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Keane's Chemo Adventures, Update #6 - August 26, 2009

It's been a while since I've posted an update. I'll summarize it, then go into details later...

July 13: PET Scan.
July 14: CT Scan
July 22: Spinal Tap #2
July 31: MRI
Aug 12: Mom in hospital
Aug 15: Mom paroled
Aug 20: Spinal Tap #3

Summary: Still sick from the spinal tap. Otherwise, I'm supposed to be doing okay...

After visiting with my Oncology Doc on July 1, I was scheduled for a PET and CT scan to look for any remnants of the cancer.

The PET scan isn't at my regular hospital. As a matter of fact, later when I take my MRI, the nurse is surprised to find my network of hospitals even *has* a PET machine. Short for Positron Emission Tomography, you're sat in a comfy chair, and the nurse comes in with a heavy lead tube, containing a syringe with radioactive glucose. The theory is, the cancer cells will absorb more of the glucose than normal cells will. So they want you to sit still for 20-30 minutes before the scan, so the glucose can be absorbed into the cancer cells, but isn't altogether used as a food source by your body...

They put an IV into you, and attach this lead tube to you, and using a wooden dowel (actually three wooden cotton swabs), injects the glucose into you. I comment on the delivery system, and my nurse replies, "Yeah, they probably spent millions on it, too." Once again, the fact that the lead shielding is to protect people from the radiation, but is being injected into my circulatory system isn't lost...

The procedure is painless, but takes about 30 minutes. You're put into a long tube, where you just lie there. It was very similar to my heart scan.

The next day was my CT scan. (Computed Tomography, or Computed Axial Tomography.) Prep consists of a quick dose of that yummy Berry Smoothie Barium Sulfate, then that awful tasting iodine. Just before the scan, they inject an Iodine contrast dye, (where you sometimes get that warm all over feeling) and I'm out of the CT scan in 10 minutes.

July 22nd was my second spinal tap. I met with the Doc, who said my CT scan was clean, but my PET scan showed a spot in my right shoulder, and scheduled me for an MRI. Gee, a new experience. I'm slowly but surely being introduced to *all* of medical science.

I was actually feeling pretty good up until the Doc stuck the needle in my spine. Wow. Pain shot down my spine, making me involuntarily gasp. One of the worst experiences I've had. I was ready to give up any state secrets at that point, no problem. (Note to CIA: Don't hire me for any field work.)

My back hurts after the procedure is done (like I need more back pain of any kind), and it keeps me out of work the next day.

July 31, and I'm back in radiology for an MRI. (Magnetic Resonance Imaging. This device actually uses a magnetic field to make the water molecules in your body to line up in a certain direction. They then use a RF signal to cause the water molecules to rotate, and when the RF field is removed, the water molecules line back up. They can read this rotation, and can use it to image the body. That's the simplistic explanation.)

I make sure there's nothing metal on me, and I even leave all extraneous ID, credit cards, keys, etc. at home. After a short wait, I'm lead into the MRI room, where it's everything I read it would be. A big, honkin' cylindrical machine with a tube inside it (insert human here). The key to the locker they had me use to lock up my belongings is aluminum, and I look around for any loose fire extinguishers, etc. Looking at the questionnaire they gave me, they even ask if I have any tattoos. I thought they dispelled that one on Mythbusters a long time ago...

And the test is everything they say it would be. You're given ear plugs, then slid into a relatively claustrophobic tube (and I'm not claustrophobic) where you're treated to a cacophony of sounds, from clicking to buzzing to outright jackhammer-like pounding. Halfway through the procedure, they pull me out, inject a contrast dye, and motor me back into the machine for another round. Even with the noise, I think I may have fallen asleep. Must be my advancing years...

August 12. I check on my Mom (at least once per day, she's 83 and lives alone) and I find her in bed, semi-non-responsive, and she can't say certain words. Shit. In 2001, I found my Dad having convulsions, who was taken to the local emergency room, and he passed two days later. All sorts of things run through my mind, but I don't lose it, call 911, get the paramedics there, who take her to the emergency room at her home hospital.

