Weight No More – Part 2

Erica Salad

All salads and no alcohol makes Erica a dull wife.

I had another appointment with my oncologist.  Erica accompanied me because she had some questions and concerns she wanted to discuss with my doctor.  I think my lifestyle changes were now affecting her quality of life.  She has to live with me and that can be a challenge in and of itself.  Now she has to, while eating salads every night…sober!

This was just another routine check-up where the nurses take my blood and check my vitals.  Then we would sit down with the oncologist so she could track my progress and see how I was doing.  Most of the conversations with the oncologist are just us talking to the back of her head.  She’s normally looking at what keys to press while she slowly types her notes in the system.  Occasionally she’ll glance over to let us know she’s listening.

Erica read online, it wouldn’t kill me if I had an occasional drink.  My doc agreed. She didn’t really seem to care.  Upon hearing this great news, I whipped out a beer I had been saving for this very moment.  I reached over and snatched a pen off my doctor’s lab coat so I could use it to poke a hole in the can.  Right as I was going to shotgun my beer, she stopped me and clarified: It’s ok to have a drink – just do it in moderation.  I casually hid the beer behind my back, slid down into my chair and politely listened to what else she had to say.  Basically, having a drink is a comfort.  With a tough journey ahead, it’s important to find comforts  – wherever I can.

Then Erica asked her if I should be dieting right now.  The typing stopped.  She took off her reading glasses, walked over and smacked the back of my head.  Ok, she didn’t really slap me, but that’s the kind of look she gave me.  She asked (as if I was an idiot), “Why would you be doing that?!”  I think this was her way of saying I should have some carbs.  This was the most emotion she’s ever shown.  She went on to explain: I shouldn’t be cutting back on eating – especially now.  If anything, I should be trying to gain weight.  I need to eat while I can, because later on, I might not be able to hold down any food – let alone have an appetite.  Basically, chemo can wear a person down.  The more rounds of chemo, the more taxing it can get on the body.  She continued rambling on and on about some important safety crap, but all I heard was, “stuff your face, you lil bitch!”  Before she said another word, I was out the door, sitting at a booth in IHOP, ordering breakfast.

Corned beef hash and eggs.  Yes, my first indulgent meal in weeks was pan fried dog food.  That wasn’t an accident – my mother’s Hawaiian.  Hormel has always been a trusted brand in this family.  Not so fast, I wasn’t finished ordering.  I wanted carbs on top of carbs.  Hash browns and a tall stack of pancakes rounded out my first real meal.  When they brought my food, I stood up to eat.  I took a pancake in each hand, rolled them up like taquitos, dunked them in water and shoved them down my throat.  A crowd of onlookers watched in amazement, as I put on a Kobayashi-like performance.  About 12 seconds later I was finished.  The table next to me looked like the front row of a Gallagher show.  After starving myself during four of the shittiest weeks of my life, I think it was warranted.

I felt like I just received a doctor’s note to participate in the Glutton Bowl.  For the next few days I was on a mission to gain back the weight I lost.  I did a complete 180 with my diet.  Still keeping the focus and discipline I showed when I was eating clean and healthy – only now, it was fattening and delicious.  It felt great to eat like a morbidly obese normal person again.  I was feasting on nothing but empty calories.  Milkshakes and pancakes became the staple of my new diet.

My new diet sent me on a new journey: to find the best pancakes.  I must’ve eaten at every breakfast spot within a 15-mile radius.  When I exhausted all those options, I started working on my own recipes.  I love to cook, but recent tumors kept me out of the kitchen.  Now I had the time (not working) and motivation (get fat) to cook again.  I don’t hold anything back when I cook – I’m very passionate about it.  It felt good being back in the kitchen, putting my heart and soul into making the best god damn milkshake ever!  Cooking was just what I needed.  It gave me a hobby, but more importantly, it cleared my mind.  Now, I was thinking about pancake batters…not my homeboy crying like a baby.

Resizing my belt is what finally opened my eyes to what everyone else already saw.  I didn’t need another one of these wake-up calls, so every morning I would jump on the scale.  I became obsessed with my weight.  It became my measuring stick to see how “healthy” I was.  I had to gain some weight because I didn’t know what the coming treatments would do to my body or appetite.  Besides, being that skinny can’t be healthy for anyone – let alone a cancer patient.  155 ain’t right…just ask BJ.

Even though I got my doctor’s blessing, I wasn’t going to drink caffeine or alcohol until I was finished with chemo.  This was a concession for my personal challenge.  For whatever twisted reasons I had, I still wanted to test myself in some way.  Six rounds of chemo might be tough, but no beer or coffee might be Jeff’s Greatest Challenge.

I accepted the fact that I didn’t know how I got this tumor.  Instead of feeling guilty, I put that energy into trusting my doctor and putting faith in modern medicine.  I trusted R-CHOP was going to do its job – the rest was up to me.  With five more treatments on my calendar – it was important I stay positive.  With hair loss, appetite loss, fangs or whatever else chemo does to a person, the only thing I could really control was my attitude.

I was officially done dieting.  I came to my senses and realized carrots and kale weren’t enough to get rid of this tumor.  I had a new outlook on “healthy.”  The lean and clean food I was putting in my body made me look sick.  I’m not saying the diet wasn’t right, it just wasn’t right for me – right now.  Aside from the fact that I gorged for a couple days, I eventually settled down and ate sensibly.  I didn’t need my chemo summer turning into My Diabetic Fall.  But, if push came to shove, I wouldn’t hesitate to dive into some chili cheese fries for some comforting.

 

Weight No More – Part 1

Moby and Friends

Apparently, a side effect of chemo is looking like Moby.

It was two weeks after my first chemo treatment and I felt fine – now what?  I was just sitting back, playing the side effects waiting game.

I was getting in the shower one morning when I noticed these rashes on my legs.  They just appeared overnight – a cluster of acne-like breakouts on my thighs and side butt.  This startling discovery wasn’t supposed to be one of the side effects from the particular chemo I was on.  Awesome! I got lymphoma and a rash!  Then I remembered a little warning label I ignored a couple weeks prior.

In my attempts at a healthier lifestyle, I adopted an alkaline diet.  I just so happened to have alkaline water ionizer packed away in my garage.  Typical wedding gift.  I thought it would compliment my diet, so I hooked it up.  I’m too lazy to look I’ll spare you the boring details of what exactly an alkaline water ionizer does, but basically it takes your tap water and makes it gooder.  It’s supposed to have many health benefits, just don’t drink it with vitamins and medications, so said the warning label.  I disregarded the message because I didn’t think water could do much harm.  With the exorbitant amounts of medications I was taking, apparently this water can give you an ass full of rashes.  Needless to say, I packed up my alkaline water ionizer and put it right back in the garage.

