Monday, February 6, 2017

Tiptoeing Through Some Feelings

Hello everyone. I appreciate your taking the time to check back in here to take a look at the blog once again. Even though my postings have become quite sparse, I still think of the blog quite often. Just most times there is not really enough to say to really get a decent post together, so I let it slide and suddenly its six months or a year later… I apologize for that. However, there is a reason for it. Allow me to explain. If you have been following along with the blog, you’ll note that I stopped pretty much after the blood clot incident was taken care of and physical therapy had re-started. The reason for that stoppage was simple, at least to me. After that point it was just physical therapy at home until they deemed it no longer needed and starting back to work. In my mind, that is getting back to “normal life.” It is true that I was out of work for only three months (a rather short time from what I have been finding out). It’s also true that this type of surgery requires at least a year to allow a person to “start feeling like themselves again.” My post-op gastro doctor mentioned that in regard to major surgery and it held very true, at least for me. I was concerned that writing about getting back to normal was, or would be, a little boring for everyone, so I refrained from putting those things out here on the blog… at least a large majority of them. Another reason was a bit of survivor’s guilt.  I’ll expand on that a little further on in this post.

As a lot of you may know, I am a member of several support groups for esophageal and thyroid cancer over on Facebook, as well as following several on Twitter. The posts on the Facebook groups from me are mainly comments to other posts, or a simple like to this or that post. The frequency or number of posts kind of ebbs and flows. Lately my posts have been pretty light as my new job plus three hours commute round-trip daily drains me quite a bit. That causes me to not get online nearly as much. As I get more used the new situation and hours, and the training ramp up evens out, that power drain will lessen I expect. In any event, reading through those posts from day to day is really a rollercoaster ride. People at all points of their own personal journey with the beast. People with new diagnoses, those who are the caretakers and friends of the patients, people in the midst of chemo and radiation, or just before or after surgery… and those that are reporting post-op scan findings along with how much time had passed. I’ve seen up to about 20 years post-op that are still free and clear. Those are the heartening posts. The ones that take you to the top of that rollercoaster. Then there are the posts that report a loved one’s last days, their passing, or the person’s leaving the community because they feel there is no need for them to be there anymore or it is too painful for them to still be there or whatever. Those are the low points of that same rollercoaster ride. They are also the posts that make me worry about posting more about surviving. I worry about making those that have not been as fortunate feel badly or add to their feelings of despair. Is it right for me to post about my still being alive while so many others are fighting and dying of the same beast’s damaging blows? I fight with that thought a lot, especially when I hit the milestones post-op. I am not one that wants to hurt people or remind them that their loved ones have been lost, or may be losing their fight. However (isn’t there always one of those?), I also feel a need to let people know that this is not a fight that people will always lose. The beast CAN be beaten. I am proof of that, at least as pertains to Stage III Esophageal Cancer, and more recently Stage I Papillary Thyroid Cancer. So I hope you can see the tug-of-war that is constantly going on in my mind. Is that the definition of Survivor’s Guilt? Am I over-analyzing? Is it something I really need to worry about? I don’t believe that it means I am too feeling or too sensitive to other’s feelings. It’s simpler than that. To me, I would sometimes rather keep quiet and just feel good about reaching milestones than to remind others that maybe their loved ones were not so lucky. Thoughts like these sometimes keep me from posting or posting more or longer entries, whether it be here or on those support groups. I hope that make sense to you. I also hope that explains why sometimes there are large gaps between my posts in all of these places.

To help bring this entry to a close, I wanted to make one final point... Well actually it is more like a request. If there is a specific area you would like to see me expand on further, or a specific time or feeling or procedure you would like to see more on, please let me know. Whether it be here in the comments or via a private email or message over on Facebook or Twitter or whatever. I’m really not too hard to find. I’d be happy to pass on any information or memories or even knowledge that might be of help or of interest to you. One of the favorite things I heard (and used) when I was a technical trainer back in the day was this,

“The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.”

