Saturday, December 15, 2007
-- Velazquez Spanish and English Dictionary
I did a 6-mile ride for St. Ignatius this afternoon. My body is sore, but I feel very relaxed. The afternoon air is crisp despite the desert's evening freeze. Coffee and afternoon tea make a big difference here.
My pilgrimage was a manda i made with St. Ignatius, part of the cadre of saints i prayed to every night during chemotherapy and since. I realize some of my readers are unfamiliar with Spanish and Latin American Catholic tradition. so I'll explain a manda real quick before I return to my story.
A manda, as I understand it, is a promise you make with a saint, the holy trinity or even god itself. typically it is made out of desperation or fear. sometimes prayer is all you've got. For example, Mothers pray to La Virgen asking for fertility and in exchange they'll promise to name their child Guadalupe.
when it was discovered there was a tumor in my right testicle, a few mandas were made for me and for my health.
personally, I don't entirely like the idea of making mandas with the spiritual world. not for any existential or logical reasoning. very simply, I think there's plenty of other problems in the world that need attention and mine feel very minuscule in comparison. nonetheless, every night, when i pray, I invoke several saints: St. Francis, St. Ignatius, St. Augustine, Saint Peregrine, San Martin de Porras, St. Michael, St. Judge and La Virgen. People who have asked me to pray before a meal have heard my litany and sighed in exasperation. Anyway, during chemotherapy I would pray and ask for strength, not only for myself, but for those who were by my side, physically and emotionally. i also pray for my father and lately I've added a new name, Henry Ortega, Jr., the nephew of a Loyola classmate and young cancer patient.
So, as i previously wrote, when I had the chance, I visited the basilica in Mexico, D.F., and thanked La Virgen for her support during chemotherapy.
This week, as I was looking up mass times for the feast of our lady of Guadalupe, I stumbled across this address: 785 W. Sahuaro Street, Tucson, AZ 85713.
It was the address of a capilla, or chapel, of St. Ignatius of Loyola. that night, after work, i drove to the capilla, which was adorned with flowers and portraits of La Virgen. unfortunately when I arrived, they were locking up the folding gates placed at the entrances of the capilla. I promised to return.
the capilla is in the heart of Old Pascua and on the grounds of the Old Pascua neighborhood center.
It shouldn't be surprising that the Yaqui community has a capilla dedicated to San Ignacio.
A brief history lesson: the first known Europeans to wander the southwest were Alvaro Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and three others, shipwreck survivors from a Spanish expedition in 1528. One of Cabeza de Vaca's companions, Esteban the Moor, as he is called, later led the Franciscan Missionary Fray Marcos into the Southwest. Marcos' reports led to the Coronado Expedition of 1540, which was the first major European excursion into the Southwest. Disappointed that there were no obvious resources to appropriate, Spaniards left the area and its inhabitants alone (well, lets just say they didn't rape, pillage and decimate, like they did in Mexico, Central and South America) for nearly a century, until mineral wealth was discovered and mines created in Sonora. the new found source of wealth prompted a Jesuit mission in1686, which was lead by Father Esubio Francisco Kino, who is buried in Magdalena de Kino, south of Nogales, Sonora. The Jesuits helped the Spaniard government colonize the area until 1767, when the Jesuits were expelled from the new world by the Spaniards.
The effect of the Jesuit missions were long lasting, physically evident by the missions that dot the Sonoran landscape and metaphysical, by allowing the Yaqui to mix their own religious practices with Catholicism. Pascua ceremonies, and I'm extremely simplifying things here, are an amazing mix of the two.
Now back to the twenty first century: I am the product of Jesuit education -- Loyola High School class of '97, University of San Francisco class of '01. I am interested in the history of the Jesuits and the personal journey of St. Ignatius. To be honest, I often thought about his own convalescence and conversion during chemotherapy.
I've prayed to him for many years and this one was no different.
So I awoke this morning, had breakfast, took care of some bills and paperwork and a little after noon made out on my bike for a my own small pilgrimage to la capilla San Ignacio de Loyola.
It was my first long bike ride since before chemo. and I gave myself a couple hours for the ride. I didn't know what I'd be capable of.
with helmet and yellow safety jacket on, I pedaled my rebuilt JC Penny cruiser north up Park Ave., about a mile and half, to Grant Road, where I turned West. As the traffic wizzed passed me and a few cars and trucks encroached a little too much on the bike lane, I continued past First Ave., Stone Ave. and eventually past Oracle Road, and down south into Old Pascua.
My calves burned at first, especially on the slight inclines on Park Ave. just north of the University of Arizona. But the ride, from my apartment to Old Pascua, took only about thirty minutes. It's a little more than three miles, according to mapquest.
i dismounted my cruiser, chained it up at the Old Pascua Community Center entrance and walked across the dusty, dirt courtyard to the entrance of the capilla. The front gate remained locked. Adornments from the feast of La Virgen were still out. So I kneeled on the concrete, up against the gate, said a prayer and thanked St. Ignatius.
The ride back was peaceful, going slow through Old Pascua, looking at the architecture of the homes and trailers, the corner stores and warehouses. I stumbled upon Esquer Park, 1331 N. 14th Ave., a large, green plot of land in the shadow of Tucson's downtown.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
the streets of Tucson were layered with a thick fog in the early morning like I'd never seen. You couldn't see more than a half block away. it reminded me of northern California.
not long after I arrived and checked in with the front desk staff, i had my blood drawn. When I sat down and the nurse found my vein, I remembered how i got a blood draw every week for two months. i had forgotten about my regular trips to the sonoran quest labs and how i'd become a regular with the staff at the office off 6th St.. not to sound cliche, but it feels so far away now.
about twenty minutes later, i met with Doc. Ahmann.
He was glad to see my hair had grown back so thick. He gave me a general checkup, poked around my body and asked the usual questions: pain, discomfort, energy level, etc.
I mentioned my finger nails.
Last time I was home, Bean freaked out about the dark streaks across my finger and toe nails. They occured during chemo. but didn't cause me any pain, so i paid no attention to it.
Ahmann said the streaks were a result of the bleomycin and should be considered a normal side effect.
While looking at my back, he said the acne was drying up like it should. that's nice.
it was too early to get the results from my blood draw, but otherwise, he said everything looked great.
after the appointment, I wandered over to the elevator to visit everyone up in the infusion pod. i ran into an elderly gentleman, his wife and a young lady I assume was his daughter. he was thin and walked slowly. i noticed the blue bandage on his right hand. it was his shunt.
i remembered how adrian told me its important to talk to other patients and survivors, even if it might seem awkward. in my mind, I could picture adrian talking to the others in my pod when he came to visit.
so i asked the gentleman how he was holding up. we spoke for a bit. he had a positive attitude and sounded good. the gentleman said he started chemo. around the time i left the clinic. I told him he could do it and that I'd been done for about two months now. i tried to give him what encouragement I could. I noticed the ladies eyes widened when I told them I'd gone through two and half months but was doing better now. I embraced all three of them when we got to the second floor and went our separate ways.
among the pods, I ran into shelly, estella and another nurse, whose name escapes me for the moment. we caught up, albeit briefly. they asked about my parents, work, gave me props for my coverage of TUSD and laughed about the TB incident. apparently shelly dealt with the patient.
i also ran into Selena, who everyone up there knew as Maria. She's a local churchgoer and our families ran into each other often at the clinic.
it was nice to see everyone. but I needed some time away before i went back to say hello. they understood.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
As I mentioned in the previous post, I was in Mexico City the weekend after Thankstaking.
The documentary was entered in Mexico City's first ever Chicano Film Festival, la 1era Festival de Cine Chicano en México. The event was a historic bi-national discussion on Chicano and Latino identity. Though attendance was sparse, it was still a great time. A few hours after I arrived on Friday, I had breakfast with Guadalupe, Julie, Jose Luis Ruiz, Robert Young and Edward James Olmos. Pretty Chingon, eh. Later that night we had a formal dinner with all the folks involved, including a bunch of heads from Tucson.
Saturday morning, Julie, Guadalupe and I made a pilgrimage to the La Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe. When mom found out I was head to D.F., she told me visit la Virgen, as did a ton of other folks. I know there were many Catholics praying to la Virgen for me during my surgery and chemotherapy. A visit was the least I could do.
I'll spare you my critical thoughts on Tepeyac hill and the Basilica that is constructed in plain view of Aztec ruins.
