Daniel 3:17-18

Daniel 3:17-18 "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A great day, times two!

Today is my wife's 45th birthday. Happy birthday, Carla! We just finished eating her birthday coconut cream pie and sent the kids off to bed. They did well today. While Carla took me in for a visit this afternoon with my surgeon, the kids cleaned the house and decorated the ballroom with streamers and balloons. When we got home we had dinner, opened her presents, danced a bit in the ballroom and then settled in for a family movie. Not a bad night. Carla just told me that her best present of the day was having a tumor free husband. I'll explain.

Today makes three weeks out from the end of my chemo and radiation. This is when my colorectal surgeon asked to see me again. He's the one who did my rectal exam to stage the tumor in the first place—the infamous Dr. Bradford Sklow. See my Bend Over post for a description of that exam. So today was the follow up appointment to assess the effects of the chemo and radiation. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the best, I got an A+. Those 28 rounds of radiation kicked my tumor's butt right on out of mine. Take that, tumor, and good riddance!

Today I also got to ride the rectal exam table again. My surgeon went in to take a look around. He couldn't find the tumor anywhere. What is left of it looks more like an ulcer about the size of a dime. Since I started out with a two inch tumor blocking a third of my rectal circumference, that's pretty darn cool. Need I remind anyone that a dime is the smallest coin in the set? Doctor Sklow said he was very pleased with the effects of the radiation. It did exactly what they knew it could do. The results just can't be any better.

Today I am not cancer free, but I am tumor free. What an awesome way to finish phase one of my protocol. All I can say is thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you, Lord. Thank you, family and friends. Thank you, everyone at Huntsman Cancer Institute. The rest of our appointment this afternoon was spent going over the surgery, the pre-surgery prep work, and signing all of the consent forms. I go in Friday morning, December 3rd, for the procedure. Let's git 'er done!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened...

On the way to the bathroom! But before I proceed any further I need to issue a TMI warning. This is not a post for the squeamish. Actually, since I know some of my co-workers read this blog, maybe I shouldn't share this at all. But in an effort to propagate accurate information relative to rectal cancer and the accompanying side effects of its treatment, I feel it my duty to share what I know from first-hand experience. In other words I, Steve Chamberlin, am the main character in this story. None of this "I have a friend" business. Yes, it happened to me—today, errr (looking at the clock) yesterday, at work, on the way to the bathroom.

You might want to refresh your memory on some of the side effects of my treatment before I get into today's mishap. By saying mishap I am using foreshadowing. It's a literary technique. It lets the reader know what's coming beforehand. Like the music in Jaws. Da-dun... Dun-dun Dun-dun Dun-dun Dun-dun Dun-dun - toodle-oooo. You KNOW that shark is coming! Now how did we get out in the middle of the ocean? Anyway, consider reviewing two previous posts: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and Full Disclosure (just click on their name).

In the Full Disclosure post, I talk implicitly about the unmentionable side effects I encountered during chemo and radiation. I did think about editing that post and simply adding item 5 to the list. In fact, my wife mentioned the same idea. She enters into the story a little later as my trusted side kick. As in, "Who ya gonna call?!?!" Yep, more foreshadowing. An important recollection from this same post is my use and connotative definition of the word laughLaugh is often another word for "we'd really like to cry right now." It absolutely applies here as well. So let's cut to the chase.

I pooped my pants.


And I know what you're thinking. "But Steve, you're 48 years old!" Trust me. I know my age. I was present for all 48 of my birthday celebrations. Suffice to say my wife had to console me more than once that this wasn't my fault. But I'm getting ahead of myself. [Cue guitar music here.] "Let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start."

The most annoying side effect from my radiation is partial incontinence. My poor bum got a daily dose of radiation for six weeks after all. The surrounding tissue and nerves got rather fried—making bowel movements not only painful, but hard to predict and control. I went from being able to vacate my storage tank at my convenience to having a thirty second to one minute notice. Translation—when I first get the notion to go, it's time to go. Now. Get out of my way. So far I've had some close calls, but only one miss before today. That's item 3 on the list by the way. Fortunately I was at home for the first one. I was not so lucky for mishap number two! (I just love double entendres.)

It happened all of a sudden. I was busy at my desk when I received the BM notification. Of course this one came with an urgent flag. I rose from my chair on recognition and headed towards my office door. And just like that it manifested itself—all on its own, mid stride, soft and warm. On reaching the door, I just stopped in my tracks and closed it, waiting as the horror wafted over me.

