Welcome to the ER

If having cancer wasn’t enough, last week I got knocked down by a sepsis infection. It must have been creeping up for a few days but the symptoms were subtle enough, or I’m unaware enough, that I didn’t give them much attention. Small chills at night. Loss of appetite. General malaise. The, in about three hours I went from a physically active morning to the ER. Heavy chills and shaking. Fever of 102.5.

The ER folks were good. I wore my Cardinals jacket because it was still cold at 7000′. He is a big Cardinal fan. Not that it helped but he was very competent. After IV’s, scans and lab tests they announced they were going to keep me. Turned out I was in the hospital for four days before they got my fluids up, blood pressure up and the infection under control. Sepsis is no joke. Life threatening if not treated in time.

The food was ok to bad and the bed was just bad. Adjustable, but bad. Could never get comfortable. Nothing like being awakened every two hours during the night to have your vitals taken. Nothing like being unable to walk without assistance and sitting on the edge of the bed and peeing into a large bottle. An experience I don’t wish to to repeat.

Recovery at home is a slow business. Long course of antibiotics and plenty of rest. And I mean plenty. I can still read and write but I seem to need long naps every afternoon.

On the good side, the cancer medications seem to be slowly working. My leg swelling continues to decrease. But, being all mixed up with the sepsis medications and recovery, I won’t really know for a few weeks.



I was listening to Jordan Peterson’s lecture on the psychological significance of the flood story and he said something that cause me to pause and think about it. He said,

Once you’re labelled as a something, then strange things happen around you that often reinforce that label.

Of course, some of those strange things happen inside you, inside your head that skew your thinking to be somewhat constrained to fit the label. Should that be important? It is significant but I am not sure it should be important. After all before you walked into the office, or wherever the label was introduced, you were not thinking or acting in accordance with it. It was only after it was bestowed on you that your thinking changed.

Other things can happen that are external, like the way in which people you’ve known for a while, perhaps a long while, begin to relate to you once they are aware of your label. I’ve noticed this. I have become a somewhat different person for some people now. They react in accord with what they think or expect your label to mean. Sick? Well, there may be more compassion, more whispered conversations while you are present? Doors are opened for you more often. Some people no longer ask, “How are you?”, not wanting a real answer. Labeled a dishonest person, a liar? Some people you’ve known for a while no longer want to talk with you. Your invitations to gatherings and social events are fewer or stop altogether. Wealthy? The number of new friends and acquaintances suddenly increase. Solicitations for sponsorship or support arrive. People who already are wealthy are more friendly now.

If you learn that you have a serious condition to deal with, which is how I appreciate my own condition, then many people will bring their own ideas of what that might mean to them to their relationships with you. I think this is not unusual. What is unusual is that most people don’t show much curiosity and invite honest and forthright conversation about it. This is also not unexpected.

I am trying to be on the lookout for this phenomena and to reduce it when possible. I’m not my label. It’s another thing I have to deal with like all of the other unpleasant but rather ordinary episodes of life. And, like those other episodes, it is a learning experience. I will attempt to chronicle some of them here. Comments are welcome.

Paying Attention to the Signs

Having cancer leads to some interesting insights. I am much more attuned to other cancer survivors these days. I classify those of us who have had or have now cancer in whatever form as survivors. We are still walking around. I feel some comradeship with people I see who have lost their hair due to chemo. Those are the most obvious survivors and you know every one of them I have interacted with, or observed their interactions with other, are more gentle, kind and aware people. I know that I am. Having been subject to a serious condition is a certain way to refocus your attention on life and what things and people are actually important.

It may be trite to say that each day is important, even though it is. I totally comprehended the notion that today is all there is since we can’t recover the past and tomorrow will always be out of reach, always tomorrow. Comprehending is one thing but, getting your ticket punched for a ride on the cancer train is a sign that one can begin to understand that. I’m still working on that part. I’m beginning to be closer to my loved ones, do better things for myself and learning how to appreciate today and to make real and viable plans for the future. I’m working on what I want my life to be like three years from now, what it is now, what needs to change and the discipline to do that. If I know where I’m starting from and where I want to go, I can now judge my progress and correct my mistakes along the way. (At this point I have to thank Dr. Jordan Peterson for these insights.)

One thing is, I’m into writing my next book.

The Conductor

It should have been the man in the white coat, but he wore a blazer and tie.

“Let’s put our heads together,” he said to his companion, new to all this, as I was.

They were speaking code about something not to be revealed, now, here.

But I knew it when I heard it,

The conductor punching that ticket at last.

mds La Veta 2-18

I was born. I am alive. Life is going to kill me. As it always does, for that is the nature of it. The human problem is that we know we exist and so we bear the weight and consequence of that consciousness which is fatal. We live and as a result we die. It is what we do between those points that matters.

I am surprisingly comfortable with this. Given due diligence on my part, the love of family and friends and medical science I am likely to survive a few, or many more years. That is always an open question. In fact this unwelcome news does have a positive aspect: its focused my attention and life toward understanding what is truly important.

I’m working toward understanding this and uncovering the things I need to do to make my life true, authentic and connected to family and friends. A worthy goal I have too long neglected.

