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For first time readers...my journey begins here: THE VERY FIRST BLOG POST (CC1)

Meaning of life

"The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away." ~ Pablo Picasso

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Cancer Chronicles 20

Cancer Free and Now I Can SEE!!

Well I've finished my two weeks in Houston for my base line study and cataract surgery. All my scans show no sign of cancer! It appears I’m no longer dying …well not of cancer anyway!

The eye surgery went well and I can’t believe how well I can see! I can see the hair on an ant’s ass a mile away! Or is that the hair on an aunt’s ass a mile wide??? Anyway…I can see things I must have been missing for years. I’m like a child with a new toy. Only this one is hard to break and even harder to misplace!

When I went in for my barium swallow test with my speech therapist, Deince Perez, (I just love her and yes that's how she spells her name) I had to change into a gown in the bathroom. I have been in this bathroom many times and never really paid attention to my surroundings. On the wall I spot a coin operated machine made of stainless steal that accepted quarters. I’ve seen it before, but this time I noticed two symbols on the machine and slot for coins next to each symbol. One appeared to be for a tampon, but the other I was unfamiliar with. Not to say that I am very familiar with tampons mind you!

I was thinking it might be condoms, but that would be silly to have a condom machine in the hospital, right? Well, I had to ask Denice what it was. This new eyesight has me looking at the world through a child’s eyes. I called Denice to the door and pointed at the box on the wall. “What’s that for?” Poor girl turned 6 shades of red, maybe even a little purple. She said, “Nobody’s ever asked me a question like that before! It’s for tampons.”

I had to laugh at her embarrassment, “I got the tampon one, what about the other one?” As her red turned neon she replies, “I’m going to say… maxi pads.” OK, so as a guy I have no idea, but now that I can see clearly again, I just had to ask!

The barium swallow test was set up because every morning I wake up I’m unable to swallow properly. The liquid does not want to go down, instead I become a sprinkler as it proceeds to squirt out my nose! After some use by midday I can swallow with some normality again. Dr. Clayman recommended for me to stick my fingers down my throat and stretch it out. Well I will say it helps but it sure ain’t pleasant!

The swallow test showed something a bit odd. Par for the course…when have I EVER been normal? I’m only swallowing down the left side of my throat. The odd thing about this is…it’s where they sutured the tongue flap and that side is the side that has more of a tendency to atrophy. My good side, the side untouched by surgery, was not allowing the liquid to go down. No explanation was given.

Denice wants to try to wean me off the feeding tube by beginning a diet that will be processed in a blender. So I’ve been given a cook book on how to make my meals. No fuckin way am I making pizza in a blender…and yes there is a recipe for that! I have been making shakes for some time and adding protein powder to aid in the healing process, but something about Lasagna from a blender just isn’t normal! As everything else with this experience, I’ll take it one day at a time!

I’m never really hungry. I have some taste, but since I can’t chew there’s not much enjoyment. When I do attempt to chew, a small portion of the tongue flap pops it’s way between my molars. Think of a balloon half full of air and when you apply pressure to the middle, it bulges on the side. This bulge then gets caught between my teeth and causes great pain.

Pain?? Yes…during the operation the plastic surgeon attached a rogue nerve to the flap. I can’t seem to feel hot or cold, but I sure as hell know I’ve bitten it! I might need to have a second operation to make “adjustments” to the flap. It was explained that this could interfere with my speech, but if it allows me to eat regularly I’m all for it.

While I was in Houston, a life long friend, Pom (Pomeroy) made a quick visit to see me… and I do mean quick. He traveled from Dallas to Houston in 17 minutes. Yes that’s right 17 minutes! How you ask? A US Air Force F-18 Fighter Jet. Yes, he is my very own Pom Pilot. He arrived in his flight suit, we drove over to Starbucks for some coffee then back to Dallas he flew. He is always there when I need him, one of my true friends.

I seem to run into so many people who have been touched by cancer. On my way home I sat next to a young man. We began to converse. Then the question he asks, “What brought you to Houston?” I explain, “Cancer.”

He tells me his story. He is a cancer survivor. His cancer was of the stomach. Our war stories are similar. He shares with me that both his parents died of cancer and he wasn’t suppose to survive. He’s been cancer free for 10 years. A happy ending!

I hail a cab to take me home from the airport, a 30 minute ride. During the ride I make small talk with the cabbie. As we pull into the driveway he asks, where I had gone. I tell him I was in Houston being treated for cancer. Forty Five minutes pass as we sit in the drive discussing cancer. He is a cancer survivor. He had cancer of the esophagus and went through similar head and neck therapy as I had. He has been cancer free for over 15 years. A happy ending!

I hope it's time for my happy ending...until next time!

PEACE

NEXT BLOG ENTRY (CC21)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

This is truly a day for me to give thanks. May you all have a wonderful holiday....Peace B



Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Cancer Chronicles 19


LIVE From MD Anderson Cancer Center

WE SHALL SEE... IN THREE D

Yes folks I'm back in the saddle again!

I've arrived for a weeks worth of tests and a surgery. I can't explain how tired I still am. So exhausted!

Over the last month I have had some very strange things happen. The likes of which the doctors can't explain. They say bad news comes in threes. What about triplets, 3-3-3?

For three days I've experienced pain in my arm pits! When my biceps rubbed against my chest I was in a lot of pain, causing me to walk around with my arms up like Popeye. Then I had a stabbing pain in the back of my neck for three days, as if someone were driving in a nail, but only in a very small spot, not at all like a headache. Then I experienced what I can only liken to arthritis in EVERY bone in my body for three days. You name a bone...it was stiff and hurt so badly when moved I stayed in bed the whole three days! After all that I was normal...oh wait normal by my standards!

So here I am back at MD Anderson Cancer Center. On Monday, I had a CT Scan and chest x-rays as a baseline study to use as a comparison for future evaluations. After which, I saw Dr. Clayman. He was extremely happy with the scans. So happy in fact, that he doesn't want to see me until next August, which is a bit rare. They usually want to see a patient every two months for the first year to see if the cancer returns. So, I either kicked cancer's ass or I'm so much of a pain in the ass that they don't want me back! Stop laughing. I hear you!!!

While I was in Dr. Clayman's office I mentioned that I still didn't have a resolve on my fluoride dental trays and with one wave of his famous magic scalpel he summoned the head manager of all the nurses and we talked about some problems for almost 40 minutes. She actually listened, interpreted, gave her own views, and took action. WOW!

When we finished she took me directly to the dentist office, no appointment, no waiting, no problem, and no excuses! The dentist was waiting, apologized for the inconvenience and presented me my fluoride trays explaining the charge would be removed from my bill. We talked, he listened and explained his side. FINALLY a two way conversation, with two people in one day! Too many times I have felt I have not been heard. Can you believe that??? Me not being heard???? Now I'm laughing!

The hospital appears more organized to me this trip. More staff, many in training and it seemed there are a lot less patients here than before.

As I write this I am in the hospital again for an overnight observation due to eye surgery. Remember today I had my cataract removed. I LOVE MY EYE SURGEON!!! What a doll! Dr. Stella Kim. A small woman with delicate features and delicate hands.

I arrived at 9 AM for a 9:30 appointment. I was checked in, vitals were taken and I was told to wait in the lobby. About 9:20 I was reading on my laptop in the lobby when I felt a quick tap on my shoulder as a breeze blew past me. It reminded me of playing tag as a child. As I looked up, walking with a quick pace, never stopping, I spot Dr. Kim's sweet smiling face. She beamed ear to ear and said, "See you soon." Then she disappeared down the hall.

At 10:40 AM, my nose still buried in my laptop I hear a stern women say, "What are you still doing here?" As I look up I see sweet Dr. Kim, only this time her face is a bit stern. I explain I was told to wait. She went back into the office and the whole staff stood to attention. This little Asian doll has balls! "Someones going to hear about this," she let's them know she is not happy about the error.

Well you guessed it. I was ushered in immediately. Cap, gown, compression socks, booties, handed to me with speed. The process begins. Anesthesia, drip,drip,drip, I get comfortable as if having a few drinks, but not totally out. Does that come in Jack Daniels? Drops to the eye for numbing and to prevent infection, then I'm almost ready.

Into the O.R. we go. There's that smiling face again, so kind, loving, and honest. Dr. Kim holds my hand and says, "I'll take good care of you." Of that I have no doubt. I trust her wholeheartedly.

They numb the eye with more drops, place an oxygen tube in my mouth, then place a device to keep my eye open as she works.


The procedure is called Phacoemulsification (fak-o-e-mul-sih-fih-KA-shun). During this procedure, the surgeon removes the cataract but leaves most of the outer layer (lens capsule) in place. During phacoemulsification, the surgeon makes a small incision — about 1/8 inch or 3 millimeters (mm) long — where the cornea meets the conjunctiva and inserts a needle-thin probe. The surgeon then uses the probe, which transmits ultrasound waves, to break up (emulsify) the cataract and suction out the fragments. The lens capsule remains in place to provide support for the lens implant.

Once the cataract has been removed, a clear artificial lens is implanted into the empty lens capsule. This implant, known as an intraocular lens (IOL), is made of plastic, acrylic or silicone. It requires no care and becomes a permanent part of your eye. You'll likely need reading glasses after cataract surgery.