As for what happened next, why I called my wife of course. The words "for better or worse" come to mind about now. God love me, she was home! Carla rallied to bring me a change of clothes with a wash cloth and towel. My office be praised, they have a locker room on site with showers. So thirty eternal minutes later I was able to get cleaned up and back to work. I gave Carla a heartfelt thank you kiss before she drove off into the sunset. OK, it was actually early afternoon so there was no sunset, but aren't heros supposed to ride off into the sunset?

After today I officially relegate rectal cancer a pain in the butt. Butt, it does make for some great stories!

Just to be on the safe side!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cancer Doesn't Cure Anything

When I first got my diagnosis of cancer I naively thought I would wake up the next morning and somehow, magically maybe, be a better person. Turns out that's a false assumption. The very next morning I was the very same person, faults and all. Bummer.

So what about the saying, "That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger?" To that I say, "Surviving cancer is not my first choice for getting stronger!" I wouldn't wish cancer on my worst enemy. When it's do or die, most people choose do. They want to live. In that sense cancer patients aren't really heros, they simply do what it takes each day to stay alive. Now to be fair, some do it with more finesse and grace than others.  And no matter their personal preference for dealing with cancer, all cancer patients are left forever changed.

But cancer doesn't cure anything. In fact, from a medical perspective it destroys everything. So what good can cancer do? It can provide an opportunity for growth. Something to smash against while smoothing our rough edges. Being a better person requires opposition. Cancer provides a capable opponent to help us hone our character and qualities. God often uses such trials to the benefit of his children. I find hope in these words attributed to Robert Keen (ca. 1787):

     When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
     My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
     The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
     Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

I really do want to be a better person. But I don't get to be a better person just because I have cancer. It's what I do with my cancer that matters. My wife reminded me today that I am not the same man she married. She assured me that I am much improved. So I am already better than I was. And in only 18 years! That's encouraging. By the grace of God my cancer may yet prove useful. Since I am already fighting my cancer, perhaps I can get more from the fight. A little poem I learned in high school comes to mind.

     Good, better, best,
     Never let it rest,
     'Til the good is better
     And the better best.

Why did I get cancer? Why not? Maybe cancer can help me be a better person. One thing's for sure, I won't be alone in my quest.

     Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
     For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
     I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
     Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
     (How Firm a Foundation, text attr. to Robert Keen, ca. 1787)

With God and all of you on my side I'll get the better of you yet, cancer!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Seven Days to Better Health

What a difference a week makes! Take every side effect from the chemo and radiation and cut it in half. That's about where I am at today. It's nice to be able to say, "I am back to just being tired." My energy is doing much better. I can get an 8 hour shift in and only be tired when I get home (as apposed to falling asleep right away). Very nice. It is emotionally empowering having the chemo and radiation behind me.

This afternoon I had a followup appointment with my radiation oncologist. He was very pleased with how I am healing up. Which basically means my butt is getting better. Yay! Also, all indications are that the treatment did it's job. Double yay! We beat up my tumor! He also said I handled the treatment extremely well considering what they threw at me. While I'm glad for the compliment, it left me wondering what other cancer patients experience during their treatment. Holy moly!

My date for surgery is penciled in for Friday, December 3rd. That is the week after Thanksgiving. I will meet with my surgeon on Thursday, October 27th, to go over the results of the chemo and radiation as well as to confirm my date for surgery. I like the date. It will allow me to enjoy Thanksgiving and be recovered enough from surgery to enjoy Christmas. Let's think of my surgery as an early Christmas present. I'll donate my rectum to science and in return I'll be cancer free!
Merry Christmas, everybody!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Measuring the Marigolds

Me: (humming)
     Two and two are four
     Four and four are eight
     Eight and eight are sixteen
     Sixteen and sixteen are thirty-two

You: Hey, what's up, Steve? You're in a good mood.

Me: Yep. Had a good day at work.

You: Cool. How's that?

Me: Well I just finished six weeks of chemo and radiation, right?

You: Sure. Must have been tough.

Me: Yeah, it had it's moments. I didn't like missing so much work.

You: So what made today special?

Me: Simple addition.

You: Huh?

Me: Four and four are eight, buddy. I just worked my first 8 hour shift in over a month!

You: Congratulations!

Me: Thanks.

Both: (humming together)
     Two and two are four
     Four and four are eight
     Eight and eight are sixteen
     Sixteen and sixteen are thirty-two

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Full Disclosure

Carla and I realized the other day that there are a few side effects and incident mishaps from the chemo and radiation that we haven't shared with everyone. You could call them the unmentionables. Some made us wince, others made us sad, the rest just made us laugh. Laugh is often another word for "we'd really like to cry right now." In an effort to share these experiences fairly we thought we'd at least list them here.


