Saturday, June 27, 2009

Not Neccessarily Related...

... but I think it's an important part of the story.

I'm reprinting and revising this from a post I made over on my Doctor Zombie blog back in October of 2006. I feel it's important to relate and let people know about this story because it's the story of how Michelle and I came to be. She's an essential part of why I made it through my ordeal... and without her I'd have never, ever have been able to deal with all that's happened in the last month.

Plus... this last weekend was our 11 year anniversary. I don't know about her... but I'm glad our 10th year is over because the last month of it sucked ass.

For those of you who know the story, I'm sorry. For those of you that have never heard it, I hope you enjoy it and understand a little about how much Michelle and I care for each other. (Or, at least I hope so after all we've been through!)

Michelle and I met way back in the eight grade when Michelle was a young, pretty single girl, and I was a young, single zombie. There was an immediate attraction between us and I did what one did in the 80’s when a boy liked a girl. I asked her to ‘go out’ with me. In fact, we were in our mutual friend Wendy’s basement at a party, dancing to In The Air Tonight by Phil Collins. (It was about the time that the song was experiencing a resurgence in popularity because of Miami Vice). Anyway, I looked into her beautiful, hazel eyes and asked her if she’d be my girlfriend. She said yes immediately, and we exchanged Mizpahs. For those of you who don’t know, Mizpahs were necklaces that were two parts of a heart with some cheesy biblical quote on them. The boy wore one, the girl wore the other, and you were officially branded as “Going Out” with somebody.

It was a halcyonic time for Mrs. Zombie and I. We were a couple, we made out, we went to dances together, she let me get to first base… all the usual stuff one does with their first love. Unfortunately, it would all come to an end as summer neared. Her and I disagree on the particulars surrounding who broke up with whom; but suffice it to say, we went to rival high schools and went our separate ways.

The thing is, we both kept running into each other. For example…

*** I get a high school job at the local Sears store and I’m walking through the stock room, where I run into Michelle. She had just started working there also.

*** One night in High School, I’m sitting in the local Dairy Queen with my then girlfriend, and in walks Michelle. We had a long conversation, and I actually pissed off my then girlfriend for ignoring her to talk to some gorgeous, blond basketball/volleyball player from our rival high school.

*** A couple years later, I’m at Bowling Green State University, rushing across campus with my face buried in a copy of Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, when I bump into this girl, knocking her books out of her hand. I apologize and bend over to help her pick them up, and I realize it’s Michelle!

Now, not being one to ignore these odd convergences of coincidence, and feeling a weird sort of dizzy happiness because she’d never really been out of my thoughts, I say, “Hey! What are you doing here?” She goes on to tell me, much to my chagrin, that she’d transferred to BGSU to be nearer to her fiancee.


“That’s great,” says I, “Well, I’m sure I’ll see you around…”

So, fast forward ten or so years. Michelle’s husband has left her and she decides to go on a trip and do some soul searching. “What,” she asks herself, “is good in your life now? What in the past has made you happy?” And it is during this time of quiet introspection that she realizes that me, Dr. Zombie’s, always sort of been in the back of her mind. She resolves to track me down and find me once her divorce is finalized, although she’s convinced that I must be married and in another state by now.

Not a week later, she runs into an old friend. Remember I mentioned how I first asked Michelle out? In our friend Wendy’s basement?

Phil Collins?

Sound familiar?

Anyway, this friend happens to be the same Wendy and Michelle asks about me.

“Oh!” Wendy says, “I work with him now at Progressive! Do you want his phone number?”

Two days later, I return from lunch to find a phone mail message. It’s Michelle and we make plans for coffee.

We met on a rainy, stormy fall day. I arrived first and was drinking a cup of herbal tea when she walked into the coffee shop. I caught my breath and felt that same dizzy, giddy feeling I’d felt years earlier. I knew right then that she was going to be my wife. She said she knew at that moment also. We were caught up in the iron grasp of destiny and fate and we realized that our love was meant to be. It was right, it was pure, and we had traveled across oceans of time to be with one another.

It was October 26th 1997 and it was some 15 years after we’d first met one another.

8 months after that, on June 20th, 1998, we were married.

