Thursday, May 31, 2012

23. Chemo Results & Water

So the big news, which is really not that big, is that I had my first follow-up appointment with the nurses at Texas Oncology on Tuesday this week to see how the chemo had affected me. It was just a blood test and a quick look at my vitals, there's no way to know too much, but they just wanted to generally see if there were side effects, if any of my levels were low, etc.

Everything looks pretty good. And while it's too imprecise to get too excited about, the blood marker that measures the tumor shrunk from around 14-something when it was measured at MD Anderson to 8-something after the first round of chemo. So it looks like the chemo is doing it's job, and without any real side effects, save a mild cold sensitivity where I couldn't drink cold drinks for about 5-6 days without feeling a shock-like sensation at the back of my throat.

I did get a call the day after the visit, though, just to say that there was nothing serious, but that my kidney levels could be a concern in future, and that I needed to make sure and drink a lot of fluids. Ideally about two liters of water a day.

Those who know me know that I used to scorn the drinking of water. It doesn't have any flavor! In fact, for a long time I drank about 4-5 Cokes a day.

That is not a typo.

When I decided to get serious about losing weight, I cut back on Cokes, down to 1-2 a day. Switched in some flavored teas (Texas Tea is my favorite), Raspberry Lemonade, that kind of thing. Still not a ton of water. But I did start drinking a little more.

When I went into the hospital for the colonoscopy in April, I had to forgo drinking or eating anything for a pretty decent period, and so I had the long-dreaded caffeine headache. Along with every other symptom that came with the complications of my colonoscopy, it was actually relatively minor. And once I'd gotten it over with, I decided I'd be kinda stupid to go back to the addiction again, so I decided to officially quit sodas.

As a result, I've been drinking more water, and I've gotten to the point where I don't need flavored drinks as often, although I was craving flavor so badly recently that I had a two-day addiction to Sonic's Cherry Limeades (until the cold sensitivity put the kibosh on that) and then made a special trip to Central Market to buy a dozen Texas Tea flavored with Poteet Strawberry or Fredericksburg Peach.

But now I need to be more serious about it, and I have been. I bought a Bobble filter water bobble right before chemo, and I love it. It filters whatever water you put into it, it holds about 18 oz. of water, and I've been carrying it with me pretty much everywhere. Once I got the word from the doctor, I did the math and figured that I need to fill and drain the thing about 4 times a day to get the water I'm supposed to. Which is pretty easy, as long as I keep it with me and just kind of drink from it regularly. It's a strange transition that happened over a long period of time, but I've become the guy who keeps a water bottle with him and drinks that instead of sugary sodas.

If you'd told me I was going to do that a couple years ago, I'd have laughed right in your face.

Friday, May 25, 2012

22. The Halfway Point

Jumping the gun a bit here, as it's not technically June yet, but we're about halfway through 2012, so I thought I'd do a check-in on my resolutions.

1. Post at least weekly on my blog. 
Well, I dropped the ball on this one, but technically because of doubling-up and lots of cancer posting, it's week #22 and this is post #22. Not what I had thought I'd be posting about, but at least I'm posting.

2. Watch all of the Blurays and DVDs I have that are sitting unwatched on my shelf.
Still working my way through this one, not helped by the fact that I continue to buy and get new DVDs and Blurays which slot in front of the stuff I already have. But here's the update:

Breaking Bad Seasons 2 & 3 (I've seen the show, but not the special features - Started my re-watch of this with Season 1 DVD as of last night, plan to watch one episode a night until I'm caught up)
Coen Brothers Boxed Set (Watched Raising Arizona & Miller's Crossing, just need to re-watch Fargo and watch Blood Simple for the first time)
The Dark Knight (Re-watched the movie, just need to watch the special features, probably closer to when Dark Knight Rises hits and I get in the mood for more)

Justified Season Two (Plan to re-watch and of course watch all the special features - season one was a great Bluray set)
Kick Ass (Saw in theater, but haven't seen since, plus special features)
Louie Season Two (Have re-watched a few, and some special features)
The Man With No Name Trilogy (Never seen, except for Good, The Bad and The Ugly, plan to rectify that soon)
Memento (Haven't seen in quite some time, plus special features)
No Country For Old Men (Re-watch, plus special features)
Rocketeer (Haven't seen in several years)
Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Haven't seen in a while, plus *tons* of special features)