Don't worry if you can't read the list. It just means you are not one of my doctors or nurses. They have a unique way of getting every last detail out of you and even reading between the lines. I was hoping to keep at least a few things to myself. Is nothing sacred? Oh well. Now I guess everyone gets to know.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Everybody cover your ears.

Wooooo Hooooooo!!!!!!!
(Thanks for the woo hoo, Aaron.)
OK. You can uncover them now. But why the cheer, you ask? Easy. We made it through my chemo and radiation treatments yesterday! Take that, cancer!! Every minute I feel myself getting better and stronger. At least that's what I'm thinking in my head. My body hasn't caught on yet. I offer the last 24 hours as evidence.

Of all the side effects listed for my chemo and radiation there were still a few we never encountered. Take constipation for example. At 1:30 Thursday morning we checked off vomiting. No kidding. I went 27 of 28 treatments without throwing up once. So what better to do on the last day than to puke my guts out.

I didn't feel like going in to work after that but I went anyway. I'm burning through my sick leave faster than it's accruing. By the time I got to work my feet decided to flair up making me hobble to and from the restroom all day. I'm either at my desk or in the restroom when I'm at work so that's why I mention my hobble path. Isn't there a song about a crooked man who walked a crooked mile? I know there's a song about diarrhea.

Anyway, the icing on the cake came right after dinner last night. No, I'm not talking about dessert. I had exactly three more chemo pills to swallow. We cheered as a family on seeing the empty pill bottle and then dad, that's me, threw the pills into his mouth and chased them down with a half glass of water. It's important that I mention the half glass of water because the glass really was only half full. After the chasing the pills down with water part of the story the glass was now empty. That's also important to know because of what happened next.

The last pill got stuck in my throat half way down. Go figure. Now had the glass been full of water this is no problem. It was trying to get my wife's attention to refill my glass while not gaging on the pill that makes this a story at all. My kids are watching me choke while my wife runs for more water. I just want all three pills to stay down because I'm not up to taking any more, thank you very much. Nice way to end my treatments. Of 196 pills swallowed over the last six weeks, what are the odds of the last pill being the first and only one to stick in my throat? It kinda chokes me up just thinking about it.

Hopefully you're on my side by now when I say that the last 24 hours have conspired against me. As the final piece of evidence please note the time of this entry. I'm still up. And why is that? Because I've been running into the bathroom every 30 minutes for most of the night. I should be completely empty by now and I am certainly tired. Let's see if I can get a bit of sleep now since I have to be back at the hospital by 11:00 for another test. Good night, everybody. Thanks for all of your support these last two months and thanks for celebrating with me on the end of round one. Next up, surgery.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The good is that tomorrow is my last day of chemo and radiation. Can you say, "One more day!"

The bad is that after six weeks of daily chemo and daily radiation my poor body is shot. As in no energy—zero, zip, nada. I am good for about four to six hours when I wake up in the morning and then it's nap time. My neighbor, Mark, drives me in to work if I'm up to it. We decide each morning. If I don't go to work then I crash on the couch until time for treatment. If I do go to work then Carla, my wife, picks me up at 2:00 in the afternoon and takes me to Huntsman Cancer Institute for my radiation. Then I go home and sleep until dinner. Usually I fall asleep in the car coming home. So that is the good and the bad.

The ugly is the angry red rash on my forearms and hands, my blistered and sensitive feet, my swollen fingers and toes, my raw throat, my chapped lips, my sore bum (inside and out), my upset stomach, and my overall achy body. We won't talk about what comes out of my digestive tract. Just two nights ago Carla let out a gasp as she went to apply lotion to my backside. It gets red from radiation burn. When I asked about her reaction she said my skin had split vertically opening up a crack just below my tail bone. That means I have a crack inside my plumber's crack. Pretty cool. Maybe with a hand mirror I could see it too. I tried to calm Carla by saying that cancer just cracks me up. She didn't appreciate the humor this time. Bless her heart, she has fought for six weeks to keep my side effects at bay only to have a new one show up in the final week of treatment.

At this point I think I'll throw in a bonus to the good, the bad, and the ugly. How about the pretty?

My wife is pretty amazing, pretty awesome, pretty incredible, and pretty darn persistent when it comes to getting me through this cancer adventure. I'll even say that she is just plain pretty. It is pretty comforting having a companion, helpmeet, nurse, massage therapist, and friend for a wife. Since she can't take the cancer away, she is doing her absolute best to minimize everything else. And she's doing a pretty fine job. Her love and devotion to me and our children paints a pretty picture indeed. I love you, pretty woman!