Some IOLs are rigid plastic and implanted through an incision that requires several stitches (sutures) to close. However, many IOLs are flexible, allowing a smaller incision that requires no stitches. The surgeon can fold this type of lens and insert it into the empty capsule where the natural lens used to be. Once in place the lens unfolds to about 1/4 inch (6 mm) in diameter.

Recent advances in IOLs include lenses that filter out ultraviolet light — also known as blue-blocking lenses. This was the type I was fitted with. Other types of IOLs provide multifocal vision — being able to see things both near and at a distance. Multifocal lenses offer reasonably good near and distance vision. However, vision at the intermediate range is sometimes less than satisfactory. Glare is reportedly a problem with multifocal lenses, but design improvements are ongoing.


My new lens now in place, I find myself in a familiar hospital room arguing with room service about getting something to eat. I am still on my feeding tube. I can eat things like yogurt, ice cream, and puddings, but my chart says "CLEAR liquid diet." They won't let me order. I have to bargain with my nurse to get it changed to "soft food."

I feel like an attorney presenting a case. Eye surgery...HELLO!!!??? How does that affect diet? Does everybody that has eye surgery get water or juice for dinner? I know I have a feeding tube, but I want a banana smoothie, chicken soup, and pudding. Why is this a problem? Is it hazardous to look at food with a new implant? Are you afraid the eyeball will fall out during dinner, making more difficult to retrieve from chocolate pudding than say, Ice Tea?

For the third time in three days..humm again with the threes, a conversation takes place were someone listens, interprets, gives their view, and takes action. My nurse grants permission to change my chart to "soft food." She was outwitted. I've had plenty of rest!

To add to today's excitement, I checked my phone messages: My mom is back in the hospital, in Michigan, with severe breathing problems again, her second time in less than a week. Big surprise...SHE'S SMOKING AGAIN! I received a call from a neighbor asking if I was alright due to the fact that a fire truck and EMS squad were in front of my home. WHAT????

Yupper, apparently the house medic alert button went off and the alarm company dispatched even though my cousin, who is on their call list, told them it had to be a false alarm. I find it odd that on the same day and approximately the same time both mom and I are admitted to hospitals in different states, the medic alarm goes off at the house, in yet a another state. How odd, three states, another THREE occurrences.

I'm now fed, well...felt like I was anyway. I know I still need the feeding tube gruel for my health and nutrition. I long for the day to chew real food again! Now one of the youngest members of the ocular implant club, I can rest from another long day. With all this experience I'll be a doctor in no time. There's more than one way to get a degree. Would you consider this "street smarts" or "book learning?"

Now I lay me down to sleep.
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
God bless everyone!

NEXT BLOG ENTRY (CC20)

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Cancer Chronicles 18

Surviving Cancer


The Dark Side

I’ve been home over one month now, recovering. I’m tired for sure. I can’t seem to get my energy back. Things that need to get done…don’t. My weight has not increased, still 117 lbs. The feeding tube is still in place and will be for some time, if not indefinitely.

Recently, I’ve developed a problem swallowing. I’ve become a lawn sprinkler. When I swallow it comes out my nose. Some might consider this a talent. I’m finding it to be a real pain in the ass!

When I returned home, my Dr. suggested a Handicap Parking Placard. So, I went to the DMV. After they gave me one, I sat in the car for 15 minutes just staring at it. It was a reality check for sure. I haven’t been well for a long time, but never admitted this was necessary.

I’m finding the less I’m able to accomplish, the more useless I feel. This is bound to lead to depression. I have to fight it, if it hasn’t already crept in. I’ve dealt successfully with everything in my life thus far, but this…this is by far my greatest demon. Do you allow this monster to consume you while you wither and die? Or, bust out of the darkness swinging? I'm a warrior. I fight! Cancer will not win! Stay away from the Dark Side!

I will have a complete baseline study in November, as well as surgery on my right eye for my new found cataract. I don’t want the rest of my life to become a series of doctor visits, CAT scans, and IV drips. That isn’t living to me. In a way it goes against the natural order of things. I often feel I should just let nature take its course.

Feverishly I write my book when I have some energy, just in case I lose my battle. Why??? I’m not really sure. I think it’s something innate in all of us, to leave something behind in hopes we will be remembered. Perhaps so there will be a record of my life for others to learn from. But the reality sets in, once you’re gone, you’re gone. Your presence fades and only memories keep you alive. In time those memories fade and the next generation comes to pass. Within two generations you are nothing more than a name on your family tree.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Book 6

SLEEPING WITH MARILYN MONROE - FROM BLACK JACK TO "THE LADY OF THE LAKE"

Morning came quickly. It was sure hard to get out of that comfortable bed, but we had to keep moving. Back in the car and almost ready to cross the border into California, I spotted Lake Tahoe on the map. I didn’t realize how close we would be to it. We had not planned on visiting Tahoe at all, but we were so far ahead of schedule. I’m not sure why. Humm…do you think it had something to do with the speedometer not working???



We agreed to drive all the way around the lake, just so we could say we’ve seen it. It was breathtaking to me. Each mile more captivatingly beautiful, being 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, there was a lot of nature to see. Between 2 to 3 million years ago the Lake Tahoe basin was formed by geological faulting. (Fractures in the Earth’s crust caused blocks of land to move up and down.) Welcome to earthquake country boys! With the help of glaciers from the Ice Age, the modern freshwater Lake Tahoe was shaped as we know it today. It is the second deepest lake in the United States, over 1,600 feet. I wanted to swim in it, but it had to be 50 degrees, too cold for my tootsies! The clarity was amazingly unequaled. They say you can see 100 feet down and the water is 99% pure.



As we drove over 6,200 feet above sea level, every bend more breathtaking, we would pull off the road to take pictures and enjoy the dramatic scenery. The powerful aromatic scent of pine was heavenly overwhelming. Jeffery Pine, Lodgepole Pine, White Fir, and Red Fir dominated the landscape. One particular stop was Emerald Bay. The bay water was a deep dark green with an island bulging from its center. I was mesmerized by Fannette Island’s granite beauty.

Emerald Bay - Lake Tahoe

Fannette Island - Emerald Bay - Lake Tahoe

While taking pictures of the awe-inspiring scenery we were approached by a team of adorable little chipmunks scurrying amongst the surrounding rocks and pine cones. Craig grabbed a bag of Cheetos from the car and it was feeding time. Without hesitation, Chip, Dale, Alvin and his entire family consumed the puffs of yellow right out of our hands. One by one until the bag was depleted, they fattened themselves up for winter. We were so captivated by the site, we both used up several rolls of film just on the chipmunks. Of course, when you return home and review the 200 photos of rodents munching and only 20 photos of the most beautiful lake you’ve ever seen, you ask yourself, “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!?”


Crystal Bay - Lake Tahoe

As we jumped back into the car, completely devoid of snacks, we continued our drive until we approached Crystal Bay. It was then that I began to realize we just had to spend the night here. We were so close to San Jose, yet we might never pass this way again. I don’t think it was hard to convince Craig. We had already passed through South Lake Tahoe, where some of the larger gambling resorts were, as we discussed our plans to spend the night on the lake. We found ourselves pulling into the famed Cal-Neva Lodge on Tahoe’s North Shore.



There was history here and I wanted to feel the vibe. The lodge opened in 1928 and was once owned by Frank Sinatra in the 60’s. The entire Rat Pack, Frank, Dean, and Sammy all performed here. During this time a buddy and known mobster, Sam Giancana was Frank’s special guest. When the gaming commission found out, they forced Frank to attend a hearing to fight for his gambling license. He eventually lost his license and entirely gave up his beloved Cal-Neva he fondly called, "The Lady of the Lake."

There was also the well publicized story of Marilyn Monroe associated with the lodge. She had a short lived affair with Sinatra. It was also said that John F. Kennedy, our 35th president, had a horizontal liaison with the breathtakingly beautiful star there. Happy Birthday Mr. President!

Marilyn was found dead of a drug overdose in her Brentwood, California bungalow one week after meeting JFK at the lodge, so the story goes. Some say she was murdered to keep her quiet about the Kennedy affair.

That night we settled into a cabin on the lake, said to have been the very one where Marilyn once "slept." Awestruck by the spectacular sunset that fell beyond the snow capped mountains I witnessed from our cabin, I reflected upon how great this adventure was unfolding, despite leaving a trail of car parts across America. It was time to settle into another welcomed comfortable bed. Move over Marilyn. The day had brought great joy and serenity, but now it was time to rest and prepare for the final leg of our Great Automobile Adventure. Goodnight John Boy. Goodnight Frankie, Dino, and Sammy. Goodnight Norma Jean.


Goodnight Boys! (wink)


Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Book 5

California Here We Come!

We jumped into that car early morning and hit the road with extreme excitement. I had made a log of where we would be and what times we’d be in certain cities, so we could plan meal stops. It was soon evident that the log was useless when we realized the speedometer wasn’t working. Do you think that would stop us? Just a minor detail, after all, the engine was still running!

