  She’s good at remembering details and would absorb far more of them than would I, for I was primarily busy asking question after question after question.

I’m seventy-four so I know I’ll kick the bucket in the next 10-12 years.  Now Jo, and buddy Dale and friend Debbie, all know they are going to die too, but they don’t know where, when or, most importantly, from what.  Not me, I know that absent an intervening heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, maybe even a car wreck, I will definitely die of cancer and, as everyone in the doleful group sitting around me knows, it ain’t gonna be pretty.

After a forty-five-minute consultation, Jo, the doctor and I arrived at a plan of action — a plan that should keep me going until one of the aforesaid maladies takes me out.  The plan is this:

In November, I get another PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test to gauge how fast the tumor is growing.

Based on its growth rate, I can opt for a treatment called Provenge TM, which goes for about $100,000 and if not that, then a different, less costly treatment that gives equivalent results.  I also insisted on an experimental treatment, should one come in over the transom between now and November.  Doc said he’d keep his eyes open and call if one comes in. Doc said the labs are hot with new medicines and that new treatments are coming in almost daily.

Doc says he believes in the cutting edge.  So do I.

My tumor, or tumors, are small.  Maybe 3-4 cubic millimeters altogether. and Doc says the earlier I start on some new protocol, the better my chances for a long-term remission.  My timing, Doc said, is propitious.  Outside of insurance coverage, the determination of which to use first will depend on the PSA test.

I also told Doc I won’t go for any of that chemotherapy stuff. I don’t want to be shot full of a sub-lethal doses of various poisons. I don’t want to spending a week puking out my guts, shitting blood, losing all my hair, bloating like a dead fish and getting messed up by chemo brain.  This last is when the poisons will have damaged my brain such that I’ll spend the rest of my life sitting in a corner, twiddling my hair, not knowing whither to shit or blind.

Well, patient reader,that’s about it I just wanted to share.

-Merlin-

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Death of a Child

10 July 2016

There’s a website named Quora on which people post questions and the readers and members are invited to comment.  A few days ago, a member posted a question dealing with a child’s death.  The author wanted to know what to do to rebuild her shattered life.

The author’s teen-aged son had died suddenly of a hemorrhagic stroke. Now, three years later, the parents were as bereft and devastated as on the day he died.  The author want to know when — if ever — the pain might go away.

These parent are locked in a stasis.  They are in profound pain without comfort nor surcease.  They are deeply depressed and stricken by grief.

I believe they’d like to move forward, but move forward to  . . . where?  I can say, from personal experience, the quickest, surest cure for this kind of depression is action.

If you too have lost a child, here are some things to consider.

Step One: I strongly recommend you both call Big Brothers/Big Sisters and volunteer your time.  The children for whom you would serve as elder siblings are not young toughs that might murder you in your sleep.  No.  They are oftentimes kids who’ve lost a parent of the same sex and are suffering from the loss of that parent’s influence.

Back in the mid-1980s, I volunteered for Big Brothers but the shrink who evaluated my suitability found I didn’t have sufficient respect for authority so I was rejected.  She suggested I volunteer for the county’s Guardian ad Litem program (a.k.a. CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocate), acting on behalf of abused and neglected children — an activity from which I gained the knowledge to give this advice.  I say this because the pecksniffs and Big Siblings can be excessively picky.  Which means you might want your first contact with Big Siblings to be made through the filter of an officiant at your temple, church or mosque.

If you try the program and find you aren’t ready for this kind of involvement, you can easily drop out.  If you like it and do well at it but still miss your kid like crazy, there’s Step Two.  Call the offices of your county and tell the person answering the phone you want to find out about becoming foster parents.  Yes, foster parents.  They will be weepingly glad to accept you and will welcome you with open arms.  Again, there’ll be various evaluations to make sure you have the moxie, stamina, right motives, right thinking and basic decency to do the job.

The county will go to great lengths to make sure you and your foster kid are a good fit.  During this process, you’ll be presented with several candidates.  You, the kid and the county will come to an agreement the fit is right, then you take the kid into your home and you and the kid are off and running. Also, there is usually a monthly stipend from the county.  And services.  Yes, services; like psychological counselling for both you and the kid — you aren’t left to sink or swim all on your own.

And I must now say this: By being foster parents YOU ARE NOT BEING DISLOYAL TO YOUR DEAD CHILD! After all, if you had, say, three kids and one died, would you not still love, care for and nurture the remaining two?  Of course you would.  No one would think you disloyal.

And this brings us to Step Three: Adoption.  If you’ve fallen in love with your foster kid, and the kid’s fallen in love with you, adoption is clearly the right and logical thing to do.


In healing a child’s broken heart, you’ll be healing your’s too.

The pain you feel now will mellow into fond remembrances.  Not only that, but you’ll have performed a true mitzvah and be eligible for induction to The Order of the Mensch.

And your dead child will be very, very proud of you.

-Merlin-