So, Michelle - - I love you baby. You are the bright spark of goodness in my otherwise dark and evil heart. You were and are my destiny and I will always love you. I couldn't have done this without you. Sorry that the "in sickness and health" jazz happened a little sooner than it was supposed to...

Happy anniversary…

Friday, June 26, 2009

Back to work

I went back to work this week.

That's a good thing, believe me.

I was driving Michelle crazy when I was home. I was calling her an average of six times a day to "just talk" as I was bored out of my mind. I was doing things to kill the time like sitting at the kitchen table with a bb gun, waiting for the furry sneak thieves that are the neighborhood squirrels to come to the backyard bird-feeder. I did enjoy getting to spend time with the kids though, but I needed to get back to work for my own sanity.

There's a darker side to that as well. You see, I could get used to not working. I long to spend every day at home, just writing. And Michelle could have gotten used to it as well. She'd never admit it, but I suspect she liked coming home to a clean house, with the laundry washed and folded, and dinner on the table. Although, in retrospect, I didn't get nearly as much writing done as I would have liked. The siren call of the internet got in the way of that, as well as the plethora of zombie and horror flicks that came every couple days from NetFlix. Someday I'll be a famous writer and get to say that writing's my job... but until then I need to slog along like a good corporate drone. Dear dark Pagan gods... save me from a horrible and horrifying life of mediocrity!

Anyway, I went back to work.

It wasn't bad. I jumped right back in and have a shitload of projects waiting for me. The true drama of this week was only tangentially related to my return to work.

I, by the way, had to go get drained on my right side AGAIN this week. This time, Dr. Persons pulled 180+ cc's of fluid from my chest. That's an ungodly amount of fluid. I was really swollen and uncomfortable... but I suspect it was so much because we had some left over from the week before. You see, my mastectomy left what are basically two flaps of tightened, stitched skin on my chest. Because they hollowed out all of the breast material underneath, I have two voids between my skin and the pectoral muscles underneath. My body keeps trying to fill the space between with fluid to help it heal because, as we all know, Nature abhors a vacuum. Anyway, the voids have pockets with healed areas between them.

In my prior post, I mentioned that last week's aspiration (that's fancy, schmancy doctor talk for jabbing someone with a needle and draining them!) was really uncomfortable because of the larger gauge needle and catheter. Well, because it was uncomfortable, the doctor only jabbed me once and drained like a hundred or so cc's. The problem is that we left some fluid under my armpit alone because I was pretty much done with the whole thing, and because - truthfully - my surgeon kind of scares me a little. The pain and discomfort meant I didn't push it, and the result was that I swelled and filled with twice as much fluid as previously.

So, as a result, of these latest shenanigans... I am now wrapped for the next couple weeks with a tight ace bandage. The doctor thinks that, if I stay wrapped for a week or so, the compression on the voids will heal faster and not fill with fluid. Here's hoping it works, because I am so fucking done with getting aspirated!

Incidentally, I was cleared last week to start doing cardio, and that's where I had the most trauma this week. I returned to work, as well as eating healthy. You see, while I was convalescing and off of work, I was eating like a total pig. I took to sitting with Michelle on our front porch every night and having a couple beers. I ate chicken wings, french fries with cheese, and fast food. I was bored stupid, so Meg and I were baking things like homemade cherry pies and homemade granola bars. Fortunately, I only put on about six pounds... but it was disheartening to see the scale go the other way. Especially considering that I had been losing weight because of diet and exercise before this whole ordeal started.

So - I awoke Monday excited to go to work and excited to get back on the fitness wagon. I went to the gym on Monday to do some cardio, and that's when the uncomfortableness started.

For the first time, I had my shirt off in public.

It was weird, it was uncomfortable, and it was much more difficult then I thought it would be. Oddly, I didn't think it would be as bad as it was, because I have always prided myself on my unselfconciousness. Despite my discomfort at revealing my fat... I have little or no problem with nakedness or my body. I come from a family that thinks nothing of going to the bathroom with the door open, was in the theater where there is no modesty when one is changing for the next scene, and have never had any problem with nakedness. I may not be the most physically appealing or endowed of individuals, but I've always felt that one should never be ashamed of their body.

