Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Signed, sealed, mangled

Family members in Colorado mailed a card to me to buoy my spirits.

They used a first-class stamp on the envelope, but the Postal Service exercised their option to treat the card to a first-class stomp. When I opened my P.O. box the other day and saw the envelope, it had been bent in half in order to fit inside.

When my family picked the card off the rack in Colorado, it played music when you opened it up. But thanks to the ham-fisted brutes at the Studio City Post Office, the gadget embedded in the card to make it sing had been destroyed.

The reverse side of the card bore the publishing credits for the apt tune that the card was designed to play:

"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Dem bones gonna rise?

Maybe I need to look at replacing my bed and mattress with a simple wooden chair.

Because as soon as I sat down on the bench in the waiting area of Kaiser's Head and Neck Surgery Department on Monday morning, I fell fast asleep. That never happens when I lay down on my bed at home.

I might still be snoozing on that bench if Soledad, one of Dr. B1's medical assistants, hadn't poked me when it was my turn to be seen.

Fortunately, I had completed my homework before coming to the Head and Neck Department. Just as Soledad led me to a seat in Dr. B1's exam room, Dr. B1 walked in and I held up my notepad with a lengthy list of symptoms and questions (and a congratulatory note on Dr. B1's nuptials in Iowa a few weekends ago).

Dr. B1 read my list and then examined my face and mouth. Right off the bat, he saw that my face was more swollen than it was six weeks ago, when he last saw me. He also said that the swelling in my tongue has diminished over that span of time.

I was thrilled that Dr. B1 didn't again tell me that we need to wait and see how my symptoms develop before any action is taken. Instead, Dr. B1 said that I may have infection in the bone of my jaw and that I need to be seen by a maxillofacial surgeon to determine the next steps, which could include removing bone from my jaw.

Guess I can abandon any dream I harbored of playing the lead role in a "Dick Tracy" remake. But if my jaw does go under the knife, I could emerge from surgery as a doppelganger for one of the villains in Tracy's Rogue Gallery.

I can live with that, if it means that the pain I've been experiencing diminishes or goes away entirely.

After my appointment in Head and Neck, I hopped across the street to Member Services to resolve a problem with my G-tube.

Ten months of tube feedings have eroded the rubber cap of the G-tube to a nub. Any day now I expect the piece to break off completely, and if that happens it will be a bona fide crisis.

Sure, I could probably use a wad of chewing gum to prevent the G-tube from leaking but I can't chew so I would need to borrow someone else's gum. I just don't want to risk alienating my friends or resort to looking under table tops in coffee shops in order to retain the integrity of my G-tube.

Weeks ago, my doctor called Kaiser's Durable Medical Equipment Department to get the piece replaced, but they delivered an entire G-tube, not just the piece that needs to be replaced.

This morning, my mission was to correct that error. I showed Laurent in Member Services my G-tube —weeks of using the locker room and showers at the gym have eliminated my bashfulness about brandishing my G-tube in public— and he assured me that the piece I need will be delivered in the next few days.

I have the highest confidence in Laurent —but it's the folks in Durable Medical Equipment that I worry about.

Pray for my rubber cap, readers.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Close encounters

I've always believed that I amble through life anonymously —just another schmo with one tube drilled into his neck and another dangling from his belly.

An incident last night suggests that I may not be as anonymous as I think.

I was sitting in the third row at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, waiting for the 30th anniversary screening of Bette Midler's "The Rose" to begin, when I decided that maybe I should make a quick trip to the bathroom to slam 30 ml of Extra Strength Liquid Tylenol down my G-tube.

While weaving my way through the crowd up the aisle, I heard someone shout, "I read your blog!" After assuming that someone had spotted Nikki Finke or Ariana Huffington in the mass of people, I was startled to realize that the person who shouted was talking to me.

He went on to explain that he learned about this blog from Dana Miller's Out and About column in Frontiers IN LA several weeks ago. Naturally, I was speechless —and embarrassed because I didn't have a pen on me so I could chat with this reader. I couldn't even ask him his name.