We were making good time. No problems until somewhere in Nebraska we came upon a storm of bugs. I’ve never seen such a wave of flying insects. I can only liken it to a blinding snow storm. They were everywhere. It was time to see how well those new wiper blades worked as the windshield became covered by the rain of bugs.

Craig pumped the windshield fluid and it flowed perfectly onto the glass. Then the wipers began. I remember, as they started, feeling so proud we fixed the pump and replaced the old wiper blades with new ones. As the wipers passed before me, swatting off the mass of bugs… once, twice, three times, SHAA-WING! Off flew the entire head of the passenger blade, leaving only the wiper arm. I began to laugh out loud until I realized the wiper arm was etching a permanent half circle deep into the glass as it screeched across it. What do we do? What do we do?

As the insect cloud subsided, I rolled down the window crawled half way out, as Craig continued to drive at some unknown speed. As the wipers banged back and forth, one screeching loudly, I grabbed the headless monster by the neck and bent it towards the front of the car, leaving it pointing towards the heavens. Getting back into my seat as quickly as possible, I rolled up my window. The wiper arm was still moving in rhythm with the one “complete” driver’s side wiper, only it was waving to all the other cars as we drove on. I have no idea why we just didn’t pull over. I guess it was the “Dukes of Hazard” coming out in us.

We were in Wyoming, around 3 AM and almost out of gas. Thank God the gas gauge worked! After getting some information from the truckers on the CB, we found we had only one option for gas. We exited the highway and traveled about three miles to the closest gas station only to find it was closed. The plan was to drive non stop, but plans change when you run out of fuel. We slept in the parking lot that night.

Morning came, 6 AM and Craig had filled up the car and bought some breakfast for the road. We were back on the road. We drove until it was time for lunch. We would soon be in Salt Lake City. As we exited the highway in search of Wendy’s Hamburgers, we came to a light. While in the left hand turn lane, the car filled with thick, lung choking, gray smoke. FIRE! FIRE! Get out of the car, it’s on fire! Smoke billowed out of the open windows. The car didn’t have air conditioning. We only had a vent fan and open windows to keep us cool. It looks like the piece of shit car has officially died! We are stranded!

Craig popped open the hood. We both expected flames to dance out of the engine compartment. But no, the engine was still purring perfectly, no smoke, no flames, not even spark knock! As smoke continued to waft out of the interior of the shit box, I looked at Craig and said, “What the hell is causing the smoke?”

The smoke cleared quickly, the hood now closed, engine still purring, we got back into the car and pulled into Wendy’s parking lot as if nothing happened. The car had a burnt smell to it, electrical. Then we figured it out…the vent fan was no longer working. It seized up and burnt itself out. We’ve had it running ever since we departed Michigan. That sure was a lot of smoke for such a small fan!

As we ate lunch it dawned on me that we were going to cross the Salt Flats (aka The Great Salt Lake Desert) at high noon. No air conditioning, no fan (RIP) and 112 degrees in the shade! SHIT! I had thought of this way before we turned the key to start this voyage. That’s why I planned everything out so carefully. At 60 mph (the speed limit was 55 at the time) I planned to cross the desert at midnight, but having no speedometer and napping for gas changed those plans a bit. Oh well what can we do? Let’s stop and take a dip in the little lake they have here to cool off!

We stopped to see “The Great Salt Lake.” The lake is said to contain over 4 billion tons of salt and contains 2 percent more sodium than the average ocean. This was something I wanted to see. A nice refreshing plunge into the cool water, sounded great on such a sweltering day.

When we arrived it wasn’t what I had expected. I guess I spent too many summer vacations on Fort Lauderdale’s beach as a child. It wasn’t a resort beach at all. There were Brine flies congregated by the millions lining the outer edge of the lake, hovering low. It had a stench like rotten eggs. The lake was shallow. I didn’t walk out far enough to even go past my knees. That was enough. This was unlike any beach I had ever seen. I had no interest to ever return.



We loaded up the car with soft drinks and headed for an oasis far beyond the desert. Next stop, Reno! Floor shows, gambling, and a hotel with a real bed! The Sands Hotel was on our radar. After we checked in, we asked what the best show was to see in town. Hands down we were told, “Don Arden’s, Hello Hollywood Hello!” This was going to be our first titty review! Topless shows were a real novelty at the time and we were too young to even be in the casino, but we had our ID’s! Titsville here we come!


We made our way to the Ziegfeld Theater, located in the MGM Hotel, which claimed to have the world’s largest showroom stage. The stage was 180 feet deep and 242 feet wide, an acre in size. There were 133 singers and dancers that would grace the stage before us. This was going to be one helluva show! I really wanted a good seat.

After getting tickets, we hit the casino to wait for the show. We were fish out of water for sure. What do we do now? I guess we should gamble. That’s what they do here, right? We came upon a woman who was sitting at a dollar slot machine. She had six large buckets all filled with silver dollars. Back then there were no such thing as tokens, you used REAL coins! I was amazed, she just kept winning!

We watched her pull that handle and listened to the bells ring. This was so exciting to me. My first time in a casino and this woman had overflowing buckets of coins surrounding her. I had to ask how much she had won. She was kind, but busy winning and gave a quick answer, “About 600 bucks.” She saw the expression on my face and followed up with, “It’s not always like this. This is just a good day.”

I explained this was our first time in a casino and that we were here to see the show. She told us to tip the maitre d’ to get a better seat and also mentioned that she was a dealer here at the MGM. She offered to teach us to play Black Jack and to come find her after the show. Her shift started at Midnight and if there was nobody at her table gambling she was allowed to teach beginners! I’m all in for sure! Oh, wrong game. She then gave us each a handful of silver dollars and said, “Here, go try your luck.” I think she wanted to get rid of us since we were just hanging around.

We played with the silver dollars she gave us until security came to ask for our ID’s. I guess this is the true test. I think Craig shit a brick and to be honest I had enough to build a small home. We remained calm and handed security our home grown ID’s. We were told to wait right where we were. He left, but returned quickly, returned our ID’s and said, “Sorry for any inconvenience. Enjoy your evening.” I have to admit, that was probably the best five dollars I’ve ever spent. (for the fake ID)

We left our bricks on the casino floor and headed for the showroom. That was just too close for me! We were near the front of the line as the doors opened. I used to carry a money clip and bills were organized from largest to smallest. I had several one hundred dollar bills to make traveling easier. The maitre d’ asked, “How many?” I pulled out my money clip with a one hundred dollar bill showing and said, “Two please, and can we get something down front.” He snapped, “Absolutely!” He turned his back to us and marched us right to the center edge of the stage with his opened hand behind his back, fingers twitching.

Craig whispered, “Tip him.” Ah, that’s why his hand was opened like that! I get it! I pulled out a ten dollar bill and placed it in his hand. He stuffed it into his pocket without ever looking at it. We had others seated at our table. There was an old man, had to be in his sixties, sandwiched cozily between his two daughters. Hum, maybe not daughters, they were too young, maybe early twenties. Actually, they didn’t look like him at all. One was a beautiful Asian girl and the other blond and built! I was too naive to understand the reality of the situation at the time, but I will say he saw more than one show that night and the second was a bit more expensive!

The orchestra began to play. Then curtains opened and I was just overwhelmed. Act 1 - Scene 1 – “Flying Down To Reno.” Holy Shit! There was an airplane on the stage! An airplane!!! Next, gorgeous girls in feathered headdresses, a Fred Astaire tribute, a Grand Staircase of more beautiful bevies, never ending action! Soon, “The Great Earthquake of 1906” with more girls, more dancing, more singing, more feathers, more jeweled G-strings, more boobies! Then a three story waterfall appeared on stage. I have no idea where all the water came from, but there must have been one helluva mess in the basement!



I can’t explain where two hours had gone, but the show was more than I could ever imagine. The costumes, the talent, the props, the money it must have taken to produce this show, unfathomable! Did I mention the boobies??? The show ended with the entire company on “The Great Midway Walk” singing and dancing to, “It’s Not Goodbye, It’s Just Hello Hollywood Hello.” AMAZING! BRAVO, DON ARDEN! This has been the highlight of the entire trip. It just couldn't get any better, could it?

After the show we went back to the casino for our Black Jack lesson. As we were educated on counting to 21, we couldn’t stop talking about the show. Our new dealer friend asked if we remembered to tip. I said, “Sure did. It got us right down front!” She said, “That must have been a big tip you boys gave him.”

“Not really, just 10 dollars,” I told her. “You don’t get down front for 10 bucks boys,” she quipped. It was then that I realized, the maitre d’ must have noticed the hundred dollar bill on the outside in my money clip and thought that’s what I was giving him. Oops!

I’m not sure how long we were schooled on the finer points of “21” but it was getting late and we still had a lot of miles to log before we reached San Jose. So, back to the Sands to “drift” off to sleep in preparation for the next leg of our journey.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Book 4

FROM LAUGHS TO LAS VEGAS

A much needed break was upon me and I needed to get away. A friend I’ve known since grade school, Craig called me up and asked if I wanted to help him drive out his cousin, Dale’s car from Detroit to San Jose, all expenses paid. You don’t need a college education to answer that question! Let’s go!!!

