Colectomy recuperation and “losing control”

Dear Friends,

Summary

All is fine.  The recovery from my colectomy surgery is as perfect as can be.  Very neat and smooth repair of the incisions, thanks to the careful attention of my surgeons and the little metal staples that held my abdomen together during the initial healing process.  I think I’ll be completely scarless when this is all through.  After such a short time, I’m able to bend, sit, walk and otherwise exercise with no distracting pain.  In addition, I seem to have passed the disconcerting period I experienced when I seemed to be competing with Rip Van Winkle in my ability to sleep incredibly long hours.  Twice this month, I was able to get to the noon Mass at Oakland’s Cathedral of Christ the Light where I’m the Thursday volunteer cantor.  With luck, I hope to resume docent duties, too, though that will likely depend on my reaction to the chemotherapy.

Detail

I feel I’m quite prepared and ready for the next phase: the actual chemotherapy treatment.  The Cancer Clinic conducted a very informative and comprehensive “Chemo Class” which gave me a lot of information about what I might expect.  I’m scheduled to have a subcutaneous port installed tomorrow.  The port is a plastic doohickey that will connect directly into one of my large chest veins, and whose opposite end will be somewhere under my skin in the area of my shoulder.  Being covered by my skin, the port won’t get contaminated or dirty, and will allow me to shower and otherwise remain as active as I want.  Its totally “cool” technology, and it will be permanently installed during the forthcoming 6-7 months.

When I report for my first chemo infusion Wednesday morning (31st), the nurses will be able to feel around and connect the IV drip directly through my skin to the doohickey (and thence to the vein for circulation).  This will eliminate the need for repeatedly installing an IV into the top of my hand.  Since I don’t find the “hand IV” very pleasant, the port appeals to me as a perfectly sensible alternative, especially since I’m scheduled for some 12 bi-monthly sessions of infusions (which would require a lot of repeated IV installations).  Each of the infusions will apparently take 3-4 hour sessions in the Cancer Clinic (so I’m expecting to catch up on the pile of books in my “to be read” pile).

In addition, as I presently understand my schedule, once each month I’ll be sent home with a little fanny pack that will pump additional chemicals into my chest port for 48 continuous hours.

The day before each infusion I’ll be having blood drawn to check the status of my platelets and check, especially, the count and condition of my white blood cells.  The white blood cells constitute one of the main components of the human immune system.  But they will also suffer degradation from the chemotherapy treatment.  So the docs will carefully analyze my blood counts (and especially monitor the count and condition of my white blood cells to make sure they don’t drop below a safe threshold).

Losing Control

The “losing control” is evidenced by the fact that nothing seems entirely permanent in this process.  Schedules change at a moment’s notice due either to evidence obtained from the numerous blood draws, CT scans, and other lab tests I’ve been taking, or doctor’s availability and unexpected schedule changes.  Monica and I have learned to “take it as it comes” (which, for organized and conscientious people is much easier to say than to experience.)  But the learning is not optional… its imposed.  So the frequent schedule changes and calls to come to the hospital for this or that test is taking a bit of an adjustment.  Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to actually beginning a regimen intended to battle the cancer.That will start next week, Wednesday morning.  A good time for continuing good thoughts.

Ending this obviously positive report, I wanted to share with you a temporary residual effect of removing the metal staples securing the surgical incisions from my colonectomy.  My skin around the former incisions is now attractively patterned with what looks like a tattoo of water striders.  I’ll be a little disappointed when those disappear as the physical healing continues!

Monica and I thank you for all your continuing good wishes (as do Michał, Anastasia, Stefan and Krysia).  Keep those good thoughts coming.  They are much appreciated (and obviously efficacious)!

Chet

.

First news of health irregularities

Hi Family, Good Morning (er, afternoon!)

It’s hard to remember how many details I’ve given you of my current health episode, so I wanted to bring you up to date.

20 years ago – I discovered a growth in my ear that was surgically removed, biopsied, and found to be malignant. Subsequent consultations suggested that there was nothing more to be done because of the isolation of the ear from the rest of the body systems. (But i am reminded that in the subsequent 20 years I always felt like some cancer was lurking somewhere in my body and I always felt the traitor had gone underground… but might reappear at any time.)

3 weeks (?) ago – while undergoing a routine colonoscopy, the physician identified a “suspicious mass” and marked it for further testing. The pathology report came back with a finding of “invasive carcinoma”, the recommended response to which, was surgery. Based on what they knew at the time, it all looked simple enough, with the expectation that surgically removing the “suspicious mass” would be entirely “curative”.

2 weeks (?) ago – there followed a period in which spots were discovered on my adrenal gland, the surgeon heard a heart irregularity she wanted investigated before putting me under the knife, etc.

