Cancer Chronicles

"Serving America since 1962"

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The astute observer of this website may have noticed that Bro Tron and Newt Tron bear more than a brotherly likeness to each other.  They are in fact the same person with different hair cuts.  And you may have also noticed there are no pictures of Alec Tron.  That may soon change, as it seems yours truly has been diagnosed with cancer and may soon be sporting a new haircut, or lack thereof. Let's pause from the site's jocularity for a look at the man behind the curtain of Aurigatron.

But first a note of perspective.  No one wants to get cancer, but don't feel bad for me.  So for I've endured no discomfort to speak of.  In fact, our soldiers in the war on terror endure more daily than I may through this whole ordeal.  All I can do is strive to live a life worthy of their sacrifice when I come out the other end. The idea behind this posting is that interested parties can stay updated, so that when we get together we can concentrate on living the high life rather than catching up on all the details.

In early July ('05) I was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, cancer of the lymph node system.  As the Doc told me..."If you have to have cancer and you get to choose, this is the one to get as it's nearly 100% curable."  Especially if caught early and mine does indeed seem to be at Stage 1A.

  I first noticed something in the fall of '03 when I shaved most of my beard off and made the transition from "Bro" to "Newt". It'd been years since I'd seen my neck and while shaving I noticed that my left neck was thicker than the right.  I dismissed it to always carrying a tool bag or duffel bag that resulted in muscular asymmetry .  Then in winter of '04 I noticed a lump that would harden with strenuous activity.  It felt like my jugular vein wanted to jump out of my neck.  So I finally made an appointment with a neck surgeon in May.   He ordered a biopsy of it.

In late May I went in for the needle-biopsy, where the first thing they do is an ultrasound of the area. Suspecting lymph nodes, they opted to do a CT Scan instead of the biopsy because lymph nodes don't lend themselves to an accurate needle-biopsy. In early July the largest of several enlarged nodes was surgically removed. It was about the size of a tube of chapstick and apparently they went for the root as my shoulder hurt like hell.  A biopsy of this removed mass tested positive for Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

Now the real fun starts.  Knowing that chemo is inevitable I decided to cut the beer out of my diet since the chemo can really tear-up ones liver.  This was easier than you'd think, but perhaps that's because I can always return to moderate enjoyment after this is over. To treat Hodgkin's they have to determine what "stage" it's at.  How far and to how many other organs has it spread?  So a PET Scan was ordered, then another CT Scan of the abdomen, and finally an MRI.  These are all mildly entertaining, non-invasive miracles of modern science.  The worst part is having to hold your arms straight over your head for 30 minutes, at least it is if your shoulders are toast from work injuries.  The exception is the MRI, where you hold your arms like you're in a coffin, only the coffin has more room inside.  But, I digress.

Late July ('05) I took the first round of chemo.  They add to it some anti-nausea meds along with some steroids so the side-effects are supposed to be postponed a few days. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, because today is 5 days after first chemo and I feel pretty much OK and haven't needed to take any of the nausea pills. Drinking 100 oz of water a day has to mess you up a little, but I don't feel sick nor have I lost my appetite.  The water is to make sure all the dead cancer cells get flushed out of the body, otherwise they might form kidney stones! But I do feel weak when I try normal activities.  Loading stuff in the van I felt like Superman and everything I lifted was made of Kryptonite.  I feel fine, but carrying my suitcase up the stairs is like jogging 3 miles. Moving TV's around next week at work should be interesting.

I'll try to keep you posted here as the cure progresses.

UPDATE:  It's a good sign that I haven't felt the need to update this catharsis.  Things have been going well.   The pamphlet said that hair loss would begin 2 1/2 weeks after first chemo, and that timing held true.  It's not falling out in clumps, but it sure is thinning.  Chemo is every other Thursday and I recently had my third of four.  There has been no nausea, but stuff sure seems heavy.   The swelling in the left neck is all gone, the neck looks normal now, though I miss the linebacker look!  Not really much more to report, things are progressing on schedule.

UPDATE:  The last of 4 chemo's was in early Sept.  There were some rough days where I felt a little "off" but I never got sick.  The hair continues to thin at an alarming rate, but there's still enough to braid.  The binder at the end used to wrap around 3 times now it goes 7 or 8.  A post chemo PET/CT shows the enlarged lymph nodes have shrunk.  Another CT was used to plan the radiation. The have a plastic mesh that is warmed and placed over the face, pulled-back and attached to table and molded to shape of head.  It hardens into a "mask" and, along with some reference marks on the chest, ensures the same alignment each time radiation is applied.  The radiation beam can be focused to as little as 1mm and the beams are sent from different angles, converging on the area of focus.  The idea is to destroy the cancer but lessen surrounding tissue damage.  Boy it sure is gonna suck having to be at the clinic every day Mon-Fri the month of October.

UPDATE:  The radiation visits are quick, sometimes out 15 minutes later and on the road to work. Doesn't take too long to fasten the mask and line me up with the lasers. Fatigue is expected but who can tell if it's from radiation or having to wake-up at 0700?  (yes, that's a feat for me!)  The first 2 weeks went OK.  But I did notice that water doesn't taste right and beef tastes dry.  By week 2 I've lost all taste and it hurts to swallow, the throat is raw and saliva is frothy.  Meals are like chewing sawdust and swallowing sand. Just 6 treatments left then I can start healing.

UPDATE:  The final of 20 radiation treatments was Halloween, and they let me keep the mask!  The bills started showing up too.  Each daily treatment is $2,300 but luckily they are a PPO so the insurance company pays the discounted amount of $744 per day.  So some poor dude with no insurance would get stuck with the full amount...that would suck.  What a racket.  Anyway, the sore throat went away within days so even though eating isn't fun, at least I can swallow now.  Perhaps I'm just getting used to it, but while food doesn't yet taste good, at least it's losing its crappy taste and my saliva is back to normal. The ponytail is gone, it was decimated by the chemo, and finished off by the radiation.  Also gone is the beard, the radiation causing tennis-ball sized bare areas on each cheek.  (It's been a month now and no sign of whiskers growing back in those areas) At some point I suppose there will be a scan to confirm the cure.   If that happens the first time, I sure got off easy. Heck, pregnant women endure more than my 4 month adventure.

UPDATE: DEC 30, 2005 The PET/CT scan was squeezed into the end of the year for insurance purposes and I'm happy to report that all looks well! The throat healed fast and the taste buds have returned.  If anything, they are a little too sensitive as spicy food tastes really spicy. (even ketchup tastes spicy) They want to see me again in 6 months and probably 6 months after that.  But that's as close as they'll ever get to declaring me cured!  It's GOOD NEWS folks.  Let's party! And there's even a little peach-fuzz growing in the bare spots of my cheeks! And lifting the TV's aren't quite as heavy as they were back in August!

UPDATE: Oct 2006, It's been a year now since the last radiation treatment, and all systems are GO! The hair has returned to full thickness and with a new waviness.  And the beard is back but nearly 100% gray. The tastebuds and strength are 100% normal. The Doc says he can't feel any enlarged nodes and CT's and Chest Xrays are normal. And it's amazing how quickly you fall back to your old ways of letting lifes little hassles seem like bigger deals than they are.




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Last modified: 02/18/08