This was going to be a tour of the West! We were to drive Dale’s Ford Capri to San Jose, California. Then we would fly to Los Angles and meet Craig’s parents who would fly in from Detroit to begin their family vacation. We planned to visit Disney Land and Knott’s Berry Farm. After LA we would all rent a car and drive to Las Vegas, stay at the fabulous Flamingo Hilton, see a few shows, then drive on to Salt Lake City for his father’s Barber Shop Quartet Convention. What a trip! Who could say no to that! I was able to commit to all but the drive to the convention as I had to fly back to Detroit before classes resumed.

Since we were going to be in Vegas I knew we were not old enough to gamble. Do you think that would stop us? I wanted to pull a few one arm bandits! We needed faked ID’s. In college you can find just about anything you need if you ask the right people, or the wrong ones depending on your point of view.

I had been given the name and address of a Detroit Police Officer who could fulfill our need. "BAD BOY! BAD BOY! Whatcha gonna do? Whatcha gonna do when he comes for you?" He not only had the real driver license card stock, he had the equipment too, in his home no less!

We went to procure our new ID's aging us by a few years only to find a production style operation. A line of people led to the front door and one person took your information. Next, the information was added to the blank card. Then into the kitchen where they had the same camera set up as the DMV. You paid a cashier, received your new identities, and out the back door you’re escorted. All this for five bucks! What a country! The line was out the door! I think half of Detroit was there to grow up a few years!

It was midnight when we arrived to pick up Dale’s car. He had been transferred to San Jose for work and had to leave his precious car behind. Now it was our job to get it to him. I remember the car had no interior lights working. It was dark, had a funky smell, and the seats were sticky. We drove the car back to Craig’s. I dropped him off and took the car home with me. We agreed my father would look over the car in the morning to assess the soundness of the western bound pleasure craft. We also figured it might need to be cleaned up a bit.

The next morning I awoke in horror. I called Craig, “This car is a piece of shit! Wait until you see this thing. Hurry over we have a lot of work to do!” Despite its appearance my father found the car to be sound. He detailed a list: The brakes appear new, tires have plenty of tread. The engine runs well, it has fresh oil, and there is no serious damage to the car. The only thing he could recommend at the time was new wiper blades and to fix the pump that squirts the window washer fluid. “It should make the trip with no problems.” He said with confidence. (Remember this.)

Craig shortly arrives. We both have a good laugh over how crazy this is. What a shit box! The seats have years of beer or soda on them. It’s like some sort of tacky glue. The ashtray overfloweth, as if Mount Vesuvius had erupted all over again. There was ash everywhere! Credit Card receipts are strewn everywhere like confetti in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. The carpet is filthy dirty and our shoes stuck to it. What appears to be food is fused to the carpet. Lumps of Fuzzy fries from McDonald’s are found under the seat. This isn’t a car, it’s a science project!

Determined not to let that stop us we got to work. After all we were California bound! Together we began by washing the car. Not a simple project. We removed soot, road tar, and bugs from a prehistoric era. It was looking better. We could see the true color. We found a nice metallic copper color with a black vinyl top underneath. A coat of wax and some vinyl top dressing and the outside was looking great.

Onto the inside... I don’t think either one of us were ready for this task. Craig grabs the vacuum cleaner, as I put the finishing touches on the paint. He opens the trunk to start there and bursts into laughter. This was just the beginning of what would be non stop laughter throughout this whole “experience.”

From washing the car, the trunk had completely filled with water! We had our own portable pool. I can’t figure out how we filled it up, but I had visions of driving in the rain with our luggage floating in the moat. What do we do? Maybe we should stock it with trout!

I got a drill, bored a few holes in the trunk bottom from underneath and all the water came rushing out. We’ll put our luggage in plastic bags to be safe. Problem solved. Well, the first big problem anyway.

Upon looking at the interior it was obvious to us, after all the crap was removed, the interior needed the same treatment as the trunk. It was uninhabitable. I got a box wrench, unbolted the seats and completely removed them from the car. Craig wheeled the vacuum wand like Excalibur, sucking out the interior, stabbing at the enemy. Armed with hot soap and water and a scrub brush as my weapon, I entered the battlefield. Brushing the tan vinyl seats, I removed most of the crap, leaving a very acceptable seat, almost new in appearance. Victory was upon us!

While I scrubbed, Craig opened the passenger door. He noticed some rust around the hinge that holds the door on. Well, logically he thought it best to remove this. Using the vacuum he sucked out the flakes of rust. Then all of the sudden with a squeal, the door just dropped, about an inch below its original position. The door was about to fall off! Pull up and shut it quickly! He had a hard time, he was laughing too hard. Piece of crap car! Our sides hurt from laughing. How are we going to get in the car? We agreed Dukes of Hazard style. After I get the seats bolted back in, the door was never to be opened again. We would roll the window down and jump in. This was going to be so much fun! Get in before Boss Hogg and Sheriff Coltrane catch up with us! Surely nothing else could go wrong!?

Craig finished vacuuming the interior with great caution, avoiding rust at all cost. The back seat was removed and scrubbed, the carpet cleaned and left to dry. We were still laughing. Are we both crazy to take a 2,000 mile voyage in this rattle trap? YES! I think the vacuum was ready to burst after Craig finished.

I replaced the rear seat. It looked great. You could actually put your shoes on the carpet and not have to pry them off. The passenger seat went back in and the drooping door was sealed for all eternity. More laughter ensued.

As I replaced the driver’s seat, I tightened the bolts and sat down to move it back and acquire more legroom. As I pushed the seat back to position it, it hung up. So, I pushed harder. The next thing I knew is I was staring at the headliner of the car, flat on my back, head in the back seat. I lost it. The problem was the car didn’t have a reclining seat as an option. Now that it did, I wondered if the car was now worth more. I thought I couldn’t laugh any harder. I just laid there and laughed hysterically as Craig joined in the chorus.

The seat had broken! When I tried to put the back of the seat up, it just fell back down. This can’t be happening! Now what do we do without a drivers seat? A 2x4 propped between the rear seat and the back of the front seat held it in place nicely. Just don’t adjust the seat…ever! We worked hard that day, but nothing wore us out more than all the laughter.

We crowned our accomplishment with new wiper blades. We found that a rubber tube had melted in the engine compartment keeping the washer fluid from being ejected onto the window. An old air tube from a fish tank was the same diameter and worked perfectly. We were ready to roll! Nothing could go wrong now!

I went to AAA for every map and guide book we’d need. I laid out a plan on our TripTik, where we would be and when. At 60 mph we will be here by noon. We can eat here for dinner. It looked good. We would drive non-stop rotating six hour shifts until we got to San Jose. With all the car problems resolved we were getting excited about our adventure.

My mom offered us a CB that looked exactly like a car phone of that era. It was very cool and gladly accepted. We mounted the magnetic whip antenna and installed the CB radio. It was a very good idea, especially if the car were to break down. I was very familiar with CB’s. My father had several cars with them over the years per my request, and I had one in my own Mustang. Traveling with one made it safer and much more fun. 10-4 good buddy!

California Here We Come!

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Book 3

BE A PARROT NOT A PUPIL

College was proving to be harder than expected. All of my basic classes seemed difficult. I had graduated from High School with a 3.5 GPA. I was on the Honor Roll. I thought this would be easier. I was amazed attendance wasn’t taken. The Professors didn’t care if you showed up or not. It was your money you were wasting (or your parents.) And if received poor grades, it was your future you were wasting, a mind jolting awakening. Yes, it’s time to grow up!

I had an English Professor that gave me a “C” on my first essay and I was devastated. English was my number one subject in High School, nothing less than an “A-“ ever! I asked her why such a low grade and she laid it all out. “Frankly,” she said, “I don’t like your style, I didn’t like the story, and you didn’t follow directions.” Damn! How about a little criticism with that smack! Welcome to college.

Sociology proved to be a struggle as well. This should have been a simple class. My Professor explained the theory of social classes. She explained, once you are born into a social class you could never move into a higher class. If you were born middle class, you will always be middle class. You might move to upper middle, but you would never elevate to upper class unless you married into it. You are born into your class. I thoroughly disagree! My father did it! It can be done! He was poor, as poor can be, and I think he pulled himself up from lower to middle class! I’m beginning to think there’s too much class in this world!

Well, arguing what’s printed in text material is futile, it doesn’t get you anywhere. What’s in print is gospel according to the Professors. Grades suffered as I hated the ideals strewn at me. I thought the Professor might even be a bit prejudice. One lesson was the perception of a certain automobile “Blacks refer to a Buick 225 as a Deuce and a Quarter, while Whites refer to the same car as a Buick Electra” Explaining the social differences between Whites and Blacks. I just didn’t agree with all I was hearing. Frankly, what does how you label a car have to do with race?

When my father saw my grades he asked, “What happened?” I explained my frustration with my Professors and that I wanted to change my classes. Then he gave me one of the best lessons of my life. “Give them what they want.” You don’t have to agree with them, you just have to repeat it back to them showing them you’ve listened. Ah...be a parrot not a pupil. And all this time I thought I was there to learn something. My grades improved slightly, but it was a struggle to keep my mouth shut! Not all of my classes were a struggle however. I will say, I thoroughly enjoyed my Marketing and Economics classes.