Aside from the rash, the only other physical change was my weight loss. This stupid tumor just showed up in my chest – unannounced.  None of the doctors we spoke to ever offered any insight as to how it got there.  They left me to come up with my own conclusions.  I couldn’t help but think I was responsible for getting myself into this lyphomic mess.  Something I was doing or not doing was creating an environment for tumors to flourish.  I had my ideas on why, but one stood out:  I wasn’t taking care of my body properly.  I was not putting the right things in my body (and putting in too much of the wrong things) and now I was paying the consequences.  That’s why I decided to switch things up and go on the diet.  Eating healthy, nutritious food made me feel like I was now doing the right things for my body. I also stopped drinking caffeine and alcohol.  I assumed they weren’t helping my cause either.

I wanted to be prepared for the test that chemo was about put my body through.  I had no idea how my body would react to the six rounds of treatments.  Making these lifestyle changes seemed like logical steps to getting my body prepared for this journey.

With all the ups and downs this tumor has put me through, I had every reason to find refuge in a cheeseburger – but I didn’t.  I treated the diet like a test.  If you’ve ever dieted, you know how much of it is in your head.  You have to be disciplined.  I wanted to see if I could stick with this healthy lifestyle throughout all my treatments – for my own peace of mind.  It made perfect sense:  I’ll torture myself while I’m being poisoned.  I didn’t look at cancer as the end of the world, why should a little diet be any different?

Everyone noticed I was losing a significant amount of weight – except for me.  With so much chaos over the past few weeks, I wasn’t paying attention to my figure.  I thought I was getting a little thinner, but I just assumed it was part of the transformation into a cancer patient.  I would get weighed every time I was at the doctor’s office, but I never looked at what the scale said.  Maybe I should’ve.   It wasn’t until one morning when I finally noticed just how serious my weight loss had gotten.

I was putting on my shorts, but they kept falling off my waist.  Now in my younger days I used to sport a sag, but it ain’t ‘92, so I threw on a belt.  I never needed a belt with these shorts, but now, I looked like the “after” on a weight loss ad.  Jared from Subway would be so proud, but this was no cause for celebration.  I didn’t realize I lost that much weight.  Even with the buckle in the last hole on my belt, I had room to spare.  I ended up punching a new hole in the leather strap so my belt could work on my new 30” waist.  Looking like a cholo with my oversized shorts all bunched up at the waist, I threw on my locs and stepped on the scale to see what was really going on.

I stepped on the scale and it read, “155″.   I was shocked.   The last time I weighed this much, I was a scrawny kid in high school…20 years ago.  This diet was now making me delusional, because my immediate reaction to seeing my weight was, “Holy Shit!  I’m BJ Penn!”  OK, maybe not exactly the young, up and coming, UFC lightweight.  More like the older BJ Penn…at weigh-ins:  dehydrated, shaking on the scale because he just sweated out 25 lbs. in the sauna, looking like he’d murder someone for a burrito…if only he had the energy to.  I dropped 20 lbs. in just a few weeks.  I may have been overlooking what people were saying about my diet, but I couldn’t ignore the numbers on the scale.  Maybe this diet wasn’t “healthy” after all.

 

CLICK HERE for Part 2

Sucker Punch

Aside

Late June – Early July

I was in the carpool lane on cruise control.  Feeling like this whole chemo journey was going to be smooth sailing from here on out, but I forgot to check my blind spot.  I still had challenges to overcome, like being on some stupid diet, right in the middle of Food Network:  Grilling Week.  I don’t deserve this!

I finally felt comfortable telling everyone outside of my inner circle about my diagnosis.  I feel awkward calling someone up just to tell them I have cancer, but I’d be pissed if the tables were turned and a friend didn’t tell me.  I announced this news on Facebook to a lukewarm reception.  I assume everyone didn’t want to “Like” me having lymphoma or they thought my humor had reached a new low.

I understand cancer doesn’t have the best PR, so dropping this news on someone can lead to stiff conversations.  What do you say to someone that has a tumor sitting in their chest?  Does it hurt?  How long do you have to live?  Is this a bad time to tell you that you still owe me money?  I’m sure there are plenty of thoughts running through the other person’s head.  Usually everyone treads lightly.  Having swum these waters so many times before, I usually know what to expect:

“How are you feeling?” (Please say, “good.”  Please say, “good.”)

Seeing someone struggling with this news isn’t much easier on me.  Luckily, I have the gift for making light of any conversation.  Translation:  I’m immature.  I see that I can take a load off everyone’s shoulders just by letting them see that I’m still the same person…sans eyebrows.

Since my diagnosis, everyone’s been eager to help out.  Since I’m such a pushover, I usually try everything everyone suggests.  I can hear my sisters now, “You just like the attention!”  I hate to say it, because I know everyone just wants to help me, but sometimes it can get overwhelming.  Whether their medical license is hanging on the wall behind their desk or not, everyone’s prescribing me something.  Giving me cancer fighters like green tea, broccoli, apricot seeds, millets, you name it.  I didn’t check the background of their sources, but I’m sure they’re all legit.  Then there are the pamphlets, books, websites, and movies that everyone wants me to check out.  No wonder I’m on disability, being popular is a full time job.

Everyone reacts differently to the news of my diagnosis.  Here are some of the more memorable ones:

  •  I was asked to send an email to my dad’s friend, authorizing him to pray for me.  I guess God doesn’t want a lawsuit on his hands.
  • My friend’s nice, Guatemalan mom was very concerned about me.  English is her second language.  What I could make out from our conversation was, she had this macheen that makes yuices that are bery, bery good for me.  She kept insisting I go over to her house.  That’s when my Spidey Senses started tingling, warning me it’s a multi-level marketing trap.  I just pictured myself getting ambushed by some Tahitian Noni sales reps in her living room.  I know this only makes me sound like a total dick, but I had enough appointments on my calendar, none of which were for a financial freedom seminar.
  • Then there was the time my landlord came over.  I told her I have lymphoma and her jaw dropped, along with her purse as she stood in the doorway.  She gave me a long hug and then asked if I had any olive oil.  Huh?  She blessed the oil, dabbed some on her finger and marked a cross on the front door.  Then she took the holy oil, said another prayer and marked a cross on my forehead.  If the evil spirits make it past the front door, I’m sure to scare them off with the cross of pimples on my forehead.

This whole journey has been a vignette of unpredictable moments, covering just about every emotion on the spectrum.  Some have been easier for me to handle than others.