And I realized that I used the word endowed there... that's not what I meant, you dirty minded degenerates! (Although - and this is solely a general observation - all men are concerned about their 'endowments', no matter how they were born. Here's a helpful hint, girls: any man who tells you differently is lying. Every man out there harbors a fantasy wherein he unzips and the woman looks at his most manly of bits with a mix of horror and fascination at its size. It's like the scene from Full Metal Jacket when the Vietnamese hooker refuses to sleep with the black Us GI, crying, "Too beaucoup! Too beaucoup!" All men want their women to, upon first seeing their man's package, scream and cringe because they may have gotten in over their heads at the size of it. But I digress...)

I was talking about my going to the gym...

Anyway, I went to the gym at my usual time and, as I walked down the hall towards it, I started to get that fluttery, jittery feeling you get in your chest when you're about to do something you're nervous about. There was no reason for it, but it was there.

When I got to the locker room, it was the moment of truth. I put down my bag and began getting undressed. My scars are still fresh and red on my chest, so they stand out like a stop sign. I saw several guys nearby give me a double take when they saw my scarred, nipple-less chest... but, mercifully, they looked away in conformance to the heterosexual guy code which says you don't stare at another dude when going to the bathroom, or changing at the gym.

I quickly changed and went out to the gym, where I spent a pained half hour on the elliptical. I had forgotten my iPod, so I tried to read a copy of Outside Magazine. It was an exercise in futility. My entire workout was dominated by thoughts of my return to the locker room. It was a feeling I've never felt before. I was suddenly self-conscious and it was not something I'd ever experienced before.

When I returned to the locker room, I half thought about wearing my shirt to the showers, but decided against it. This was something I needed to conquer. I'd endured weeks of pain and debilitation, this was part of me now and I needed to get used to it. At least that's what the logical, rational part of my mind was saying. The emotional part of me that's still the odd, geeky, Dungeons and Dragons playing high school kid had other things to say about it. I was suddenly different. Not normal. Scarred. Deformed.

And that part of me that longs endlessly to fit in, to be normal, was screaming in a panic.

I stood for a few long moments by my locker, trying to get the nerve to take my shirt off. I finally took a deep breath and, like jumping into a cold pool, stepped off of the ladder into the void. I shucked my short off and, with forced nonchalance, took off the rest of my clothes and stood naked for a few seconds before I wrapped a towel around my waist. I could feel the eyes of all within my line of sight in the busy locker room. Next to me, an Indian programmer from IT apparently missed the Guy Code orientation on the day they went over the staring rule and stared at my chest like a rube at a carnival sideshow.

I grabbed my other towel and made my way across the locker room, my heart racing and beating like a panicked bird in the bird cage in my chest. I made my way to the sauna and found that I was alone.

I took a few minutes to relax in the dry, harsh heat and was blissfully alone. I need to think about lymphodema, and was concerned about the sauna... but wanted to try at least five minutes. I was watching for swelling or discoloration in my right arm, so I was distracted from my discomfort. The sauna, by the way, is one of my few guilty pleasures. I was dismayed when I found out I might not be able to luxuriate in it when this whole ordeal started. I'm, honestly, afraid to give it up because I love the relaxed, cleansed feeling it gives me.

I'm happy to say that there was no adverse reaction.

After six minutes, I got out and took a long cold shower, and then walked bare-chested back to my locker. I even stopped and checked my weight on the scale. I found it was getting easier, but the apprehension was still there. The self-conscious desire to crawl and hide my deformity away from prying eyes was almost overwhelming.

I dressed and returned to work, feeling exhausted and drained by the whole experience.

I know it's still new, and that it will take some getting used to, but it's an alien experience for me to be self-conscious like that. I've joked about showing my chest in bar bets, and am seriously considering getting a whole chest tattoo, but this experience was much more difficult than I thought it would be.

I know it will get easier every time... and will seem silly in a few months.

It has to.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Some Semblance of Normality

So it's been over a week since I last updated. I'm sorry that I've been so negligent. As I told my friend Amy D. in an email earlier today... my lack of updating has been a direct result of the fact that I've been feeling better.