Band of Brothers (Haven't seen in a few years)
Batman Beyond Seasons 1-3 (Re-watch, but I haven't seen since original airing in most cases)
Batman Brave and the Bold Season 2 Part 2 (There might be a few in here I haven't seen yet)
Blazing Saddles (Re-watched about half, haven't been in the mood to watch again just yet)

Casablanca (Still wrapped, haven't ever watched the DVD though I saw it at the Paramount again in 2010)
Chaplin (Never seen, and I'm a Robert Downey Jr. fan)

Breaking Bad Season 1 (Seen the show, but not
Community Seasons 1-2 (Have seen original airings, but haven't re-watched, plus there are tons of special features)
Crimson Tide (Still wrapped, so haven't seen in a few years)
Kids in the Hall Complete Series (I've seen a lot of these, but not all of them)

Lost Season 4 (Still wrapped, will probably use this as an excuse to re-watch the whole series)
Manchurian Candidate (2004) (Still wrapped, white elephant gift from a few years ago, never seen)
Max Headroom (I love this series, haven't seen it since it originally aired)
Monty Python's Flying Circus Box 6 (Still wrapped, may or may not use this as an excuse to watch all the Monty Python I've got)
Party Down Seasons 1 & 2 (Cheap on Amazon, couldn't resist, love this show)
Police Squad (Still wrapped, saw it when it was on TV, love it, looking forward to the revisit)
Predator (Haven't seen in many years, may or may not watch special features)
Profit Complete Series (Still wrapped, saw a couple episodes back in the day, always wanted to complete it)
Pushing Daisies Season 1 (Still wrapped, have seen all of it's original run, will use this as an excuse to re-watch the whole series)
The Shield Season 5 (Still wrapped, have seen all of the show, might use this as an excuse to re-watch the whole series, one of my all-time favorites)
Snuff Box (British sketch comedy show I got for my birthday, I've seen some clips on Youtube and it's pretty hilarious)
Wonderfalls (Still wrapped, saw its original run on TV, will probably follow up by Pushing Daisies watch with this)

3. Catch up on all the graphic novels on my to-read pile.
I actually read quite a few graphic novels, but I keep adding more. The piles are a little smaller, though, and have different stuff in them.
Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (These came back into print, finally, so I finally picked them up. And then Diamond neglected to send volume two. But I'm borrowing that one from a friend.)
Modern Masters/Marvel Comics (Lots of text-heavy, these are gonna take a while)
The Book of Genesis (Signed by Crumb!)
Manga Ka in America (Great art)
Devil Dinosaur Omnibus (Kirby weirdness)
EC Archives (These are review copies from way back)

 So Diamond had a sale and I picked up a bunch of Essentials. These take a while to read through, so it'll probably be a while before these all move off the stack.
And this is what remains of my indy graphic novels and review copies. Pretty pared down. Honestly, I've tried Pang a couple times, and it might just not be for me, the rest I just haven't been in the right mood for yet.

4. Catch up on the novels on my to-read pile.
The Kindle Fire put a bit of a dent into this plan, as I started buying and reading more books. But the good news is, I am reading more actual books. And I found a couple more books I wanted to read that I thought had been lost, so the Fletch books went onto the read list. But this pile is much more manageable right now.

5. Keep my healthy weight, hopefully get back to exercising and eating normally again
I forgot, of course, the all-important resolution: Don't get cancer. Whoops.

Monday, May 21, 2012

21. Chemo Begins

Chemo by Peter Sorenson
After a week's delay caused by the trip to MD Anderson, we had a new plan in place to start chemo today, Monday, May 21st.

The plan is this: Chemo first, chemo/radiation second, surgery (in Houston) third and chemo to follow up. So it's gonna be an even longer haul. But I'm much more confident in the surgical side of things, since Dr. Chang, the surgeon in MD Anderson, has done more of these types of tumors, where my previous doctor really hadn't. (Also? Dr. Chang was nothing like Senor Chang on Community. A relief, but also a minor disappointment.)

At my urging/insistence and with no real resistance from the folks at MD Anderson, we're doing all the chemo and chemo/radiation here, and just the surgery and follow-up scans in Houston. So we'll be there for a day and a half in July, then again following the radiation (probably late September-early October) then for a longer stretch for surgery (I'm guessing November). But most of the work will be done here in Austin, or technically Round Rock, at Texas Oncology, which is great, because I really like everybody there.