It was my friend Mikey’s birthday.  Yes, he’s a grown man and yes, we call him Mikey.  No one seemed to care it was his birthday, so we had to lie and tell everyone that the Cancer Kid was going to be there, signing autographs of his PET Scan.  The usual crew was there for the Sunday BBQ:  Mikey and his wife, Audrey, Regan and his wife, Niny, and Ian.  Ian and I have been close since high school.  He’s a real friend.  At least that’s what I keep telling myself.  I must be a masochist or something because you take a certain amount of abuse being friends with Ian.  Actually, that’s just the nature of our relationship.  Talking shit is the glue that keeps us together.

Mikey's Birthday - Me, Mikey and Ian

Later that day, Ian’s mom, Teresa, came to pick him up.  Yes, he’s a grown man and yes, his mom still picks him up when necessary.  Ian and I stepped outside when she got there.  She jumped out of her car and greeted me with a big, “mijo” and an even bigger hug.  She wanted to know how I was doing, so we stood outside as I read her the script to my excellent adventure.

I was a few minutes into the details when I realized Ian was rather quiet.  He had his back to us the entire time.  He turned around and I could see why he was so quiet.  His sunglasses weren’t enough to hide the tears.  His lips pursed together tightly as the rest of his mouth quivered uncontrollably.  He was bawling.  Tears racing down his face faster than he could wipe them away.  And I haven’t even gotten to the good part yet!

It took a second to register.  I paused and looked at him with a perplexed look, tilting my head like a dog does to better understand the situation.  Where was this coming from?  Then I started to panic a little.  This could get out of control and I wasn’t about to have a meltdown right in the middle of the street.  Keep your composure.  Breathe.  Be cool.  Tranquilo.  Why the fuck is he crying?!

I rushed through the rest of my story.  I just wanted to get back inside.  You know, where I could cry like a man in private.  I gave her a hug good bye, avoided any eye contact with Ian and ran inside.

I went to tell the others what just happened.  I closed the door behind me and as soon as I turned around, Erica asked, “what’s wrong?”   Apparently, I’m no Phil Ivey.  No problem.  Just explain that Ian was outside crying like a baby.  Yes, the same Ian that was just in here farting.  I started to explain, but I couldn’t.  Conflicted between breathing and speaking.  The tear levels in my eyes started rising.  I was struggling to make any sense – repeating the first words over and over.  Then the dams broke.  It all came pouring out on the living room floor.  Erica wrapped her arms around me and did what she does so well – she comforted me.  Her voice turned into whispers that I could feel.  I closed my eyes, alone in the dark as the soothing echoes of “it’s okay, baby” pulled me back to reality.

Mikey and Audrey enter and surround Jeff and Erica completing a group hug.  FADE IN:  SARA MCLACHLAN.  Camera pulls away to medium shot.  Jeff appears to say something funny.  The group laughs and wipes the tears under their eyes.  END SCENE.  Cut to ABC Family Originals promo.

This wasn’t the ending to my day I had anticipated.  Getting sucker punched in the heart by the person I least expected.  Maybe he was just taking the drunken, “I love you man” to a whole new level.  Whatever it was, it messed me up.  Seeing Ian like that was not easy to get over.  I would replay this episode back in my mind and each time I would immediately tear up.

It’s not easy wearing this “C” across my chest.  It can affect those around me in many different ways.  Seeing someone you care about in an unfortunate circumstance can be painful, but there’s a realness I admire.  It can rip a person down to the core – exposing a tenderness they would normally hide.  It can awaken nurturing instincts you might not even know you posses.  There’s a juxtaposition of raw, visceral reactions that are terrifying and beautiful all at the same time.  In a way, I feel fortunate to be able to experience this, but then again…I still have cancer.

Ignite the Fire

Aside

June 21, 2011

I’ve been out of work for the past two weeks.  Everyone at work had been following my situation closely.  I just didn’t know how close. 

I’m not one to openly talk about my problems – even if it was something as serious as getting cancer. I don’t talk much in general, let alone talk about myself (aside from this blog, where I do nothing but talk about myself.)  Plus, I’m actually kind’ve shy (aside from what my pictures on Facebook would have you believe.)  I tend to internalize my thoughts and feelings. 

I only told a few people at work about my situation.  Not that I didn’t want to tell everyone, but I didn’t want to burden people with such a heavy conversation when all they’re trying to do is get some coffee.  Besides, it’s hard to turn water cooler talk into a discussion about my health.  I imagined the conversation going down like this: 

Me:               “Yo!  What up son?”
Coworker:      “Why are you talking like that?”
Me:               “I love my wife.”
Coworker:      “I KNOW.  That’s all you ever talk about.  Now, get out of my way.”
Me:               “I have a huge tumor in my chest!” 
Coworker:      Shocked face
Me:               “What are you doing for lunch?”

I didn’t get the pamphlet on how to strike up this conversation, so I just didn’t say anything.  I tried not to wear this burden on my sleeve.  I wasn’t walking around looking like Eeyore, hoping someone would ask me, “What’s wrong?”  I just went about my business, which ironically, is working on chemotherapy websites.

I work for a healthcare advertising agency.  Most of our business comes from pharmaceutical companies.  I work on nothing but chemotherapy drugs.  Coincidence?  I’m glad they transferred me off the Atripla account. When I first started working there I was blown away by how intelligent, artistic and talented everyone was.  I was way out of my league.  Everyone there is passionate about what they do and it shows in the work they create.  It also shows in how they care about one of their own.          

The few people that I did tell at work were Shane, Anisa and Jill.  I kept them in the loop as much as possible.  Shane asked me what I wanted or needed, because people at work wanted to do something for me.  I no longer know how to ask for gifts, unlike my father.  I used to have this talent.  Somewhere after Christmas of ’91, my cunning for demanding gifts suddenly diminished.  I didn’t want to inconvenience anyone with my troubles.  Besides, I didn’t know what to pack for my chemo adventure.  What do chemo patients need anyways, a barf bag and a Snuggie?  I just asked for some soup. 

Erica talked to Anisa about coming over with Shane to drop off some food that my coworkers made for us.  It was nice to have some friends over and catch up.  I could use the break from the medical monotony.  We cleaned the house and Erica made some spaghetti.  Needle scratching record.  Erica cooking?  This should’ve been a dead giveaway that something was up.  It never dawned on me as suspicious, even though they were supposedly coming over to drop food off.  I’ve been a little rusty lately.  My brain went on vacation about three weeks back.  All thinking was handled by my doctors, not me. 

Shane and Anisa came over after work that night.  They both stormed into the house and gave me huge hug.  They handed me a poster, some presents and nothing resembling a pot of soup.  What gives?!  The one thing I ask for and they can’t even do that.  Chumps!