So I just shook this reader's hand, tried to contort my lips into a smile, and then made my way to the john to do the deed with my G-tube and Tylenol.

Reader, if you are out there, I hope you don't think I was being snooty. I really did want to chat with you. Heck, I could have used your assistance in the bathroom. It was quite a challenge to juggle a G-tube, syringe, container of Tylenol and a bottle of water in a bathroom stall with only two hands and surrounded by bacteria-contaminated surfaces.

After the film, it was my turn to approach someone. In the lobby of the theater, I spotted the actor who performed the voice of Oogie Boogie in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.

This time, I was prepared to strike up a conversation. I whipped out my note pad and gushed "Loved you in The Nightmare Before Christmas!" on a clean page, and walked up to the actor and held up the note for him to see.

He was gracious and reminded me that Halloween was coming so Nightmare would be making its annual run at the El Capitan Theater. He even sounded like Oogie Boogie.

What I shoulda done was ask him what he charges for a day's work. It would be pretty cool to hire Oogie Boogie to be my voice.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Ready for a new groove

I haven't had an appointment with Dr. B1 since the middle of August, and a lot has happened in those six weeks.

Not with me —with him! My head and neck doc got married last Saturday —on a farm in Iowa, no less. Cowbells were ringing across America's heartland.

So when Dr. B1 enters the exam room on Monday morning I hope he will temporarily set aside talk of tumors and tongues and tracheotomies and allow me to ask him questions about his farm nuptials. Was the ceremony interrupted by barnyard bleatings? Did guests toss horsefeed at the couple when they departed for the honeymoon? Did they drive away in a tractor? (Actually, in light of what happened on Mad Men the other night, I hope all wedding guests were required to wear close-toed shoes and stay clear of all farm equipment with blades.)

Then I will need Dr. B1 to return to his doctor persona and tell me something to give me some more hope than I've been feeling these days.

I haven't been myself recently, Reader.

The rigor mortification of my face has marched forward over the past six weeks. I'm feeling as much pain as I've ever felt during the course of this cancer ordeal, and I've earned merit badges in sleeplessness, crankiness and pessimism. Drug stores throughout the city can't keep enough Extra-Strength Liquid Tylenol on their shelves to satisfy my need.

I've been so absorbed and depressed about my situation that while walking up the hill to the Greek Theatre on Thursday night to see the Pet Shop Boys perform, I found myself staring at the ground and managed to follow the sidewalk into No Man's Land in Griffith Park. Thank God the park authorities have been thinning out the coyote population recently, or I might have arrived for the Pet Shop Boys' performance with claw scratches all over my marbleized mug.

So I hope that Dr. B1 will have something more inspirational or instructional to say to me on Monday than "We have to wait and see, Mr. Serchia" and set up an appointment to see me in another six weeks.

If that happens, I'll probably throw a fit in Kaiser's Head and Neck Department, like one of the Pet Shop Boys' West End Girls, kicking in chairs and knocking down tables, thinking I'm mad, too unstable. "If, when, why, what?" indeed.

You guys will be the first to know what happens.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I tripped the alarm to my office building when I arrived for work early Tuesday morning.

My work site is on a busy thoroughfare near the Beverly Center, not far from the West Hollywood Sheriff's Station. As the ear-piercing "WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP!" wailed over the din of traffic, I bolted to my desk and waited for squad cars to arrive and for the S.W.A.T. team to circle the building.

I expected to be dragged away in handcuffs, all because the code to override the alarm had been changed, and no one had given me the head's up. I wondered how I would respond when the officers read my Miranda rights —particularly the one that goes, "You have the right to remain silent."

The alarm was still WHOOP!ing 20 minutes later and still no one had arrived. Eventually the damn thing shut up and I was able to get some work done. Later in the day, I got the memo that revealed the new code to override the alarm, so it probably will be a long time before I experience that much excitement at the outset of the workday.