I started driving on Monday again (Thank the dark Pagan gods! Ia Ia Shub Chthulhu F'tagn!) and have been much more mobile, although I'm quickly learning that I need to be careful I don't push myself to hard. It really pisses me off how this whole surgery has slowed me down. I guess spending a week in bed and another week in a recliner really kicks one's ass.

I seriously get winded walking up the steps from the basement.

I'm also still having some mobility issues with my right arm, but it's getting better. I also still have some nerve damage underneath my arm in the area of my tricep, as well as numbness in a large part of my trapezius on that side. But, on the other hand, I think it's healing as well because today I was in considerable pain where there wasn't any feeling previously. It's like the nerves are healing, waking up, looking around, and saying, "What the fuck happened?!?"

So, it's been like I've been getting stabbed in my armpit all day.

Regarding my last update, I did go and have my chest drained last Friday. My surgical oncologist, Dr. Persons, took about 150 cc's worth of fluid out of my right side and probably 80 out of my left. It was basically a couple beer bottles worth of orange-ish fluid. And it was instant, wondrous, sweet relief. It wasn't until the next day that the pain started, and boy did it come back with a vengeance. I guess jamming a catheter under the skin of your chest and moving it around in the wound cavity underneath tends to irritate things. Who'd have thought, huh?

I had to have my chest drained again on Tuesday of this week. The first time, it didn't hurt at all when the doctor drained it. It was easy as pie. This time though, she used a larger gauge catheter, and it really, really hurt. I'm still sore from Tuesday... but it's the last time I'll have to have things drained. (Or is it the last time I'll LET them drain it? It's one of the two, I can never remember which...).

Like I said, the doctor's confidant I'm clear of cancer, but I'll be meeting my actual follow up oncologist on the 29th and we'll know then if she wants to do chemo or anything like that. Also, I've got to call and make an appointment to get genetic testing. It's odd that someone as young as myself got breast cancer, and my oncologist wants me to see if I carry the BRCA1 breast cancer gene. If not for myself, but as a heads up to my sister, or my daughter. Although, I believe (As well as my regular doctor) that the cause is going to fall on the side of my bad liver. We'll have to see...

Also, when we were at the office on Green Road on Tuesday, I made a point of tracking down my regular doctor, Dr. Robert Cirino. I felt it necessary to sincerely thank him and shake his hand for being so thorough and insistent that I follow through with the tests and exams. If not for his persistance, I might not be a cancer survivor today. Who knows... if I'd waited even a few months I could be dying. That's a sobering thought, and a lot of the credit for my being cured falls into his hands. And, get this -- if I didn't already really like the dude as it was -- when I went into his office, he had a radio on and was listening to The Cure's Standing by the Sea CD . Anybody who digs Robert Smith and the groovy bass goodness that is Lol Tolhurst is good people in my book. The best kind of people, in fact...

Michelle and I have been really introspective about the whole experience this week. For her part, she's been especially stressed and blames it on having to deal with the aftermath of the surgery, as well as having to have been strong for the first few weeks. And I get that, really. We are both also finding we have little tolerance for some people. What I mean by that is that we have a different perspective now. People getting mad and screaming at the Starbucks because they ordered their latte with skim milk and not cream are now suddenly intolerable. Or, take couples who fight about stupid little things that, in the grand scheme of things, DON'T MATTER. We both have to fight the urge to just shake them and tell them that the little shit's just not that important. Life's fleeting, enjoy each other and your life as long as you can. Someone could tell you that you have cancer tomorrow.

Another thing that's weird is that I, despite what some people have said, have no desire to do cancer walks or runs or anything like that. I'll do them because they are exercise, but I won't do them for the altruistic and totally false premise that I'm raising money to "find a cure". You know what my cure was? The liberal use of a scalpel to cut the blackness out. No money raised from a three day walk is going to find a cure more effective than that. Besides, and this is a little known (or perhaps - more accurately - an often ignored fact), but the money raised for most charity runs and/or walks goes to the event organizers to run the event and pay the bills. A fraction, a mere pittance, of the money raised actually goes to the charity in question. I don't disagree with the notion that it raises awareness, but I also am not blind to the realities of advertising, paying for, and organizing an event of their nature.