Today just confirmed that, because everyone was fast, professional, nice and easy to talk to. Dr. Kocs, my oncologist, is a funny guy who shoots straight but helps maintain my positive attitude, and all the nurses were fantastic as always. The doctor made me very happy when he said he didn't expect me to have any nauseau due to the meds, and so far, the pre-meds and pills I've been given are keeping even any hint of nausea at bay.

I was there from about 9 AM - 3 PM, spent a lot of time on Facebook, watched several episodes of Bob's Burgers, dozed a bit while half-watching Serenity and a George Carlin special. No pain at all thanks to the numbing spray and my port, got the Omega Pack hooked up for the next couple days and it's a little annoying but really not that bad.

Came home and was just wiped out exhausted, took a three hour nap. Still felt a bit groggy (but hungry) at dinner time, and found that one of my friends had changed his Facebook photo to Chemo (the DC supervillain) in solidarity, and had exhorted other friends to do the same, and as of now, about 20-some of my friends have done that, including that cool one above drawn by Peter Sorenson. I was touched and a little teary when I saw Facebook's "So and so has changed their profile pictures" and saw that almost all of them were Chemo.

I got a touch of the cold sensitivity side effect, I think, because my ice water with dinner was tingling my mouth unpleasantly, so ice cream, shakes and *sigh* Cherry Limeades are probably off for a little while, but that's not so bad. Otherwise, I'm feeling better right now than I have at any time in the last week or so. I don't know that it'll last, there's always a relapse of pain or discomfort, and I'm certainly not 100%, but I feel pretty good now, which is where I wanted to be when we started down chemo road.

The amount of support I'm getting from friends, family and casual Facebook acquaintances is just overwhelming, and it's making the whole thing a lot easier. All things being equal, I'd rather not have cancer, but if I've gotta go through this, I think this is the best possible way in which to do it.

20. Favorite New Series for February - April

Fatale #1-4 (I know I'm going to enjoy this more in collected edition, when I can get a handle on the whole story, but it's as good as everything else Brubaker and Phillips have done together)

Thief Of Thieves #1-3 (Great new crime series from Kirkman, Spencer and Martinbrough)

Conan The Barbarian #1-3 (Love the new direction by Wood and Cloonan, the super-scary take on Pirate Queen Belit is particularly nice)

Glory #23-25 (The story is a bit disjointed, but the artwork by Ross Campbell is gorgeous, and I'm digging the sort of apocalyptic vibe)

Prophet #22-24 (European sci-fi in all the good ways. Nice art by everyone involved so far, inventive and unusual story from mad genius Brandon Graham)

Saga #1-2 (Amazing new sci-fi/fantasy epic from Vaughan and Staples. Can't wait to see where this goes in the long run)

Saucer Country #1-2 (Quirky little book with great characters, I'm a little worried about sales and long-term survival. Easily my favorite of the new Vertigo launches)

Winter Soldier #1-4 (Solid little espionage/action book. The art is occasionally a bit on the busy side, but it's beautifully done, and I'm more interested in James/Black Widow than the real Cap at this point)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

19. It's Tuesday, It Must Be Houston

As I write this, we're on the last night in the hotel in Houston, for the inaugural stop of Cancer Tour 2012. It's not a glamorous stop, Houston, but the other stops include Austin, Round Rock and my rectum, so at worst, it's like the fourth most glamorous stop.

Yes, I just implied that Houston is less glamorous than my rectum. Sorry, Houstonites. This really ain't my kinda town, based on what little I've seen of it. Although hat tip for 59 Diner, an awesome local chain we loved so much that we went both nights we were here for dinner. I got the big country breakfast (sausage, biscuits and gravy, french toast, 3 eggs and hash browns - it came on three plates!) on night one and a chili cheese dog on night two. Reese's shake on night one, Black Cow (root beer, ice cream, chocolate syrup) on night two. For the record.

Anyway... the trip has been brief but eventful. We're staying at an Extended Stay America for $100/night (that's the "reduced" medical rate) and I was expecting something nice, maybe along the lines of the rooms I had at St. David's. Instead, we're just above Motel 6 here. It's decent enough, but very low-rent. I'll say this for them, their wi-fi works free and consistently. Beyond that... not a great place to stay long-term, and if we do wind up coming back to Houston, we'll probably be looking elsewhere for accommodations.

