Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Since I left the Daily Star in Tucson, I have paid $400 a month to Cobra for continual coverage. Oh yeah, that first payment was $800.
Months of coverage included my one blood draw back in September.
The Cobra people are merciless. If you're a day or two late on payment, they threaten to halt your coverage. As if any patient would be late on a bill if she or he could help it...but the folks at Cobra feel the need to state at the bottom of every bill: "If payment is not received by the last day of the month, coverage will be cancelled and will not be reinstated if late payment is received."
Since I ended coverage, they continue to send me paper work.
Though I'm glad to be out of their grasp, I'm sure it won't be the last time I deal with Cobra.
We need a new order when it comes to health care in this country.
After working three months for Dean Singleton (the L.A. Daily News), I now qualify for health care benefits.
Within a day of the paperwork appearing on my cluttered desk in the newsroom, I filed everything with the human resources folks. Then I hounded them to get me my passwords and identification numbers and whatnot.
Now that I'm covered under Anthem Blue Cross, I have my choice of literally thousands of oncologists in the L.A. area to visit. That's about all the website gives you.
But I can't tell one from the other, though I've a list of two oncologists with a background in urology.
I've called my old oncologist, Dr. Fredrick Ahmann, and asked for a recommendation. I've also left a message for Adrian to get his oncologist.
I'm due for a CT scan and blood test.
There is nothing inviting about the health care industry.
Monday, October 27, 2008
hundreds of punks were piling through a narrow door and out of a community hall on the corner of Whittier Blvd. and 10th St. in Montebello. Greeting them was a small phalanx of police officers anxiously gripping their batons and passing around riot helmets. a helicopter was circling overhead, spotlight shining down on the scene, ordering us away from the hall.
immediately to my right was consuelo, who only 24-hours earlier, had been vomiting uncontrollably at the veterans hospital in Loma Linda. A few feet away young nate was snapping photos of the police with his i-phone.
I'd be lying if I said everything was calm. I was expecting a riot. an officer was roving the street with a shotgun in hand. i couldn't tell if it was loaded with pepper spray balls, wooden doyles or worse. in anticipation of pepper gas, I handed consuelo my bandanna and instructed her to dowse it with water and cover her mouth. a lesson I learned from the 2000 DNC protest. I wandered over to nate and gave him the same warning. then I wrapped an extra t-shirt around my neck and put some water on it.
it was consuelo's first punk show. it's now legendary. it would've been Crudos third reunion show. the night was nearing the hotly anticipated headlining hour when police arrived.
Just a few days earlier, consuelo had begun radiation treatment for her cancer. that's why she'd been throwing up the night before.
I never had radiation treatment. however, both paul and adrian went through it. in fact, paul was at the same place where consuelo is now being treated.
but I did go through chemo. and I can say there's no way I would've ventured to a punk show, muchless a crudo's reunion sure to draw hundreds of people, a few days into treatment.
Consuelo is tough like that.
nate and I had spent the afternoon with her family at their little rented cottage just a few blocks from the hospital in Loma Linda. I jokingly mentioned joining us at the fest. she had planned to go to the son del centro show I was at the night before, but her sickness kept her home. not long after I mentioned the show, she got up from the couch and disappeared. I started to wonder where after i hadn't seen her for about ten minutes. then she emerged from her bedroom, changed out of her comfortable sweats and in an all-black outfit that included a black skirt with the silhouette of a zapatista along her waist.
five hours later, back at the show, nate and I, separately wondering to ourselves how we were going to explain to her parents taking their patient daughter to a show that erupted into a riot not far from the spot where Reuben Salazar had been murdered by police decades earlier.
thankfully it never happened. but I'm glad she came.
here's to the new face of cancer survivors: consuelo aguilar
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
the results were faxed to Tucson this morning. Dr. Ahmann's folks made sure to tell me so.
Just a few minutes ago, Ahmann's people called to say he had inspected the results and everything looks good.
hopefully I'll have a new oncologist for the next test -- which will also include another CT scan, as it has been four months since the last.