We first went to the new basilica, which has the shape of a UFO. There were hundreds, if not a couple thousand people, on the grounds, praying inside the basilica, making a manda and taking photos. After a prayer inside the basilica, where I was able to see the tilma of Cuauhtlatoatzin/Juan Diego, we walked up the hill to the teocalli built in honor of La Virgen. Outside the small chapel, I light a candle in her honor and went in with the other pilgrims and guadalupanos. Inside I knelt at her altar and prayed a bit of the rosary.
On our way down, i snagged a Bougainvillea for my own Guadalupe. Apparently that's forbidden in La Virgen's garden.
I felt something at the basilica. The sacredness of the site was strong, but the feeling was human. what I meant is I've had spiritual experiences, experiences that don't make sense if you are not spiritual. sensations from another place. but what I felt there, on that hill, was the energy that all the pilgrims brought to the sight: joy, sadness, hope and despair.
and that's what made the site holy, to me.
by the way, we took the best documentary award.
Monday, December 10, 2007
(Loyola High School Class of 1997 Reunion: Julia Beaver, Matt "Grandpa" Wells, El Saladito, Guadalupe Chávez, Sarah Canepa Pastran, Armando "Fatty" Pastran, Jr.)
so it has been quite a while since I've updated my share of the blog. i've been busy, to say the least. expect a few posts this week.
so the first update...i went back to Los Angeles for thankstaking. the evening after turkey day, my family hosted a thank you party for everyone that prayed and thought positive things. Thank you to everyone that came. I met a ton of new people that night and must have introduced Guadalupe to at least 50 people.
That Saturday, Nov. 24, was my 10 year high school reunion. The following night I flew back to Arizona, where I had to drive two hours from Phoenix to Tucson. It's cheaper to fly out of Phoenix, I've discovered, but pulling into town at 2 a.m. is kinda ' harsh.
So upon returning home, I found a stack of mail on my desk, including a letter from the Pima County Health Department.
It starts: "Dear Patient: We are writing to inform you that you may possibly have been exposed to tuberculosis while you were at the Arizona Cancer Center from January through August of this year, 2007."
Apparently there was a patient who had an active case of TB during treatment. The signs weren't caught because the symptoms are the same as chemo. -- weight loss and a cough. Our health and medical reporter told me it's usually not until people lose 20 pounds and cough up blood that its caught.
i wasn't able to get tested on Nov. 30 as I was in Mexico City (more on that later), so I went last Friday.
The clinic was really well organized for mass TB tests. It was a three part process: register, follow the nurse, and get injected. As ever, the needle freaked me out, but I kept my cool. I was in and out within ten minutes.
The injection spot is then re-examined 48-72 hours later to see if I've got TB. I don't.
I chose not to write about this until now because there was no need to worry anyone.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
Today...today is very bittersweet. Today is the day i was discharged from the Navy 5 years ago. And for the past 3 of those years, Ive thought long and hard about those last few weeks. There isn't a day that goes that i don't regret coming home. I think about it a lot...What were my options? Get my chemo in Evanston, get better, graduate, get pushed out the fleet, stand on the port side of some ship...over looking a port-of-call in some far land. Or come home...what makes some angry at myself...i ran. Thats one of the reasons i left for the Navy. I was running from the Paul that i was. I wanted to get as far away from everything as possible. Start a new...not be me. They funny thing is, when life...through me one fucked up curve ball, and i folded. I failed. One thing. One fucking thing....I couldn't deal i ran home. Up to that point in life...ive never been one to finish anything. The one thing i tried, worked..fuck, damn nearly made myself pass out for, i caved. I caved at the first real obstacle. I resorted to what i knew best. Running. Looking back at it. Not only did i let myself down, i let everyone down...though some may have a different opinion. I tired so hard...tried to prove to others that i can do something worth wild. Not just be, but be...something.
There were nights drinking with the lads, id drink myself retarded. And one of those nights, i had a moment of clarity...i realized i wasn't happy being home. I was bitter, angry, down right mean. And why? Well...i realized that i wasn't man enough to face a fear...and in doing so...i ran back home. Facing that...is something Ive tried to deal with for a long time. Hmmm.
Like i said, there inst a day that goes that i wish i could have done things different. But like i also said...its bittersweet. I wouldn't the person you're reading about now. Its funny how a failure makes you a better person. I didnt tell anybody id come home for a few weeks.
Two days later, on the 6th, my Godson was born. He's 5 on Thursday...and he likes the Ramones. After nearly a year of not working, i went back to school, got hooked with a nice girl, job a decent job, did stuff, moved on, watched my friends piss on my car, toss beer cans out the windows on the 605, get a degree, start life all over again, 9 to 5, gain weight, wear Khakis and dress shirts to work, meet some new and good friends, watch my niece and godson grow, play Star Wars Galaxies just about everyday, hook up with a really hot girl, fall into depression, lose a best friend over something lame, meet an ogre ...and tell to fuck off, get a new job, start what looks like a long career, buy a motorcycle, watch my godson watch his first Ramones video, start a blog about my cancer story, miss old friends, look to the future.
Ultimently, did i make the correct decision coming home? Yes. Am I better person because of it? Yes? Do I still regret? Yes
Ive had this song in my head all day...
Saturday, November 17, 2007
this is a far cry to the pre-chemo George.
Fact is I've only had one beer since mid-August. It was about three weeks ago; to celebrate Julie's visit to Tucson. It was a skinny bottle of Fat Tire ale. Good beer. I used to be able to polish one of those in about 90 seconds. this time it took me 45 minutes. it gave me a buzz and wiped me out an hour later.
I've been to house gatherings and parties since I finished chemo.. For the first time in my bar wandering life I have been able to sit in a pub, dive or at a dinner table and not get anxious for some sort of alcohol concoction.
I remember going into chemo. and asking Dr. Ahmann if I could drink during my treatment. (Wow -- that's a sign of something: either a problem or dedication... or likely both). He said I could have a drink with dinner. Moderation is key, he reminded me. He didn't know my habits.
But looking at how alcohol affected me that night with Julie, I just don't need it right now.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
the first thing I've noticed since finishing chemo. is that every day, I'm a little stronger. While I've got to pay attention to my body and not push myself, every day is better.
This morning I arose early for traffic school (remember that -- the consequence of disgracing Tucson's law abiding bicyclists...).
As I was driving back to my apartment this afternoon, I ran my right hand over my head and face and felt the short hairs sprouting up all over. If I'm lucky, I'll have slight beard for my high school reunion. I planned on rolling like Common -- bald head and beard.
but I noticed for the first time that my face, my flesh, doesn't feel waxy or dead, like it did through chemo., or that the flesh of my face doesn't have that chemo. scent to it.
This week I swam twice. Of course I wasn't able to do much, but just getting back in the pool was amazing. Before chemo. I'd usually swim for about 45 minutes. before my workout, I'd warm up with a 500 meter swim. right now, 500 is about all I can handle so far. but it's nice to be able to do that.
I was in San Francisco last weekend. Saw Phil, Harley, Diana and a host of others. most importantly I was reunited with Guadalupe. It was the first time in six weeks we were able to speak each others name and simultaneously look into each others eyes. I'll write about our hotel experience another time.
Tomorrow I join Francisco and others in the first Jarocho jam I've been able to do since before surgery.
funny -- the difference the first month makes.
it's good to be back.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
Article unfairly targeted TUSD
Re: the Oct. 28 article "Kids' programs at risk as TUSD shortfall grows."
Unfortunately for Tucson Unified School District students, staff and parents, sensationalized stories erode the public trust in what should be the keystone of the community — the public school system. If continued, this predatory journalism will exact long-term damage to public education in this community. There are no better examples of this than articles by George B. Sánchez. Regarding his story on potential budget cuts discussed at a recent TUSD Governing Board meeting. The reporter fails to mentionthat he didn't attend the meeting, and therefore was not aware of the context or discussion of the listing of specific items on the draft document. Rather than listen to the available online audio transcriptof the meeting, the reporter simply reported on what would be the most sensationalized program cuts, which were in fact only included as items for discussion. TUSD does not need to be the target of continued "gotcha" journalism. We need the support of our community.
Chyrl Hill Lander
Director of communications and media relations,
Tucson Unified School District, Tucson
Editor's note: TUSD officials are aware that Sánchez did not attend the Oct. 9 governing board meeting because he was in chemotherapy.The Star's Josh Brodesky reported on the meeting.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
I just finally got around to scanning this photo.
it was taken by the nurses on my last day of chemotherapy. As you can tell by the note on the poloroid, it has been almost one month since I completed chemo..
You'll note the blue bandage on my right arm, just above the bracelet (a gift from Esme). the bandage was applied to my arm after the last blood test to measure the cancer markers. the blue bandages had a funny name that I can't recall anymore.