I had a hard time with Accounting. I had to take my first term over. I just didn’t get it. It wasn’t as simple as budgeting and balancing a checkbook. I got lost when we started learning about depreciation, amortization, and stock options. I had to learn this. It’s the foundation of any business! I knew this was important to my future. Taking the class over wasn’t easy, but I was determined to pass. I had to, it was a requirement and I had to take Accounting II next semester! It wouldn’t be until I started up my first corporation that all the pieces would fall together and make sense. Well...with the aid of a team of accountants filling in the blanks for me!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Push-Me Pull-You


I loved the movie Doctor Dolittle (1967), starring Rex Harrison, when I was a child. It was nominated for 9 awards and won 2 Oscars. One for the best song, "Talk To The Animals." I still remember that theme song! It was a good, clean, fun movie. It's now available on DVD and would be great for family movie night!

Do you remember the pushmi-pullyu? Pronounced "push-me-pull-you," a two headed llama. I thought it was pretty cool and a bit disturbing. Who would ever think something like that could really exist?

Well...here is a real rare Push-Me Pull-You turtle! I'd like to know...who does the eating and who does the other???

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

I wonder if there is a Giant Pink Sea Snail out there!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Book 2

THE COLLEGE YEARS

Having grown up in the Burbs of Detroit, I started at the University of Michigan pursuing a degree in Business Administration. I wanted to go to work to earn my own money, against my father’s wishes. He preferred I dedicate myself to my studies. He all but begged me not to work. But I had to know I could make it on my own. I knew he wouldn’t be there someday and I needed that security. Besides, I grew bored too easily and I had to keep moving. I just couldn’t sit still. Like the wind, always restless and on the move looking for the next destination. A new experience, a new place to explore. I don’t think Dad ever understood that. His generation was different.

He had a horrible life as a child and like most parents he wanted to make sure mine was better. But like most children, that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more out of life. That sounds so shallow to me now. He was so generous and loving, but kept himself from the world. A very private person, he never trusted people. I never understood that until much later in life. Dad’s childhood story is sad, but I find many parts of his life fascinating. He experienced a very special time in human history.

ARE YOU BEING SERVED?

My very first real job was in retail, part time at J.L. Hudson’s Department Store, during the Christmas season. The plan was to work there for the employee discount and to obtain some much needed job experience. Men’s Furnishings, behind the cologne counter, was my assigned position. Think, Are You Being Served? The BBC comedy. I was the top salesman in my department. I heard whispers, “How does the rookie do it?”

It was simple really. I came in early, applied the most expensive fragrance and wore the scent all day. As women approached the counter, lost in the mass of scents, looking for that special gift, I pulled my signature scent off the shelf. “Santos de Cartier is all I wear,” I proclaimed. It was the most expensive fragrance we sold helping to make my sales totals some of the highest in the department. Women never cared about the price, as they have been well trained to pay astronomical prices for their own products. The register would sing. I would later find out that the full time counter people worked on commission. They each were in charge of their own line of fragrances and by selling only one, I was disrupting the delicate balance of things.

Management would soon beckon, questioning how I amassed more in employee discounts than wages earned. Living at home made that easy. Added to that, my father gave me money to buy Christmas gifts. I sure took advantage of that discount. Employees were even allowed to use our discount on top of sales prices. Christmas was over the top that year. As the holiday season came to an end, so did my first job experience.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Cancer Chronicles 17

Love Thy Neighbor!

One more day…just one more day. I’ve been away from home over four months being treated for my cancer in Houston and nothing much has gone wrong at home other than a few false security alarms. Today, one day before I'm to arrive home, I get a phone call from my cousin and she tells me somebody has drained my pool!!! They left the backwash valve open and let the water out!!!

I have a pool man who does a pretty fare job. My cousin helps watch the house and stays over sometimes when nobody is home. She blamed the pool man. The pool man thought she did it. Stress was in the air. It seems the two of them had some serious words about the issue.

When I talked to her on the phone she was on edge. All I wanted to know is if there was anything broken or missing. If not, just fix the problem. Simply fill the pool and get it running again. But the fact that somebody was looking to point a finger at someone irresponsible seemed to be more of a priority between the two of them.

I emailed my next door neighbor to see if I could get someone to go over and assess the situation. My neighbors have been great through all this. One neighbor painted my mail box and pulled all my weeds and even trimmed my bushes! I never asked, she just did it out of love. I did ask however, how long I needed to be gone before she'd paint the entire house. She informed me, "I don't do houses."

My next door neighbor, as you might remember, planted my trees in the back and took me to the airport. I have my cousin tending to my indoor plants and watching the house, along with a pool man, a landscaper, a company that fertilizes, and a pest control company. All things I haven’t been able to do on my own for a very long time. What’s the phrase…”It takes a village?” The village has many volunteers. I need to find someone to pay the bills!

I received an email back from my next door neighbor with an apology. He was the mastermind behind the missing pool water mystery. He noticed the pool was too full and was concerned that if it rained one more day it would overflow. What he didn’t know is that the pool has a self leveling valve that lets the water out slowly, so that it doesn’t over flow.

Well, he thought it best to backwash the pool (letting water out while cleaning the filter.) The water that was released comes out of a hose much like a fire hose and that rate of speed. After he was done he turned off the filter at the timer and gently rolled up the hose.

The next morning the valve was still set to backwash, when the timer turned the filter pump on. He forgot to move the valve back to “filter.” So, half the water drained out of the pool. At least the grass received a good watering…all 8,000 gallons of it! Fortunately, the pool man arrived about ½ hour after the pump started and he stopped the rest of the water from draining out. Then the pointing match began between my cousin and the pool man. I thought maybe some kids in the neighborhood had messed with it. But no, a neighbor’s good deed went south. Welcome Home!

Oh and Hank, if you read this…don’t be surprised if you wake up one morning and ½ the water from your pool is missing. Sometime during the night I backwashed your pool and diverted the water into mine to make up my loss. Thank you for your love!

Peace B

NEXT BLOG ENTRY (CC18)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Cancer Chronicles 16

On The Seventh Week He...
GOT THE HELL OUT OF DODGE!

WEEK SEVEN:

I've noticed my hair is thinning and I have a bald spot across the back of my neck. Most of my hair is still hangin in there! I'm starting to get a rash on my right arm, the good one, and some on my thighs. I itch all over. I have several doctors appointments before I can go home.

Dr. Edward Kim wants me to fit in one last dose of chemo before I go home. I thought I was done dammit! Since I should have had 6 treatments and I only received 3, he wants me to get one more in. I show him the rash and he doesn't seem to think much of it. I like Dr. Kim. He's very personable, but too busy to allow you to see what he's best at...showing a genuine interest.

My eye surgery, with Dr. Stella Kim, is scheduled for November. Dr. Morrison and Dr. Clayman have released me until November. I have to see dental one last time. I really hate that department. They are ALWAYS screwed up!

I wait as usual to see Dr. Chambers, the dentist. When he finally arrives, he tells me that there should be some dental trays waiting for me. I'm to use them to administer nightly fluoride treatments, a process I must continue throughout the rest of my life. In their usual organized manner, they are unable to find the trays. Big Surprise! Once again I'm told to wait in the lobby for the trays to be fabricated. I leave for home sweet home in a few days so they need to be made today.

Two hours have now passed and I want to know how much longer. As I step up to the receptionist I pose my question. I get the canned answer, "Let me check." When she returns, she looks at two small tubs that have been sitting on her desk. I noticed them earlier when I sat back down in the lobby. It's MY TRAYS and the other tub appears to contain my dental impressions! THEY HAVE BEEN THERE THE WHOLE TIME! This office is so screwed up!

Before she hands me the tubs she says, "Hang on a minute. I have to check and see how much they are." HUH??? You don't bill this to insurance? I'm confused. When she comes back she says, "That will be $300." WHAT??? CASH??? NOW??? $300??? WTF???

Throughout this whole ordeal I have never paid for anything up front. I don't have my check book with me. In fact, I don't even have a credit card with me. I have NEVER paid for anything upfront the whole 4 months I've been here! Then, in a snide way, another girl behind the counter says. "It's not covered by your insurance."

I snap, "So you make this $300 set of trays not telling me before the fact that I have to pay for them when I receive them because they are not covered by insurance?"
Then the snide receptionist says, "They are a required part of your treatment."

First off: If they are a required part of treatment, why does insurance not pay a portion? They managed to pay $9,600 to have two teeth extracted! - Yes the bills are starting to come in and that little trip to the brain ward cost that much. That's not what was billed, that's what the insurance paid! FOR TWO TEETH! Now, if they managed to pony up for an extraction, (which I think was bullshit to begin with) why is this a problem?

Secondly: I don't have $300 with me. Does everybody who picks up their dental trays bring $300 with them without knowing the cost before hand? If this was common practice, why didn't the receptionist know the cost in the first place. Maybe they charge by the tooth, or perhaps the size of the mouth! This is BULLSHIT!

I'm instructed to see the business office. I leave without the trays and immediately dial Ashante, my patient advocate, on the cell. I leave a voice mail. The poor girl is now on speed dial. This issue becomes a bigger problem in the near future! (What did you expect? Did you think it would be easy?)