Monday, October 20, 2008
so i called my oncologist in Tucson. Turns out neither have they. they never received the results.
but UCLA was quick to collect their money.
The first bill arrived within a week of the blood draw.
so now i need to track down my results.
Monday, October 13, 2008
I didn't even realize it last week. too much work -- too much on my mind.
I flew to Tucson over the weekend to celebrate Francisco's birthday and Jack Gillum going away to USA Today.
Drove past the clinic at one point and just looked away.
more later. as I type, parts of valley are up in flames, I'm up to my eyeballs in assignments and I'm sure there will be more work to come my way within the hour.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
so here's the thing. since I'm in between full-time insurance companies, my plan is to have the blood draw in L.A. with the results to be faxed to my oncologist in Tucson.
I don't want to get an oncologist under Cobra then have to do it all over again once my new health-care coverage kicks. too much run around.
so we'll see if this interim plan works.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Back in Tucson, I certainly had a routine that was well worn: every two months, go to the same clinic off Alvernon. check in. read whatever I brought with me. hear my name announced in the waiting room. small talk with nurses. prick of a needle. blue bandage for the wound and head to work. a week later, Check in with Dr. Ahmann and the clinic staff on Campbell.
Every four months, go to the new lab on campbell, across from the trader joes. arrive 45 minutes early. check in. drink that terrible filth they call contrast. disrobe in one room, put on the medical robes. ride the giant donut. feel the warmth of the iodine flush in my veins. blue bandage again. brush teeth to get rid of that taste and head to work.
a few weeks later, I'd get the typical bills -- depending on the cost, I could handle them, though thanks to some sage advice from a Lee Enterprises employee, i ended up having to pay more than i should of for CT scans.
that's another story: don't believe the H.R. people. like the insurance companies, all they care about is saving money.
but I'm in Los Angeles now. there are a ton of great resources here. and they are spread out all over this metropolis; from West L.A. to Loma Linda.
But before i can access those resources, i need to pay for insurance.
I'm in between companies. Not yet eligible for benefits as a Daily News employee, so i'm covered by cobra under Lee enterprises.
cobra should be called mosquito, 'cause it's a blood sucker.
In three months, I've paid cobra more than $1,200 - about $400 a month.
three weeks ago, I meant to get my first blood draw. but i work at a newspaper and sometimes you just can't plan your day. between the chatsworth crash and a project I've been assigned to, well, three weeks slipped by. like I was saying, three weeks ago, I got all my paperwork ready and decided I'd get my blood drawn at a UCLA clinic in Westwood.
three weeks ago.
the project is in its final throes and I'm finally taking a morning off from work to get my test taken care of.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
i've been back in Los Angeles for more than two months now, working for the Los Angeles Daily News. It has been more than one year since I began chemotherapy. More than one year that Guadalupe and i have dated. Little Harley Rose Leonida is more than a year old now.
Elsewhere, changes abound. there's a female candidate for vice president and a black candidate to be president of the united states. Indymac doesn't exist. more folks have been laid off at the L.A. Times. Bolivia is on the verge of a civil war, again. the achievement played their last show in Riverside. Francisco is on tour with the Santa Cruz River Band. Manny Santana passed away. nearly all my Santa Cruz people have moved on... and on and on.
It hasn't been for lack of material that I haven't written. in fact, there's a plenty that I, as a cancer survivor, should be chronicling. The less glamorous stuff -- like switching insurance, paying more than $400 a month for cobra coverage to cover a blood test I have yet to take, and new life. yes. the feelings within.
I have to admit something.
I haven't told my co-workers that I'm a survivor. It hasn't come up. how could it. But when I arrived to Los Angeles, I was anxious to stop always talking about cancer.
Back in Tucson, there were memories everywhere. Co-workers and friends always asked. I was cool with it, but in some ways it had become a very focal part of my identity. it will always be, but I want some space. i know it will come up again. shoot, I showed a co-worker a photo of me bald. and at a union training this weekend, I know folks will ask.
this want of space all started with the final story for the Star, my farewell, cancer experience piece.