Still trying to figure out if I am truly disabled or if this speechlessness is just my way of exercising my Miranda rights.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Listen up

I haven't been able to talk for 10 months now, and frankly I don't know if my voice as I knew it will ever come back.

But maybe that ain't such a bad thing.

I mean, as I remember, my voice was in need of some refurbishment. For a guy, my voice was a little on the high side —maybe even shrill.

The good news is that, thanks to modern technology, I don't have to wait for my old voice to come back.

I can talk today.

One day at work last week, I stumbled on a feature on my office computer that I didn't know existed. Just by using a simple combination of keystrokes, my computer can turn text into speech!

Not long ago I learned that you can achieve this feat on a iPhone, but I had no idea that my two-year-old desktop Mac could do the same thing.

It's not an ideal way to communicate. For one thing, my computer isn't portable; for another, its speaker is somewhat tinny. Finally, it takes time to type out what I want to say and then highlight the text to make it audible. Not a lot of people are all that interested in hearing what I have to say to have to wait that long.

On the other hand, this spiffy feature does restore some of the powers of speech that I lost last year.

And best of all, my new voice is not anything like my old one. I'm not even limited to one voice. There are 10 personalities I can choose from, which almost gets me into Sybil territory.

All of the voices are somewhat robotic, and some are more appealing than others. "Alex" is a basic, functional male voice. "Bruce" make me sound like I'm underwater. "Fred" is kind of dopey. "Junior" is whiny, and "Ralph" makes me sound like Isaac Hayes.

And then there are the female voices. "Agnes" is shrill, "Kathy" is mousy, "Princess" is oddly common, "Vicki" is mature and "Victoria" is sheer annoying.

After I select a personality for my speech, I can then select a speed and one of 14 tones, including "Bad News," "Good News," "Bahh," "Bubbles," "Pipe Organ," "Hysterical" and "Deranged."

It's going to take me a while to get the hang of speaking again. In fact, by the time I get really proficient at using this new tool, my natural voice could come back. (You never know.)

But it's refreshing and empowering to hear my vocal cords vibrate again, even if it's that happening only through the miracle of computer technology. Steve Jobs, you rock.

I can't wait to spring that Isaac Hayes voice on the next telemarketer who calls.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bells are ringing

I hadn't expected to see Dr. B1, my head and neck surgeon, until my next appointment with him at Kaiser, a week from Monday.

So it was quite a jolt to spot Dr. B1 at the gym Sunday morning. While sitting on a stationary bike and reading the New York Times, I turned to Page 16 of the Style section, and there was Dr. B1's photo in the Weddings and Celebrations announcements.

My doc and his partner, Glenn Williamson, got hitched on Saturday at Dr. B1's family farm in Crescent, Iowa.

For years, I've been asking myself why I read the Weddings and Celebrations in the Times with such attention to detail. Well, all of that effort paid off this morning.

I hope Dr. B1 and his husband don't hyphenate their surnames. Dr. B1 is a convenient handle for my doc in this blog. Dr. B1-W or Dr. W-B1 rolls less easily off the tongue. Not that anything rolls off my tongue these days, of course.

Congratulations, doc!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Poem for Henry Gibson

Your Laugh-in verse sweeter than the sweetest bippy

As Haven Hamilton you were sublime

I'll remember you as a clean-cut hippie

O Henry, you left us before your time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let's make a deal

Readers, some bloggers get all the breaks.

I've been kvetchin' and carpin' about cancer in this space for the better part of 10 months, and all I have to show for it is, well, 199 posts of kvetchin' and carpin'. No one has knocked on my door offering to turn this blog into a movie or television series or slap it between hard covers and sell it on Amazon. I just click "Publish and Post" and my musings sink or soar on their own merits.

Meanwhile, some union organizer named Natasha living in Washington, D.C., starts a blog called "The Footnotes of Mad Men" and whaddayaknow: a month later HarperCollins offers her a book deal!