As I stumble along on this path I will share what I encounter here in hopes that it will be useful to someone else.

The Bell and the Micro Nuclear Air Strike

The Final Bell

Some serious catch-up is in order. I did finish the external beam radiation after five weeks of treatment. When you are done, you get to walk down the hall and ring the bell, which I did. Everyone in the Cancer Center and the John Zay house was kind and supportive, both the staff and the patients I came to know over my five weeks.

The radiation treatments were in themselves painless but the effects on my bladder and urinary system were not. There was a little pain during urination but the worst effect was the diminution of bladder control. Urgency took on a new meaning for me.

I remained on my hormone treatments during the holidays and in January my wife Barbara and I made ready to go to Seattle for the brachytherapy. I had been accepted as a patient by Dr. Peter Grimm who is one of the pioneer medical practitioners in this field. I had met with him in November and we spent a detailed hour together discussing the data he has accumulated over the years to indicate which would be the best treatment course for me. I like data, especially good, accurate data, which Dr. Grimm had aplenty. Next up was the actual brachytherapy itself, scheduled for January 14th in Seattle during which he would call in what I referred to as a micro nuclear air strike on the cancer in my prostate which was still reeling from the external beam attack in Colorado.

Of course, when Barbara and I began our three and half hour drive to the airport in Denver, it was cold, snowing and the roads were icy. We made it on time, put the car in the long term lot and took off for Seattle.

On Wednesday morning, up way too early, we caught an Uber ride to the surgery center.  For some reason I wasn’t nervous, like I anticipated. Everyone was both professional and very kind. After dressing in my funny clothes and meeting briefly with Dr. Grimm,  I walked into the OR, go on the table and while the anestheologist was hooking me up and we were chatting about something I awoke in the recovery room two hours later.

Details aren’t really necessary except to say that, as I was told earlier, the recovery was over about a two month period, made difficult by both frequent and painful urination. I got up one night six different times, although that was the record. I have medication to help which it does. I am now tapering off of that and slowly getting back to normal. My PSA dropped to 0.05, or basically undetectable. I am getting off the hormones and will be monitoring the PSA every three months. The latest studies show the treatment I have done is about 95% successful over ten years.

The most important things I have learned are: if you have prostate cancer, take your time to understand what kind (aggressive or “normal”), get an oncologist, not a urologist or radiologist who are specialists and want to practice their specialty. Most men do not need to rush into treatment. Don’t do anything until you have at least another opinion from a non-specialist. I learned that you should buy and read “The Invasion of the Prostate Snatchers” by Sholz and Bloom. You should get on the PCRI website and read all you can. Don’t listen to rumors, Google and people who are free with medical advice but not the knowledge that should come with it.

I’ve learned that life is short, it’s all you are going to get, so live it with gusto and quality.

If anyone needs to talk about this further, comment on this blog and I’ll send you my email address or call you.


If It Had Been a Snake…

My grandmother used to say to me, when I was looking for something that was obviously around but I just couldn’t see it, “If it had been a snake it would have bit you.” True enough.

I used to think this applied only to physical objects that had been placed so obviously in view that they disappeared, but now, having been through the radiation therapy part of my cancer battle (we won’t know if it is ‘cured’ until later, if ever), I think that the snake analogy works for other, more important and non-material aspects of life. Like, living it.

I’ve read a few books quite a number of times, books that have a particular resonance with me, and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises is near the top of that short list. I am reading it yet again, finding things in there that, while I must have previously read them, didn’t stick in my memory. One of those is where Jake Barnes is thinking about life. He says,

I did not care what it was all about. All I wanted to know was how to live in it. Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about.”

After years of reading and searching and talking about life and it’s possible meanings for me and everyone else, this was like the snake that could have bitten me.

There are a gazillion interpretations and beliefs of the meaning of life, including Monty Python’s, and, obviously they can’t all be right. I suspect that it is an unanswerable question and has no real meaning in respect to how and why a human lives. I certainly don’t cotton to anyone else telling me what life means and how to live mine. How could they know? I discount supernatural answers, forces and beings from consideration. That’s the same as saying we don’t know.

Now, after hearing the doorbell of mortality ringing, ringing for me, I think the answer to the meaning of my life is like that snake, only, this time it bit me. Yes, now I want to understand how to live in it, and maybe, as Jake thought, that might teach me something about what it is all about

Twenty Down, Five to Go

It’s been pretty routine so far. Today I finished treatment #20. Five to go and I’m ready for that. I’ve suffered few side effects, other than being separated from my wife and home for too many days, living here in Colorado Springs during the week. I could feel it today. I had a good night’s sleep and still awoke tired. I sometimes nod off watching a video. I yawn more than I used to.

So, today I think I’ll climb into the car and go back to my Japanese restaurant and treat myself to some good food. I’m keeping my weight pretty even, which is sometimes a problem especially on the hormone treatement program that I am also doing.

For any of you in my general situatioin, I’d say it’s important to do new things. Get outside. Excercise and get your mind involved in new things and new situations. Break the path to depression.