Actually, the moment it all changed was captured on video. You can see my face change.
in the name of journalism, i returned to he clinic and discussed my experience. at one point I climbed into the chair that i started chemotherapy in. I start explaining the experience. then I stumble. repeat the same thing about three times. and start crying.
I went home that night exhausted. the story and experience brought up much that i hadn't allowed myself to feel or reflect upon.
not long after that experience, I made a joke about my cancer. something about one nut or whatever. Guadalupe finally told me it was hard for her to keep hearing crack jokes about my cancer.
i never realized it would upset her. then I thought about my mom, what it was like for her to hear my joke about it.
....wow, I really should've been writing all this earlier. it's a lot to process. i've much to catch up on.
anyway, so the point of today's title: a friend, a pretty young lady from Tucson has been diagnosed with cancer. Not quite sure what yet, but I'll call her tomorrow.
we'll talk one survivor to another.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Monday, July 14, 2008
I didn't know until I saw the Sunday edition this morning while I was listening to a phone-in press conference.
here's a link to my past blog on Mr. Snow.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Read it here. Also, you can view a short video of me returning to the clinic.
Side note: Guadalupe does not like the photo of us that ran...
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
A few years ago I had a chest x ray done. Standard, since the origin of my cancer came from a tumor in my chest. In that x ray the doctor saw some..thing. So i had another one done. Same thing. So the good doctor freaked me out by telling me that there was a possibility that i might need surgery again to clean up what ever of the Thyroid was left behind (according to the x ray). He sent me to see a surgeon. He then put a scope down my throat and had a peep. He saw nothing but some acid reflux. He recommend that i take Zantac once a day to repair my esophagus. Done.
Flash forward a few years, a new gun ho doctor, and with the new doctor can a battery of tests...i was impressed. I had new chest x ray done...results came back as before. They saw...something. What? They don't know. I have to get another one done tomorrow. In addition to the chest x ray, i had blood work done. To quote the nurse; “ Hi Paul, your test results came back, and your triglycerides are out of whack...so doctor Bodwin is going to put you on Lipitor...ok?” “wait...what?” Thats right folks, I just turned 30 and im on Lipitor. Jesus Christ.
I should be more depressed then i am at the moment. But im not. A years ago, around the same time of that chest x ray, also had a blood test done. I was suppose to fast...no food for 24 hours, and no liquid a few hours before. But, i was thirsty. I thought to myself, whats a dr pepper going to hurt. Well, that threw my blood sugar all out of whack. They thought i was a Diabetic. Im not. So im taking all this news with a grain of salt. Ive been down this road before. Im not that worried. But...god damnit, if i have to have surgery again or have to go through that no salt diet again...Mother F-er!!!!! I dont know what i'll do.
I dont need this shit, and You know in spite of what George says about me (I dont eat more chili-cheeseburgers than i should), im in relative good health. Though i dont work out like i should (its been a rough few months), i dont gorge, eat small portions, and im trying to cut out process foods. If this isnt enough motivation to get my ass in shape? Then paying 88 dollars for 30 pills will. 88 dollars! Blood money to the pharmaceuticals
what the F?
This morning I found out that she passed away.
She was a leukemia patient. It was clear she was very sick when we met. The veins in her chest were all bright purple from infection. It had been a long time sick her locks of hair hung down from her head. her head was shiny when we met. I can remember the tubes, filled with blood, that hung from the port above her collar bone.
Some mornings she had trouble holding down her food.
Yet she was pretty. Her youth shined through her eyes. She was probably beautiful before cancer brought her to Arizona.
Her presence brought a comfortable life to the clinic that no one else did.
She and her mother spoke Spanish, which I otherwise did not hear much of in the clinic. that always made me smile.
And her son brought that chaotic energy that only children can. Running around the clinic, getting into the juice bin and playing with the few other kids that might be around on any given afternoon, he was a handful, to say the least. I believe the nurses said more, actually.
Alicia and I might have first met on Labor Day weekend. I cannot recall right now.
I honestly feel sick to my stomach knowing she's gone.
After our first meeting, I would always check in on her when she was around.