Natasha Vargas-Cooper's The Footnotes of Mad Men is based on an acclaimed series on AMC, now in its third year. I've never seen the show —my TV plays DVDs only— but even if I did have cable television in my apartment, I doubt that I would be able to stay up past 10 p.m. on Sunday nights to watch "Mad Men." And I'm certainly not clever enough to operate a TiVo or DVR or whatever I would need to enjoy television shows that are broadcast past my bedtime.

I am aware that "Mad Men" is gaining popularity and probably will clean up at the Emmys on Sunday. Every time I visit Amoeba, I check the DVD bins for a used copy of the first and second season of the show. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying catching up on episodes of "Sanford and Son" from 1972. (Lamont Sanford's bell bottoms, gold chains and shirts open to the navel are starting to affect the way I dress.)

But I'm digressing. How does a blog based on someone else's fictitious creations merit a lucrative book deal while this blog doesn't?

And Natasha Vargas-Cooper is not the only blogger out there who is capitalizing on someone else's labors. Not too long ago, a New York woman named Julie cracked the spine of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cuisine" and decided to blog about cooking all of Child's recipes, which Child and her co-authors spent years testing and perfecting.

Not only did Julie land a sweet book deal, she got her book made into a movie with that cute Amy Adams portraying her!

Can I expect to read in Variety that some studio has picked up Natasha Vargas-Cooper's "The Footnotes of Mad Men" for a movie?

I'd kill to have this blog turned into a movie. I'd even be thrilled if Meryl Streep were to be cast to play me. Barring that unlikelihood, a contract for a book — or a series of Bazooka Joe wrappers— would give me at least something I could crow about at my next high-school reunion.

Maybe I need to just get off of this depressing cancer kick and write about something else that I know: "The Footnotes of MAD Magazine," maybe.

Natasha . . . Julie . . . Girls, you gotta tell me how it's done.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Look who's talkin'

I just got an extension on my Luddite credentials.

For 10 speechless months, I've been carrying a note pad and pen wherever I go, and using them as my communicating crutch. As long as my tongue and my brain are not on speaking terms, these tools help me get by whenever I need to communicate with my co-workers, friends, the lady at the dry-cleaners and representatives of the Beverly Hills Police Department.

With all of the paper that my scribbles have consumed since last fall, I probably am responsible for stripping a forest the size of Duarte of trees.

Now I learn that if I were only more technologically savvy, I not only could have reduced the depth of my carbon footprint, but I could have made things a lot easier for the innocents who strain to read my handwriting.

A report in Tuesday's New York Times tells how speech-impaired people use the iPhone 3G loaded with text-to-speech software as a means of talking —or they would if they could get Medicare to cover the expense of the gadgets. (Your tax dollars at work, folks: Medicare won't pay for devices like iPhones, which have capabilities beyond speech-generating software, preferring to cover far more costly devices that only provide speech assistance.)

I don't expect to be on Medicare anytime soon, so I should start saving for an iPhone now. Heck, if the Times had published its report one week ago, I could have applied all of the dough I've been spending on the new crop of remastered Beatles CDs and had a good head start on my iPhone fund.

Instead, I'm exactly halfway through my third round of collecting the Beatles' complete works, which is pretty impressive/crazy —take your pick— considering this generation of Beatles CDs has been out less than one week.

When I finally scrape together enough scratch for an iPhone and the tools to facilitate speech, maybe I'll find software that will make me sound like a Liverpudlian, tacking a "bloody" before every noun and a "luv" at the end of every sentence.

When that happens, our planet will be far better off, my friends will dread conversations with me much less, and I'll feel positively fab.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Just do it

When I talk about my plastic and rubber body parts, I always seem to forget my oldest fake body part of all: my hearing aids.

I always carry my hearing aids with me, though I don't always have them plugged into my ears. At the moment, one of the aids doesn't work, but the other one does and I wear it at work and in some other situations.

On Sunday I went to the Laemmle on Sunset Boulevard to catch a new documentary on the advertising business called "Art & Copy," and when I settled into my seat I put the working hearing aid in my left ear and kept the other one in my hearing aid pouch. I guess I left the pouch in my lap and during the movie it fell to the floor. It wasn't until I was already heading home after the movie that I realized it was gone.