Note to anyone who's primary care-taker of an elderly person. I have for years now, printed some business cards with all my mom's medical information on one side, and the meds she's taking on the other. If you're not doing something like that, DO IT! It saved me, the paramedics, the doctors and the hospital tons of time to have all that info in one place. Keep it current, and you won't even have to think about that stuff in an emergency...

Now, none of this has any import to *my* particular problem, except I now have another hospital and their procedures to compare against mine.

First, I cannot say how much more I appreciate my hospital network. From the doctors to the facilities. After she got out of the ER, she was in a double occupancy room. How they get around HIPAA laws is beyond me. I could hear *everything* in the room, including what was wrong with the patient in the other bed. The corridors were narrow, and some of the transport people had a hard time just turning a gurney around in the hall. The bathroom in the room was a toilet. There was a common sink for both beds, and no shower at all.

To be fair, she was in one of the older wings of the hospital, but the rooms I was imprisoned in when I was confined to a hospital bed was the Grand Floridian compared to hers. (Note: I have never stayed at the Grand Floridian. I've stayed at the Grand Californian, though, and that was a nice enough room...)

And I finally got to see how a CT scan works from the operator's end. It's interesting how fast the results are generated.

Anyway, talking with the neurologist, both the CT and MRI scans were clear. He thought it might have been a non-bleeding stroke, but she could walk and could talk clearer without any hesitation looking for words as time went on, and three days later she was released. No reason known, or given. She still can't remember being taken to the hospital or anything that happened in the ER. Scary.

Crisis past, but I'd sure like to know what the problem was. Makes planning for a vacation that much harder, if I have to have someone look in on her once or twice a day...

August 20. My third spinal tap. Talked to the doc about the MRI results, and I have the actual physicians report. I'd tell you exactly what the findings were if I could actually understand what the findings are.

Essentially, he doesn't think it's cancerous, and I was so sick when I was initially brought in, that they don't have a baseline to compare against. So, while he's going to talk to another doc about it, he doesn't think it's serious.

So I'll never throw another 90mph fastball, or play the piano again. No worries, I couldn't do any of those in the first place. (I've had problems with that shoulder for a couple years now. Think age, not disease.) Considering that's the shoulder that carried my 35mm camera for decades, and digicams and camcorders for the 7 to 9 years, I should think some abuse would show up... (Should I say that that's the arm I drink with?)

But the third spinal tap was faaaar worse than the second. The pain during the procedure wasn't as bad, the after effects were far worse. We went out to eat after the procedure was done, and I couldn't finish the meal. A good patty melt at Steak 'n Shake, too.

Since that time, I've had headaches and nausea. Bad headaches and bad nausea. I was able to keep some soup down on the third day after the procedure, and was able to get solid food in me by day 4, but I'm still weak from not eating and still get a pretty bad headache if I get up to quickly. I can keep solid food down by day 5, but still have a slight headache. Once again, the cure seems to be worse than the disease. On the other hand, if the cure works, you live. On the other hand, if the cure doesn't, it's...not so good.

So that brings me up to date. I am, essentially cancer free. That's good. On the other hand, I have a double whammy coming up in a week and a half, both my final spinal tap, and a bone marrow biopsy. That's not going to be fun. But it *will* be the last treatment I have... At least it better be.

I won't even digress a lot, except to say my hay fever (more defective genes from my parents) seems to be pretty bad this year.

And my hair is coming back! It started coming in grey, then changed to black. In a way, it sort of reminds be of a duckling, changing from that fuzzy coat to real hair. Problem is, it's not growing in fast enough. At least not for me...

And do you think I should be concerned that my doc didn't know "This Is Spinal Tap" was a movie? Maybe I'll get him a copy before this is all over...

What's really depressing, is a guy at work, "who seemed to be responding well to his chemotherapy" died a couple of weeks ago. We both rolled the dice and came up "cancer". We rolled it again, and while I rolled an okay, he...didn't. (For you DnD'rs, I made my Saving Throw...)

Between that and the scare my Mom put into me, I'm not sure what to think.

Excepting, of course, the Poly or AKL, and when...

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