I remember listening to her story about her son's father. I remember her talking about how they discovered her cancer and how she sought treatment in Texas and Mexico before arriving to the clinic in Tucson.
Alicia came from Las Cruces, New Mexico.
take care kid
Friday, June 27, 2008
I pulled the leg rest up, like I did at the beginning of every treatment, motioned with my arms how blankets were rolled over my legs and began to describe how the nurses would search for a vein on my right hand or wrist. then I started to cry.
I didn't even see it coming. the tears, the reaction -- I mean.
I cried again later when I talked about the first day and how my father watched me briefly then got up and left.
later that night, I spoke with Guadalupe about the experience. I suppose the reaction shouldn't be strange given that I was reliving a traumatic experience. Also, we noted, I never cried or acted that way during chemotherapy.
While I was in the thick of chemotherapy, i struggled to not allow myself to be afraid and when I was, to not show my fear. Psychologically, I wrestled with my fear because it could only harm me and my recovery. so I gave it no quarter. i guess until now.
the rush of emotions wiped me out for the rest of the evening. after a short visit with the González family that night, I went home, cooked something and crawled into bed early. like I haven't in weeks.
honestly, I'm still tired from the event.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
translated: nothing has spread and I've been cancer free for eight months.
Dr. Ahmann recommended I go out tonight, have a beer and watch the sun set.
I'll settle for time with my requinto.
Blood tests are clean too.
other than weight loss (I'm still below 140 pounds), it's all good, says the nurses and docs.
oh yeah, I found this little note on my blood test results -- my testosterone level is 665. The highest it should be is 800.
I'm macho, says my nurse.
WHHAAAAT? You're macho.
WHHAAAAT? You're Macho.
WHHHAAAT? You're macho.
alright, it didn't really happen like that, but I'm still excited from the news. Not bad for a kid with one nut.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
I had a blood draw this morning. I'm hoping everything works out with my insurance. I'm still fighting over the last blood draw.
What once cost me $50 all of a sudden went up to $550 when I got the bill for my last blood draw in April.
Tomorrow morning i go for the routine CT scan. ugh, the tasty contrast.
Next week, I meet with Dr. Ahmann.
Friday, May 16, 2008
My brother, Richard, was filming the family on Mother's Day. He put this together.
This short film gets my one nut of approval rating.
by the way, the tall guy: that's my cousin Ramone.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I remember the day clearly. Driving to the hospital with my parents. looking out onto the Sonoran Desert and the Catalina Foothills from behind the vans sliding door window. My aunt called from Michigan and prayed over the phone with me.
Once i checked in at the hospital and got laid out on the bed, the nurses were great. when they found out I worked for the Arizona Daily Star, they all asked about our columnist Bonnie Henry. One of my nurses had a daughter interning at the Star in the features department. Tucson is a small town, despite a million souls on record, i remember thinking.
i nearly passed out from all the needles. this gave everyone a good laugh.
eventually the anesthesiologist came around and injected me with the goods. as they wheeled me out of the pre-surgery waiting room, I started to fade. once we hit the corner and into the hallway, i knocked out. never even saw the operating room.
woke up about an hour later, my mouth sore from whatever tubes were in my mouth. drugged up and confused, I climbed out of the easy chair they propped me up in and crawled into my parents home. it was hot that day.
grandpa had flown in, just after fatty and Sarah flew out. carol ann came by that evening to check in.
at some point I checked myself out. surprised to find half my pubic hair had been shaved and i had a brand new scar to show. it took me about a week to gather up the courage to touch myself -- my scrotum -- again.
the operation was only the second or third step. next was the biopsy and its results. at the end of the week, I found out my tumor was cancerous.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Photo by Bean
I surprised my mom this year by walking in the door on Mothers Day. It was important to be home this year since I wasn't able to last year.
It has been nearly a year since my right testicle was removed. the surgery was two days after Mothers Day last year.