On Saturday I'm scheduled for my final (I've heard this before!) chemo treatment. I've been up most of the night itching. My rash has gotten worse, it's spread all over my body. The worst of it on my right arm, the arm they administer the chemo in. When I arrive I give my blood, the usual routine, then wait for the results. I'm ushered into a cozy room with a bed, same, same, same.

When the nurse comes in, she notices the rash and tells me it appears to be a delayed chemical reaction, most likely from the chemo. It's so bad that she contacts Dr. Kim to suggest forgoing the chemo treatment today. Instead she wants to give me a heavy IV dose of Benadryl to help stop the reaction.

The IV team arrives, inputs the needle and drip, drip, drip. No iceberg this time. The itching subsides dramatically and the redness dissipates. I'm so glad she made that call! After a few hours of dripping, I'm told to go home and rest. Now that's the best advice yet! Only a few more days and I can go home!

NEXT BLOG ENTRY (CC17)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Cancer Chronicles 15

Breakin It Down...

Five days a week, for the next six weeks, I assume the position:



WEEK ONE:

No problems. Nothing to talk about. I use my oral rinses and do my stretching, but at this point I can't understand what good they do.

WEEK TWO:

Still no real problem, just a little redness abound the neck. My saliva is a bit thicker. Keeping up the rinses and stretching. I'm more tired than usual.

WEEK THREE:

OK, small problem..I'm very tired, I just can't stay awake. A few more pounds lighter, the redness is more pronounced. My throat is a bit sore and slight difficulty in swallowing. My saliva is getting thicker, very gross thick yellow in color. I've been given a suction machine to help suck out the thick grossness. How fun is that?

I meet with Dr. Clayman. I've decided not to bring up the chemo at all, but he asks how radiation and chemo are going? I tell him I haven't started chemo yet. He calls Dr. Kim and asks,"Why?"

Apparently there is a mix-up and Dr. Kim thought I was going to be treated at another hospital, so he did not order chemo. By the end of the week I find myself hooked up to an IV pole dripping the life saving poison into my veins. Every Friday, for 3 weeks, I will give a blood specimen before my chemo. After, I will be administered a mix of drugs, staring with Benadryl, Magnesium, then Cetuximab (Erbitux). I'm given a comfortable, private room with a bed, while the dripping continues for 3 hours. For some reason the drugs make me cold, ice cold! The Benadryl puts me to sleep, so the hours pass quickly. I fall asleep adrift on a frozen iceberg.

I had planned on shaving my head to preempt my hair falling out from the chemo, but the doctor told me not to since not everyone has hair loss.

WEEK FOUR:

Patsy has arrived just in time, in the middle of week 4. I'm not as bad as I thought I would be at this point. I'm so grateful for her support. Her company lifts my spirits as we talk about the old days with Caesars and the fact that we both struggle to play caregiver to a parent with failing health. She helps me to all my appointments and assists with the laundry and shopping. I grow even more tired. My neck continues to redden. My saliva grows thicker. I didn't think that was possible! My throat feels like someone has slashed it with a razor blade. I'm a few more pounds lighter. I've lost all taste. I had very little to begin with, but now there is NOTHING!

WEEK FIVE:

Patsy must leave mid week and I so much appreciate her support. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse. I'M EXHAUSTED! I sleep every moment I can and I'm now the proud parent of kidney stones! Ain't that a pisser... bad choice of words there! I seriously want to know what I have done so wrong in my lifetime to deserve all this! Because of the rolling stones, I can't get enough formula to sustain my weight. I'm now at 120 pounds.

WEEK SIX: Holy Crap!

It's almost over and I keep my head held high and keep smiling just knowing the end grows near! My neck is now a deep dark burgundy red. It weeps a bit. There isn't much pain in the neck area. This is primarily due to the fact that the nerves were severed during the neck dissection removing the lymph nodes. My mouth is on fire and I feel blisters within. The stones have left the building. The concert is over! AMEN! My skin is scarred. It feels tight all over my lower face, jaw, and throat. I continue my stretching and use the Aquaphor as instructed. I just want to get this over with.

I have met with my new eye doctor. She is a small woman and looks to be about 12, a female Doogie Houser! I'm so worried she's going to tell me my cancer has spread to my eyes. She delivers good news...it's not cancer! I'm the proud owner of a Cataract. Being a car guy I'd rather have a Rinkin, but no it's a Cataract! So, now what? MORE SURGERY! Oh hell, why not? What else could go wrong!!!???

On my last day I have an early blood draw. Then my last dose of chemo is administered and my last dance with the penguins. After my last radiation treatment they hand me my mask. I ask, "What am I suppose to do with this?" I'm told some like to run it over with a car, some burn it, others hang it on the wall as a victory mask. I tell them, "Just throw it away. I never want to see it again!"
As I walk out that door one last time, I'm asked if I want to ring the bell. It seems it's kind of a tradition to ring this big bell when you have completed your treatments. I could only reply, "I don't want to ring the bell...I want to run like hell! C-Ya!" I bolt from the building!

VICTORY!!!

I have one more week of follow-up visits and I can go home!

NEXT BLOG ENTRY (CC16)

Monday, September 10, 2007

FREE FOOD!

Chick-fil-A has a new promotion. Get a Free Chicken Sandwich and a Medium Coke!

Register Now:
http://freechickenandcoke.com/

I can't eat, but you can. Have one for me!

This is a limited offer. ENJOY!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Cancer Chronicles 14

And So It Begins!

Now that my schedule is cleared up, I have some time to rest before I begin the real radiation treatments. My first day is a bit unnerving not knowing what to expect. My techs are kind, understanding, and a bit young looking to be doing the job they are doing. When did I get so old???

My new best friend for 6 weeks

MD Anderson has over 20 of these IMRT (Intensity-Modulated Radiation Therapy) machines at over 2 million bucks each! They push through over 500 patients per day. I find them to be very organized and the waits in the lobby are usually short. Every Wednesday morning, for the entire 6 weeks, I'm to see Dr. Morrison to review what is going on with my body. I have another dietitian, my third. The first few weeks are suppose to be a breeze. I'm told the last 3 will cause me some major difficulty.

During our meetings we review my weight, how I'm feeling, and if there is pain. Before my radiation starts, the nurse I had when my tonsils were removed, Lydia, called and asked if I needed anything. She took me shopping, showing me everything I would need to make my trip down Radiation Road easier. We also stopped at a GNC store and picked up some Tahitian Noni Juice and some Aloe Vera Juice. Who knows if the stuff actually works, but it can't hurt. The plan is to take the Noni before radiation and the Aloe Vera after. She was a BIG help. Lydia had actually taught the radiation class I attended, in the past. I could not be in better hands!

During my first weekly meeting, I ask Dr. Morrison when my chemo will begin. His response is typical of my experience here. "You're having Chemo? I wouldn't do that if I were you." he says. "Are you sure? I was told that was part of my program. I'll talk to Dr. Clayman about it. I have a appointment with him in two weeks," I respond. I don't think any of these doctors actually read patient files!

I mention an odd problem to Dr. Morrison. I had a hair in my mouth. I had a hard time getting hold of it, but when I did it wouldn't let go! I mean it was attached to something! I had to take a good look in the mirror. I was unable to bring myself to actually inspect my new tongue until that point. I was flabbergasted when I saw that this stray hair was actually attached to my tongue! In fact there were a few dozen of them in there! HOLY SHIT! Am I gonna have to shave my tongue for the rest of my life? I proceed to pluck everyone of those suckers! No hairy tongue for this boy!!! NO SIR! Dr. Morrison assured me all the hair will be gone after radiation.

It only makes sense. I never actually thought about it before. They used my forearm to make the tongue flap. I've got hair on my arms. You'd think they'd at least do electrolysis on it before they put it in!

Another problem I have noticed since all this began in April is my right eye. I can't see very well with it. It's kinda blurry, like Vaseline has been smeared over it. My left eye is clear, without problem. Is it possible my cancer has spread to my eyes??? Dr. Morrison sets up an appointment with the Ophthalmology Department.

Because my last few weeks could be difficult, a very dear friend, Patsy has volunteered to fly in and help me for a week. I've known Patsy for years. She was a franchisee with Little Caesars also, on the island of Oahu, in Hawaii. I haven't seen her in years, though we talk on the phone often. It will be great to have her here to help.

The next 6 weeks will be very hard it seems. I'm really not looking forward to them!

CANCER SUCKS!

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Cancer Chronicles 13

And now back to our regularly scheduled Cancer program!


A New Day Is Dawning!

After I arrived back at the apartment, still steaming about what had just transpired, I called my Patient Advocate, Ashante. I explain all the mess and that I was going home. I will find doctors that have their shit together! I'm tired of waiting. I'm tried of things not working and breaking. I'm tired of not healing fast enough. I'm tired of having my stomach churning and every time I go to have it looked at something else stops that from happening. I'm tired of nothing getting done....I'm tired dammit!

I'm trying not to be the "pain in the ass" patient. I don't want to sound like a whiner or complainer, but I don't understand why this is so difficult. Ashante is kind and understanding. She doesn't want to see me leave but understands my concerns. "I don't think you're being unreasonable. You have every right to be angry. But you still need your feeding tube checked and you might want to reconsider leaving until that has been addressed," she politely suggests.