I DO feel the need to speak out about my experience. That's partly what this blog was about. That and the fact that it is probably the basis for a book sometime down the road. But I feel the need to tell my story, to do interviews, to be a spokesman for Male Breast Cancer. I want to write articles for women's magazines with titles like, "Tell Your Dude Not to be a Dude!" or "Don't Ignore That Odd Liquid Squirting from Your Nipple!". And I want to go back to that list I wrote up in one of my earlier posts and use it as a gauge for my well-being. I want it to be a basis for my post-cancer self. And I now have the added advantage of being able to climb a large mountain and get my name listed as the first Male Breast Cancer survivor to summit it. And use that to spread the word about my illness.

My goal in the long term is to maybe save some other guy's life who's got something happening with his chest, but who's not sure whether he should mention it to his doctor. Male Breast Cancer has a higher mortality rate than female breast cancer solely because guys don't know they can get it. I want to change that.

But that's a conversation for another day. Today's post is about where I'm at now...

I'm excited to be going back to work next week... but not so excited to start my security job. Right now, I don't think I'm strong enough to run up four flights of steps and, after reaching the top, jump on, wrestle, and fight with a detoxing meth head. This weekend, I'm going to begin working out again. I'll be working on building my cardio level on the elliptical and my mountain bike, and I hope to be running again soon.

It'll be a couple months before I can lift weights again.

So, things are coming around to a semblence of normality, although the doctor said I'm not technically "cured" of cancer until I reach the five year clean point. All in all, things are going well...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Insomnia and Pain

It's 2am and I can't sleep.

I'm in a weird place where I'm up late at night, watching endless reruns of Dog the Bounty Hunter and Intervention and ridiculously stupid horror movies on Encore and Showtime.

On Monday, the doctor pulled my drains. As I've previously described, I had two sets of tubing that entered a couple inches below my chest incisions. The tubes were connected externally to two quart sized jugs that I had pinned to my shirt for over a week and a half. These little jugs were my nemesis.

What I didn't realize was that pa large part of my pain was a result of the other ends of the drainage tubes. The tubes entered my chest below my armpits. One drainage tube ran up my side and across the top of my chest, while the other ran under my incision to the underside of where my moobs used to be.

The tubes were a vaccuum system and the constant pressurization caused me pain and discomfort. The tubes were made of surgical rubber, were about twice the size of a straw, and caused me pain simply because they were under my skin.

Worse, the tubing was clear and you could plainly see fluid, blood, and clots moving through them as they made their way to the clear jugs.

The jugs were the bane of my existence.

So you can imagine my relief when the doctor called and said it was time to pull them. So I went to the McDonald Center and she pulled them, which may sound horrible, but it wasn't as bad as one might think.

Because I was not allowed to remove my dressings, I didn't know they were stitched to my side. Kind of creepy...

Anyway, she cut the stitches and told me that she wanted me to breath in, and then to exhale as she counted to three. I inhaled, she counted, I exhaled, and she pulled. And pulled. And pulled.

I was under the impression that the inside tubes were the same as the outside. Boy, was I fucking wrong.

Imagine a standard, twelve inch ruler. That's, say, what... an inch and a half wide? Much like a paint stirrer, right? Well, the drains inside my chest were nearly that size.

Unbelievably, it didn't hurt to pull them out. It felt odd as hell, but it didn't hurt. (Well, maybe the right side stung a little bit). What was far more disturbing was the four, quarter-sized holes they left in my chest.

Finally rid of the jugs and the painful tubes, and as I was leaving, the doctor mentioned that I might still have some drainage and, if it gets too bad or painful, she may need to aspirate it.

Which leads us to where we are right now. Too uncomfortable to sleep, dreading to lie down, I'm watching really bad late night TV.

Immediately after the drains were pulled, the rest of Monday, and yesterday I felt great. I didn't realize how much pain the drains were causing me. I have an unnaturally high tolerance for pain and I truthfully didn't even realize I was in pain until the drains were pulled. In fact, I started moving around the house, unloaded the dishwasher much to my wife's dismay and consterantion, and went out to a movie with the family (without the indignity of my pus and blood clot-filled jugs). We even went for a long walk after dinner last night.

I was enjoying the relief of not having the jugs and was even able to take a shower as my chest incisions are healing over nicely.

