Tuesday, March 3, 2009

This ain't no cakewalk

The war on my cancer cells resumed on Monday when, after a two-day unilateral truce, they got carpet-bombed with fresh rounds of chemo and radiation.

I was all over the Kaiser Kampus on Monday: I reported for my second chemotherapy treatment at 8:30 in the morning, and then had my 16th radiation therapy treatment at 5 o'clock.

In between the two sessions, I replenished my supply of liquid Extra-Strength Tylenol –Kaiser pharmacists may wonder why it's so hard for them to keep that product on the shelves this winter– and saw Dr. Birusingh.

Dr. B, a head-and-neck surgeon, is the first provider I saw after going to my HIV doctor for a referral to get to the bottom of my problems, and Dr. B is the one who first suspected cancer as the cause. In January, Dr. B performed the biopsy on my tongue and drilled the cavity in my neck to make way for my trach.

After that surgery, when Dr. B came to my hospital room to update me on my condition and one of my friends fainted as he listened in, Dr. B was the guy who came to that friend's rescue.

If you are a return visitor to TP, you know that keeping the players in this blog straight can be a challenge.

Dr. Buchschacher –another Dr. B.– is the other significant KP doctor on my team. So starting today, I'm giving them the code names Dr. Thiamine and Dr. Riboflavin, or Dr. B1 and Dr. B2 for short.

For my visit today with Dr. B1, I jotted down a page of questions for him to answer.

"Getting a lot of phlegm building up in the back of my mouth. Normal?"

"Tongue still swells. Radiation causes swelling, too, right?"

"Getting white stuff on my tongue. Anything to worry about?"

Dr. B1 assured me that the side effects I'm seeing are all normal.

He'll continue to monitor my progress through Kaiser's electronic medical records and see me again in April, unless something comes up and I need to see him sooner. I have his personal email and cell phone, and he encourages me to use them.

The only gloomy note Dr. B1 sounded during Monday's visit was something he had mentioned a while back but I wasn't prepared to hear at the time: I may not know whether the treatments I'm getting now succeed until three to six months after they conclude.

I never doubted that I was up against a formidable foe, and didn't expect that the war on my cancer cells would be a cake walk.

There's a lot working in my favor. I'm tolerating the side effects of treatment fairly well, and my G-tube and trach don't keep me from enjoying life's fundamental activities: working, going to movies and an occasional concert, and pawing through CD bins at Amoeba.

And I am blessed to have a sturdy stable of family and friends who keep my spirits up and are always willing to help.

My life isn't normal, but it ain't bad.

Even that phelgm factor I mentioned to Dr. B1 today has a silver lining: After three months of eating only liquid nutrients through my G-tube, it's refreshing to have something sliding down my throat again.

I even wrote lyrics to a jingle to celebrate this culinary discovery. I don't want to attract attention from the legal department at Campbell's Soup, or make any of you wince, so look for this jingle as an Easter egg on the Thinking Positive DVD.

Yeah, it's odd to sing about phlegm, but you gotta play the cards you're dealt, not the ones you wish you had in your hand.

But as soon as I get rid of this G-tube, I'm ditching the phlegm-Isosource diet. And not looking back.


  1. As I remember it, your friend actually swooned. He was thrilled that Dr. B1 was there to bring him around (and appalled).

  2. And I thought that swooning only happened in this movies! To think that I actually witnessed it without realizing what it was . . . oh, well, Dr. B1 is a great doctor. They all are good, but Dr. B1 is especially terrific. My cancer cells hide and quiver when they sense his presence.