She was right. My stomach has been such a mess, which adds to my misery. I already have an appointment set up for tomorrow to have the tube checked. Just one more day and maybe my stomach problem will be relieved and I can stop taking my HINDU RELIEF and stop sleeping with my toilet!!

Ashante asks to make a few phone calls and then will call me back. When she calls back she has verified my G-Tube appointment in the morning and sets up another simulation appointment tomorrow afternoon. She agrees to meet me after my G-Tube check in the morning and will personally bring my stent from dental with her. At this point, reluctantly, I agree to continue with my treatment. But take note, I'm a man on the edge!

Tuesday morning is a new day and I'm trying to face it with a positive attitude. I arrive to my G-tube appointment. I'm escorted to a changing area, given a gown, and told to get on the gurney. I'm wheeled into a familiar room. A room like the one my feeding tube was originally placed. A kind doctor and her nurse prepare me and make me comfortable. I'm fully awake for this procedure. A drape is placed between my face and belly, so I cannot see what the doctor is doing. What I can see are three flat screen monitors that show my innards! I see my stomach and the tube. I can make out many of my body parts. Man was that weird to see.

Then the doctor pulls on my tube extracting a full 5 inches! It tickled a bit as she pulled. I can see on the monitor that my Dietitian, Denise was right. The tube had actually migrated into my small intestine and was dumping my formula directly into it, bypassing my stomach. I watched the monitor as the tube popped out of my intestine and flipped back into my stomach. Damn, technology is amazing!

That was it? I waited a month, with my stomach bumping and grinding, only to have someone pull the tube out 5 inches to resolve the problem! I could have done that myself! That's what was causing my stomach to be a mess all this time? I asked when the stomach problems would be resolved and the doctor explained, "Within 24 hours." And when can I eat? "Immediately."

I waited a month, missed 3 prior appointments due to other complications, and in less than 10 minutes my problem was resolved! OK, maybe today will be a turning point and the rest of my stay here won't be as chaotic.

I'm wheeled back to a recovery area and given some formula. I'm still apprehensive about feeding myself even though I know my tube issue is resolved. As I feed, Ashante arrives with my stent and gives me my simulation time. She's very kind and very helpful. I know it's her job to resolve problems like mine, but I'm very grateful. I guess once you call in the cavalry everybody is on pins and needles trying to avoid any further confrontation.

After having...well lunch, I guess I should call it, I make my way down to radiology with a "Don't Fuck With Me" attitude. I'm still a man on the edge! I wait to be called. Odd I wasn't in my seat 10 minutes and my name is called. Humm...a new day is dawning!

Back onto the black wooden surface they call a bed. I'm told to place my stent into my mouth and strap myself in. The doctor begins to mark my face and body, then cuts out a thick clear rubber material placing it upon my neck with tape. I think they called that a bolus? The mesh mask is lowered onto my face and I'm soon in suspended animation, motionless. I'm surrounded by a half dozen people all scurrying around me like busy little bees. Calculating, discussing angles, taking pictures and directing lasers. This is more like a mock up, a drill preparing for the day the real radiation therapy begins.

I'm extremely nervous. I can't move, can't speak, and I'm starting to understand how a person in a coma might feel. They say when you're nervous you should think of people in their underwear. Well that never worked for me, but I thought I'd try given the circumstances. I begin to uncontrollably laugh even though I'm restrained. I vision everybody in black leather underwear. After all this is the dungeon. OK, this isn't working. I feel like I've just been abducted by aliens and I'm being poked and prodded for my DNA. This is taking forever, but there is a team of physicists that must have all the calculations correct or they could damage areas of me that weren't intended to be radiated.

This seems to take about a half hour and then I'm finally released from my prison. The relief is written all over my face I'm sure. My mouth is stiff when the stent is removed. I'm promised the time I will be strapped down for radiation will be more like 10 minutes, when we begin the actual treatment.

I'm told to take the wax stent back up to dental and they will fabricate the real one that will be used in treatment out of a clear plastic. Gee, what a great idea. Something harder than wax so it doesn't break in half again! I can't understand why that wasn't done in the first place.

After my visit to dental (not my favorite place by now) I head back for the bus. I'm scheduled for a radiation orientation on Friday and then I will receive my schedule for treatment. All I know at this point is I will be receiving 2 gray (Gy) of radiation per day, a total of 60 gray, over a 6 week period. (gray, or Gy (physics) -- Encyclopaedia Britannica) I will have 5 treatments per week, one per day, weekends off.

Friday arrives and I've had a few days of much needed rest. I think I slept straight through! In my class are four other people, all being treated for some type of head or neck cancer. I'm the youngest of the group and appear to be in the best shape. I figured if this were a contest I'd win hands down!

The nurse tells us what to expect. It's not pleasant. The skin will redden, become raw and sore to the touch. It might break down and weep. A moisturiser, Aquaphor, much like Vaseline is recommended. Daily exercising and stretching of the mouth, jaw, and neck is a must. The mouth will become inflamed and pain medicine will be needed. (My favorite part...WEEEEEE!) A feeding tube is recommended. The throat will become raw and sore. Most people wont get enough nutrition and lose too much weight during the process. For once I'm ahead of the game. I'm the only one with a tube placed in the class. The saliva will become thick, a milky yellow, and difficult to swallow. The salivary glands might slow secretion and cause the mouth to become dry. This could be a danger to your teeth. A mouth moisturiser is recommended, along with oral rinses, as the mouth will also become acidic. All sense of taste could be lost. Again I'm ahead of the game. I've already lost 1/2 my taste when I lost 1/2 my tongue! Any hair in the radiation field might fall out and perhaps not regenerate. And most important drink liquids, even if it's just a few sips! You must keep the throat muscles active or there is a chance the throat could atrophy. Boy this sure ain't Disney!

The reality of the severity of this is starting to set in. This is some serious shit! After orientation I meet with Dr. Morrison for specifics about my treatment. A nurse asks what time would work best for my treatment everyday. I figured anytime after 11 AM would work. A short time later and the nurse comes in with my schedule. He hands it to me and I read my treatment time. It's 8 AM! There's NO WAY! I'd have to get up at 4:30 AM every morning to make that time! I'm not doing it! I have to shower, which takes a long time because of all of my wounds. Then the wounds (arm, leg, feeding tube area, and butt) all need to be treated and dressed. After that, an hour for feeding. Then there's the wait for the bus and the ride to the hospital! NO WAY!

I hand him back the schedule with a simple, "No." He asks, "What's wrong." Then hands me back the schedule. I hand it back to him and say, "I'm not coming in at 8 AM." He hands it back and says, "But that's the time you were given" I hand it back to him, "Then why did you ask what time worked best for me in the first place?" He hands it back to me and says that was the only time available. I push it back, "I'M NOT DOING IT FOR 6 WEEKS! NO!" I'm beginning to feel like John McEnroe. This isn't a discussion, it's a tennis match! The poor nurse attempts one last serve. As he begins to hand me back the paper I now feel like Tiger Woods. I ask if he plays golf. He has a puzzled look on his face and says, "No. Why?" Then in anger I say, "If you shove that piece of paper in my face one more time you're gonna know what a hole in one feels like! Get that time changed! NOW!" He scurries out of the room. For now I've won this match!

He soon is back in the room, eyes to the floor, handing me a new schedule. My call time is 4:30 PM. That's doable. I know what some of you are thinking..."He's baaack!" Yes, I think at this point I was starting to feel like my old self. I'm tired of taking all the crap. Time to give some back!

My 6 weeks of treatment begins next week. I'm not sure at this point when I start Chemo. I have the weekend to rest and it should be a pleasant one now that my stomach is tame. I just want to get this all over with, go home, and get back to living again!

Sigh B

NEXT BLOG ENTRY (CC14)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Everything's Coming Up Rosie

Ever since my step-father died 5 years ago, I have been my mother's caregiver. Not an easy job for anyone. When I learned I might have cancer, before my biopsy, I planned my mom's 78th birthday present in December 2006. She's wanted to take a Mediterranean Cruise since forever! Well she has been in very poor health for 15 years, with a list of things wrong that could fill a phone book. Infact Mom had just been released from rehab after a recent illness. The Mediterranean will never happen. I found an opportunity that might work for her, so I planned her big birthday surprise.

Rosie O'Donnell was going to christen a ship, The Norwegian Pearl, in Miami. It would be a one night cruise with a show starring Rosie, free food and alcohol, and gambling. All proceeds were going to charity. Even though this was only one night, it needed to be carefully orchestrated. Mom is on an oxygen generator which makes traveling difficult. She uses it mostly when she sleeps or is having a bad day. I emailed the ships Cruise Director, trying to see how to arrange oxygen aboard ship, but no response even after 3 emails and 2 phone calls.

I had to tell mom the surprise to find out how long she thought she could go without her oxygen. She thought one night would be safe. Talk about a gamble! I made the arrangements: a limo to the airport, direct flight to Ft. Lauderdale, a limo directly to the ship in Miami 2 hours before departure. Then after we board, straight to the room to rest. The return had to be just as quick. All this would take place in less than 36 hours, from start to finish. If anything went wrong, even the slightest delay, we were screwed!