And then this afternoon, after my shower, I realized that I was getting sore again. Within a couple hours, my right side had swollen and become painful and part of my left side as well. It was so fluid filled that simply tapping on my incision on the right side would cause a visible cavitation wave under my skin.

So I called the doctor and she called me back around 8:30 this evening. She made an appointment to see my on Friday. Soooo... on Friday, I'll be going downtown yet again, where the surgical oncologist will numb me and use a soft catheter to drain the fluid from my chest.

In the meantime, the pressure has been slowly building and I now can't sleep. I wouldn't classify it as pain (although I'm quite certain most normal people would. Like I said, I feel pain differently than a lot of people. Right now, it's just discomfort. If I was using that stupid 0-10 pain scale doctors ask you to quantify your pain with... I'd say 1. A normal, non-sociopath would probably say 5.)

How am I feeling about this? Honestly, I'm really frustrated at this point... I was feeling so well, the doctor said my cancer looked like it was gone, and I was ready to move on. In fact, I was contacted by the Ireland Cancer Center just yesterday and had set up an appointment with my new, follow up oncologist for the end of the month. The oncologist I've been using to this point even said that chemo was probably not needed and that I would simply need to do a couple year course of Tamoxifen (an estrogen reducing drug that, in men, can raise remission rates in serious breast cancer cases by 20-30%)

Instead of moving on, I'm sitting here with the skin of my chest stretched tight... like a sausage cooked too long in the microwave. Additionally, the pain wraps around my chest like a cilice, or a torturous girdle.

Like I said, I'm frustrated.

Frustrated and tired... and totally sick of Glenn Beck, Dog the Bounty Hunter, The Dog Whisperer, and infomercials that promise to make me $9000 a week working part time from home.

Although I'm still totally going to call on the PX90 Home Fitness system. that looks TOTALLY cool...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cancer Picked...

...the WRONG mother fucker!

We got some great news yesterday. The final reports came back from pathology on the removed tissue and lymph nodes.

According to my oncologist, the malignacy was less than an inch long and was restricted to the tissue in my right breast only. There was no evidence in my left side. Additionally, there was nothing in my lymph nodes and no signs of metastisis anywhere else.

In other words, it looks like I beat it.

The doctor was reticent to say one way or the other if I needed to do radiation or chemotherapy, but she does think that it may not be necessary because, as I said in previous posts, we've taken all of the potentially cancerous tissue out. I'll know more about my future plans probably next week when we meet with her to - joy of joys! - have my chest tubes removed.

It looks like the path through the dark woods is coming to an end.

It's hard to believe it's only been like three weeks since this whole thing started. I can say that I understimated the surgery. I've never had major surgery before, although I've had some minor stuff here and there.

For instance, I did have my appendix burst when I was in college at Bowling Green. That was pretty major, although I don't remember much of it. I mostly remember the indignity of waking up with a catheter, vomiting bright green gouts of bile, and riding all the way back home to Willowick in the back seat of my dad's car to convalesce for another week.

The appendix was done laproscopically, which means I don't have an appendectomy scar like most people. They did all of the surgery through my belly button. Which is funny because, sometime after that surgery, I tore a stitch and it resulted in my having an outtie belly button after having had an innie my whole life.

That torn stitch actually became a problem later in my life. Soon after I started seeing Michelle, I noticed that the outtie was getting bigger (and not because I was getting fatter). It also started to become tender and painful to touch. Turns out, the popped stitch from my appendectomy had resluted in what was called an incisional hernia. Unknown to me at the time when I bent to pick up a dropped bottle of shampoo in the shower at BGSU's Harshman Bromfield dorm, the popped stitch had opened a small hole in my visceral wall and, as time went on, it got bigger and bigger.

In other words - BLOOP! - I had a bulge of intestine sticking out through my belly button.

That surgery, was no big deal.

I also had a vasectomy last October. That was nothing compared to the appendix, and was only painful because - as I'm sure you understand - they cut a hole. In. My. Junk.

But this surgery has been a whole new level of suck.

I'm still in pain, I still have tubes in my chest, and I still can't lift my right arm laterally above my shoulder without causing intense pain.

I most definitely underestimated the recovery and pain.

