Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Living with the Big C

Why is it that we are all so afraid of Cancer? Well I know darned well why I was. Working in hospital pharmacy for 18 years I know the reality of what it can be far too well. But even people who have no medical experience fear it. We all know someone, or many someones, who have suffered and died from it. We all have at least indirect experience with Cancer.

In addition we are bombarded daily by requests for money to refund research so that Cancer can be cured. Pleading letters arrive in our mail slots, we see ads on TV, read heartwarming stories of people cycling, walking, shaving their heads, all to raise money for the Cure. I remember Cancer Can be Cured as a fund raising slogan long ago, but of course can is the operative word and not always as yet. Cancer is never far from our consciousness, whoever or wherever we are.

But Cancer is not one disease, it is many distinctive diseases which are treated so differently, depending on the site and the type. Even thyroid cancer has four major sub types and each is treated in a different way, some with good response and some unfortunately incurable. A friend who had breast cancer told her oncologist, I don't want to have chemotherapy, I'd rather have radiation. But no, radiation didn't work on her type of breast cancer so she didn't have that choice to make.

What do all cancers have in common? What makes a disease state actually cancer? Cancer is defined as an abnormal growth of cells which tend to proliferate in an uncontrolled way and, in some cases, to spread. Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? But what chaos those uncontrolled cells can cause in the body's delicately balanced systems, even unto death. Of course there's a whole vocabulary associated with cancer which makes it sound more scientific, more complicated to the lay person: malignant, metastasize, neoplasm, oncology, remission. It's a lingo that a cancer patient acquires very quickly, although it was part of my lexicon already. But that's what cancer boils down to, uncontrolled cell growth for one reason or another and that's what we are trying to stop when we treat cancer, with any of the means we have at hand today which we know have worked before.

For the past four year or five years, I have lived indirectly with cancer, as the Old Scientist was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer. I have watched how he handled living with cancer and his various treatments. Yes he had his annus horribilis before me and took it in his stride. Initially stunned, totally at a loss, especially as it was fairly advanced and some treatments were simply not an option for him, he gathered himself together and then seemed to treat it almost like a scientific experiment with himself as the subject.

First of all he researched it thoroughly, reading book after book on the subject, cruising the internet for even more information. I attended all of his medical appointments and read all the books too. We discussed it endlessly in the beginning. He kept the equivalent of a laboratory notebook to record his experiences/observations and his continuing blood test results are still all carefully graphed to this day. He even ran survival rate calculations for himself based on formulae he found on the internet.

He had and still has the most wonderful radiation oncologist who was willing to discuss the whole process with him in great scientific detail and he sailed through his 8 weeks of daily radiation with great confidence and not too many side effects. So far so good! He is in very good shape for his age. He tells everyone he is cured. Please God it may be so.

A year later, he had a malignant melanoma removed from his forehead in two separate operations and a little later a squamous cell carcinoma excised from his bald pate. No doubt direct results of his long ago surfer dude past in Australia! Again he took it all in his stride. Just more blips on his journey through life.

This year it is my turn for the cancer diagnosis. I think I was less stunned than more feeling it was inevitable that it would catch up with me sooner or later. When I worked in the hospital and saw some bad things happen to good people with their health, I was so grateful to be working there downstairs and not occupying one of those beds upstairs. But I used to wonder, why them and not me? When will it be my turn? Yes totally idiotic, I know. But it was a feeling I often had and I am sure I am not alone in it. At least the 'why them and not me' bit. Of course with cancer one of the stages of acceptance is 'why me', but for me, somehow it just seemed, well why not me? You are not exempt from this disease.

Surprisingly I never cried at the time. The diagnosis of cancer is pretty devastating news psychologically speaking and I don't know if some of my old health professionalism kicked in to give me some protective distance from it. Maybe I was just plain numbed by it all. I merely took one step after another and tried to talk unemotionally about it with the various health professionals I encountered.