Click on images to enlarge.

 My animosity soon turned to lament when they handed me the poster, a “get well soon” card.  This card is my coworkers in a nutshell (aside from the pictures of me being a jackass of course.)  The card was thoughtful, touching, collaborative and creative.  Everyone should experience something as special as this at least once in their lifetime.  It was too much, seeing everyone’s words of support and well wishes.  It made my heart melt.  If nobody was around, I would’ve withered into a puddle of tears on the dining room floor.  Nevertheless, I kept my composure, but only because I had some gifts to open up.  What came next blew me away, but I shouldn’t have been surprised considering who it came from.

 

As if an iPad 2 wasn’t enough, they also started a meal program for me.  They all picked different days to bring food over to me.  Ridiculous, right?! 

That night, I sent an email to all my friends at work, letting them know how angry I was because they did too much and I didn’t deserve it…I also thanked them.  What they might not know is how moved I was.  That night I sat in my bed thinking about the card, the gifts and how fortunate I am.  I was completely overwhelmed.  It’s a weird Catch 22 – going through something so unfortunate to feel so special.  Although I was just barreled over with a flash flood of love and support, it lifted me up and gave me more strength.  Suddenly, I felt like a general with an army of warriors behind me.  With my war paint on, I trotted on horseback and addressed the battalion behind me, “They may take my hair, but they will never take my iPad!”    

If you thought I’ve had a good attitude throughout my whole ordeal, maybe this gives you some insight as to why.  You can see the incredible support system I have.  When you look at me and the challenge I’m up against, you’re not looking at one person taking this on.  You’re looking at an army fighting together. 

But with this benefit, there’s pressure to beat this thing for everyone who is supporting me.  It’s a heavy burden when you look at it this way, but I’m up for the challenge.  I want to do it for everyone.  They’re the ones lifting me up and giving me strength.  Now, if I could just figure out how to share the chemo side effects with my army. 

A very special thanks to Anisa, Jill and Shane for all you have done for me.  You have been my biggest supporters at the office.  You made all of this possible and it means so much to me.  I can’t thank you enough.

Epiphany

June 20, 2011

“Stand up straight!,” my mini-sized mother would yell at me when I was a kid.  She always followed with a slap to the lower back and some supplemental instructions, “chest out, shoulders back!”  At 4’ 10”, she knew every trick in the book to gaining an edge in the height department.  Of course, I ignored all these lessons, but these past four weeks have been nothing but posturing.  I’ve been carrying the burden of a tumor and all the baggage that comes along with it.  Weighing heavy on my shoulders, I’ve had no choice but to be strong – stand up straight.

I had a follow up meeting with my oncologist.  This will be a routine meeting every week after my treatment to check on my symptoms and progress.  I will have 6-8 chemo cycles, depending on their effectiveness.  After my third treatment, I will have a CT scan of my chest to see if we’re making any progress.  After my sixth treatment, I will get a full body PET scan.  If the tumor’s still there, the doctor will opt for radiation or more chemo.  I will have blood tests every week to check my white blood cell count.  Chemo pretty much just kills everything – even my disease fighting white blood cells.  If they go below a minimum level, I will have to miss chemo until they return to a safe level.  She also explained that she doesn’t feel surgery would be necessary.  I should see results right away, maybe even as soon as after my first treatment.  The fluid around my lungs and heart should begin to subside.  Only a few days after my first treatment and I’ve already noticed significant improvements in my breathing.  The chest pains have eased up too.  Maybe this stuff actually does more than fry the hair off your head.  No more tests and guessing.  We now have the map of my journey.

Ever since this journey began, I’ve never had the Nancy Kerrigan taking a pipe to the knee reaction.  There are things in life you can control.  I recognized that this wasn’t one of them.  No one gave me the Dummy’s Guide to Avoiding Tumors in the Chest, so I don’t know how I could’ve prevented this from happening.  I’ve never felt sorry for myself.  I was 11 years old when my parents got divorced.  I understood from a young age that life can be cruel.  It doesn’t always go the way you want it to.  Maybe this was another life-lesson that prepared me for the challenge I face today.

Sure this has been an unfortunate turn of events in my life, but I felt I had plenty to be thankful for.  Whenever I look at my situation, I always think it pales in comparison to what others are dealing with.  Sure it’s cancer, but it isn’t in my lungs, kidneys, pancreas, etc.  I don’t have to have any body parts surgically removed.  I can’t begin to imagine what emotional trauma a woman would go through after a mastectomy or a hysterectomy.  I have my age on my side.  I would much rather battle this at 34 than at 64.  I may have fast food tendencies, but for the most part I’m healthy.  I have a great support system – I have a lot of people I can bitch at when all else fails.  Plus, all my test results proved to be more good news.  We were only dealing with the tumor in my chest.  Non-Hodgkins is supposed to be very treatable.  All of these factors had me thinking this was going to be a piece of cake.  Then I had my first treatment and it all came crashing down on me.  As the chemo was running its course through my body, it may have poisoned my mind more than anything.  The thought of having to go through all these treatments and taking all these pills was overwhelming.  Train of good thought – derailed.

Read this next part in Morgan Freeman’s voice:

Jeff looked up at the road to recovery and became dwarfed by the mountain of treatments, doctor appointments and pills that piled up in front of him.  Unable to look past this obstacle, he asked himself, “Would this ever be over?”  All he wanted to do was burry himself in a hole, only to crawl out and return to the rest of the world when he was healthy.  Unfortunately, his PPO didn’t cover this kind of treatment.  There was no detour around this mountain.  He had to face this challenge head on.  It was then he realized his attitude was the only variable that he could control.  This was possibly the most important moment of his journey.  It was time to get busy living or get busy dying.

Ok, that last line was to see if you were still using Morgan Freeman’s voice.

I had an epiphany, a moment of clarity, the skies parted and angels sang.  I hate to sound cliché, but it finally made more sense than ever, “attitude is everything.”  Getting past this is going to take some manning-up.  I put my feelings and emotions in check.  More importantly, I accepted it.  There’s no magical flute that can warp me past this level.  Yes, I’m going to be pumped full of chemicals till I’m sick.  Many people have gone on to live fulfilling lives without eyebrows.  I told myself another old cliché, “this is gonna suck ass,” but it’s not the end of the world.  It’s not even a whole year.  I’ve stayed with girlfriends that are possibly worse than cancer, for longer than this.  I trusted my healthcare team has me on the best plan to beat this.  I now knew exactly what my treatment schedule looked like.  I started making plans for when I was going to be healthy again.  Like, filming that Eye of the Tiger montage of me running on the beach I’ve always wanted.  This new outlook gave me clarity and confidence.  All of a sudden, that mountain became nothing but a speed bump on my road to recovery.  Chest out, shoulders back, stand up straight – I was ready to kick cancer’s ass.

