As you can see, before the post about my dear Mother, the last blog post was in October. That is quite a bit of time for an update. At first, I regarded this as a good thing; sort of “no news is good news” kind of thinking. I was looking forward, feeling pretty good, and generally just getting on with my life. The holidays came and went, as they always do, and it was all good. In fact, our traditional Christmas Eve open house gathering was epic! In its 26th year, we had a banjo player picking and singing to entertain us, and just an amazing fun and warm time, a reunion of friends and families that left us glowing for days. The New Year dawned full of hope and promise.
In February, we shifted out health insurance and when getting on board with the new doctors, it was found, in a blood test, that although my “labs” were perfect, my cancer marker had risen significantly. The woman oncologist ordered an immediate CT scan, and the results showed some spots on my lower lungs. This, of course, was a very disconcerting development. This young oncologist recommended immediate chemo, a 3 drug protocol of the particularly nasty variety. I shared with her my “near death” experience with the previous chemo regimen nearly two years ago, and when I expressed my reticence to jump back into chemotherapy, she haughtily said, “Well, if my patients refuse chemo, then I usually recommend hospice.”
I thought this was unbelievably inappropriate and even crass. I knew at that moment that I was not going to insure my care to someone so insensitive and inexperienced. I decided on the walk to the car that I would change doctors.
I cannot express how this news affected me and my dear wife Amy. My worst fear is the cancer returning, and that seemingly was the news. The very act of entering a medical building brings anxiety, and I saw myself being sucked back into what I call the “medical-industrial establishment”. Making any plans becomes problematic, and one exists in a sort of limbo. All this was happening during the week of my mother’s memorial. I chose to keep the news from my sisters until after the memorial. It was a rough week, needless to say.
Through a connection with one of Amy’s home office management clients, we were able to get an appointment with a pancreatic cancer specialist at UCLA Medical Center. Dr. Isacoff is the man when it comes to pancreatic cancer, and we were fortunate to get to see him. West LA traffic is no place for the faint of heart, but with Amy driving the diamond lanes were available, and we made our appointment. After reviewing my case, Dr. Isacoff recommended an altered chemo regimen, at a lower dose. He offered to consult with the doctor in my network. He dispelled some myths and added some clarity.
I took this information back to a meeting with my new oncologist, Dr. Polikoff, with Kaiser in San Marcos, hoping for the best. Dr. Polikoff, a man of about my age, an athlete, seemed much more knowledgeable and involved. He asked and answered a lot of questions. He showed me the latest CT scan on his computer screen and pointed out to me the actual spots on my lungs as they appeared in view. Being able to actually visualize the situation in my lungs was a great help to me. He seemed much more detailed and concerned with my health and quality of life. He respected my commitment to exercise and health in general. He made note that the spots were still small, and apparently not growing quickly, and that my general health was still good. He also noted that my cancer marker, (known as the CA19-9 test) had apparently leveled off, at least for the time being. Also my weight, which had been dropping, an ominous sign for cancer patients, had stabilized.
His assessment was that a much more cautious approach was called for. He said, “If this is not behaving like an aggressive cancer, then we will not treat it like an aggressive cancer.” He promised to consult with a radiologist to see if a biopsy was possible, and thought that chemo was not called for at this time. After gearing myself up mentally and emotionally for the rigors of chemo, this was music to my ears! I was fully prepared to start a rather nasty 3 drug course of chemo, but I had been granted a last minute reprieve, so to speak! Amy and I walked out of the appointment with our heads spinning, having been whipsawed emotionally by the last two weeks of events.
So I find myself once again in that strange limbo that cancer patients often find themselves; waiting for a very unknown future. But in reality, this is true for all of us, is it not? Anyway, I’ll take limbo over chemo-land any day, believe me. I am counting my blessings and keeping my fingers crossed. So much kindness and good will has come my way, I am grateful. I have redoubled my anti-cancer regimen that I had become somewhat lax with. I take my mushroom supplements, eat my cruciferous vegetables, avoid sugar, meditate, lift weights and practice yoga, drink green tea, and the list goes on. It is a surprisingly full time job! I do see the toll this is taking on those around me, especially Amy, and I feel powerless to do much about that.
I am very glad that I can keep the commitments I made to couples for their weddings; this brings me great joy. I want to make the most of this time of focusing on my self and my health. Amy and I are planning a trip to Carmel to reconnect with an old friend of mine and my 40th High School Reunion is coming up in June. Perhaps more travel is in the works, if the winds be favorable. Until then, may your homes be peaceful and your efforts fruitful.