I seem to have acquired a lot of different medical specialists over these months and unfortunately they are not always on the same page, so to speak. Most disconcerting to say the least! I am a very detail orientated person by nature and don't go with the flow very easily. I like it all spelled out, far in advance. I've had to do some adjusting in that area and learn to make allowances for the subjective areas of medicine.

Anyone who knows me well, knows I am the Queen of Google. I love the collective knowledge of the world, enthusiastically placed online by so many people. Yes, you do have to be selective but there are some amazing sites and forums out there. Initially I refused to look online, but asked my daughter and the OS to look. They filtered information to me as they judged fit. Of course I got past that relatively quickly and cruise around myself as necessary. It can be both good and bad but it never ceases to amaze me what people share on the internet. Sometimes I just shake my head but I'll talk more about that later.

Just so I don't turn anyone off from reading what I write here, if you are interested enough, I want to tell you that while it has been a somewhat emotionally draining journey these past months, so far, physically, it has not been too bad in comparison with what so many people have to deal with. So don't look in here cautiously, wondering what comes next. You've probably been worse off yourself at some time!

With this little musing aside now over, next up, as promised, the surgical experience.

One thing I learned long ago and I ask you to remember it too. Never take your good health for granted, for it can change in an instant. My wish for you all is this: Be healthy and be happy, one day at a time.

Part one of this story is here.

Locked out of House and Home --- Moggs

Posted for Moggs Tigerpaw, our roving SL and RL reporter.

Well, I guess it's ages since I last posted. Sorry everyone... So much to do, so little time. *Sigh*

Have you ever lost your house keys at a night club? Or maybe accidentally locked yourself out?

Well that can happen in Second Life as well.

I have a lovely little apartment, in a castle. I have it how I like it, my friends think it is nice. There are also lovely roof gardens and woods and rivers with a waterfall and caves. It is my home here. I feel safe in it.

Moggs's Castle home

One of the reasons is it has really good security. Maybe you remember previous posts about intruders when we were at a different location?

Anyway, one of the things that lets SL and your security recognise where you can and can’t go is what groups you are a member of. But if you join lots of groups you eventually have to leave one to make room for another.

I was at a new club I liked the other day. They have good music and great dance animations. I was chatting to the owner and he asked if I would like group membership. I did, so I went to clear out an old group I did not visit anymore... But I have not done it much recently and I was not paying enough attention.

Imagine getting you address book out in a dark club and fumbling to jot down a number. While you concentrate on chatting to the guy. That sort of gives the feeling.

I accidentally wiped my main home clan group. It was like watching a cup falling to a hard kitchen floor. Frozen, unable to move... or maybe more like seeing your keys fall out of your clutch and right into a storm drain.

I could have cried. I just knew I was locked out. I bolted for home and our own security bounced me off the property, didn’t even get the chance to be attacked by the robot guards that I also posted about before.

So there was I standing, forlorn, in my club finery on the property boundary. I sent an Instant Message to ‘A’ hoping to get it fixed, but her computer was down so I had to wait till it was picked up.

Imagine me, standing there, holding my shoes in the rain, wet hair plastered down unable to get past a high chain link fence... that’s kind of how it felt.

Well JMB came to the rescue and put me up on her couch and I had kind offers of help from others when they found out.

JMB's couch, in front of the fire, all cosy in her log cabin

After a few days ‘A’ got her machine fixed and I am able to use my apartment again now.

SL can be so like Real Life sometimes...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Annus horribilis or the Big C

I don't think the Queen would mind me borrowing that phrase from her, do you? The year 2010, Annus horribilis for JMB!

For almost all of 2010 I have been keeping this blog alive by posting only for Photo Hunt, well most weeks, just so you would know I am still around. But no, it's not been a good year for me so far and it went downhill almost from the beginning. I couldn't bring myself to write about it here before but it's starting to be more in perspective for me and it's easier to do so, looking back to the beginning from where I am now.