And on my left hand, the shunt, where the nurses administered my last dose of bleomycin. A slow ten-minute injection that is preceeded by intravenous benadryl and some other premeds. We usually had to wait half an hour after the bendryl injection to move forward with the bleo. It took about that much time for the drug to circulate. I used to fight off the sleepiness that followed bleo. Both my mom and Guadalupe laughed when I did so. but I'd eventually give in.
As you can tell by the photo, I'm smiling and staring at the bubbles, the shiny spheres floating on the upper right edge of the photo.
At the conclusion of chemotherapy, the nurses give you a bubble shower, or bubble party, to celebrate the occasion. I witnessed one such event on my first day of chemotherapy, in August. Now i was having my own.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The total bill for chemotherapy is $30,182.89. My share came out to $80.
The bill includes a line charge for every day I was at the clinic.
the daily cost ranges from $75 (appointment with my oncologist) to $4,036 (CT Scan). Charges for the actual administration of the chemicals seem to range from $488.78 (as far as I can tell, that's for the bleo. injections) to $1,773.70.
Again, health care is expensive. I can't imagine what I'd do without it and I can't imagine what others do without it.
Monday, October 29, 2007
this morning I was surprised to notice the same. my facial hair is slowly coming in. above my lip, on my chin and around my cheeks. I noticed it after showering. I had to squint in the mirror. slight, light slivers of blackness. it's thin and a bit patchy, but it's there.
reminds me of being twelve or thirteen, when my moustache first came in. or the slight facial hair grandmas have. sorry, but it's an apt comparison.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
anyway, I decided maybe it's just normal perspiration. so I will conduct an experiment today and wear deodorant.
this is significant because I haven't worn deodorant in about two months.
During chemo., there were two ways that I realized i was losing my hair. The first was all the hair in the bathtub after I'd shower. The other was one morning when I went to put on deodorant and a bunch of hair came back with the sure bar. i thought this was a fluke the first time. but it happened for the next couple days. the sight of all that hair on the bar bothered me. so I stopped using deodorant. Damn the smell, but the sight of losing all that hair at once bothered me.
back to my experiment -- I swiped my underarm with the bar a few moments ago. no hair came back with it. cool.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
In August of 1977, the pistols went under the pseudonym the SPOTS for a secret tour of the UK because their fans, shows and reputation lead to repeated cancellation of tour dates.
but the doc gets good marks for his attempt with the Ink Spots.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
like I said, a little better everyday.
and for tonight's trivia, in rock n' roll lore, who were the Spots? (answer to follow at some point).
Saturday, October 20, 2007
how's that for a change of pace from the pre-cancer jorge.
As much as I hoped to go to the reception, I just don't have the energy. Such is post-chemo. recovery. A couple nights this week I've come home dead exhausted, able to do little more than heat up the batch of black bean soup i cooked last weekend (precisely for this purpose), plop down on the couch, flip the channels and crawl into bed within an hour.
I've been absent from this blog pretty much for this reason. And don't confuse my absence for a lack of activity. This week was a long one: I spoke to a masters level education class about the relationship between educators and the press, attended a meeting on the latest company changes to my health care (left my head spinning), filed two and a half-stories, had my first acupuncture session and today I attended a catholic wedding that mixed Mexican and Yaqui tradition.
I practice jarana when I've the energy, but that doesn't amount to more than a few times this week. but I'm getting there.
everyday it's a little better, a little less tired, but damn if, nonetheless, I'm still exhausted.
On Friday, my friend Will Seberger called me. He asked me to put the word out about a collection of blankets and warm clothes for the Tucson homeless. He also asked about how I was doing and reminded me, based on his mother's experience with cancer, that everyday is a little easier and one day you wake up and you don't even realize but you're able to do the things you used to.
one day at a time, as the old saying goes.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
they left at 4 a.m. -- typical Sanchez style -- to beat the heat and traffic...it was bittersweet though. their departure really marked the end of chemotherapy. They've been in Tucson for the past six weeks, staying at a friends place, and tending to my every need. they cooked, cleaned, stayed up all night with me that first weekend when my body had a bad reaction to the drugs, and laughed with/at me.
As strange as this may sound, my cancer gave me time with my parents that I otherwise wouldn't have had. i left home after high school for college in San Francisco; eight hours and a few hundred miles away. This was the longest single stretch of time we were able to spend together since I was 18 years old. and until I return to LA, we won't have time like that again.
Along with laying around doing nothing, watching "Anchor Man" and getting mad at the talking heads on the cable news circuit, there was also alot of time for walks and questions about our extended family, collective history and my parents' relationship over the years.
it was good for all three of us, I think.
My parents are tough. And watching me go through chemo. wasn't easy for them. I remember how hard it was for my dad to sit with me those first couple days and look at his glassy eyed son connected to the IVs and constantly beeping machines. My mom, like any mom, said she'd trade places and be in my chemo. recliner if she could.
I think in some ways it was harder on them, and the other members of my family, because they felt helpless as witnesses to something no one ever wants to observe.
but they dealt well with the situation. of course my mom made friends with all the nurses and other patients. and my dad goofed around, flirting with the staff and generally taking advantage of all the free chocolate the clinic had to offer.
if anyone wants to know how I came out of chemo. the way I did, it was because of them. their love, laughter and support did more for my spirit and strength than anything else. I can't even imagine what it would've been like to walk into the clinic everyday without them by my side.
i played my new jarana today for the first time in probably two months. i am rusty, my fingers and wrist sore, but it felt great! Thanks Francisco!
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
the chemotherapy yielded positive results very rapidly, he told me.
as I've written before, all the cancer signs are down (tumor markers in my blood) and last week's CT scan came back with nothing to worry about. He was pleased with my ability to get through chemo. as well as I did (without completely losing my appetite or getting any sicker).
Now that chemotherapy is over and things look good (it's an 85 to 95 percent probability my cancer has been cured), we're looking to the next two years of monitoring with no reocurrences to be able to say we really beat this thing.
After that, there's a one in twenty chance it'll come back. meanwhile, i'll continue getting blood tests and CT scans, though on a less frequent basis.
i asked him about depression, a subject Adrian and I spoke about at length the other night, and he said that is normal and reminded me I just went through a life-changing event. sadness and anger are to be expected, he said, just as if I'd lost a parent or child. I shudder to think...
and I asked when my hair was going to come back. within a few months I'll have enough hair to sport a crew cut (Clarissa had once suggested this) and by four months it should be back to what it used to be. he warned me (echoing words from Adrian and Luis) that he has seen patients with straight hair that went through chemo and ended up with curly hair afterwards, vice versa, and he's also seen people's hair change color after chemo.
imagine me a blonde...
anyway, things are good.
my folks and I are having dinner to celebrate tonight. I plan on going back to work Thursday.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
Sunday, October 7, 2007
as I trod back to my apartment, I noticed it was cold. about twelve hours earlier, when I was out for my daily walk around the neighborhood (the closest thing I've got to exercise right now), I made the same observation.
the summer of '07 for the sonoran desert has turned to fall.
my summer was consumed by my cancer: surgery, observation and eventually chemotherapy. whatever plans I made or hoped for the summer vanished into weekly visits to the blood lab, monthly visits with dr. ahmann and eventually daily trips to the clinic.
summer is over. and soon, so will be chemotherapy.
this tuesday, God willing, is my last injection. bleomycin. in all honesty, I'll probably be too foggy to remember much because I'll be high on benadryl.
though I've been counting the days left, I've kept up the emotional and psychological defense that i erected when chemo. began.
there are certain thoughts and emotions I never allowed myself during this time. this also helped me deal with the physical pain of the treatment as well.
but I think that defense is coming down, slowly, whether or not I like it, because my days in chemo. are coming to an end.
I've noticed it has become harder to take the needle pricks of an IV and blood draw. there was no novelty to my barium sulfate shake the second time around. it was just something to get through.
and now I'm almost through.
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
After my surgery, i laid in my rack and watched the Angles in the World Series. I watched all 6 games, and at times, barely able to move. So this year, since Noter Damn has failed me again, i'll be at game 3 (maybe game 4 too) of the American League Division Series.
Its...well if you think about it, its a way my cancer story continues...
the judge gave me the option of paying the $167 fine, traffic school or going forward with a hearing. but had I been found guilty in the hearing, traffic school was out of the question and the "offense" would be on my record.