My health insurance no longer covers hearing aids, so replacing one would cost me hundreds of dollars. I panicked and rushed back to the theater.

I handed a note to the ticket-taker explaining that I left something important at my seat. She said I was welcome to go back into the theater to look for it, but the next screening had just begun and it might be hard to find anything in the dark, especially if someone was sitting in the seat I had.

The theater was pretty full, so I just found a vacant seat to sit through the film again and wait for the houselights to come up.

Fortunately, "Art & Copy" is a good film that was just as enjoyable the second time around. In it, a number of figures in the advertising industry talk about the inspiration behind campaigns for clients like Apple, Nike, Tommy Hilfiger and many others, but it became clear to me during the repeat viewing that the film is about more than simply advertising.

One line toward the end of the film leaped out at me the second time I heard it. Explaining that advertising artists and writers —or the people who hire them— sometimes make bad decisions based on fear rather than take bold steps driven by inspiration, Mary Wells, founder of Wells Rich Greene, says "I think fear is a powerful depressant."

When I heard that line again, a proverbial light bulb illuminated above my head. Lately, my health situation has kept my dreams on a short leash, and my fear about where this is all leading has kept me from taking more risks, thinking differently, living my life as fully as I should.

The message was loud and clear the second time around. Lucky for me that I saw "Art & Copy" again.

And by the way, I found the pouch with my hearing aid.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Catch ya next time, Mr. Armstrong

It sorta sucks lurking on the periphery of L.A.'s cycling community.

I'm working on getting back into the spin of things, but it's taking time. Meanwhile, I missed out on participating in an event that L.A. cyclists are buzzing feverishly about today.

On Wednesday, Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong tweeted this message to his followers on Twitter: "Hey LA - get out of your cars and get on your bikes. Time to ride. 7:30 tomorrow am. Griffith Park, LA Zoo parking lot. See you there."

I didn't learn about Armstrong's visit till this morning as I was scanning Facebook posts before heading to the office. If I had jumped into my cycling gear right that minute and hopped aboard my bike, I would have been able to make it to Griffith Park to join him, but I would have had a lot of 'splaining to do to my boss when I arrived late for work.

Luckily, it appears that a handful of my cycling friends did ride with Lance Armstrong this morning —along with a few hundred other riders— and will be chattering about it for some time to come. One of my friends says that she even got Armstrong's autograph on something that looks like a purse. (From the photo posted on Facebook, it looks like he signed his name in Farsi.)

Would Lance have agreed to autograph my G-tube? I probably will never know. He already has left L.A., and is tweeting from Quebec.

Lance Armstrong visits Griffith Park

Monday, September 7, 2009

Smooth moves

I always get a little nervous when I shave these days.

I just don't recognize the guy in the mirror whose face I'm trying to shave. Beyond the shock of unfamiliarity, it's really difficult to get a close shave on the parts of my face that have premature rigor mortis. It's like shaving moss off of a rock. I'm horrified that I'm going to break the razor or chip part of my chin.

The night before a new work week begins, I give it my best shot. Around the middle of the week, I'll stand before the mirror again and give myself a maintenance shave but it never seems to do much good.

Which gives me another reason to admire Pee-wee Herman. Pee-wee sure is clean-shaven.

On Sunday, I went to the Silent Movie Theatre for a screening of "Pee-wee's Big Adventure," which was released almost 25 years ago and is just as funny now as it was then. If I could laugh, I would have laughed for the entire film —from the first scene, in which Pee-wee dreams that he wins the Tour de France, to the last, when he and his friend Dottie fly their bicycles, E.T.-like, in front of a drive-in movie screen.

Before the film, a few clips of Pee-wee's appearances on Late Night with David Letterman were shown. Man, how I wish I could laugh out loud. Maybe you can do that for me.

Pee-wee's humor may not be everyone's cup of tea —I get the feeling that Dave doesn't quite know what to make of him— but if nothing else, you gotta admire Pee-wee's clean shave.