It was flawless! When we arrived I ordered mom a wheel chair and with a porter we embarked upon the newly built ship. We made it to our stateroom without a hitch. The handicap cabins are bigger than most because they need to accommodate a wheel chair. So we did not feel cramped like many cruise ship accommodations. In the cabin were gifts from Rosie on our beds: toys, a hat, a stuffed animal, and a whole lot of little items.

We rested before the festivities. Mom wanted to eat and explore the ship. Food everywhere, booze flowing freely, music pounding poolside, and lots of fun people there to party. Just amazing energy. After filling our bellies and tipping a few cocktails we began to explore. Everything was brand new. This was the Pearl's maiden voyage. The ship even had a bowling alley!

We find ourselves in a hall passing a crowded room full of people and a film crew. It was a private party for a meet and greet with Rosie. I think people donated big money to attend. We continued to walk down the hall when we came upon a bank of elevators and a grand staircase, away from the private event. We were a bit lost trying to get our bearings. I was facing the hall looking back where we had just been, and mom was facing me looking in the opposite direction.

All of the sudden a bull run was upon us. Mom had no clue what was about to happen since she had her back to the entourage of about 30 people. Loud, boisterous, moving quickly with cameras rolling, Rosie was headed towards us leading the pack. Now picture a frail, grey haired, 78 year old woman with a walker, alone in the hall with her son, standing directly in the path of this steamrollering crowd. I thought she was toast!

Then it was like someone hit the pause button. Rosie was standing behind Mom and her group of followers went silent. I'm in front of mom facing Rosie. Calmly I said, "Ma, turn around." Mom looked puzzled as if to say, "Why?"

As she wheeled her walker around, Rosie put out her hand and very calmly, lovingly, with great care, in almost a whisper said, "Hello Mam. What's your name?" Mom was shocked as she shook Rosie's hand. It took her a moment to process it. I just stood and grinned as I watched it all unfold. The entourage was silent. They were half on the staircase and half behind Rosie, cameras rolling, as Mom and Rosie chatted.

Mom told her it was her 78th birthday. Rosie asked if she was going to the show later that night. Mom said, "Wouldn't miss it. Are you going to be funny?" Rosie grinned and said, "Since it's your birthday, I'll try to be funny just for you!" As they chatted my eyes scanned the crowd. On the staircase was Rosie's wife Kelli. Our eyes met and we both had huge grins on our faces. I think we were both thinking, "What a very precious moment." Then as fast as they arrived, the crowd disappeared up the staircase and we were alone once again in the hall, still not knowing exactly where we were on the ship. I had this very strange feeling like...What just happened?

We went back to the cabin to rest before the show, as the ship began to set sail. We weren't in the room very long when mom said, "Let's go stand in line to get a good seat." We have over 2 hours before the show! We both are in poor health. We can't stand in line for two hours! Then out the door mom went.

That woman, walker and all, made her way to the theater and was 4th in line! There was no way I could stand in line that long, so I waited in the casino for awhile as the line grew longer. I tried to explain to Mom, when I picked up the show tickets, I was told the handicap section was one level above us. Mom didn't want to hear it. She was going in the main entrance and that was that! As she stood in line people were chatting about Rosie and Mom proudly announced, "I've met her and she said she was going to be funny just for me." She was like a child that had just met Santa for the first time.

When the doors opened, I gasped, there were at least 40 stairs cascading to the front of the theater as Mom bolted down to get as close to the stage as she could. It was like watching a senior citizen/NASCAR/roller derby. I swear she had smoke coming from the wheels of her walker as she made her way down those stairs! If anybody tried to pass her, she cut them off. All I kept saying was, "I'm sorry, she's a little excited" to everyone as I cringed out an embarrassing grin. She made it to the second row and sat down. I was only half way there and all I kept thinking was, "How the hell is she going to get back up all those stairs?"

The show was great, Christmas themed with Broadway numbers, Rosie popping out of a giant gift box dressed as Santa to a musical number. Rosie did her comedy...just for Mom if you asked her! Mom was having a grand time. She was energized.

And then it happened. I saw a side of my mother I've never been exposed to. One of the Broadway reviews had young men dancing on stage dressed in skin tight black spandex pants. My mother began to bounce in her seat. She turned to me and announce, "Look at the buns on those boys!" It was like I had taken her to a strip club. I wasn't sure if I should break out some singles for her or rope her to her seat to stop her from rushing the stage with her walker. Normally I wouldn't be worried, but after witnessing her new found roller derby skills, I was a bit concerned or maybe just embarrassed...LOL

At the end of the show there were streamers, confetti, and small stuffed animals shot into the crowd. Mom grabbed onto some streamers. I caught her an animal and the show was over, Mom beaming ear to ear!

Then came the moment of truth, my horror I worried about. How are we getting her out of here? Those 40 steps seemed like a 1000. Mom took hold of that walker and went up those stairs almost as quickly as she went down, without the body checking this time. She made it to the top adorned with red satin streamers she had dressed herself with, clutching her new stuffed animal. All smiles, it was an amazing site. She had more energy that night then I have ever seen her have!

After the show I figured she was going to get something to eat and go to bed. This had been a long day and she was without her oxygen. Mom had other plans...right into the casino. I gave her a few hundred bucks and she hit the slots. A few hours of one arm bandits and she was ready to retire. Her stuffed animal had multiplied. She now had a collection them. A ginger bread man dangled from her walker. Some of the people Mom met gave her their animals after Mom explained she was on the cruise for her birthday.

Mom was too tired to go eat, so I ordered room service. We ate in our cabin and then I tucked her in for the night like a little child surrounded by her new stuffed family. She repeated the entire day's events to me and just before she fell asleep she said, "See if we can book a week long cruise next time, I think I can handle it." The bigger question was...could I!?

Morning arrived, the ship now back to the port of Miami, we began to pack up all the gifts that She had collected and those that Rosie had left in the room. Mom said, "Next time, tell Rosie to leave you something." She had claimed all the gifts for herself. I didn't even get a hat! Oh well.

In less than 36 hours mom had survived, two flights, four limo rides, a Broadway style Christmas show, drinking, gambling, roller derby while climbing every mountain, acting like a teenager at a stip joint,  and meeting Rosie. Now she was tucked in her own bed back on oxygen with all her new found toys and wonderful memories. Happy Birthday Mom!

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Book - Reflections



I thought I would give you a glimpse into the first Chapter of my book. It will be awhile before it's completed, since I only have 100 pages so far. I wasn't sure if I should continue because I didn't know if people would find my adventures interesting enough. This blog along with the wonderful comments and emails I've received have helped me see that there are many people that can grow, learn, and be entertained by my life experiences. So, I push on in hopes to better the lives of those who find interest.

REFLECTIONS

Effortless this used to be, traveling to exciting destinations and losing myself to new adventures. A restless night as usual this one begins. A chauffeured car arrives to whisk me away to the port of planes. As much of my life has been, this venture is with the privileged. Increasingly more grueling with each day that passes, this one no different. Ever since I was told I would die, living just gets harder.

First to board I sit comfortably against the soft supple leather. Drinks offered and pleasantly accepted. In flight I look down upon the Earth and ponder. I often lose myself amongst the clouds as they roll by. But this time it’s different.

The clouds float like cotton balls suspended in air so peaceful and serene. The ground below reminds me of when I was a child, playing with my matchbox cars in the dirt. I’d build roads and homes and highways. Always progress, and if it rained there was a large roll of construction paper, 4 feet wide to satisfy my never ending need to design and build. I’d draw, always green full of life, lakes and rivers flowing blue.

But today I don’t see the world as I did when I was a child. The world has aged and so have I. It stares back at me, the surface below. Wisps of brown surround the cotton and no hint of blue in any of the water. Brown, almost dead, and I begin to lose myself in the sadness. I remember the first time I flew as a First Class passenger so many years ago. It wasn’t as many would expect. It was one of the hardest moments of my life with many more to come. It was due to the death of my father. This thought spins the cotton into a tapestry of my life and I begin to reflect.

At the ripe old age of 22, I was finishing up my last year of college when my father asked me, “What are you going to do with the rest of your life?” A question every good parent must eventually ask. I guess it’s time to figure that out. At this point, in High School I’ve been the editor of the school newspaper, photographer for both paper and yearbook. I set up my own private darkroom in the school to make that easier. I had a lead in the senior class musical. I was the Business Manager of the choir, raising the funds and orchestrating a 2 week US tour that would entertain from Michigan, to Denver, to Houston, and back. Appearing on local talk shows on our way to compete in a World Competition, where we clenched a silver medal. After which we cut an album.

After High School I modeled a bit, sang in night clubs, tended bar, had a lead role in a college theatrical production, worked on a major motion picture, The River, starring Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek. I spent a summer at 20th Century Fox with Aaron Spelling Productions in Hollywood, California filming Love Boat, Hart to Hart, and Charlie's Angels and still managed to travel the country. There were so many paths to choose. The answer to Dad’s question wasn’t going to be easy.

Words To Live By:

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service to others." -Mahatma Gandhi