I took traffic school, which is what I was hoping for anyway.
funny though -- i was some what excited about the hearing.
i used to cover juvenile and criminal court (and the occasional civil suit) in monterey county, so I've spent a lot of time sitting around court rooms, waiting, watching and making a list of questions to ask after each hearing. some of that came back during the short time i spent in court this afternoon.
after watching the two cases ahead of me, in which automobile drivers were also cited for not stopping at a stop sign, it was pretty clear the judge wasn't going to side with me. ignorance doesn't make for much of a defense.
but I had pieced together a list of questions to ask Officer Dietsch, the motorcycle officer who pulled cited me.
and questioning a police officer before a judge, as is my right, was an exciting prospect.
on a small scrap of paper (real professional, huh!), I scrawled a few questions about the evening's traffic conditions (light traffic), whether or not there were pedestrians in the road (nope) and the safety options i exercise as a bike rider (lights, helmet, bright yellow riding jacket).
here was my kicker: do you remember what you said to me after pulling me over, I planned to ask. I wanted to remind him, in front of a judge, that he called me a "disgrace to law abiding bicyclists in tucson," including himself.
that was inappropriate.
the officer actually showed up for court, but since I opted for traffic school, the judge dismissed him.
now I've got until Dec. 7 to go to traffic school.
meanwhile, chemo. went well today. the nurses and I were laughing about my upcoming court appearance.
one of my nurses gave me two little bottles of bubbles because she was afraid she was going to miss my going away party. hopefully that won't be the case. susan's been really great.
Aunt pookie took off this afternoon as did uncle johnny. and tina drove back to LA this morning.
i've got a CT Scan scheduled for tomorrow morning, which means I'll get a second dose of that chalky "berry smoothie" also known as barium sulfate (see post from July). can't wait.
Monday, October 1, 2007
Friday, September 28, 2007
I have great health care coverage.
but if I didn't I'd be absolutely screwed. The cost for my cancer treatment is more than half what i make in a year at my full-time job.
I haven't the strength to make an argument, or even initiate much of a discussion, about the state of health care in the united states of America right now, but this is something we all need to keep in mind.
Saladitos -- dried, salted plums. I don't really know why, but these help with an upset stomach. It was initially Bean's idea to take them when I was sick a few weeks ago.
Last night around midnight, without any zofran, I sucked on one. surprisingly, it helped; especially given the fact that I was almost positive i was going to vomit.
you can pick 'em up at most supermarkets that cater to Latinos, Mexicans and Central Americans.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
(bailando debajo de un mariposa -- Tucson, Az. 2007)
"I can't sleep. There's a woman stuck between my eyelids."
-- Eduardo Galeano
There are some things you expect during chemotherapy: fatigue, nausea, hair loss, etc. falling in love isn't one of them.
I remember reading a July post on Joshua Lilienstein's blog. In case you're not familiar, he's a med student at USC that's also a testicular cancer patient (though given all that he's been through, I'm hesitant to compare our scenarios anymore the the generalization i just gave you). Anyway, in his July 3 blog post, he notes taking a break from seeking advice from some of the nations top doctors to attend a wedding in San Francisco. At the event he met a young lady and briefly described the joy and support she'd brought into his life that otherwise would have been a very dark period.
I remember thinking the guy was amazing when I read his post. to find love and a companion in the middle of something like chemotherapy.
on Aug. 16, Guadalupe Rocio Chavez flew out from Los Angeles to visit me in Tucson and her grandfather south in the town of Amado.
her visit was brief: just four days, but our time together sparked something neither one of us expected, or were even seeking. Funny, though because in hindsight neither of us were totally surprised -- we've known each other for seven years -- and this new feeling and relationship is very much welcomed.
she returned to Tucson two weeks later with my parents (she accompanied them on the eight hour drive from L.A. to Tucson -- how's that for a trial by fire!) when she walked in the door my heart and soul leaped. that week of chemo. wasn't bad and I know it was her love and support that helped make it so.
my aunt maria and cousin gabby came to Tucson that week as well. it was obvious to them, whom had never met lupita, that something was afoot.
seriously, who starts a relationship in chemotherapy? the human body is already frail, tired and irritable. the normal things you appreciate, like dancing, certain foods, bike rides and late nights, are temporarily out of grasp. but our days and nights together, whether it was at the cancer clinic, the san xavier mission for mass or sitting at the kitchen table, were so wonderful.
there was a reason i could rise each morning, with little sleep, for chemo and feel strong as they connected my IV to the drugs.
the photo above is something we created the night before she left Tucson.
every day this week the nurses have said that I look tired. and every time they tell me that, i smile to myself and just nod, keeping my little secret that it's not the sleeplessness that makes me seem so. it's because my companera isn't nearby.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
today was a bit different though -- Guadalupe left after spending three weeks with me out here. like my family, she brought a vitality, life and spirit that has helped me through this with strength and humor. I miss her incredibly. (more to come)
the latest results from my second course of chemotherapy came in the mail today. good news so far.
my red and blood cell counts are low, as is my platelet count, but that's to be expected as a result of a weakened immune system brought on by the chemical cocktails.
the great news is that my alpha-fetoprotein tumor marker is down. as of sept. 18, down to 2.7, which is incredible, because it's never been that low.
the last reading, from aug. 28, showed a reading of 5.6. anything beyond 8.8 is bad, says the docs. before surgery, it was about 35 and before chemo. the level was 15.
no news on the latest beta-HCG count, which is another tumor marker, but the last test, also from aug. 28 showed it was down to less than one, which is also great, because before chemo. it was at nine. anything about three is bad.
today was pretty tough. I had a triple cocktail: bleo., cisplatin and etop. needless to say, I spent much of the day sleeping because of a pre-med. cocktail that included benadryl and ativan. I hadn't had much sleep as my companera rose around five a.m. and left about quarter to six, but luckily at the clinic I got a private room with a bed. I think I'll have a brownie tonight.
Monday, September 24, 2007
In the past visits were accompanied by cases of beer, bottles of scotch and tequila, and a crazy desire to talk until the sun's rays came through the kitchen window. not this time. but someday again.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Like the final day of the first third, Tuesday was a bit longer than normal: blood labs (blood draw to be tested and examined, etc.), appointment with my oncologist and chemo.
Dr. Ahmann, my oncologist, had good news for me. The results from the first round of chemo were all very good.
Let me explain -- before we went with chemo, I was getting blood drawn every Monday to monitor the cancer inside my body. the cancer levels were up and down until they eventually began to increase. on Aug. 13, my Alpha Fetoprotein level was 15. Anything beyond 8.8 is dangerous.
As of Aug. 28, my AFP is 5.6.
At the same time, my doctors were also monitoring my HCG (which I just found out stands for Human Chorionic gonadotropin). by late August, HCG was found to be at 9. Anything beyond 3 is dangerous. As of Aug. 28, it's less than one.
The doctor is impressed with how I'm holding out overall -- nausea but no vomiting, tired but I haven't succumbed to any illness while my immune system is weakened, and I still have the ability to eat. a minor miracle, he has said repeatedly.
He noted that the acne outbreak on my back is normal for chemo. patients, though they don't know why. funny how little we're able to explain when it comes to side effects.
anyway, as things progress, it looks like I'll be done with chemo. by Oct. 9 and i hope to return to work by the end of that week.
for the next two years, Ahmann explained, i will need blood labs every two months and a CT Scan every four months.
My third and hopefully final round of chemo. begins Monday.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
When I finally got settled in, there wasn’t much going on. The funny thing was, they treated you like a member in the fleet. So let me explain: As a recruit, you're not really in the Navy. Suppose that’s true for Puddle Pirates and the Air Force. I guess, you're not really in the navy until you get aboard ship. But the RDC's treated like you a Shipmate (friend, equal), which to say, you got to know a lot of them on a somewhat personal level. They let you wear a Navy Ball cap (meaning you graduated), wear regular glasses or contacts if you had them, if you had the time off, you could use it. There were guys going to Six Flags, going home for a few days, or just going into the city for a day. It was pretty relaxed. Every night there was a movie. Each day the TV was on. They assigned you jobs on the base for something to do, and the best part, the females where right on the other side.
Now, there were no 9's and 10's. Let's face it, some of these girls got the shit kicked out of them with the ugly stick, then were pushed down the ugly tree, and hit every branch on the way down. There were some that reminded you of a sister, a friend, or even a cousin. And there were a few, if given a six pack...these girls were ok. This may sound like im being an ass...but it's true. I had made friends with a few of them over the weeks and had some really conversion as well. Somewhere single mothers, newly married, and like me, looking to start over again.
