Monthly Archives: January 2016

The Chemo Diaries: Year Two, Round Two

Getting ready to fluff my pillow before the chemo drip begins.

The Chemo has been going pretty well since my first real extended break. By extended, I really only mean two weeks off from the usual cycle. The first infusion after the vacation may have left me a bit more tired than expected, but I wasn’t exactly super well-rested after a week of extra stairs and cross-country travel. It will be interesting to see how this round goes.

Chemo and Gratitude


This isn’t about still having my hair, or not throwing up all the time. Maybe it’s a little about those things. But I have been quite fortunate with regard to all aspects of my treatment and to all the people involved with the process from initial decision making to treatment to support. Nowhere along the way was I met with an adversarial situation. (Huntington Memorial and my Nurse Navigator, the illustrious Christine, get special credit for that, having gone to bat with my HMO so that I would not have to. And the whole staff with my oncologist at Keck works diligently to ensure that I am shielded from most HMO related nonsense, as well.) Continue reading The Chemo Diaries: Year Two, Round Two

Everyday Tragedy

I’ll admit that there are some days when I feel like stuff is pretty bad. As with most people, I imagine, it can be easy to focus on how stressed out I am over finances, health issues, car trouble,  marital concerns, whatever it is that is going on with my kid, deadlines on projects I don’t really want to be doing, deadlines on projects I really don’t want to be doing, some bullshit, that other thing, whatever… But before I go moping off into my self-aggrandized pit of misery, something usually stops me. More and more often in recent years, it has been essentially the same thing: the reminder, through everyday tragedies experienced by people I care about, that life is fragile, tenuous and entirely worth not wasting on feeling sorry for myself.

Tragedy teaches us

As much as these are lessons I would rather not have learned, it is an inescapable fact that every tragic occurrence teaches something. The lesson might seem small, even devastatingly pointless, but that is part of the theme; the overarching message life gives us is that we are all relatively inconsequential, except to each other. Our value is created by our contribution, our loss felt more deeply for a future deprived.

More than that, however, life teaches us that we — any one of us, at any time — can simply be removed from the social equation. That includes everyone we love, everything we hold dear. Our closest friends. Our parents. Our children.

There are lots of practical causes for things that turn tragic. Some of these we can do something about. Better gun regulations, better mental health services, better education. Sometimes we just get lucky and hit the brakes while turning the wheel at precisely the right moment. Continue reading Everyday Tragedy

Death in Threes and the Power of Words

The common saying is that “they come in threes.” We’re talking about celebrity deaths, of course, and although this is typically the sort of nonsense that can be justified simply by shifting the period of inclusion so it always appears to be accurate, there is something eerily unique about this past week. Within nine days, we have had three prominent people of the same age whose deaths are blamed on cancer.

First, we had Ellen Stovall, age 69 and president of the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. Technically, she died from complications related to cardiac disease, but the cause of her heart trouble is traced back to treatments she underwent 45 years ago for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. According to her obituary in the New York Times, she had a recurrence of the lymphoma in the 80s and then also discovered that she had breast cancer — about this time she also discovered a pamphlet from the organization she would later be president of, which introduced her to the term “survivor” as a replacement for the word that had been commonly used to describe cancer patients: victim. This subtle adjustment of language helped to give her drive and focus and to become a force in the next wave of cancer awareness. She died on January 5th.

Next came the news on January 10th that David Jones, better known as David Bowie, had died after an 18 month “battle” with an undisclosed cancer just two days after his 69th birthday. While his family declined to offer details, it was reported by the New York Times that the director of Lazarus, Bowie’s Broadway collaboration, mentioned liver cancer in an interview with Danish media. Whether this meant the cancer originated in the liver or had merely settled in that organ is not clear, keeping in tune with the varied enigmatic personas the performer was known for. However, not knowing the type of cancer adds not just to the mystique of David Bowie, but the general fear and uncertainty that the word “cancer” conjures on its own. Continue reading Death in Threes and the Power of Words

Change the C-Word, Change the Story

In the Nineteenth Century and the five thousand years preceding it, there were countless deaths attributed to the C-word. People from all walks of life, all ages, genders, races and religions succumbed to this mysterious illness. Just the mention of the C-word sent chills down the spine with a growing sense of desperation and defeat. Sly businessmen sprang out of the woodwork, pitching miracle cures in little bottles and raking in money hand over fist because sometimes the patient did get better and the oil in those bottles appeared to work. More often than not, the sick would get sicker in spite of the slick sales pitch, and a lack of access to proper medical care made the situation worse. Bodies, once healthy, wasted away with the onset of the disease. In the latter stages of the illness, doctors often would not even treat the disease, so sure they were that the patient had no hope.

Miliary tuberculosis (7471756830)

Gradually, people began to talk about the C-word differently, and a truly miraculous thing happened: people stopped dying from it. The reasons were simple. For one thing, medical science was catching up to the reality of a wider variety of illnesses. Early detection became possible, allowing for a proper diagnosis and quick treatment. More importantly, it became very clear that the C-word was not a real thing. That word, of course, was “consumption,” a blanket term for pulmonary tuberculosis and any similar diseases that the populace lacked the ability to distinguish between or treat, but that was not truly ever an actual disease of its own. In reality, the term “consumption” only referred to the symptomatic withering of the body, which seemed to be consumed by the illness itself. Once the name of this condition was replaced with more specific terms and better differentiated by medical professionals, it rapidly became known as a treatable bacterial infection rather than the feared disease of yore.

Cancer is rapidly becoming the consumption of our day.

Although President Obama has rightfully put cancer research back at the forefront of popular discussion and national priorities in his last State of the Union Address, he has propagated the myth that “Cancer” is an actual thing. There can be no “cure for cancer,” as our President has called for and as so many people have promised or devoted their lives to in the past. There can be no singular cure for the big-C label of Cancer because there is, in truth, no such thing. Much like the consumption of a previous century, cancer has been a term used as an umbrella for a wide range of conditions that have been little understood and poorly diagnosed. Over the past twenty years, it has become increasingly more obvious that the old views on cancer were often wrong, misdirected or simply incomplete. These recent decades have offered major new discoveries and — perhaps more importantly — new distinctions that prove there is no “Cancer,” but rather hundreds of cancers. More to the point, there are hundreds of distinctly different types of cellular mutations that may become cancerous, and each of these should be considered for what they are, discussed as what they are and treated in an appropriate fashion. Continue reading Change the C-Word, Change the Story