But now it looks like it's finally coming to an end. I

I have to admit that, like before my biopsy, I was kind of hoping they'd come back and say that they were wrong and that it wasn't cancer at all. I'd have been mad because I'd had to go through all of this pain and suffering... but I wouldn't have to worry about cancer any more.

And I will have to worry about it, because cancer's the gift that keeps giving.

The rest of my life, stretched like some dark storm cloud before me, will be the spectre of cancer. Without warning, it could rear it's ugly pulsing, throbbing head and show up somewhere else in me. I'll have to endure lifelong testing and bloodwork... always dreading the call that - like the CyberDyne Systems Model 101 - it's back. Nobody knows why cancer hits some people, and why it happens... but it is more likely that - once you've had it - you may get it again. It's not a certainty... but it's a definite possibility.

To that end - I still fully intend to follow through on my plans to live life differently after this is all over. What other choice do I have?

So what else have I been doing to pass the time?

I've been watching a crapload of zombie movies (watch my other blog, Dr. Zombie's Midnight Theater of Terror, for a bunch of movie reviews in the coming days.). I've been writing and emailing friends. I've also been reading quite a bit. When all of this shit started, I began reading Lance Armstrong's It's Not About the Bike and I think I've become a full on member of Lance's LiveStrong cult. I like his attitude and have drawn some strength from it.

I've also been reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith. I'm still on the fence about the book. I love that it rewrites history (both actual and literary) by having Jane Austen's heroines trying to find love and marriage amidst the zombie apocalypse... but the writing lacks some. Grahame-Smith is not as good a writer as Austen and does a bad job of imitating her style. It's still fun to read... especially considering how familiar I am with the source material (For those who don't know, my only published 'serious literary' work was an article analysing the point of view of Pride and Prejudice. (I should add that my daughter is named after the main female protaganist in this book as well. What can I say... I'm an English dork, through and through).

Fianlly, I've been listening almost non stop to Android Lust's The Dividing CD. Someting about Shikree (Android Lust's lead singer) appeals to me and her voice and music is soothing to me on some deep level.

That's all for now, friends. Thanks for reading, as well as for all of the well-wishing.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Phantom Limb Syndrome

So... there's a very common syndrome associated with losing a limb. It's called phantom limb syndrome. The missing limb, say an arm or a leg, continues to ache or itch long after it's been severed. It's wholly psychological and, although the wayward limb is not there anymore, the brain continues to think it is.

I - apparently - have phantom nipple syndrome. I continue to get the sensation that my now missing nipples itch. It's in the same spot where my nipples used to be, and I know that they're no longer there, but I am continuously haunted by the memory of having nipples on my chest. And the bitches itch something wicked.

Odd, huh?

And, lest you think I'm being silly and just writing to be funny, I want to assure you in no uncertain terms that I'm totally serious here. I honestly awoke from a dead sleep last night with a wicked itch in my right one. My right nipple, by the way used to be the one that would bother me. Even the lightest irritation would drive me crazy with it. I once ran the Cleveland Winking Lizard Shot in the Dark 4 Mile run and my right nipple was rubbed raw by the time I got to mile one. My only memory of that race, besides the great after party at the Winking Lizard Tavern, was of the rubbing of my cotton shirt on my nipple for 3 GODDAMNED miles.

So, anyway, where did I leave off?

I was explaining my life after waking up from my double mastectomy with sentinal lymph node removal. I don't remember if I told you, but they pulled about six lymph nodes. And, in terms of my recovery, that's where I have the most pain. My left side, where they just removed tissue and didn't fuck around with my lymph nodes, is - for obvious reasons - doing much better. I have some serious pain under my right arm pit. One of the surgical residents said it is most likely because they twanged a few nerves while removing the lymph nodes. All I know is that, if I shift the wrong way, it hurts like someone's stabbing me in my pit. The first few times, I froze and did that thing where you breathe through your teeth because it hurts so bad, and wondered aloud if I'd actually tore some stitches or something.

