Thursday, February 27, 2014

Bitter Cold, Low Blood, and the Beating of Drums

I’ve fallen behind in posting, so I’m throwing together a variety of subjects into this one to save time. Surviving winter has become a priority thanks to another bitter cold snap dubbed a “polar vortex” by the know nothing media. –35 below wind chills along with wood pellet supplies being depleted locally led us to purchasing corn to burn in the pellet stove. Figuring out the rate to feed the kernels to the fire pot has been difficult, but at least we have supplemental heat to offset the incredibly expensive LP gas during this latest cold snap.

Speaking of temperatures, Dad is doing well with the chemotherapy, but his white blood cell count is down so he’s having to monitor his temperature in case of fever. If he runs a high temperature he is to head straight for the emergency room. Other than that, he’s still running me ragged.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Going with the Flow

It has been one week since the initial round of chemotherapy for Dad and he’s survived it with no ill effects other than with my annoyance at how perky he’s been due to the Prednisone. For the moment he has more energy than I do despite the end of that particular course. We’ll see if that pattern holds up deeper into the treatment schedule.

While the battle with cancer continues, it is the siege by forces of winter that has occupied a great deal of our time, energy, and attention the last several days. Local wood pellet shortages combined with an aerial attack of snow resulted in our being forced to fortify our position. Hunkering down has nothing to do with problems getting the car up the driveway despite what the propaganda arm of the forces of tyrannical Jack Frost claim.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


It is said that timing is everything and while I believe that saying has a great deal of truth to it, I’ve always felt that seizing opportunities is far more important. So its been with a little chagrin that I’ve looked back on the last few weeks. Of late, timing really has been everything.

Little did I know that starting a new daily approach to weight training back in December would be critical for me having enough capacity to help my father deal with cancer in February. While my energy levels are only slightly up, the gain in muscle strength makes simple things such as moving around dramatically easier. In essence, I’m able to do more with less.

This is a traditionally slow time of the year for appliance repair, so there is less demand for my father’s services. Yes, this hurts the bottom line when dealing with all the expenses mounting up. However, it means he’s able to take things slowly without feeling guilty about it.

On a less dramatic note, yesterday had a few pleasant surprises for us. Little things working out and even an unexpected bonus of sublime silliness via the Squid Girl OVA’s bundled with graphic novels in Japan suddenly showing up on Crunchyroll. There is nothing like the healing power of laughter in my opinion, thoracic wounds aside. Watching the two episodes made us wish a third season would be made or at least the second being released on DVD or Blu-ray in North America.

Even with timing working out the way it has, I’m not letting go of my faith in making the most of opportunities. Chemotherapy infusion is a long process taking hours, so my sister Ann Marie and I had time to kill. For her, it meant cramming an online course into her head in preparation of taking the Bar exam. In my case, it was a chance to experiment with video conversion the day before so that I could take notes on a movie.

So as the various chemicals dripped into Dad’s veins, I watched a movie on my Nook HD while wearing headphones. Balancing the tablet on one knee and the notebook on the other, I scribbled away with the occasional interruption. Handbrake’s ability to burn subtitles into the video frames themselves made this possible, so you can safely assume the next review is of a foreign film.Of course that only took up two hours or so. Dad read a book on the Cook County hospital and I made headway into To Kingdom Come, an account of the disastrous 1943 bombing raid on Stuttgart. Both books are guaranteed to make you angry at authority, so maybe they aren’t the best reading during a stressful time.

Still, it was not a brain dead room.

Later that night I hooked the Nook HD up to the motel room TV and streamed episodes of Arrow from Flixster to introduce Ann to the series. Worked great until we were bandwidth throttled into oblivion.

Speaking of timing, I need to finish three weeks of unwashed dishes, get a workout in, and start screen capturing. No doubt, something else will come up to interrupt it all…

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

One Down

The first chemotherapy infusion session was yesterday and five more remain over the next several months. I’ll be watching my father closely for problems and generally to keep him from misbehaving. Since sickness and medicine are new to him, it is more than a simple adjustment. Dad genuinely doesn’t have a clue when it comes to this sort of thing.

Starting out slowly is the adapted treatment method beginning with prednisone first and a reduced dosage of the rest of the RCHOP therapy I wrote about before. Best news was that Dad did so well tolerating the Rituximab that they were able to speed up the delivery allowing us an early escape. In a week or two we’ll be back to get blood work done to measure blood cell counts.