Coming Soon!  Special edition: “Quit Being A Little Bitch” Be Heald bracelets.

 

First Chemo Treatment

June 17, 2011

Opening day for my chemo summer felt like a win – I didn’t notice any physical side effects from the Rituxan.  The coach’s locker room speech after the game was tough to listen to.  It was taxing on the mind, thinking about all the drugs I have to take in order to get through this.  As soon as my mind starts to wander, the coach smacks his hands together and tells me to get back on the bus.  We got an early game tomorrow.

We headed back to the office the next morning.  We were short a few players: only Erica and I went for today’s trip.  I started the day with some breakfast – a real veteran move.  Followed up with a 100 mg of most offensive pills in the game, the “P” in “R-CHOP”, prednisone.  It’s like scientists found a way to concentrate the bitter taste of orange juice after brushing your teeth and stuffed it into a pill.  The taste instantly sticks to your tongue and leaves a nasty residue that doesn’t wash off.  The taste of these pills would make Jager a refreshing pallet cleanser.

Jojo came and got me from the waiting room.  I took the same seat in the corner.  She had to start me on a fluid bag before my first serving of chemo cocktail.  I then realized we never talked about what to do about my future brood.  Erica and I don’t have any kids, but our mothers are dying for us to we would love to in the near future.  We just found out two days ago I would be starting chemo and we overlooked some minor details.  Like, can we have kids after chemo?  Do I need to freeze my little swimmers before the chemo drowns them?

I asked Jojo.  Her head tilted back and her eyes widened.  “Yeah, you should do that,” she tells us in a bit of shock.  Probably something we should have taken care of before my arm was hooked up to an IV, seconds away from starting on my first chemo bag.  We started to panic, but luckily for us, there just so happened to be a fertility clinic conveniently located down the hall.  Coincidence?

This clinic was our only hope.  We didn’t exactly have time to read Yelp reviews of nearby sperm banks. The fate of our children’s lives rested on the clinic accepting deposits today.

I finished up on the fluid bag while Erica talked to the fertility clinic.  Jojo needed us to hurry so we could finish the chemo today, since it was Friday.  It was go time…again!  Speed up the camera and turn on the Yakety Sax.  Erica ran down the hall to the fertility clinic to see if they can take me in right now.  She got the info and ran back down the hall to give me the low down.  The doctor wasn’t in and the person who normally does the consultations was out too, but they would be happy to take our money help us.  I still had a bunch of questions: do they take insurance?  How much does it cost?  Do I “go” by myself and if so, what kind of “visual aids” do they provide?  Erica clicked out her Heelys and strolled back down the hall to ask, while Jojo bandaged my arm up.  Poor Erica was running back and forth between the offices like Cleo McDowell trying to stall the king in his living room.  If only there was some sort of mobile device that allowed us to talk to each other instead doing all of this running.    

With my arm bandaged up, we paced down the hall to the fertility clinic in a panic rush.  Shaking our heads at each other, thinking, “Why can’t anything go smoothly?”   Inside the clinic, the waiting room walls were decorated with pictures of happy families and their healthy babies.  I noticed a picture of the doctor with Phil Donahue – this place looks legit.  The receptionist at the clinic had me fill out a stack of paperwork.  Erica texted away, updating the team on the day’s turn of events.  I finished filling out, signing and initialing every page of their forms.  If only there was a machine that could enter all my personal info onto every page before they printed it out.  The only person who could check insurance was out of the office today.  I don’t think this was a coincidence.  However, they were able to charge our credit card without any problem.  All joking aside, we were grateful they were able to accommodate.  Not for the sake of our future children!  No, we just didn’t want to hear it from our nagging mothers.  A nurse came back to get me.  I turned back to Erica in the waiting room and invited her to help me.  With her eyes glued to her iPhone, she just shook her head and gave me a firm, “no.”

Thirty seconds later I was back in the chemo barstool to start my treatment.  The whole episode was ridiculous. Today has been like participating in some crazy triathalon:  Run + Shoot + Chemo.  What the hell?  Now that I saved my future generations, it was time for Man vs. Food:  Chemo Cocktail Challenge.

Bartender Jojo grabbed the shaker and started making my cocktail.  First she poured the liquor, a clear chemo, Cyclophosphamide.  She told me I have to let her know if it starts to hurt my veins, because this stuff can collapse them.  Better make that a double, Jojo!  After that bag, she Tom Cruise-flipped a liqueur over her head and caught it behind her back.  This was some red drank, Doxorubicin Hydrochloride.   Awesome, I get the red girly chemo?  Pinkies up!

Slamming Kool-Aid's bound to have some side effects.

I didn’t mind the first bag of the clear stuff, but there’s some weird psychological thing that happens when you see this red drug being siphoned into you.  They couldn’t make it a calming color…like, clear?!  You just feel gross seeing that red stuff go down.  Immediately after I finished the bag, my body started changing.  I became an enraged, giant red monster.  I ran through the wall of the office next to us, screaming, “oh yeah!”  Jojo was expecting this to happen so she gave me my next drink, Vincristine Sulfate.  It was a shot, literally.  It’s a small dosage syringe that she hooked up to the IV.  I soon returned to my normal, pasty self.  I was all finished with my first chemo cocktail.  I think we’ll call it, “CHO-Mama.”  I don’t recommend it.  I can’t say that it was all that bad – I was told it could turn my pee red.  I’ve never had the red light saber.  I jumped right out of the chair and headed to the bathroom as The Imperial March played on.

Since my journey started, we’ve been on the ups and downs, and twists and turns of this crazy rollercoaster.  Today may have been the wildest:  Erica running back and forth between the offices, me having to perform under pressure (in a cup!) and then rushing back to my first chemo.  It was crazy.

Physically I felt ok after this treatment, but there’s no escaping the ill thoughts of these chemicals running through my body.  I completed my first R-CHOP, but this is just the beginning.  I still have all my homework pills to take.  I have to take Allupurinol for thirty days.  When Rituxan breaks down tumor cells, it creates toxins.  These toxins just absorb into the body, which can lead to kidney failure.  Allopurinol helps prevent that. I have two types of anti-nausea medicines to help with the side effects of chemo.  Then the bitter, rotten cherry on top of all this is four more days of prednisone.  I will have to take 100mg of prednisone for five days after every treatment.  I’m gonna have to get over that taste or get creative.  Not only does it taste awful, but also it comes with many side effects.  Aside from allowing me to crush fastballs over the fence, this steroid can give me indigestion, constipation and insomnia.  Not to worry, I have pills for that, too.