Over the next few days and weeks, many of the guys that have been in the "broke ward" were going home or finally graduating . Many of those guys had been there for months and had a been look to take a leadership role for the new people coming in. There was a void...why in god's name did that sole duty fall on my lap!
Monday, September 17, 2007
after mass I mentioned this to Guadalupe, who said in fact I'd been doing that all week.
I didn't even realize it.
I was stabbing at my fingers because they became really swollen and felt almost numb.
Like my taste and smell, I was told I'd lose my sense of touch. Specifically I was warned by my doctors and nurses that my fingers and toes would go numb. So far the toes are alright, but the fingers have been strange.
In fact, the swelling, like my smell, enhanced the sense of touch in my hands.
I tried to play guitar last week and couldn't for more than about fifteen minutes. granted, I haven't played in a while, but because my finger tips were so swollen, it hurt my left hand to fret my guitar. And these weren't even steel strings; i was playing my Mexican nylon string guitar.
I remember typing last week and being really clumsy because of the swelling.
the finger tips, joints and my right palm all have bruises. I was warned about that: bruising easily.
as of today, the swelling has passed for the most part, though the finger tips are still bright red and the bruises are tender.
so goes chemo.
one of the coolest things has been the e-mails from high school classmates that I haven't seen in years (in some cases, since the day we graduated in 1997). I respond to everyone -- it just takes some time.
my aunt pookie has consistently sent me some really funny cards that always bring a smile to my face.
And on Friday, a package arrived from Bolivia via Philadelphia.
my dear friends Luis Gomez and Jean Friedman sent a care package which included a letter, talismans (for lack of a better word) from Bolivia and a t-shirt.
I need to write about the t-shirt.
it's light blue. on the chest there is a drawing of tree with three squirrels playing on one of the tree's branches. one squirrel has three acorns in his hand. another is cracking one in his mouth. the one in the middle, however, is reaching downwards for a nut that seemingly slipped from its hand. the nut is falling down, away from the squirrel and branch.
beneath this drawing is this text: "it's all fun and games until someone loses a nut."
i love it.
thanks jean and luis.
It's been awhile since I can sit and think back on a few things. Things have been a little...i'll move on.
Something caught my eye the other day...September 11th. I could remember how the asphalt felt on my ass, my hands as a sat there in unbearable heat. All of the recruits had to either sit, or participate in something. My division just had to march to where we sat...though it was in front of all the Officers. But that was it. Marched and sat. It was hot. It was a day off for everyone so, there was a lot down time on that day.
Then I started to remember small details of my 6 weeks with division...Like, it took 2 weeks to drop a deuce. There was this kid...i don’t remember his name now, but was trying to be a Navy Seal. On one Sunday, I saw him crying in the corner, alone. I stood there for a few minutes wondering if I should say something, or give him a hug. But I didn’t. I just stood there.
There was this other kid from Mississippi. He told me he'd never spook to a black person, ever. There was about 10 black guys in the division. So when it came down to bunk assignments, I paired this Mississippi kid with a black guy.
And there was the look on everyone's face as I told them I wasn’t going to graduate with them...that I was being pulled from the division and put somewhere else. I can image I had the same look on my face as the doctor told me the same thing.
My walk to the new ship (it was half used barracks for all the sick and broke recruits, and the recruits who had "learning disabilities") was short. It was just in the other side of the mess hall. My new division was 4225...i think. I walked into the male side, only to see a room full of...well to various degrees, broke people. I was given a rack, had a conversion with the recruit in charge, sat for few minutes, and hid in the laundry room and cried. I cried until my eyes where blood shot. It wasn’t until that recruit in charge found me in there and we talked. We talked for a long time. I told him my situation...sort of took him back too...but none the less, he sat there with me for awhile. A few days later, he made arrangements for to go to Ricky Heaven. It was a place to buy stuff like real food, use the net, call, and place games. I had a 4 hour pass. I needed that.
It took a few days to settle in, to learn the rules (I'll get to these in a bit), and how things work. I remember that first week, I had a call from my case work from the Naval Hospital. He's name was RN Robney Dodd. He called over the compartment to see if I was ok and if I needed anything. We scheduled my first appointment, and said if I needed anything, the RDC's had standing orders to let me call from the office phone. This made me feel a little better.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
I remember making note of this one year ago during my farewell "speech" on what was my last day at the Monterey County Herald. Two weeks later I would begin working for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.
One thing I've often thought about since doctors first discovered the tumor in my right testicle is what sort of medical treatment and health care I might have received had this happened while I was still in Salinas.
Up until this, I never really took stock of my health insurance, though I did have insurance through my places of employment since 2003.
I didn't know how to navigate the health care system in Salinas, so whenever I needed to see a doctor, I either went to the emergency room or I visited Doctors on Duty, a private clinic where I was frequently misdiagnosed. The place was commonly referred to by friends as "doc in a box." a doctor there once hit on me because she was impressed I was reading an "old" copy of Marx's "Capital."
There are four hospitals in Monterey County -- Natividad, Salinas Valley MH, Mee Memorial in King City and Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.
While I am not intimate with what services they offer, I'm pretty sure none of them (to be honest, my choices were really Natividad and SVMH in Salinas because CHOMP would probably be too expensive and there would be no point in going to King City for medical attention) could offer what I found in Tucson. Cancer care is practically a sub-industry here, what with all the research facilities, specialty labs and practitioners around.
Besides, when I left the Herald, Dean Singleton and his MediaNews Group had just purchased the paper. Despite the promises he made in person in front of the staff, he has since cut resources and laid people off. I have no doubt, as part of his companies "streamlining" approach to finances, the Herald's health care coverage has been affected as well.
but I suppose that's a conversation for another day.
que viva guatemala.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
I love nopales. They're so simple to prepare and super healthy.
I've eaten a ton of 'em since I began chemo. Their flavor is very subtle, there's no smell that upsets my stomach and nopales are very easy to digest. my mom figures we've bought and consumed at least ten one-pound bags of nopales since beginning chemo about five weeks ago. that's a very conservative estimate.
I realize there may be some of you that don't know what are nopales. They are young pads from the nopal cactus (pictured above on a loteria card). You can cut them off the cactus, though they snap off pretty easily. If you are preparing them fresh off the cactus, you have to wash 'em in cold water and carefully remove the thorns by gently scraping the cactus flesh. After preparing them, you can either leave them whole or slice them into strips.
My friend and maestro Francisco usually pulls a few nopales from his cactus in his backyard, cleans 'em and places the slices on his BBQ. we eat them with tortillas -- tacos de nopalitos.
Around Tucson, you can buy them sliced and diced in small, one-pound bags courtesy of Oro Verde Products (9151 W. Monroe St., Tolleson, Arizona, 85353/(623) 478-5300)) at Food City and even the Safeway at Campbell and Broadway. At home
I cook 'em up with eggs and beans and lately have been rolling it all up into a burrito.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
Guadalupe noted how clean I am: constantly brushing my teeth and showering whether or not I've got the energy.
I'm constantly cleaning myself to get rid of the smell. Even when I'm not hooked up to an IV or sitting in a recliner at the cancer clinic, the smell is there.
Recently a commercial triggered the scent.
My mom and I were watching TV on Monday when this Quiznos commercial came on. The scene is the inside of some office. There's a dude sitting down, eating a toasted sub. then his cubicle mate enters the scene. the mate opens a duffel bag, says he's not eating anymore and pulls two IV bags from the duffel.
the commercial goes on to say something about taste or whatever.
it offended my mom, who said it wasn't funny. I later suggested maybe she's a bit sensitive to the subject given my chemo, but she insists it's not funny period.
but the sight of the bags on television triggered that damn smell of saline and medicine under my nose.
all of this is important for me to note because I've found that many of the observed side effects of chemo that I was warned in fact aren't what people have said.
I was told I'd lose my sense of taste. I haven't. in fact everything tastes like medicine. maybe that constitutes a loss of taste to some. but not me.
I was told I'd lose my sense of smell. I wish.
Monday, September 10, 2007
Free Prostate Cancer Screening for Men of Tucson
Nearly 3,500 Men Across the State Will be Diagnosed this Year;
Disease is Second Deadliest Cancer in Men
This year, nearly 3,500 men across the state of Arizona will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and more than 10 percent of them will die from the disease. Overall, state legislators need to make prostate cancer a priority, especially after Arizona earned a C- on this year’s Prostate Cancer Report Card for the second year in a row (www.fightprostatecancer.org/2007reportcards. Despite the grim statistics, there is hope if detected early, making prostate cancer one of the more treatable forms of cancer.