Thyroid cancer. Yes I have thyroid cancer. What started out as an attack of acute thyroiditis in January, such that I could not swallow or even breathe without pain, after months of various tests and an eventual biopsy, was diagnosed as thyroid cancer. Antibiotics relieved the original symptoms, but fortunately the testing went on, for what had been misdiagnosed as a multi-nodule goitre six years before, a fairly common occurrence, turned out to be a much more serious and by now very large papillary thyroid cancer.

Now people, even one doctor I know, throw around cliches like: If you are going to have cancer, Thyroid cancer is the best one to get. 97% curable. No worries. Oh? But 3% do die of it and at my age, with it now being 5cm in size and filling one lobe of the gland completely, that percentage increases to something closer to 50%. Do you know how many people telephoned me to ask did I see the article in the Globe and Mail about Thyroid cancer which suggested "wait and see" rather than immediate intervention? Oh they meant well and were trying to be encouraging I know, but it was hard to grit my teeth and not explode. That is a general article and each case is specific and different!

By this time it was early May and surgery was obviously necessary and fairly quickly. Now what would we do without surgeons? Those wonderfully skilled doctors with the latest techniques and equipment who love to solve problems and perform miracles with their scalpels. Yes they are great, saving many lives and neatly solving medical issues, even if half of them seem to have slept through How to deal with Patients 101. They have never met you before and in one relatively short appointment, they sit before you and, doing their due diligence of course, lay out all the things that will happen to you plus all the things that could possibly go wrong. Any questions? they ask as they sail out the door, leaving you stunned and spluttering. Oh and here, sign the consent form before you leave and we'll get the ball rolling. See you in the OR (operating room)! My own doctor said he was the best thyroid surgeon in town, so as long as that was true and he did his job, I could deal with the rest.

Yes surgeons are incredibly busy people, always in a rush and in a teaching hospital, as was this one, they are surrounded by students who get to examine you as well and poke and prod at your already sore neck. Well only one student that particular day, so I do exaggerate a little. He also repeated the phrase, "at your age" so often, that I felt like Methuselah by the end of it all. He reiterated how serious it was because of my age and how aggressive they were going to be in treatment, with a complete thyroidectomy only the beginning. And how true that statement has been.

Now this particular surgeon has the best medical secretary I have ever encountered. I do hope he appreciates what a gem he has for she was a pleasure to deal with and incredibly efficient and informative. The one caveat she repeated over and over was: you could always be bumped by a more urgent case, although she said you are pretty urgent yourself. So I was scheduled for June 2nd, coming to the hospital on the morning of the surgery and spending two nights in the hospital, post surgery.

Next time, the surgical experience. No, you don't have to read along. I'll forgive you if you skip the details, but it is a bit therapeutic for me to lay it out here now, so you have to forgive me for writing about it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Saturday Photo Hunt ---- Natural


One of my favourite places to visit on my annual pilgrimage to New York is the American Museum of Natural History. The beautiful stone building, which sits on the edge of Central Park, sprawls over several city blocks and is a popular tourist destination as well as a favourite with the locals.

First T. rex ever put on public display and reassembled in 1992 into a more realistic pose

A Stegosaurus, with its distinctive plated back and spiked tail,
mother and child

Do go if you ever visit New York City!


Friday, September 17, 2010

Saturday Photo Hunt --- School


Again I was stumped for this theme so I just decided to go take some quick photos. This is one of three schools my children attended growing up and the only one still left standing. It was a small school really and right at the end of our block so not far for them to walk to and fro. It backs onto the woods of a Provincial park reserve and there is a large frog pond just behind it. All in all a wonderful place to go to school.

It was recess time for one class at least and they were playing on the "toys" in the large adjacent playground and soccer field. Sorry it was a grey day so the sky is pretty washed out. Click to enlarge if you wish.


Friday, September 3, 2010

Saturday Photo Hunt ---- Hot


This is a theme that is having a second outing for us Photo Hunters and just as then, I don't have a photo of a lovely log burning fire which would be my first choice for HOT. So I will have to make do with this cup of HOT caffé latte. But how can I drink it and spoil that lovely design?