As usual, the staff at Gundersen were impressive. Informative, helpful, and attentive, they kept things going smoothly.

My sister is winging her way back home after an extended visit to accompany him through the opening stages of the treatment. She’s got enough on her plate without having to worry over this, but that cannot be avoided. It’ll be interesting to hear how her eighteen month old daughter handled the absence, what with their longest separation previously being around a day.

Desperately searching for transitions and finding none indicates how tired I am at the moment. Sleeping in a motel room for two nights straight while running around the labyrinthine clinic complex is draining. Then there was eating out, which my digestive system did not like terribly much. I’d say only Hu Hot and Texas Steak House agreed with me, though that says more about my body than all the places we ate.

The latter was a first and I have to recommend their shrimp and rice dish highly. Service was very good too.

Spacing out a bit writing this, so I’ll wrap up. It’s nice to be home and familiar comforts should aid in the healing process for Dad.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Battle Plans

After a very long day at Gundersen Clinic, we finally know just what my dad is facing and how to combat it. A combined PET and CT scan provided a three dimensional map of the tumor involved by the end of the day which in turn helped the hematologist and oncologist involved to come up with a course of treatment. UPDATED with details.

First up, the form of cancer is diffuse large B cell lymphoma that is in stage 2 (out of 4 possible) which means it is still localized. To be more precise, the growth is in the bottom of the stomach, is six centimeters (or 2.5 inches) in diameter and some small lymph nodes nearby it also appear cancerous. It’s a nasty looking thing to view in photos from the recent endoscopy, yet more impressive when the sheer size of the thing is revealed in relation to the rest of my father’s body.

The good news is that this kind of cancer is treatable with an 85% cure rate. Not remission rate, cure rate. It won’t be easy due to dangers of the stomach perforating, but the odds are impressive to me.

The bad news is that chemotherapy will have to go six cycles for a total of eighteen weeks. This will be a long, hard slog. RCHOP is the planned combination of medicines and I’m far too tired to look up all of the ones involved for this post. Side effects are too numerous to list and none of them sound fun. Therapy sessions will run for hours and will be intravenous for the most part. 

Okay, details of the drugs are as follows:

Rituximab, Clyclophosamide, hydroxydaunorubicin,  Oncovin and Prednisone, although the Prednisone will be taken orally.

Hydroxydaunorubicin is the chemical used to make tail lights red on your car.

Cyclophosamide is better known as mustard gas in WWI.

Rituximab is human antibodies targeting system B cells and is cloned in mice.

Oncovin is an alkaloid that blocks cell division.

Prednisone is a commonly used steroid with a variety of applications.

Of course my dad will lose his remaining hair. He’s amused by that, but I’m going to have to find a supply of stocking caps for that bald head.

There’s a lot more we’ll have to be dealing with, however things could be far worse.

Chemotherapy has to begin as soon as possible which made it interesting when we had a whopping five minutes before closing time to arrange a screening test on Monday and the first session the next day. As the receptionist said, it was a miracle when it all came together.

All of this will require huge changes to routines and both of us will have to be very careful of our energy levels. I’ve got to figure out what I have to give up to compensate for the demands of taking care of Dad. As of this moment, I’m too tired to even begin figuring it out.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Winter Woes

This has been an unusually cold winter with days of snow falling nearly as excessive. Thankfully the latter have not resulted in very deep snow, but the wear and tear of the season is getting to be a bit much. At the time of writing it is –16F outside and 65F inside the house.

Thanks to not checking the LP gas levels, we are out and the water pipes are all frozen. It’s simply too soon to have run out of gas under normal circumstances and this demonstrates how ridiculously cold it has been. Now we wait for a snowplow to first come in and then we can get more LP.

The good news is it is supposed to get up to 20F today.  Eventually we will have water again.

A combination of cold and moisture has made the season unbearable at night for my father and me. Since it is the perfect weather to make joints ache, we’ve had a difficult time getting restful sleep.

This is a small concern given what else is going on.

After losing far too much weight in the past few months since his auto rollover, my father finally went in for tests last Wednesday. They found a large ulcerous tumor and we just got the results of the biopsies this morning. It’s cancer of a lymphoma type and chemotherapy is going to be required rather than surgery.

All we can do is deal with the situation as it unfolds.