My folks spent last Mothers Day with Richard and Tina at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, CA. The day was real anxious. I was in Tucson with Fatty, Sarah and Alma, and I think probably the Gonzalez family. Just trying to relax, though we were all on the phone throughout the day. One of my memories from the day was mass at the Cathedral, where the presiding priest asked all the mothers to stand up for a prayer. But before the prayer, he said "look at all the lovely ladies." not the kind of thing you expect from a priest. in church. on mothers day.
Early the next morning, on May 14, 2007, my mother and father packed the van and headed east on I-10 to Tucson. We met at the hospital where I had a pre-operation meeting with my surgeon and had some blood work.
So a back yard barbecue one year later was a welcomed change of pace. grilled onion, pollo, carne, stories and laughter. everybody pitched in and cooked. the Bravo family stopped by as did Guadalupe and her nephew, Keanu.
funny -- the difference a year makes.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
Rest in peace Dee-Jade. my heart goes out to her husband. I can't even imagine.
Here's the obituary that ran April 3 in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The last piece is wonderful: Dee wanted to create a fund to assist young people with cancer completing higher education. Donations, in lieu of flowers, will go towards the fund.
Monday, March 31, 2008
He was taking back into the hospital over the weekend. Seems that he has a small fracture on his lower back. Signs of osteoporosis. I didn't want to go to the hospital this time. So Id stayed home. In the morning i was talking with my mom. "Do you know know what your grandfather said?" "No mom..." I fucking hate rhetorical questions. "He said it be better off if he (my grandpa) jumped off the roof like Uncle Eddie..." I guess i had a uncle that killed himself. Like i said, this isn't the first time he brought this up. I know he's serious. Before he went into surgery, he said he didn't want to be saved..."Just let me Die." I guess we all have been around enough depressed people to see and know the signs. The family's response to "grandpa's funny joke" was just that...they laughed. I guess that all you can do. What do you tell an old man? "Hey...you're suffering from depression." This doesn't mean anything to an old man. Something like this can beat the shit out of you...you're never the same.
I'd called my grandpa when i was in the hospital. I remember the last thing he told me was: "Dont get get depressed over there." I didn't have the heart to tell i was doing it with a hot Navy nurse. It wasn't depression, it was more frustration. I was out on my own, dealing with what to do next. I didn't know what to do after surgery...no one knew. I had this case worker who sent me around to different places, asking questions, getting answers...to what!? It was frustrating to hell. Not knowing if i was going to be discharged or not, if i did what about health care, what was i going to do? That ran through my head...nights in Great Lakes turned from blistering heat to cool Fall nights, to snow, to winter. All the while thinking, what was i going to do. This one day, it had snowed all night. Nothing heavy, just enough to make the shithole I was in...it make it look like a dream, like everything was ok. I sat at the desk, filling out paper work. I just stared out the window, looking at sleeping tree draped in snow. What was i going to do.
I can relate to my grandfather's frustration...what i am i going do.
Monday, March 3, 2008
Its still something i have to come to terms with. Its not something that i can hide, or something that i dont have to see. Its something i have to explain every time i lay down with a girl, or i have my shirt off. Its not that im shy about it...i talk about my surgery when asked. It was...something that i dont think about that much anymore. I dont know why this is bugging me so much...if bugging is the right word to use. It been on my mind since the other day.
Each time someone or something forces me to think about cancer...im not sure it gets easier...it gets harder. The more i want to let it go, more its there. I know the irony in that...
George asked me why i stop writing...im not sure i gave him a straight answer, but a tangent about corporate greed or some other life rambling. There is no good answer why. I guess the easiest...ive had some sort of writers block going on for a long time. I have some bright spots of creativity, but mostly i draw a blank. More along the truth, i often dont want to talk about...
Seems ive been working on this blog for months. The good news, the surgery went well. Though, there was a point that...my grandpa could die on that table. What was i going to say at the funeral. Someone shouldn't be thinking that...but it was sobering. I started to scribble something down. When he came out ok, I knew one day i'll have to dig up that napkin. It was hard to go to the hospital. I knew the pain he was feeling, with all the tubes, the background noise from the machines that seems be drowned out the deafen silence of the hospital. When i sat with for awhile, the oxygen tube in his noise...i looked. He started to clean his noise. I said "its a pain in the ass huh? I could never breath with that damn thing..." He laughed and agreed. He look disheveled...sort of the way i did. Though i had short hair and a watch cap on after. It such a helpless feeling to put your hands into someone you dont know, dont trust, but you have to trust them to the most basic of stuff...help you up, clean your ass if need be, change you...its...well you can image. Its strange, thought not directly, ive relived my ordeal though him. Probrobly why ive stayed away from the hospital...I think he knows why.