In recognition of September as Prostate Cancer Awareness Month, the National Prostate Cancer Coalition (NPCC) will team up with KOLD News 13 and Tucson Medical Center to provide free prostate cancer screenings. The event is just one of many stops across the country for the Drive Against Prostate Cancer, an initiative to educate and screen men from coast to coast.
“More lives are being saved every day through early detection,” said National Prostate Cancer Coalition CEO Richard N. Atkins, M.D. “We encourage men across Tucson to come by and get screened. This 10 minute test could save your life.”
TMC Services at the El Dorado Campus
1400 North Wilmot Road
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (MST)
What is the Drive Against Prostate Cancer?
It’s big, it’s purple, it’s the Drive Against Prostate Cancer - a mobile screening unit where local licensed physicians conduct a two-part screening procedure, which includes a Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test and physical examination. The screenings are conducted in a 39-foot Airstream Land Yacht XL, owned by Thor Industries and designed specifically for prostate cancer screenings. The exams are free, thanks in part to Bayer Diagnostics and University of Michigan Labs.
About the National Prostate Cancer Coalition
The National Prostate Cancer Coalition sets the standard for rapidly reducing the burden of prostate cancer on American men and their families through awareness, outreach and advocacy.
Note: Appointments are not required. For more information, please visit www.fightprostatecancer.org
sorry it's been a while since I've posted. I've been tired.
but the report from my first round of chemo just arrived. great news -- my tumor markers are down.
As of Aug. 28, the alpha fetoprotein (AFP) is at 5.6. It needed to be below 8.8. Also, my Beta HCG is zero, where it should be.
my white blood cell count is low, but that's to be expected.
"This is good news," wrote my doctor on top of the report.
I had today off, but we're back at the clinic tomorrow morning.
Friday, September 7, 2007
to be honest, I'm exhausted. with all my friends and family around it was easy to walk into the clinic Monday morning feeling strong, but my body finally crashed yesterday. It was nice to sleep in today (I don't have to be in until about 12:30 today) but I'll be glad when the afternoon is over and I've got a couple days off.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
so I've got a entourage, I suppose.
On Monday, my aunt Maria flew in from Michigan to help out this week. the following day my cousin gabby followed suit. of course my mom is here as is Guadalupe.
I'm incredibly lucky to have such loving friends and family willing to put aside the stress of daily life to come out to the desert and help out.
Their presence does wonders for my spirits. This first week of the second course isn't as hard as the first week. as much as I can, I'm not taking the benadryl and atavan. I don't need to be any more knocked that I already am. Besides, it helps me sleep more naturally.
There are a few reasons for my entourage though. And I must note there's more family headed to Tucson over the next few weeks.
One of the reasons the family has banded together is that there is no history of cancer among the Sanchez's or Tello's. At least none that is known or I've been told.
My father's father died of kidney failure as result of his WWII service. His wife, Pipa, the Sanchez matriarch, held on to life after two strokes, but eventually the fight was over. She needed a rest. My mother's father passed away from a heart attack in Arcadia. And Big Alicita, Papa's beloved wife, died after suffering from dementia. Other than Coco, for whom I'm named, all the uncles and aunts and cousins are alive and healthy. so I'm the first cancer survivor in the family. Needless to say it's unnerving to have something like this appear and from seemingly out of nowhere.
but the other reason is we're a tight family. always have been and always will be.
Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Though yesterday was a holiday that signifies the end of summer for most,it was the first day of my second course of chemotherapy. My second full week of treatment. Since it was a holiday, the clinic had a skeleton crew and they only took in about a dozen patients.
I was in an infusion pod (infusion pod: place where they administer IV therapy)with a young lymphoma patient and two people getting post-bone marrow transplant therapy.
Everyone knew each other because they were normally placed in the other infusion pod. But I worked my way into a conversation.
the one man receiving treatment for his marrow transplant heard I was from California. So am I, he said.
"I came from Salinas," the guy told me.
I was shocked.
"For real," I responded, my jaw hanging. "That's where I moved from. I worked for the Salinas Californian and the Monterey Herald when i was there."
He said he graduated Salinas High class of '93. His name was Raul. Didn't give me his last name though.
Turns out his girlfriend was also a Salinas transplant.
it's a small world. I love it.
Monday, September 3, 2007
She's tough. Even her childhood stories from Guatemala belie this truth. She's been strong through this whole new experience as well. And the timing hasn't been great. This past Mother's Day was the Sunday before my surgery.
My father, mother and Guadalupe arrived to Tucson in the early afternoon. Adrian and i (Adrian Bravo has been here all weekend) were out buying her a birthday cake, wine, a six-pack of bud light (her favorite beer) and roses when they pulled into the parking lot outside my apartment.
to celebrate, I took everyone to La Fuente, this great Mexican joint just north of downtown Tucson. I was able to stomach half a plate of mole poblano.
After the mariachis serenaded my mom, our bartender brought out a big 'ol pink sombrero for her. once I figure out how to get the pictures from my phone to the web, I'll post 'em here.
feliz cumpleanos mom.
Saturday, September 1, 2007
I've been trying to stay physically active throughout the treatment -- mostly via evening walks throughout the neighborhood. I can't risk going to the pool, given all the crap that's usually hanging around the locker room and in the pool water. I had the strength to go out for a bicycle ride last night. i rode around the neighborhood and then up to the university. I stopped to listen to the marching band that was practicing for today's game. while I watching the band march back and forth in formation, the president of TUSD's governing board, Joel Ireland, walked by. I said hello and he replied the same. but he clearly didn't recognized me. eventually I had to say 'It's me, George Sanchez,' which was followed by a stunned look of surprise on his face. I can understand the reaction; after all, last time he saw me I was in slacks, a button shirt, tie and my hair was in a pompadour. not the case last night. we spoke for a bit and before he left he said I looked well.
but it was a bit awkward.
Every chemo. patient is warned to stay away from people that are sick because your immune system is compromised. my friend Adrian was hospitalized with strep throat when he was in chemo., so I'm taking this order to avoid the sick very seriously.
but that meant I had to stay away from some friends this week.
I guess it all comes with the chemo. order, but it's nonetheless an odd feeling when you actually experience it.
Friday, August 31, 2007
felicidades chris y amy.
(P.S. 3:32 p.m. Still figuring out how to get the MP3 posted or linked or whatever)
(P.P.S. 4:04 p.m. My brother Richard figured it out in about two minutes. thanks richard!)
Thursday, August 30, 2007
it's strange. I first noticed it a couple days ago. the bathtub was gathering more and more black hair after I showered. looked like a small dog was washed in the tub.
I'm glad i shaved my head. i don't think I would have taken that very well.
but without the pompadour, there's still plenty of hair to lose.
my beloved t-bird of hair on my chest is thinning.
Phil always reminded I was a hairy beast man. ever seen my legs?
and my father likes to compare my feet to hobbits on account of all the hair. mind you, my father also called me meatball the day after my testicle was removed.
you gotta' have a sense of humor.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
seriously though, the first round is done. Dr.Ahmann, my oncologist, seemed pretty impressed with the way I'm holding up. he reiterated how heavy the chemo doses are, noting that if any of my doses were doubled they would literally kill me. of course he said this in front of my mom.
otherwise things are well. he encouraged me to exercise as I feel up to it (meaning walks or a bit of yoga) and he gave me a prescription for ativan should I get really sick again. I don't know what Ativan is made of but it knocks you out pretty solid.
Second round begins Monday morning (yes, Labor Day) at 8 a.m. with blood labs (routine drawing of my blood to check on my white blood cell count) and then three to four hours of a chemo. cocktail.
should you care, here's the schedule for the second round of chemo.:
Sept. 3 - Sept. 7th (three to four hours each day)
Sept. 11 (a little more than one hour)
Sept. 18 (blood labs, appointment with Ahmann and about an hour of chemo -- pretty much all morning and into the afternoon)
Monday, August 27, 2007
As I've mentioned on this blog, I was pretty sick last weekend. the symptoms I had -- restless legs, nausea, motion sickness, fatigue -- were likely an afterthought of my chemo regimen, but also brought on by the anti-nausea pills prescribed me.
initially the docs gave me 10 MG tablets of Prochlorperazine, a generic drug for Compazine. Following my lousy weekend, I had chemo last Tuesday. When I checked in, the nurses asked me how I was feeling and I was honest. I told them about the weekend, the sickness and asked if there was something they could do. Apparently the things I described matched the known side effects of compazine and its generics. They summoned the on-call oncologist (say that ten times fast), who suggested a different anti-nausea drug. Of course the one they suggested couldn't be obtained because my health insurance company wouldn't approve it. After some choice words with those involved, i was given 8 MG tablets of Ondansetron, a generic drug for Zofran. While I've still got a slight sense of dizziness and the drug has affected my breathing (I can't draw as deep a breath as normal unless I concentrated on it), I haven't been sick like i was that first weekend.