Treatment Day 1

June 16, 2011

We got to the doctor’s office at 9:00 to start my first treatment.  Julie, Eliot, the boys, my dad, Erica and I took up the entire waiting room.  Eliot worked on his laptop.  Nate “whispered” to Julie, asking if he could have just one candy from the jar.  Joshy had no time for candy.  Dad’s iPad demanded all his attention.  Erica held my hand.  I had that nervous waiting for the principal to call me into his office feeling.  I’m sure the nurse would calm my nerves.

The oncology nurse came and got me.  No fight broke out.  She said I had to go by myself so she could get me started.  I turned back to my family in the waiting room and gave them the puppy dog at the vet eyes as the door closed behind me.  She took me to the back, pulled on the big chrome hatch and opened the walk-in freezer, also known as the chemo suite.  It was a two room conversion, where the dividing wall had been knocked down.  About 8 reclining chairs filled the room.  Each chair was adorned with a mobile IV rack.  There were a few patients already started on their drips.  PBS played on a fancy, grey combo DVD/TV set.  You know the kind: 20” tube TV that’s strapped to the ceiling using a giant steel arm.  C’mon people, it’s 2011!  They’re practically giving away 40” Vizios now.  Business looks like it’s doing alright.  Whaddya say we spend a couple bucks and get the patients some HD while they get poisoned for a few hours?  I chose the chair in the corner.

The nurse is a sweet, little Filipino lady.  She barely cracks the 5’ mark.  She even has an awesome Filipino name, Jojo.  You can’t help but love her, but her cuteness soon wore off as she took out the needle.  So much for orientation.  I imagined I was going to watch some grainy, black & white, educational video, made in the 60s, hosted by some cartoon syringe, “Chemo and Your Body.”  She explained she would go over all my treatment details later in the afternoon.

She started me off with a fluid drip.  This was just to get the veins lubricated before getting me on the real stuff.  She explained today’s treatment is not chemo, but a monoclonal antibody, Rituxan.  Rituxan is a drug used to break down the tumor cells.  It can cause severe reactions when being administered, so they have to use it in combination with a Benadryl drip.  Genentech should be paying me for this.  Always talk to your doctor about your medical history before taking Rituxan®.  She put me on a real slow drip because there were some good cooking shows from ’99 she didn’t want me to miss.  Or maybe the slow drip was to see how my body reacts to the Rituxan.

More patients started arriving.  Pretty soon, every chair in the room was full.  This isn’t a problem for Jojo.  This is her domain.  She’s checking vitals, hooking up IVs, getting pillows and getting everyone comfortable.  She’s some sort of magician.  She somehow makes you forget how dreadful it is to be there.  The whole office was busy.  My seat has a clear shot of the hallway.  I could see patients walking to and from the bathroom with their rolling IV rack in hand.  Doctors and assistants walking in and out of the other rooms.  Then there’s me, the noob, asking all these questions.  The patient next to me, turned to me and asked, “first time?”  Was it that obvious?  I’m sure I looked like any chemo virgin – terrified.  Maybe I looked more shocked than anything else.  I just found out the night before I was going to be here.  It was hello, sit down, give me your vein, we’ll explain later.  It was pretty crazy.  Since it was uncertain how long my IV would take and it being so busy, she didn’t have time to do orientation until later in the afternoon.

My family would come back one by one to visit me, because the Don cannot refuse a request on his chemo day.  It was standing room only, so they only hung out for a couple minutes at a time.  It’s not an environment conducive to long conversations, but it was nice having the company for the little time that I did.  Regan came by on his lunch break and watched some Ming Tsai with me.  My dad, a 6’4”, behemoth of a man, came in talking about two levels above normal.  Not only is my dad an imposing figure, he left his hearing in Vietnam.  He speaks up to a level he can hear.  He asked how I was doing and woke up the other 7 patients.  Everyone was in a Benadryl coma, just as I was about to be.

The Benadryl drip is no joke.  It knocked me out minutes after it hit my stream.  I passed out for about two hours.  I woke up thinking, “That wasn’t so bad.  I must be at my destination.”  Only to realize, we haven’t even departed.  I still had about 5 hours to go on my drip.  To make matters worse, neither California’s Gold nor Antique Roadshow were on during my time slot!  F*ck cancer!

Later in the afternoon, when I was almost finished with my IV, Jojo had us all pile into one of the open rooms, so she could go over all my treatment details.  Julie, Eliot, my dad, Erica, Jojo and I all crammed in the room.

I will have to come for my treatments every three weeks.  I will be given the standard treatment for my Diffuse Large Cell non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, the R-CHOP.  The R-CHOP is a chemo treatment used in combination with Rituxan and the steroid, Prednisone.  Tomorrow I get the CHOP.  Kiai!

R = Rituximab
C = Cyclophosphamide
H = Doxorubicin Hydrochloride (Hydroxydaunomycin)
O = Vincristine Sulfate (Oncovin)
P = Prednisone

I sat in the room with the IV still streaming into my arm.  I was already stuffed from the seven hour main course and I didn’t even know about the mandatory dessert.  Jojo ran off a list of prescriptions I had to pick up.  There were some to take as part of my treatment and others to that are used to battle the side effects of chemo.  I have to take drugs to counter drugs.  I just sat there and stared off into nothing as she went over the details.  My eyes gradually turned from plain to Krispy Kreme as the list grew longer.  Each drug she would call out would echo around in my head.  I could see the names (misspelled I’m sure) circling above me as she called them out:  Prednisone, Ondansetron, Prochlorperazine, Ambien.  As if that wasn’t enough, the oncologist poked her head in the office and added Allopurinol to my list.  There’s an important reason for each drug, but I had already reached the saturation point.  She then looks at me and asks my family, “does he always look like this?”  I turned to her and gave her a crazy Samuel L. Jackson look and retorted, “I don’t remember asking you a goddamn thing!”  Erica was quick to point out that I was the same color as the wall.  Apparently my hue needed some adjusting.

I felt like shit.  I hadn’t eaten anything because I had no idea I was going to be there all day.  Whatever pigment I might’ve had soon left when I learned about all the drugs I had to take for extra credit.  I was a lighter shade of pale by the end of the day.  Compound everything with me eating nothing but salads for the past three weeks and you get this:

This is the face of cancer...I better learn how to write.

