Dec272013

I should get a part-time gig with Motel 6!

Real estate news coverage is suspended from December 21 through December 31.

Each time his cancer treatments failed, the odds of success on the next diminished. Tony faced those long odds with courage, determination, and of course, his indomitable sense of humor.

Warning: This post contains some disturbing photographs.

Current Status, or “I should get a part-time gig with Motel 6!”

By Tony Bliss

Those of you who have been following my cancerous adventure for a while can probably recite my ‘current status’ by heart by now. It typically goes as follows, which I will write in the form of 100% make-believe HTML tags this time to just to keep it interesting for everyone. By everyone, I mean mostly me.

<chemo: protocol=”new”; protocol-style=”cocktail!”;> I receive a new chemo protocol</chemo>

<delay: time=”4 weeks”; perceived-time=”eternity”;>I wait 4 weeks to see if it’s effective</delay>

<efficacy: result=”negative”; hopes=”dashed”;>4 weeks later it’s proven NOT to have  been effective</efficacy>

<transplant: go-to-transplant=”no”; repeat-chemo=”yes”; slit-wrist=”start sharpening your knife, boy…”;>Go to Step 1 and repeat chemo process</transplant>

Unfortunately that is basically my current status, or more specifically, I’ve just completed the efficacy stage, and the result, as outlined above in my exceptionally elegant, concise, and wholly fictional HTML code, is result=”negative”.

There is one difference this time, however – I have one lymph node that is totally off the charts. See if you can find it in the picture below…

Chose which popular game you want to play: Where’s Waldo, or Where’s Tony’s Massively Swollen Lymph Node! And no, that’s not a breast enhancement gone horribly wrong, that’s basically in the middle of my armpit!

Normally I would start chemo at this point, to bring that bad boy under control if possible. But it’s a bit early for me to start something new – yes, my chemo failure is happening more quickly now, woohoo! It’s like a progressive party gone bad – instead of moving from chemo to chemo when the previous one fails on schedule, now my current chemo isn’t even waiting until it’s scheduled to fail before it fails! It’s happened by week 3 of this recent treatment, instead of the more typical week 4. So the problem now is my counts are too low for me to start a new chemo, however delicious a concoction it might be, and however much it might help my swollen lymph node. My counts are so low at this point even MY brain can keep track of them!

Me in math class – this is why I’m a customer service person surrounded by engineer and IT brainiacs…

But wait, there’s more! That’s just the swollen lymph node I can SHOW you!! Oh yes, my friends, there’s one in my nether regions that I think we can all agree is better left to the imagination. It’s not swollen like the one under my arm, I’m happy to report. Unfortunately it’s pressing a nerve leading into my (gulp) testicle, making it feel vaguely as though I’ve just been kicked in the (insert family-friendly phrase for testicles here) in the past hour or so. So, yikes to that.

Both swollen node areas hurt like a mother, though in entirely different ways, as one might imagine. I rushed to ER as it all became self-evident that I needed real help getting through this, and as soon as I finally got checked in (after another ER all-night extravaganza that included arriving at 10pm and not getting actually checked into a hospital room until after 6am), I got the good stuff, baby! Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Demeral, and my personal favorite, Dilaudid (or as I’ve personally nicknamed it, Delightful! Not in front of the nurses, though – I don’t want them to think I’m abusing it…).

“Um, Nurse, as you can see, I REALLY need some Dilaudid!”

So, after some consideration, the good doctors here decided that my armpit lymph node could be handled by “targeted radiation.” My groin area practically cured itself when I first heard the words “radiation therapy,” but fortunately my “boys” weren’t one of my doctors targets – just the armpit! The groin area was to be treated by a biochemical (whatever that is – but NOT a chemo drug, even though it’s a drug I’ve received with almost every chemo cocktail I’ve tried so far) and two massive doses of steroids.

Back to the radiation. They decided to give me 14 individual treatments, all targeted at the shoulder area, and they assured me there are no side effects. These are doctors talking, so of course I didn’t believe that for a second. They drew a bunch of circles and arrows on my shoulders (“Shoot me here, please!”), so they wouldn’t somehow shoot  me in the wrong targeted area (i.e. the groin – as though I would have let that happen!).

Here you can see I did an old-school crop on this photo – I sucked in my gut! Oh – also notice the roughly drawn, and to my untrained eye, easy-to-misinterpret-”target” (there are two “x”s – which one marks “the spot,” for crying out loud!) the radiation therapy team drew on me, and then said “oh, and please don’t wash these off in the shower over the next two weeks, as these are rather important marks for targeting the killing field, I mean the health-restoring bio-friendly nuclear laser beam we’ll be directing at your naked and inconclusively marked shoulder.”