After six days of treatment, I can understand that. I gained seven pounds the first week. what with all the liquids they were injecting, I suppose that was inevitable. I do remember feeling really bloated at the end of that first week. But between Friday, Aug. 17, and Tuesday, Aug. 21, i lost those seven pounds.
This weekend I put on a pair of jeans for church at the mission. I noticed I had cinched the belt to its last hole: I'm not usually that skinny.
of course I'd like to think the bit of weight loss is also due to the fact I haven't had a beer in more than two weeks (of which, Dr. Ahmann said I could have one beer with dinner during chemo).
but I think the chemo. diet is kicking in.
otherwise, I'm eating well: lots of grains, cooked and steamed vegetables, turkey sandwiches, and plenty of high-protein smoothies. In particular I've consumed a ton of nopales con huevos y frijoles.
Sunday, August 26, 2007
A week ago today, I had to leave Lili's Cocina, this wonderful, little restaurant on Tucson's south fourth, without touching the machaca plate on the table. my nerves --legs up to my stomach -- wouldn't allow me to eat. Sunday into Monday I was wicked sick (see the blog post). Monday was better, but I still couldn't sit much because of RLS. The sickness wouldn't allow me to sleep, so i arrived to the cancer center on Tuesday ill-rested. we switched my meds after a discussion with the on-duty doc. and a few nurses and I've felt a lot better since. no more nausea, though the spectre of dizziness is still hanging around. one brownie, letters and visits from friends made it an easy week otherwise. heck, I felt well enough to take my folks to see "Resurrecting the Champ," another movie about a fallen journalist.
I was also strong enough to actually write two letters and read. god, it was good to read. I finished Dos Pasos' "the big Money" as well as a short history of the Tohono O'Odham. Last night I finished the Popul Vuh, the history of the quiche Mayans, written well into the Spanish conquest of their lands which became a never ending occupation. it is a profound book that left me sad with many questions to ask of friends, family and historians.
this morning, after mass at Mission San Xavier, i had breakfast at Las Cazualitas de Tucson.
like I wrote earlier, it's the simple things.
There are some visits on the horizon I'm looking forward too: Adrian, Guadalupe, Julie, Aunt Maria, Gabby, Aunt Pookie, and of course my friends here in town.
On Tuesday, I return to the clinic for blood labs, another round of chemo with bleomycin, and a visit with my oncologist, Dr. Ahmann.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
so here's a list of four songs. i obviously need to come up with more. maybe you can help. the songs are all upbeat, if not aggressive, rock tunes. but any addition need not be rock. I'm still trying to figure out a jarocho song for the list. Lyrically represented are themes of hope and self-determination.
so, in no particular order:
1) "Search and Destroy" from 1973's Raw Power by Iggy and the Stooges.
Tell yourself "I'm a street walking cheetah with a heart full of napalm" and try to not feel strong. The second (and third) verse opens "look out honey 'cause I'm using technology." -- that's right cancer; prayers and chemicals are coming your way.
I think the phrase search and destroy pretty much sums up the scorched earth technique that is chemotherapy.
2) "Attitude" from 1983's Rock for Light by Bad Brains
These are all the words in the song:
"don't care what they may say/we got that attitude/don't care what they may do/we got that attitude/Hey/we got the PMA."
PMA stands for Positive Mental Attitude.
the song is just barely over one minute long.
they don't come any punker than bad brains.
3) "There is a Light that Never Goes Out" from 1986's The Queen is Dead by the Smiths
Of course Morrissey makes any musical list of mine. Despite a chorus the ponders a horrific automobile accident (or two), this song has always inspired me. The final coda from which the title is taken is as upbeat as pop lyrics come.
4) "the Black and The Red" by One Reason
I don't know much about this band, but Scott included this song on a mix CD he sent me. the first verse, about a half-drunk phone call to a friend in the middle of the night, just about sums up our friendship. but the fierce determinism in the simple, bellowed phrase "this life is what you make it" is infectious.
I'll add more as I think up new songs. feel free to add yourself. just no maudlin tunes. I have no interest in self-pity, in pop music or cancer treatment.
There's a whole process that begins with decreased heart rate, lowered blood pressure and the possibility of passing out. according to my nurses at the clinic, it's always a problem with young, healthy, and seemingly macho men.
here's a quick link to an article on managing vasovagal reactions: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3689/is_200104/ai_n8936778
Anyway, so before we began yesterday's chemotherapy, the nurses needed to find a new vein for an iv. I told the nurses "I freak out" around needles. at this point, Emily, who is one of my regular nurses, introduced me to this nurse from Oakland who was shadowing her that day. the nurse was nearing her certification in imaging and would use the technique to hopefully overcome my vasovagal reaction.
the nurse asked me to close my eyes, take a few deep breathes, and imagine myself in a calm,familiar and peaceful place.
I pictured myself on the evening of my 24th birthday, at a bar on Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, with my narco news cohorts.
given hurricane dean, I wonder if that bar is still standing?
At her direction, I recalled the silver swells on the ocean that night, the way the water was black, a mirror of the sky and all the dancing and singing on the eve of what would be my last night of that trip. I recalled my friends Luis, Andrea, Sunny. I remembered Ugo and the way he danced with his bony elbows. she asked me about the breeze, and me with my fantastic imagination, I could nearly feel it along my arms and chest.
all the while Emily was readying my left wrist for an IV that would be used to inject pre-meds and the days dose of bleomycin.
there was some thing that made me realize they were about to inject me -- maybe an increase in a specific command from the nurse or a slight gap in our dialogue. of course i felt the pin prick.
but when I opened my eyes and found my wrist bandaged with IV in place, i was fine. the prick barely hurt on top of that.
as far as I could tell, imaging worked. hell, I didn't go green (which is my normal reaction) and I didn't nearly pass out.
Here's a link to an article on web md of guided imagery.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
It's about another young man, a student at the UA, fighting testicular cancer.
I suppose I should offer a bit of an explanation, or at least begin a discussion, at this point in my road to recovery.
my attitude is the only one I can conceive as possible and appropriate. from the beginning I was not a victim, but already a survivor. that's the only way, at least how I see it, to move through cancer and gain insight on what is happening to oneself.
if you don't, as far as I can tell, you let yourself become devoured by the cancer.
my frame of mind is not necessarily unique either. i have found it among my parents, the staff at the clinic and all the other survivors receiving treatment alongside of me.
but i don't think war analogies are appropriate either. and certainly my cancer, in comparison to other experiences, is no way similar to a war or conquest.
so along with fighting against positioning myself physically and psychologically as a victim, I have also tried not to get caught up in a 'george versus his cancer' frame of mind. I still don't have the appropriate words to explain why, other than the fact the cancer, welcome or not, is still a part of me and it is a change in my body that will affect my future growth. accepted or not, it is present within me right now. of course, this is much harder to realize than it is said.
so I always appreciate reminds of such attitudes, like the one i got from my dear friend yolanda gonzalez, who told me yesterday not to think of this as my sickness, and though not my wellness, embrace this change and its potential and move forward with my cancer and not necessarily against.
and the notion of acceptance, as in the 12 step variety, i think is key to this attitude.
so I heard a song on a compilation my old friend scott macdonald made for me to get through recovery. it's called "the black and the red" by one reason. it's good, ol' anthemic punk rawk. I'm not entirely sure if the lyrics are in praise of the virtues of anarcho syndicalism or punk rock, or even if the singer is truly bellowing "this life is what you make it."
but for now, for me, those are the words. and that's the point.
Monday, August 20, 2007
"Harley Rose Leonida was born on Friday, August 17, 2007 at 8:07 p.m. She weighed 8 lbs. 13.6 oz. and is 20.75 inches long. We think she is adorable. We're all doing great and getting to know each other."
allow me to be selfish a moment, but Harley's birth coinciding with treatment is a good sign to me. I've prayed for this little girl since the day she was first scheduled to arrive.