Only my first treatment and I’m already bald, pale and emaciated.  I don’t know how much weight I lost, but I’m sure it was significant, considering what I’ve been eating (or, not eating).  I haven’t had a drink in 25 days.  Surprisingly, it’s been an easy transition.  I just don’t think about cracking open an ice cold, bubbly, golden, refreshing, delicious beer while sharing some laughs with friends on a hot sunny day.  I better call my sponsor.

It’s gonna be a long summer.

What’s in a Name?

June 15, 2011

It was Wednesday evening as we headed down the 405, the whole crew in tow:  Erica and Julie, Eliot and their boys, Josh and Nate.  The boys quietly debated over who deserved to ride in the blue booster seat on the way back.  Apparently, one of them had exceeded the maximum number of turns allotted for the blue seat.  As we approached a standstill in traffic, I looked out the window as my mind wandered.  On the outside, I look like a normal, healthy white dude, but my subtitle would read, “everybody hurts.”  Then Michael Stipe jumped off the roof of the car and we continued driving.

It’s been three weeks since the doctor told me there was a squatter living in my chest.  Three weeks, no answers – just questions.  Three weeks is a lot of time to do a lot of thinking.  Apparently, a lot of time to think of bad puns.  Just thinking about cancer should come with a warning.  It’s like opening the Ark of the Covenant…it will melt your face.  So instead I just focus on the joys of cancer – like not having to work.  Ok, trying to find the positive in cancer can prove to be challenging.  I guess I’m just trying not to think.  A craft I’ve mastered over the past 20 years.  I’m trying not to think about it, but this lil’ fucker is pushing down on my lungs and I can’t breathe.  Plus, I get text messages and phone calls all day, asking me how I’m doing or if I know my diagnosis.  It’s hard NOT to think about.

It was about 6:30 that evening when I received a call from my oncologist.  She finally had my diagnosis:  Diffuse Large B-Cell, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  My baby has a name!  We pulled over on the side of the road, jumped out of the car and gave each other jumping chest bumps and high fives.  But what exactly did Diffuse Large B Cell, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma mean?  Who knows?  Who cares?  Let’s serve the eviction notice.

My oncologist said I needed to come in the very next morning to start treatment.  Due to my difficulty breathing and the fluid around my heart it was important to start right away.  She explained my chemo would be administered over two days and I had to start before the weekend.  All the details of my chemo treatment would be explained tomorrow by my oncology nurse during the rookie symposium.  It was go time.

The oncologist also explained the results of all my pre-chemo tests.  My echocardiogram results were good.  My heart wouldn’t stop when they pumped it full of chemo cocktails.  Chemotherapy:  Stopping cancer and hearts since 1942.  This didn’t exactly give me the comfy, hot cocoa feeling I hoped to have as I started this journey.  I’ll just take this as good news.

The full body PET scan revealed my baby didn’t make any new friends.  We were only battling the tumor in my chest.  This was f’in great news!  I was secretively nervous about these results.  Although I didn’t show any physical signs, the thought of cancer metastasizing was still a fear in the back of my mind.

Last, she had my bone marrow biopsy results.  There was really only one outcome for me.  If lymphoma had spread to my bone marrow and I had to do another one of those biopsies, I would make Dr. Kevorkian my primary care physician.  Thankfully, my marrow was clean.  I pulled the cyanide capsule out from under my tongue to save for later.  The negative results put my lymphoma at Stage II.

Oh, and I didn’t have HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis.

All the results were promising, except for non-Hodgkins?  What’s with the “non”?  I get the O’douls of the cancer world?  I didn’t know the difference between “Hodgkins” and “non-Hodgkins” to be honest.  Then again, I didn’t pay too much attention to all the research my family had been doing for me.  They’ve been sending me links and giving me info, but having gone through three of the toughest weeks of my life, I wasn’t about to get extracurricular.  I don’t need to know the history of this disease to know I’m not a fan.

Once again, we were running a no huddle offense.  I would be starting chemotherapy tomorrow morning.  Maybe it was a blessing in disguise, not having time to think about it.  Then again, it was par for the course.  Since this whole thing started, I didn’t know what was around the next corner.  Nobody warned me about that fateful call from my doctor; I was blindsided by my first thoracentesis; we rushed to get my biopsy; and now, we were starting chemo first thing in the morning.  I’m sure I didn’t need any extra time think of all the awful things that came along with chemo anyway.  One night gave me enough time to think.

Will I need surgery or will chemo completely get rid of the tumor?  How will the chemo make me feel?  How long will I have to be on chemo?  How sick will I be?  Will I be confined to my bed?  Should I buy one of those awesome, remote control, reclining beds?  How many episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives can one person really watch?  Do I need to start cooking meth in an RV to pay for my treatments?  Do I need to start a fundraiser in my honor, selling customized rubber wristbands with “Be Heald” embossed on them?  Actually, I like the sound of that one.  Oh, and there was the whole nausea, vomiting, and hair loss business, too.  I was prepared for the hair loss.  My hair gave up on me long ago, so I already had the shaved head.  However, I could stand to lose some hair on my arms and legs.  Nausea and vomiting…pfffft sounds like a typical Sunday morning for me.  Bring it!

I was about to go to war against a powerful disease and battle the side effects of a nasty drug.  I’ve scrapped with illness every day since I was just trying to go outside and play dodgeball.  Every day I fight the unpredictability of allergies: the sneezing, water eyes and runny noses or the side effects of decongestants and antihistamines.  I know I’m not going to win a Nobel Prize for my triumphs over sneeze attacks, but maybe battling allergies my whole life has prepared me for this war.  Or maybe allergies weakened my immune system over the years and they’re the reason I’m in this lymphoma mess to begin with.  Queue the Twilight Zone music. 

I was less than 24 hours away from starting the next chapter on my journey.  “My Chemo Summer” was born…well, it was either that or “Chernobyl Vacation.”  That night I did what any soldier would do before getting deployed.  I went and got a Double-Double from In-N-Out.

Biopsy 2: Bone Marrow Revenge

June 14, 2011

I’ve been to so many doctor appointments lately.  I just go through the motions.  Basic cable waiting rooms, pay the copay, talk to the doctor, get blood drawn or lung drained – the usual.  I don’t know if it was being medically molested for three weeks or all the lidocaine finally got to my head, but I feel defeated.  It’s been nice having Erica there for these appointments.  She asks the questions and takes the notes.  I don’t want to talk.  I don’t want to think.  Just tell me what time and what vein you want.

I was already apprehensive of the bone marrow biopsy; luckily, I didn’t watch this video before I left the house that day.  Don’t worry – the guy in this video getting the bone marrow biopsy is not real.  It’s just a lifelike dummy that can breathe, talk, extract bone marrow samples and look very, very real.  If he was human, he would be crying like a baby girl – the standard operating procedure.  Had I known I was about to go through this, I probably would have stopped at a liquor store before the appointment for a 40 oz. of support.