MD Anderson, sold to me as the greatest cancer center on the planet, was also a little underwhelming. I got a little spoiled at St. David's in Round Rock. The nurses there are without exception amazing, friendly, easy to talk to and super easy to find when you need them. The doctors have all been great, and I was feeling very comfortable with the notion of chemo, radiation and cancer treatment through these folks.

MD Anderson, in contrast, is huge. Like Dallas/Fort Worth airport huge. They've got pagers and systems and hundreds, maybe thousands, of staffers, and getting in feels very organized, but also very sterile and hands-off. The nurses don't have that personal touch because they're taking 5-6 people at a time. The doctor I've met had us waiting for an hour and a half because he'd been called to the OR and that threw his entire schedule off.

In fairness, they do a very good job. The MRI I had was relatively painless and easy, the doctor (when he did come to talk to us) did a good job explaining everything, and I'll forgive him shoving a tube somewhere uncomfortable for a not-insignificant amount of our time together because that's his job, and he did get a good look at the tumor in the meantime.

The good news is, no colostomy before surgery, which was looking likely. So no surgery, then recovery, which means chemo and treatment can start soonish. The bad news is, a permanent colostomy after surgery now looks like a lock, which is honestly in worst-case scenario territory for me. I'm sure I'll get used to it, but in terms of things I feared most when I got this diagnosis, having to poop into a bag for the rest of my life was pretty damn high on the list.

Tomorrow we see their oncologist to talk about the treatment. The treatment they recommend for a tumor that's the size of mine is actually chemo first, then chemo-radiation, then surgery. So the timetable has expanded a bit, from 9 months to closer to a year. And the chemo, the harder stuff with more side effects, will be right up front. But that could be good, I'm at my strongest now, so I'd kind of rather have the hardest medicine to deal with now before I've been worn down.

The other potential hitch is that ideally, they'd like to everything through their center. But I think I have a good chance of convincing: A) MD Anderson that I'm better off being closer to home for such intensive and long-term care and B) Texas Oncology to do the chemo then radiation thing, which is the reverse of how they usually do things.

Cross your fingers for me that those two things are true. Because while I'm actually pleased by the notion of having a more experienced colorectal surgeon working on my tumor when the time comes, the notion of spending five and a half weeks in Houston for chemo-radiation, and two days every two weeks for two months in Houston for chemo, is pretty high up on my "worst case" scenario list as well.

But if that's what it takes, that's what we'll do. I'm just hoping that we'll be able to do most of the regular treatment in Austin and then the surgery in Houston.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

18. Brave

Tangentially related... but it does look like an awesome summer movie, right?
I've had a lot of people in the past month or two tell me how brave they think I am. Based on how I'm handling my cancer diagnosis and treatment.

And while I certainly appreciate the compliment and don't mind hearing it, I have to admit I don't feel particularly brave. I'm just kinda turning into the skid. My other choice was to become a misanthropic grumpy bastard, and honestly, I've already done that. A lot. Without cancer.

So I handle cancer with my sense of humor and by doing my best not to let it totally upset my life. I'm not thrilled at how I've had to step back at work, or had to minimize my already minimal tasks at home, or not be able to help out friends or even sometimes go out with friends because I'm too tired, too pained or too weak. But everybody keeps telling me they understand, and I choose to believe them.

The truth is, though, my "bravery" is entirely selfish. I'm fighting this cancer so I can stay in this life with my wife. So I can see my kids grow up. So I can see my business continue to grow and thrive, so I can spend more time with my awesome and widespread group of friends and family. So I can (let's be honest) eat really, really unhealthy yet delicious food for years to come. So I can watch more TV and movies, read more comics and books and listen to more music.

Mostly, though, it's about my kids. I'm gonna fight this as hard as I can because I love my kids and I don't like to think of them without a dad. And really, that's not bravery. Anyone who wouldn't fight the devil himself for their kids doesn't really understand what parenting is all about.

By the way, a typo almost named this post "Grave." Which would've been kind of hilariously dark.

Friday, May 11, 2012

17. The Next Cancer Update

When last we left our intrepid ass-cancer patient, the master plan was in place. Power port put in on Monday, recovery until Friday, dry run on Friday, start radiation-chemo on Monday, etc., etc.

And then.