I'm not sure how to explain this yet: what the chemo feels like. Julie's mom said it was like an electronic buzz in your body. that's one way to explain it.
but for me, it feels like multiple hangovers at once. meaning there are multiple vibrations, motions, or rhythms working at once, and against each other, within my body at the same time. the only way to feel better is to get them in sync.
for example, I seem to be suffering from this thing called RLS (restless leg syndrome -- brooks can explain that one!) which makes your leg bounce or move uncontrollably. so my legs want to move like they're running, but my torso is tired like I've worked out all day long and in need of a rest. meanwhile, I've also got a Stye (spelling?) in my left eye. but that's separate, i suppose. it would be easier to handle if it was one motion, or one rhythm, but it's multiple ones, so it's harder to concentrate on where needs to be healed, or where my healing energies should be focused upon.
i got sick around 11 a.m. yesterday, a little after mass, and it didn't subside until 2 a.m. this morning.
but i don't feel like that today. and while I'm not 100 percent, it's better than yesterday, which means today is a good day.
Friday, August 17, 2007
From where I left off…the Navy corpsman (from an xray) found a “mass” lodged between my air pipe and lung. He showed to some Chief, he didn’t know what the fuck he was looking at, and so he sent me across the street to the naval hospital to see this nice doctor…who I can remember her name. I do remember she was a reservist, working on her residency. She was nice…sort of pretty, plan, over worked, and really understanding.
At some point the next day I showed her the xray. The look of WTF???? Would be a running theme for a few weeks. She no idea of what that mass was. And so, the kick in the balls started. She called another doctor friend she knew in Highland Park… an upscale suburb of Chicago. I remember the day…5-5 (week 5, day 5). The good doctor told me that she was removing me from my division for the time being…until this got sorted out.
There is something everyone has to understand. For the past 5 weeks, ive grown very close with those 70 or so lads in my division and for a hand of us like brothers. So when the doctor told me I was headed up to the 10th floor of the hospital to await a ride into town...a small piece of me died that day. Its sounds a bit emo…but, let me continue.
So that afternoon with orders in my hand, I went back to my rack. There were hugs, handshakes, and some very long goodbyes…I knew id never see any of those guys again. It hurt…hurt bad. Later that night, I was in a white hospital room. The kind you see on old 70’s medical shows. There were about 15 other kids in there. All broke to some degree or another. Most had broken legs, arms, or some other fuck up shit. Even worse, they told I wasn’t going back anytime soon…I was stuck.
I was wreck. I couldn’t sleep. In the morning, I woke up to some nurse saying my ride was going to be ready in about 10 minutes. At this point, I’d never put on my dress Blues. So I did..i looked damn good too. Later in the morning I was riding with the duty driver to Highland Park to see another doctor. To make a long story short…he didn’t know either.
So the long process of what the fuck is that in my chest begins.
I'm excited to get to the clinic today and get this week over with. everyday I wake up i count one less day of chemo and one less day of having this damn shunt in my wrist.
I've got the hospital smell all over me now -- on my breathe and on my skin. no doubt it's from having so much saline and drugs and more drugs injected into me. so i especially enjoy showers like i haven't in years.
well, expect more news today as I'm awaiting word of becoming uncle again via the birth of Phil and Dianna's first child.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
we make our way outside and people don't know where to go -- some old dude wanders over to the closest shaded bus stop, others hang out in the patio outside the clinic. eventually we're all rounded up in the parking lot, in the sun.
needless to say, people are not happy. i keep hearing complaints about the clinic running out of wheel chairs for its incapacitated patients.that's messed up.
out in the parking lot, i spot my oncologist, Dr. Fred Ahmann. I wander over to him and ask him if this is part of my chemo. He giggles a bit and wonders what happened. Ahmann said in real fire situation, the trucks would already be outside. but there were none. he seemed to think some inspectors who were inside the building tripped the alarm on purpose. later my mom here's a rumor that a microwave caught fire or something. who knows? anyway, Dr. Ahmann asks how things went Monday. I said i was doing alright; just a little tired. "that's a minor miracle," he responds and proceeds to tell me that less than fifteen years ago, the drug prescribed for each treatment, cisPlatin, is so hard on patients they almost considered dropping it altogether. "We had to cheer lead for our patients to keep taking it," he said. Only recently, by his memory, did they begin prescribing appropriate drugs that kept patients from betting sick. so it's good to hear I'm taking it well, he said.
with the fire alarm shut off and it seemingly safe to re-enter the building, we parted ways and I returned to my pod to continue treatment.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
the first day wasn't too bad. of course, since it was my first time, despite all that I'd been told, read and seen, i still had some whack assumptions of what i was walking into. like the fact that in the back of my mind i kept picturing that scene from Star Wars: the empire strikes back, where Han Solo is strapped to this gurney and forced up against some sort of collection of spark plugs, live wires and what not as a torture device to give up information on the rebel alliance. i don't know why i though that. the room where they administered the chemo was absolutely nothing like that: it was all hard wood floors, beige paint on the walls, two windows that allowed in plenty of sunshine, friendly nurses and three older Lady's all at different stages of treatment who were pleased to have a young man in the room.
so here's how the day went:
2 a.m. - due to technical problems sending out e-mails with photo attachments, I was up late and didn't get to sleep until 2.
8:45 a.m. - woke up and made what might be my last trip to the gym to swim for about 45 minutes.
10 a.m. - returned from pool and got ready for the day.
10:30 a.m. - Mom, Dad and my Uncle Johnny from Abq., New Mexico came over. We finished making that herbal tea, Flor Essence. the night before I burned my hands preparing it poorly by myself around 10 p.m. typical me. I'm the son of my father.
noon -- checked in to the cancer clinic on Allen and Campbell in the Tucson foothills. The clinic is where I see my oncologist. It's also only a few minutes away from the Star's river road bureau.
1 p.m. -- blood labs. they took three vials of the red stuff. after I came out and waited with family in the lobby, we meet Roxie, the cancer ward dog that wanders around the clinic with a trainer and acts cute and friendly with patients.
1: 45 p.m. -- we make our way up to the second floor to register at the infusion pod, where i'll receive my chemotherapy. We had been waiting for so long because there weren't any available chairs for me.
i have to note something. as we came through the corridors and into the waiting room for the central infusion pod, i saw a kid about my age with a shunt on his back. he was pale and his head was shaved,like mine, though there were some ratty patches on the back. the sight of him kind of took me off guard. i don't know why. we didn't get a chance to talk as he was called away fairly quickly, but maybe it was the shock of another young person there. i don't know, but it tripped me out.
2 p.m. -- after getting dozen or so pages into Dos Passos' "The big Money," they called me back to my infusion pod. like i said, there were four older ladies all excited by my presence. they were all at different stages of treatment. One was a real estate agent that had lived in Chile and Argentina and was receiving an infusion for her arthritis. Another woman was receiving treatment for stage four lung cancer. her daughter had flown in from south Carolina. they gave me a heads up about what to expect and how to react. apparently she'd had allergic reactions to nearly everything they gave her. lastly, there was a woman in there receiving her final chemo. treatment. when she left, the nurses gathered a couple doctors and nurses, blew bubbles at her as she got out of the chair and cheered for her. i congratulated her.
2:45 p.m. -- after going over all the pre-chemo. drugs, effects and side effects, and the same for the chemo., they plugged me up. and of course i did what all healthy, young macho men apparently do when they get poked with needles: i turned green and almost passed out. my nurse didn't let me live that one down.
the drugs made me really sleepy, so i don't remember much from here on out. i was seated on a recliner with two warm blankets. mom sat beside me for most of it. i pulled out my ipod and started listening to son de madera. at some point i fell asleep.
5:25 p.m. -- woke up to mono blanco's recording of la bamba. i was the last patient in the pod and i guess one of four left in the ward. i resumed reading as there was no one to talk to. one thing that was weird: my right arm was really cold. that was because the iv was cold. my left arm was warm but my right one felt like an ice cube. i was also a bit dopy. for example, this young nurse bounced into the room (and i do mean bounced -- she kinda' hopped in the door all excited and peeked her head past the frame to speak to me)and told me she was 2/21/80 and i was 2/21/79. i looked at her confused. she explained we were exactly one year apart, then she said it probably didn't make sense to me 'cause of the drugs. she was right.
6:30 -- concluded day one. i was the last patient in the ward. as we left the building, it felt nice getting out of the frigid air conditioning and into the desert warmth. to the south, dark storm clouds were moving in.
8 p.m. -- dinner of rice, chicken, steamed bok choy and pico de gallo salsa i made the night before. then i climbed into bed.
10:30 p.m. -- got out of bed to watch the south park chef aid episode. i only wanted to watch because joe strummer was in it for a whole five seconds. back to bed.
no dreams. but i'm looking forward to having my own bubble party when i leave the cancer clinic for the last time.