Then came the disconcerting sentence – the people doing the simulation on me to make sure they knew how and where and for how long to shoot radioactive particles into my once-living flesh, the very same people who drew the alleged map in the above photo, said “and whatever you do, hold your head exactly this way during the treatment – the techs probably won’t remind you, so this is your job. Don’t forget where your head is pointed right now, please.”

10-4 to that, good buddy, will do! To quote Sally Field in Smokey and the Bandit, I about did a 10-100 in my pants right there (thankfully not a 10-200) when I got wheeled in for my first treatment. I had visions of my nose itching and me reaching up to scratch it while the invisible laser beam was doing it’s job, and coming back missing a finger, or, innocently lost in some perverse thought about Sally Field, moving my head from the prescribed 45-degrees-to-the-left-please placement and getting an inadvertent nuclear nose job.

“Dern, we won’t be able to re-attach THAT!”

Fortunately more panicked heads prevailed, and they had to pry my head back to a straight angle after the first treatment was completed.

And here’s the crazy thing – within 24 hours of receiving the first treatment, both radiation for the armpit and biochemical/steroids for the groin (which of course also benefited the armpit area, since those aren’t targeted the way the laser is), I felt 100% better. I mean, 100%! No more pain, in either area, and life is suddenly good again!!

I accidentally typed “I felt 100% bretty” instead of 100% better above, and I thought, “what a silly mistake!” But then I realized maybe it wasn’t a mistake at all, b/c it brought to mind my good friend Brett, and this picture of him that always makes me smile. Brett was on top of the world when he took this picture – he had to be, because he took it himself (you can see it in the reflection of his glasses!), and that’s exactly how I feel today now that I’m feeling no pain. So today I hereby coin the phrase “I’m feeling Bretty!”, and it’s official meaning is “My groin doesn’t hurt anymore!” Brett, aren’t you proud!

So how does all this tie in to Motel 6, you ask? Easy – they keep the lights on for you, and who better to hire as your failover than a nuclear-enabled glow-machine such as myself?!? I’ve had three treatments now, and I’m sure I’m ready to light up the night sky.

I thought the nuclearized photo of me was a really clever touch, especially since I had nothing to do with it – thanks, Microsoft Paint! P.S. In all fairness to Brett, I too took this photo of myself on a day I was feeling on top of the world. I feel ya, bro’!

Don’t expect to hear my name in a Motel 6 ad anytime soon, that Tom Bodett is a territorial sun of a buck, but if you see the lights on at a Motel 6…well, I’m just saying…

So where does that leave me treatment-wise, you ask? That is an excellent question!

I have 14 total rounds of radiation therapy, and I’ve had 3 so far. I’ll be in-patient in the hospital through the weekend, then hopefully out on Monday. They will continue daily radiation treatments (except next weekend – for some reason they only give in-patient radiation treatments on the weekends, so since I’ll hopefully be out next weekend I won’t be getting treated those two days) until they’re complete, and then and only then will they consider a new chemo treatment. My other counts should be back up by then, and I should be ready to rock the next failing chemo, I mean the next awesome chemo that will save the day! :-)

In other news I had a GREAT visit last weekend! My two running buddies, Rodney and Joey, came down to visit me, and not only that, they consented to bring my kids! Now, THOSE are some friends, let me tell you! We all had a great time, and I was out of the hospital and feeling great most of the time they were here (I required two naps, but it was just fatigue, not feeling bad, at least), and a good time was had by all!

Rodney, Jason, Adam, Joey

Rodney, Tony, Joey

The fam reunited! Tony, Jason, Adam, Deborah. Photographic evidence to the contrary, Jason is not now, and will NEVER BE, taller than I am. Um, I’m barefooted in this photo, I promise…

And this weekend I’m being treated to a last-minute visit by my friend James G from North Little Rock, so I’ll get some pictures of that posted before long. Photo ops are more conservative while in the hospital, so don’t expect anything spectacular, subject matter excluded, of course. :-)

That’s it from Houston this week, be looking forward to my first posting for MDA soon, I’ll send out a notification on this blog, as well as my next installment of SEW coming soon!