The good news, as of this afternoon, he was doing well. Though no news on when he'll be coming home. I've sent my suit to be clean. I started to polish my shoes...much like my grandpa taught me as a kid. Ive tucked that napkin away...just in case you know.
Sunday, January 6, 2008
One thing Dr. Heineman, an English professor at USF and head of the Honors program, often said was that in the United States of America, there is too little focus on mental health. I never forgot that.
We were reading Freud at the time. As a 21-year-old student at a private college in San Francisco, I had the privilege to not think about the issue, or at least not feel affected by it.
Nearly ten year later and having been through cancer and chemotherapy, I completely agree with him.
The physical is obvious and visible. You can see when someone is physically sick or feeling weak. Signs like the return of hair, the tone of ones voice and strength in your step, are easily noticed.
But what goes on beneath is not. And, as we all know, it's not that hard to hide.
At least in this country, and many of this country's cultures, it is difficult to talk about mental health.
How often do we honestly reply when some asks 'How you doing?'.
Though I think there has been a great shift -- in acceptance -- in attitudes towards psychiatry and mental wellness between my generation and my parents, there still seems to be more to go.
I was lucky. I had Adrian, Paul, Guadalupe and many more friends to talk about how I was feeling. My oncologist, Dr. Ahmann, mentioned he could refer me to a psychiatrist that works with cancer survivors. My parents were anxious to listen to my feelings. Even here, I was able to write and get it out.
As a writer, be that articles, poetry, essays or songs, I am comfortable expressing my feelings. But that's not the case with everyone.
I can't even imagine being a child cancer survivor, like little Henry Ortega, Jr., or 11-year-old Alexandra La Force Harkins, mentioned in the Times article, and dealing with cancer and survival, let alone regular growth and development. How different the world must, and will, seem to them. they are the real survivors.
So programs like this are important. I'm glad to read about one.
(Shakeys, Nogales, AZ. 12/30/07 by GRC)
Here's a photo of me: full head of hair and my bigote. Guadalupe shot this one of me last week when we went to visit her grandfather, Samuel Herrera, in Amado, AZ. We took him down to Nogales and we wandered around all afternoon.
Grandpa Herrera has come up with some great plans to support his family after he passes on and he has enlisted my help to set up a factory that manufactures toy UFOs. Also, we'll be heading off to Caborca, Sonora, Mexico, sometime in early February to find a hangar where he can build a safe plane.
I kid you not.
Expect a short story on this adventure later on down the line. While I was getting excited about our adventure, he promised Guadalupe there would be no girls, only pilot business.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
It has been nearly five months since I last walked into Curley's (formerly Johnny Gibson's)in downtown Tucson.
Thomas, my barber, was really excited to see me. He said he'd been wondering how I was doing. I let him know how things had gone and how I was feeling. He explained that he kept a close eye on the obituaries in the local newspaper. Since he never saw my photo, he figured I was alright.
I suppose that's one way to keep tabs on me.
My hair isn't that long. In fact, it is about the same length when I left Curley's back in August. I've been letting it grow since the reunion. But my cousin Diane is getting married in Albuquerque next weekend and I want to look sharp. Besides, Guadalupe tells me every time she sees me, my hair is different and it feels like she's seeing a new man. so I can't let her down.
Meanwhile, I've been keeping an eye on my finger nails. Another subtle reminder of the chemo., the dark streaks have moved closer to my finger tips and I suspect that part of my nails will be clipped by the time I get to Abq. Slowly returning to normal.
Oh yeah, I thought I'd share this with you.
Turns out only nine people tested positive for TB after the Cancer Clinic screened 700 people.