My surgeon, who always seems to deliver the bad news, had some consultations with other surgeons, and they started thinking maybe, since I'd had this infection beforehand, and since the tumor is so big and aggressive, that it might be a better idea to put in a colostomy ahead of time, before we start all the therapy.

So the brakes have been put on everything. I'm going to MD Anderson, which is apparently the top cancer center in the country, and happens to be in our backyard (Houston), and they're slotting us in relatively quickly. We're going there for a consult to find out what they want to do. We were hoping for Friday (that's tomorrow) but that was faster than they could move, so now we're hoping for Monday or Tuesday.

What can happen from here is many-fold. Could be we go down there, they do the MRI, tests, I talk to all their people (another surgeon, another radiologist, another oncologist) and they say "Go ahead with the plan" and we start a couple weeks later. That's the best case. It's also not what I'm particularly expecting.

They could also say "Put in the colostomy, wait a couple weeks to recover, then do the original plan." That's the second best-case, although I'm not thrilled with the idea of pooping into a bag. I mean, sure, on a dare or for a Klondike bar or something, but not on a regular basis. But y'know, whatever if it means we still get started soon.

They could also say "OK, we're going to do something completely different, and you're going to have to travel to Houston several times a week (or live here for 4-6 weeks) and do chemo, colostomy, surgery, all that stuff here."

But none of that gets done until the appointment is made, which is out of my hands, so I'm waiting for the phone call, which will hopefully come tomorrow. I know that in the long run, a delay of a few weeks isn't that big of a deal, and my original surgeon was quite clear that the tumor has been around for six months, maybe even a year, so the odds of a couple weeks making any difference in terms of it spreading are much, much lower than the odds of an infection or a blockage developing later that could really fuck things up.

But... I was all set to go. Psyched up and ready to start this treatment, get the ball rolling, and now we're back at what feels like first and ten again. So it's a little frustrating. But I've heard nothing but good about MD Anderson, and I know that, like everything else, this will fade into memory when and if we get the damn cancer cured.

If I seem a little grumpier lately, though, that's why. Don't worry, though, headspace still positive, still gonna beat this thing, etc. etc.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

16. Favorite Comics for February - April

I'll be doing a few more of these, broken down into single issues, new series and miniseries, but to kick things off on the eve of Free Comic Book Day, here are my favorite story arcs that I've read in the past three months:

Story Arcs:
Amazing Spider-man #678-679 (A great time travel two-parter, and I love Horizon Labs and their role in Spidey's life)

Amazing Spider-Man #682-684 (It's not perfect, but there's a lot to like on this newest Sinister Six story, including a great use of Silver Sable and Black Widow alongside Spidey, and more great Horizon stuff)

Animal Man #6-8 (Continues to be creepy and effective, and a nice counterpart to Swamp Thing)

Chew #24-25 (The conclusion of Major League is as messed up and hilarious as I expect from this book)

Resurrection Man #6-8 (Still really enjoying this Abnett & Lanning offering, as they take him to Gotham and explore his origins a bit more)

Avenging Spider-Man #6/Punisher #10/Daredevil #11 (The Omega Drive storyline, by Waid and Rucka, is a fantastic teaming of Daredevil, Punisher and Spidey)

Suicide Squad #6-8 (The Harley Quinn arc - A great new origin, loved seeing Deadshot and his team face off against Harley, and the "I'm still alive" moment with King Shark and Yo-Yo was hilarious and wrong)

Wolverine And X-men #5-6 (Wolverine and Quire in a space casino, Kitty pregnant with micro-Brood, and Stegman instead of Bachalo on art. This book suffers greatly with Bachalo's artwork, but when it's someone else, it's my favorite X-Book)

Daredevil #9-10 (The Mole Man arc, another villain whose blindness makes him an obvious and yet unusual choice, like Klaw. Waid continues to knock it out of the park, with some of the best artists in the business backing him up)

Sixth Gun #19-21 (The latter half of the latest story arc, which I continue to love. The silent issue, #21, is a particular highlight of the series thus far)

Fantastic Four #603-605 (The conclusion and coda to the biggest arc in Hickman's run. Fantastic (no pun intended) stuff, and I especially loved all the time travel and take on the Thing in #605)

Avengers Academy #27-28 (I like this book, but I'm not that fond of the characters. However, Gage did a great job with the Runaways, making me wish he'd do more with them in the future)

Swamp Thing #6-8 (Still enjoying Snyder's take on Abby, Swamp Thing and The Rot)