Friday, September 4, 2009

It's only jock 'n' roll

One nice thing about riding my bike again is that I have rescued my cycling wardrobe from a destiny of mothballs.

Up until three years ago, I was content with cycling in a ratty T-shirt and cut-offs. Then I unloaded my clunky Schwinn on a friend, invested in a new road bike for myself and started training with serious cyclists.

It didn’t take long for me to catch on that I didn’t look like the other cyclists who passed me on the road. More important, I wasn’t as comfortable riding in street clothes as they seemed to be riding in jerseys and shorts designed for cycling. So before I got a reputation among my new cycling friends for making poor fashion choices, I decided that I better grow up and start looking like a serious cyclist myself.

My first cycling jersey was a Pos Ped jersey. Then I discovered the Rockware Jockware section of the store at the Rolling Stones’ website, and went wild one afternoon loading up on jerseys for the seven days of AIDS/LifeCycle 5.

My collection of Stones jerseys grew to a ridiculous size while training for AIDS/LifeCycle 6 and AIDS/LifeCycle 7. I must own eight or nine Stones jerseys now, all of them a different treatment of the band’s tongue logo. Maybe that doesn’t sound like an absurd amount to you but these babies cost $80 a pop! For three years now, I’ve been underwriting Mick Jagger’s summer vacations in the Mediterranean and keeping Keith Richards clad in Louis Vuitton.

At the same time, I was acquiring annual additions to my set of Pos Ped jerseys, and picking up AIDS/LifeCycle commemorative jerseys as well. So by now I reckon I own 25 jerseys in all.

If this cancer crisis had turned out differently than it has, I probably would have never worn those jerseys again, unless I decided to be buried in one of them. So it’s truly a wonderful feeling to slide open the drawer in my bureau where I keep my cycling gear, and picking out a jersey to wear.

I’m about ready to slip into my red, white and blue Stones tongue jersey to head home to begin the holiday weekend. What makes my cycling excursions even sweeter these days is that those fat red tongues on my Stones cycling jerseys are now more than a corporate logo; they're a symbol of my recovery-to-come.

But seriously, I don't need to go on any more shopping sprees in the Stones' Rockware Jockware shop. No matter how badly Keith needs to buy another pair of alligator boots.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Patti is back in town

Rock goddess Patti Smith and her band are back in town for a free performance tonight at the Santa Monica Pier.

I really have a jones for Smith —and have ever since I was a pudgy, pimply punk in high school and Patti released her album Horses. But I'm going to pass on her show at the Pier tonight.

Call me a fuddy duddy. But I just can't summon the patience to crawl to Santa Monica during the evening rush —that "subway to the sea" can't come soon enough— struggle to find parking and then stand for a few hours in a crowd craning my neck to get a good view of Patti and her band mates. With luck, she'll come back to L.A. sometime soon and perform at a venue where I can sit during the performance and sip Metamucil through my G-tube during the intermission.

I know I'll regret my decision once I start reading reports of tonight's show. Patti never disappoints.

Only a month ago I saw Patti at a book signing in West Hollywood for Patti Smith: Dream of Life (Rizzoli International Publications, 2008). It was the second time that I met Patti, following a signing event at Amoeba Music a while back. I handed a note to Patti thanking her for all of the enjoyment she has provided over the years, and explaining that I couldn't tell her that with my voice because I had cancer. (The signing took place the day after my biopsy but several days before my doctor told me that I no longer had any evidence of cancer.)

I was too flustered to remember the exact words that Patti spoke but she wished me the best and said something like "Get healthy," as she looked directly into my eyes. Once Patti Smith has looked directly into your eyes, you are never the same again.

In my copy of her book Patti wrote, "To Paul: People have the power" and signed her name.

Patti, I'm sorry I won't see you dancing barefoot on stage tonight but I want you to know that I am on the road to getting healthy. Have a great time at the Pier.