1 week (?) ago – having resolved all the potential heart and gland problems, a colectomy was scheduled. The surgeon hoped to do the whole procedure lapriscopically, but told me that if anything went awry, she was prepared to immediately “go open”, to which I agreed.

In the event, the lapriscopic procedure failed, so they had to do an almost full abdominal operation to excise a portion of my colon, remove a dozen or so surrounding lymph glands, sew back together the two ends on my colon from where they had cut out the cancerous part, and then seal my tummy back up. (I can’t bend over far enough to see, but in addition to numerous stitches, Krysia and Monica have counted some 20 stainless steel staples that are employed, these days, to hold the skin and tissue sections together.) So a majorish abdominal invasion.  Someone observed that I had “FrankenTummy”.

I am slightly diabetic, and diabetes always complicates medical procedures. Since I was undergoing a stressful operation, my body responded by skyrocketing my blood sugar. While entirely reasonable (and even desirable) for stress, high sugar levels are very bad for healing and dangerous for a recurrence of cellulitis (because bacteria LOVE and thrive on sugars). So there was a bit of drama during my recuperation as the doctors worried my blood sugars down. In any case, by Friday, everyone thought I’d be better off recuperating at home, which I’m doing now. Blood sugars are still wobbly, bowel movements are totally unpredictable, my stomach makes incredible never-before-heard gurgling sounds (in four part harmony), but I seem to feel stronger hour by hour.

So next week, sometime, I guess I’ll find out what the oncologists recommend in light of the most recent pathology report (on the section of colon and lymph glands that were removed). The pathology report shows the cancer has involved at least one of the fourteen glands removed during the operation, and I have, as yet, no idea what that may mean. We’ll soon see what’s next on this life journey!

Great! So now we are completely up to date. Thanks for your prayers and good thoughts!

Sijo

the cancer journal of Czesław Jan Grycz…

Update

• On the 3rd of October 2016, I underwent my twice-yearly CT Scan. Heretofor, upon reviewing the results of the scan, my oncologist could say, “The tumors are there. They are growing. But they are growing very slowly. I’d recommend ‘watching and waiting’.”

I should back up a bit and explain that colon cancer is known to metastasize, first to the liver and, next, to the lungs. When my colon cancer was discovered, I underwent a surgical removal of the affected parts of my colon and lymph nodes. Later, I underwent another surgery in which three chunks of affected liver tissue was excised. Since then, we’ve been monitoring the growth of tumors in my lungs. The twice-yearly CT scans were scheduled for this purpose.  This time, however, after 42 generous and welcome months of no symptoms and no discomfort, our oncologist reported, “The tumors have continued to grow. Because of their proximity to your windpipe, this may be the time to begin a second round of chemo. We will aim to shrink and slow down the growth of your tumors. Should your windpipe becomes compromised you’ll run the risk of greater susceptibility to pneumonia and other complications. We want to avoid that.” So, on Monday, 10th of October 2016, I returned to the Cancer Infusion Center for the 1st chemo infusion of my 2nd round of chemotherapeutic treatment. Simultaneously, I determined to  resurrect my cancerblog.

Previous Posting

• On June 20,2011, all unsuspecting, I registered at my hospital for a routine colonoscopy. During the procedure the physician discovered a “suspicious mass.”  A snippet of tissue was extracted and sent to the Pathology Lab. It came back marked as “invasive carcinoma”.

• On July 18, 2011, having undergone a flurry of blood tests, CT scans, and echocardiograms, I underwent a surgical colectomy. The part of my colon consisting of the “suspicious mass” was removed, along with some surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. These were also forwarded to the Pathology Lab.  The results were returned to my surgeon and sent on to the Oncology Department of the hospital. From them my wife, Monica, and I learned their diagnosis that I suffered from Stage 3 Colon Cancer.

• Shortly thereafter I began to inform friends and family about my condition by sending periodic e-mail “status reports” to them. Certainly, my main intent was to keep others appraised of a significant event in my life. In no time at all I came to realize that writing the e-mails was primarily helpful for me.  It allowed me to integrate my reactions and emotions to having been diagnosed with cancer. Writing helped me objectify cancer’s various implications. Articulating how I felt helped me deal with the fearsome unknown about the chemotherapeutic process I was to undergo.

I’ve converted my earliest e-mails to this blog format which is slightly easier for me to maintain from here on.

__________________________

For those of my friends unfamiliar with “blogs”, please note that the current month’s postings are on this “front page” of the blog (and they are arranged in descending chronological order, with the most recent at the top, and earlier postings lower down on the page).  Earlier postings can be accessed by clicking on any highlighted date in the “Calendar of Posts” or from the “Archives” by clicking on a particular month.  The “Tags” cloud is a distribution of topics that are mentioned throughout these posts, with more frequently used terms becoming progressively larger in size as frequency of mention increases. By clicking on a tag term, you should see displayed all those posts in which a tag term is mentioned.