Those are very true words. So ask. Not just me, but anyone. The doctors, the nurses, the hospital staff, the American Cancer Society, support groups, whoever and where ever. If the question is to me and I don’t know the answer, I won't hesitate to say so. I’m not too proud to admit when I don’t know something. What that will do is spur me to go looking for answers, or at least find a path that the person that asked the question might be able to follow. I am sure that the person asking will have already done, or is in the midst of, their own research, but any way I can help is what I strive for. In fact, that is the whole idea behind this blog. Does that mean there will be answers coming to every question pointed at me? Likely not. No one has all the answers, but I will do my best to find at least something... Bottom line is it's the thought, or in this case the effort, that counts. Another good saying, and another I believe in.

Keep on keeping on, everyone. We will meet here again, I am sure. Lastly, I truly mean it when I say…

Live long and prosper.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Four Years and Counting...

Four years ago… January 25, 2013. I was in the first major surgery of my life. Fighting a foe that no one wants to have to fight, but sadly many do end up battling. It is a nasty, ugly, unfeeling, uncaring foe that is relentless and hateful. One that doesn’t think twice about taking a life. The beast known as Cancer. At that time, my particular version of this beast was of the rarer variety (but growing), Esophageal Cancer.

What did that mean for myself and my family and friends?  Let’s make a list (be aware, some of these may seem a bit small or maybe even petty to some, but they were and are things I thought about)...

  • 12+ hours in surgery
  • 19 days in the hospital – 16 of which were in ICU
  • One day from hell 3 days after surgery
  • 3 months off work
  • Six weeks of daily post-operative radiation treatments
  • Weekly chemotherapy sessions every Monday for six weeks, also post-op
  • Massive loss of strength, stamina and physical stature
  • At its maximum effect... a weight loss of 215 pounds
  • Blood clots throughout the neck and right shoulder, including the Jugular vein, caused by the chemo port likely being placed too deeply into the chest
  • Too much prescribed blood thinners used when the clots were found that caused the blood work to go insane and almost caused another hospitalization and plasma transfusion
  • Numerous visits to a Coumadin Clinic (before work) to help manage the blood thinners and blood work after the clots were taken care of with the blood thinners
  • Having to pull around those little carts that hold the green oxygen tanks outside of home
  • Weeks of physical therapy (which I was horrible at following through with)
  • Weeks of breathing therapy (which I was even worse at following through with)
  • Making a lifestyle change when it comes to what eaten, how much, and how often (this change is still ongoing, even after four years)
  • Being unable to drive
  • Doctor’s appointments after doctor’s appointments after doctor’s appointments… And so on and so on and so on… ad infinitum
  • Depression
  • Self-doubt
  • Being totally insensitive to others and their feelings
  • Survivor’s guilt (this is still an issue and sometimes makes me hesitate when writing)

And the list could go on, but you get an idea. As you can see, that entire list was made up of things that are negatives. How about a list of positives?

  • I was quite obese when this started… Upwards of 400 pounds. My weight is much better and healthier now
  • High blood pressure is gone
  • No more Sleep Apnea
  • Blood work is well within the normal range for the most part
  • I got more time with my family and friends
  • I got to meet and hold and play with all my grandchildren
  • Had been only six years into my marriage, got more time with my loving and beautiful wife
  • Started noticing things I had previously taken for granted… the beauty of a tree, a sunrise or sunset, the sound of a grade school playground at recess, the smiles and laughter of my loved ones, how a baby smells after a bath, gaining an entirely new perspective of what it means when friends and family gather for any reason, how a kiss feels, being unafraid to shed a tear or two…
  • I got to see how strong my family and friends are and how much their support means and how much I depended on it (even if I didn’t admit it at the time)
  • Realized how strong *I* am
  • Discovered my superpower – Kicking Cancer’s ass

In short, I survived. Against the odds based on the staging of my cancer (stage 3) and the medically listed survival rates and all. God has something in mind for me. What it is, I have no idea. I’ll find out as time goes on.  They say that he will never place an obstacle in our path that we cannot overcome. This helps to show just how strong you really are and can be. You’ll never know just how strong you are until being strong is your only choice. Does being strong mean you will always win? No…  but yes. If you are strong to the end and don’t give up… If you go down but go down swinging, that is a win in my book. That is true for your entire life, not just in the face of sickness or disease. Fight with all you have for as long as you can and you are a winner to me.

I am aware that most of those last few sentences sound like a motivational poster or bumper stickers or something, but they are true to me. Some of the major things I’ve learned over the last four years.

Lastly…  Love to you all.  Live long and prosper.