Twilight Dance Series at the Santa Monica Pier

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Courage comes in colors

When my radiation treatments ended in March, I walked out of the treatment lab toting a souvenir.

I'm not talking about the side effects from treatment that I'm still dealing with five months later, though I suppose that they are a souvenir badge of my treatments in a twisted sort of way.

I'm talking about the ThermaSplint mask that was molded to the contours of my face for my 33 treatment sessions in February and March. Each visit, before beginning treatment, the radiation techs lowered the mask over my head and locked it into place to keep me from shifting position while the rays were targeting my tumors.

At the conclusion of the final session, the radiation techs ceremoniously presented my mask to me, correctly guessing that I would be jazzed about displaying my mask in my living room.

I placed my mask on top of my television when I got home that night. But it wasn't long before the thing started to give me the creeps whenever I watched my Mary Tyler Moore Show DVDs so I found a place for the mask on the upper shelf of a bookcase in my bedroom.

I don't have any plans for using the mask again, but if you turn on the news one day and hear about a reward being offered for information leading to the capture of a ThermaSplint bandit robbing banks, go ahead and turn me in.

Well, to my surprise I learned that I'm not the only guy in the world with a fetish for ThermaSplint head gear.

A friend just let me know about "Courage Unmasked": a fund-raising event taking place next Wednesday at the American University Museum at the Katzen Art Center in Washington, D.C. One hundred artists have transformed radiation masks formerly worn by cancer patients into unique works of art, with proceeds from the event benefiting head and neck patients who are not able to afford radiation treatment for themselves.

Check out this gallery of photos of the Courage Unmasked collection. I hate to play favorites, but I love the Mr. Potato Head vibe that artist Susan Cole created for "Member of the (Medicine) Cabinet" and the whimsy shown in Raymond Van Santen's "The Magic of Courage."

Courage Unmasked just may inspire me to do something fancy to my own ThermaSplint mask, which is a spitting image of its owner, especially the nose. It would make a splendid rhinoceros.

Support Courage Unmasked with a tax deductible donation

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Recovery in slow-mo

Cancer has fled the scene without leaving a forwarding address, but I still have regular pit stops with my Kaiser providers to monitor my recovery.

And so the month that began buoyantly with my doctors' pronouncement that I am cancer-free ended on Monday on a flat note, with my doctors acknowledging that I'm likely to be saddled with the side effects from radiation and chemotherapy treatments for longer than I would like.

My appointment in Kaiser's Radiation Oncology Department was my first visit there in nearly two months. The last time I was in Radiation Oncology was a real downer. I learned that my Jacko PET scan –so dubbed because it took place the day that Michael Jackson died– showed lingering signs of cancer activity, despite the barrage of treatments I had in February and March.

Even though that PET scan was disproved by my biopsy in July, Monday's visit was not exactly celebratory.

The pace of my recovery from radiation and chemotherapy is stubbornly slow. At times, it seems that I haven't made any progress at all over the past five months. My mouth barely can open; the pain in my face continues; I still have no feeling at all in parts of chin and jaw.

Dr. Chen, the lead doctor in Radiation Oncology, told me on Monday that we just have to wait and see how things go. Before giving me a chance to reply, Dr. Chen added, "I know you must be tired of hearing me say that."

I am. But I knew even before treatments began that the side effects could be severe and slow in diminishing –possibly, the damage from treatments will be permanent.

I didn't walk out of Monday's visit empty-handed. Dr. Chen said that I could resume exercising the mobility of my jaw. While I already have a TheraBite mouthpiece designed for these exercises, Dr. Chen recommends that I stick Popsicle sticks in my mouth for now. He even gave me a starter set, which saves me the trouble of buying a box of Popsicles and tossing out the part you eat.

I'll start with one Popsicle stick, and then add more if I think my mouth can handle it.

By the time of my next visit with Dr. Chen, I hope to make real progress. Eventually I hope to become the Jack LaLanne of Popsicle-stick calisthenics, and then move on to complete Popsicles.

And after that? Frisbees.