I spent the first night after the surgery in the hospital, and that first night was a blurred memory of pain and discomfort. Here's an odd little quirk of male psychology for you... 95% of men, no matter how bad they have to go, can't take a piss while lying down. My night was spent trying to pee... calling the nurse and receiving no answer... and finally cranking myself up in my delirium and pain to try to pee into a urine jar. I'd push the buttons on the bed, it'd grind up to a close to sitting position (but not close enough to approximate sitting on a toilet and letting my body think it was okay to pee), and then spend the next forty minutes grunting and pushing... only to have my body refuse to release. And then, finally, it would reach a point where I couldn't hold it anymore, and I'd finally, blissfully pee... only to realize that I had more pee than the stupid bottle could hold and I'd have to stop with my bladder only half empty. The only thing that would help is that the nurses would come in every couple hours and blast me with some Dilaudid in my IV and I'd pass out.

And here's my biggest complaint about the whole situation...

I understand I'm a dude, and that I may have been uncomfortable being put up in the McDonald's Woman's Hospital overnight. But it would have been nice to have been asked. I'm quickly learning that the Woman's Center is much more adept at handling my type of surgery and the after effects. So, instead of putting me up at McDonald's, they put me in a regular room in the Mather Tower with nurse's who had no understanding or empathy for a man in my situation. In fact, they were more concerned with getting me out of the room and released than making sure I knew what to expect or how to do things once I got home.

Take my little jugs, for instance. I'm referring to my drains. They are two little jugs that I have pinned to my shirt and lead up into my chest cavity to pull fluid out of my wounds. The nurses in Mather Tower had no idea how they worked and rather than admit it, showed us how to set them up incorrectly. So I spent my first day and a half at the house in a considerable amount of discomfort with fluid build up in my chest.

You see, they're supposed to work on suction and, if you don't pump them up right and establish the needed suction, cool things like sepsis and blood clots can happen. We learned this after the home care nurse came at 5pm the day AFTER I'd left the tower. She pumped them up right and it was like someone had turned on a vaccuum hose. I pulled three times as much blood and fluid out in the first four hours as I had over the last two days.

And the whole drainage tubes are the bane of my existence now. My life revolves around checking the fluid levels and longing to have them removed. That, unfortunately, won't be happening until next week. I have nightmares of my dogs accidentally jumping on them and pulling one of them from my chest. I catch them on the little knobs on the front of the bathroom sink when I brush my teeth. I am constantly snagging them on chairs, doors, and the edge of the bed.

And the suction is a wholly uncomfortable feeling. When they are first pumped up, they pressurize the skin under my chest and it is a painful, weird feeling. Like a worm twisting in dark, freshly turned soil, they move and squirm and adjust to the new pressure - which brings more pain and more discomfort.

Now, some four or five days after the surgery, the throbbing, achy soreness of damaged tissue has started. And I'm terrible at gauging my own pain.

I have a really high threshold for pain. On that stupid 1-10 scale of pain, a two for me is probably a four or five for a normal person. And I'm fine with it and can cruise along and take it until I reach about the 4 or 5 period. But then I've overshot the window and I go right to a 10. Michelle says it's like flipping a switch... I go from normal to shaking, withdrawn, and cranky in a matter of moments.

And it's largely my own doing. I'm not one to take superfluous medication, even when I obviously need it. I'm a dumb boy, and that's what we do. I've been trying to be tough and strong, when I've been out of surgery for less than a week. And major surgery at that....

Today, I received probably the best advise so far from one of the home care nurses. She said that I should maintain my painkiller schedule no matter how I'm feeling. And, mostly for the sake of my marriage and my wife, I'm going with that.

Michelle, by the way, has been incredible. She's been taking care of me, and draining my tubes, and dealing with all of my pigheaded stupidity for days. I've been so lucky to have her and my only moment of weakness in this whole thing has been for her.

We were dressing me at the Mather Tower because they HAD to get us out of the room... and, as she helped me put my pants on and get dressed, I started to cry in anger and frustration at the whole situation. I'm sure it was as much pain and painkiller induced as it was emotional, but it seemed so unfair and ridiculous that she should have to be dressing me and taking care of me. We're both young and in our thirties and the whole "in sickness and health" bullshit shouldn't be something either of us had to deal with so early... and yet there we were, trying to get my underwear on in a hospital room. I was barely helping and she was being so loving and so patient.

I don't know what I did to deserve her....