Side Effect of the Week, Week 2

By Tony Bliss

Sorry for the prolonged absence of this feature. I’ve got some exciting news that is part of the reason for my delays in posting recently – I’ve been invited to be a guest blogger on MD Anderson’s Cancerwise blog! I’ve been working on that blog entry, but I’ve struggled a bit with it. You see, MDA’s fantastic social media coordinator (she’s really great, and good at her job!) found my blog through her search dashboard (anybody that mentions MDA finds themselves on her radar), and she contacted me and asked if I would be interested in contributing a post or two. Of course I was very interested, and I started right away. She said she  wanted “around 600 words,” and I thought, “whew, that sounds like a lot!” And in my first stab at it, I’m up to…2,000 words, and I’m only halfway done! Oops…  So I need to work with her and see if I can do this thing as a series or something.

Anyway, never fear – my work with MDA will not replace my personal blog. They’re very different in nature, and I find I’m expressing myself differently in the MDA world. For one thing, I can’t post stolen internet photos on the MDA blog, so that means I’d have to do actual work to get photos on that site. And I just don’t see that  happening – work is not my strong suit.

The two reasons I was not invited to be part of Men At Work?
1) I don’t like to work
2) I’m unwilling to be in a photograph where 5 men are all touching each other

Now, on to the official business of this post,  this week’s SEW!

PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY

[noo-rop’-uh-thee, nyoo-]

Peripheral neuropathy is a condition wherein damage occurs to nerves of the peripheral nervous system. This damage can be caused by trauma to the nerves, diseases of the nerves, or, as in my case, as a side effect of other systemic illnesses. The damage can be temporary or permanent, depending on the cause and severity.

This sounds like a bad deal, and in fact it is for many people. In my particular case I’m fortunate, as my neuropathy seems to be pretty mild, and is allegedly not permanent. I have two manifestations of peripheral neuropathy. The first is

FOOT DROP (or drop foot)

Foot drop is exactly what it sounds like. Well, wait – it’s exactly what it sounds like to normal people. It is NOT, for example when a zombie is moseying along, just looking for a hunk of ripe human flesh to tide him over till dinner, and his foot inconveniently separates from his body. I guess that’s what “foot drop” would sound like to zombie fans, whom I cannot in good conscience categorize as, strictly speaking, “normal.” :-)

For all you zombiephiles out there, this zombie foot was made by Uncle Scabby on Etsy, who was kind enough to let me use this photo. He has another foot available for sale as of this writing, and has a wide variety you can see in his Sold Items gallery, so click one of the links and check it out, he does great work!

On a side note, I’m 45 years old and it’s 2012, and I’m STILL amazed at what you can find (a zombie foot picture, for example) with a simple search on the internets…

Back to foot drop!

Foot drop is a condition wherein your forefoot literally “drops” lower than the rest of your foot when you lift your foot off the ground. I guess more accurately it’s that when you lift your foot to take a step you can’t lift it fully parallel to the ground anymore.

Foot drop can be caused by several things, including weakness in the ankle and toe muscles, paralysis of those same muscles, and damage to the peroneal nerve. That last one is where I come in. One of the more recent rounds of chemo I had is called “OFAR,” which is just an acronym for the particular cocktail of drugs that represents. (For those keeping score at home, thus far I’ve been subjected over 3.5 years to FCR, RCHOP, hyperCVAD, OFAR, Methatrexate, and most recently, O-EPOCH.) One of the known potential side effects of oxaliplatan (it puts the “O” in OFAR!) is “numbness, pain or tingling in your hands, feet, arms, legs, mouth or throat.” In other words, peripheral neuropathy!

My left foot has been experiencing varying degrees of numbness for the last couple of months. It’s a strange sensation – you know you have to be careful, and you swear you really, really ARE picking your foot up all the way, and next thing you know,

Fortunately I’ve never actually fallen yet. I have, however, been that guy that you’ve all seen, you know the guy I’m talking about – that guy that somehow stumbles far enough forward that he can’t stand up, but not quite far enough to fall down, so he runs forward at an ever-increasing rate, bent 90 degrees at the waist, his torso parallel to the ground, and his arms windmilling about 100 mph as he tries in vain to simultaneously stand up AND not fall down, until inevitably he runs into an immovable object that halts his forward progress at the alarming rate of instantly?

This was me, without the model good looks, the designer clothes, or the audience to catch me. A brick wall caught me, but fortunately no bricks were harmed in the making of my humility.

Yeah – I’ve done that. So, thanks, foot drop.

That’s it for this week’s SEW, I’ll post a Current Status later this weekend. Love you guys!