I had an eerie feeling about today’s procedure.  “Bone marrow biopsy” didn’t sound fun, contrary to what the receptionist told me.   What should I be scared of?  I’ve been through crappy procedures before.  This procedure would be done by my oncologist…and I like her.  I thought I was a seasoned vet.  I was wrong.

As the minutes ticked by in the waiting room, I became wary.  I was having second thoughts about going through with this.  Why am I sweating in this cold ass waiting room?  I couldn’t go through with this today.  Just as I came to this realization, a nurse came to get me.  I wasn’t going without a fight.  She grabbed me by the arm, but I broke free.  I ran for the door, but she grabbed me by my legs and started pulling.  I grabbed onto the door handle as hard as I could.  My body was parallel to the ground as she yanked on my legs.  I lost my grip and fell to the floor.  My fingernails dug into the carpet as she dragged me across the room.  Damn, this little Filipina is strong!  She lifted me by my legs and flung me across the room like a hammer throw, blowing the US Weekly’s right off the table.  My little nephews were crying and screaming at what they just witnessed.  My sister, Julie, covered their eyes and consoled them.  Erica was crying, “It wasn’t supposed to be like this!”  And my dad continued to watch HGTV…he missed the entire thing.

The nurse threw me down on the table face first and strapped my arms down with chains.  She ripped off my shirt and proceeded to gently clean my back with alcohol.  She still has to follow protocol you know.  The room became hot like a furnace.  The walls turned blood red.  Smoke started to creep in from under the door.  A sinister laugh began to echo in the room.   A silhouette appeared from the smoke.  I could begin to make out the face…it’s my oncologist!  Dun dun duuuun!!!  She explains how she’ll do the procedure.  She may be Dracula today, but she goes by the rules.  First, some lidocaine injections in the back.  Then they’ll take this drill bit:

Jam it down into my pelvic bone and suck my bone juice (I believe that is the clinical term).  They need the bone marrow to determine my lymphoma’s stage.  If the cancer cells have spread to my bones it could put me in Stage IV.  I always hated that level on Tetris.

They injected the lidocaine into my lower back.  Just another day at the office.  Now it was time for some big needle love.  As I lay on the table for the procedure, I just imagined myself on a nice white sandy beach.  Laying down, sipping on a cocktail in a coconut, while someone is driving a nail into my lower back with a sledgehammer.  The doctor is telling me, “breathe, breathe, breathe,” as she’s digging the big needle threw my flesh.  This was just the beginning.

After breaking through the mantle, she only needed to get past the core before she could get to my magma.  “Breathe, breathe, breathe,” as she’s twisting and digging the needle into pelvic bone.  I thought the thoracentesis was shitty, but this was an all new level of suck.  All I could do was laugh – hysterically – with my eyes bugging out and one thought running through my head, “Are you fucking kidding me right now?!”

And it got better!  It was time to get the sample.  Do you know what it’s like having your soul taken from you – through your pelvic bone?!  It’s not cool!  “Breathe, breathe, breathe.”  The lidocaine didn’t seem to dull the awesome sensation of having my bone essence yanked from inside me.  Oh, I felt that shit!  She pulled a couple samples, each one felt as awful as the one before it.  Who knew getting your bone juice sucked would be painful?  Luckily, I had my terrified laughs to sooth the pain.

My lab results from this better come back negative, because I never want to do this again.  After the procedure, my entourage came into the room to see what was left of me.  The only intelligible words I could muster were, “Oh my god, that fucking sucked.”

My doctor said I was the first person to laugh during this procedure.  Apparently she didn’t see the clown face tattoos on my back, “Laugh now. Cry later.”  She said I did a good job and let me pick one toy from the chest outside.  This was the worst experience of my journey so far, but I felt all Ice Cube coming out of there, like I got street cred now.  I walked out of the office yellin’, “King Kong ain’t got shit on me!”  Then Erica helped walk me to the elevator.

 

PET Scan and Echocardiogram

June 13, 2011

My dad came along with me for the PET scan and echocardiogram appointments.  He worked for many years at Orange Coast Memorial, so this was a little bit of a coming home for him.  He definitely was glowing while he walked down the halls of the old campus.  We met there in the morning and he had already been making the rounds.  Talking to old friends; asking if so and so still worked here and saying how nice the new office is, etc.  One of my good friends, Ian’s sister worked in the office that would do the echocardiogram.  She knew about my situation and that I was going to be there, but didn’t know I would be going to her department.  She gave me a big hug and a bowl of soup that her mom made for me.  She had already met my dad earlier that morning.  I’m beginning to think he knocked on every door and just walked in to see if he knew anyone.

The echocardiogram was an easy procedure.  The doctor was a nice lady and (shockingly) knew my dad.  She had me lay on my side in a dark room while she took what looked like an ultrasound to my chest.  She took screenshots of images of my heart and made notes.  It only took a few minutes.  After the procedure she talked with my dad.  She told us she was concerned about the fluid around my heart.  She didn’t want me to leave the hospital until a cardiologist reviewed the results.  Probably someone my dad knew.

Then we were off to the PET scan.  They locked me in a cozy, dark, lead proofed closet.  It was literally a room that only fit a recliner and a small table.  A nurse came in and administered some radioactive material.  The syringe was encased in a bulky, lead container.  They use a dark room and recliner because I have to keep my blood pressure down for 30 minutes while the solution journeys through my body.  This was fine by me, because I’m always looking for an opportunity to nap…which I took.  The lead proofing was because I was now the Toxic Avenger and lead walls are the only thing I can’t smash with my fists.

They came and woke me up and laid me down on the machine.  A bigger machine than the CT scans.  With the comfort of a Japanese capsule hotel.  The table moves you into the scanner and it sounds like you’re in turbine.  This machine had the same stupid audio instructions that the CT scan machines use.  The slow, monotone, male voice would tell you, “Breathe in…hold…breathe”.  Shouldn’t it be, “Breathe in…hold…exhale”? Or, “Breathe in…hold…breathe out”?  I digress.  It was a simple procedure that lasted about 15 minutes.  I waited for my dad while he talked about the results with the radiologist, an old friend.  By now, I feel like an embarrassed and disgruntled teenager with my arms folded, rolling my eyes, shouting at my dad, “let’s gooOoo!”

After the PET scan we were told the cardiologist gave me the clearance to go home.  It turned out to be a mildly uneventful day.  I got two of my chores done and my dad was voted Most Popular.

 

Coming Soon: