I’m not at the cancer clinic today!

My last radiation treatment was yesterday. The nurses and techs congratulated me for sticking with the 40-day program. I told them I felt like I was being let out on parole. The main tech said, “Aw, it wasn’t that bad.” I told her it was the commute that was tedious because I had to drive 35 minutes each way. (Nothing like my one-hour Atlanta commutes in the old days.) I think I’ll probably end up being the most wild and crazy patient they ever had since I see the world differently and am liable to say anything–and did. (When they asked me what the doctor said about the chills I had recently, although he said it had nothing to do with the therapy, I told the techs he said somebody put a hex on me but I wasn’t allowed to say who it was.)

The treatments, which lasted about 10 minutes each, were done with one of the clinic’s three Varian Linear Accelerators. Very high tech. I’ll have a follow-up appointment at the clinic in a month, presumably to go over everything.

Hormone therapy continues with my next appointment in January, three months after the last radiation treatment. This takes away what the cancer cells need. It could be three to six months before we know about remission. The hormone therapy provides false readings on the tests until the therapy is complete.

A breakthrough with the MRI about five years ago that can see cancer cells based on the sugars surrounding them is not yet out of testing (presumably) and in the field. If it passes muster, it should make all or most biopsies unnecessary. And, for my purposes, would tell me exactly where I am right now.

The treatment program I’m following is usually successful. I got a certificate from the clinic saying I’d undergone that therapy. One of the nurses grabbed me by the hand and dragged me out into the waiting room where there’s a mounted bell on the wall, along with a plaque that says patients should ring this when they finish a therapy program.

I asked if there was any particular approved way to ring it. She said “no.” I looked at my watch and said, “It’s 2:30. In the Navy, that’s five bells,” and I proceeded to ring it briskly in the proper manner: Ding Ding. . .Ding Ding. . .Ding.

I heard a lot of applause, but have no idea whether or not there were any former sailors there who understood I gave the time I was leaving the clinic.

It’s nice to be done with this phase.

Malcolm

Reading survivors’ stories

The clinic where I’ve been going for radiation treatments (42, so far) has a support group, which I haven’t attended, and throughout the building, large black and white photographs of previous patients who ended up cancer-free. Each photo is accompanied by a small plaque with several paragraphs of text that briefly tell each person’s story.

Inasmuch as my prostate cancer was caught early and wasn’t particularly aggressive, I didn’t feel the need for the support group; I think I might have felt out of place had each meeting been filled with people fighting cancers more like that of Jeopardy host Alex Trebek. However, I have felt a silent and on-going measure of support from the photographs and each individual’s successful fight (or multiple fights) against cancer.

Harbin Clinic, Rome, GA

Since I tend to arrive at the clinic a little early, I’ve read each story multiple times. Even with a somewhat low-grade cancer, I still find comfort in all those words and smiling faces.

In the local Wendys, there’s a lady (Shirley) about my age who gives me trouble about everything because I give her trouble about everything. Last week, she told me she hadn’t seen me for a while and thought I looked sick. When I said I was taking hormone and radiation treatments for cancer, she said her husband had gone through the drill a couple of times. We had the same doctor, as it turns out.

There’s a small bell in the clinic’s waiting room with a plaque instructing people to ring it when they’re cancer-free. So, I asked Shirley if her husband was still with us. She smiled and said he is. Said, “Did he ring that bell on his last day at the clinic?”

“Your darn right he did,” she said. We high-fived without damaging our hands or my junior bacon cheeseburger.

My radiation treatments end this Thursday. Since the recently developed MRI that can see cancer cells is probably still in testing, I’ll have to wait a while before standard tests will tell me what these daily visits have accomplished. But, if the staff should one day ask me to ring that bell, I will. Not because my journey has been scarey but because the sound might bring those in the waiting room a dosage of hope.

Malcolm

Unexpected comfort

“However, in her honor, it is my goal to help others with sick loved ones. It is my promise to make and deliver a Spoonful of Comfort to your loved ones with as much care as if I were sending it to my own mother. They’ll feel better and so will you. Whether you have an ailing mother, a child away at college with the flu or a grandchild with an ear infection, Spoonful of Comfort can help you show that you care with gourmet soup gift baskets.” – Marti Wymer, CEO/Founder, Spoonful of Comfort

When a person is sick, they often have a caring spouse–as I do–and caring friends–as I do–but when if comes down to the minute-by-minute crawl of days during their illness, they are usually alone with their thoughts and fears.

So any good thing that’s completely unexpected can make a great difference in their mood. In my case, it was the box I found on my front porch when I got home from my 40th cancer radiation treatment. It was a wonderful gift basket containing a quart of soup (kept cold in a special bag), granny’s cookies, granny’s dinner rolls, and a giant label to get the heated-up soup out of the pot.

I’ll respect the privacy of the C______ family, but they will see this post and know that the box on the porch really fired up my mood in a very good way. Thank you so much.

I happen to like chicken noodle soup accompanied by dinner rolls and cookies, so I’m looking forward to diving into this box of goodies.

Meanwhile, I followed the instructions and put the soup in the refrigerator, feeling less alone.

Malcolm 

The Radiation Blues

I got them ol’ radiation blues,
Yes, I got them ol’ radiation blues,
Too tired to drink and fight,
glow in the dark, I’m a sight,
can’t never sleep at night
from all the extra light.

It’s my understanding that while the radiation beam is fairly well defined, the machine can’t actually see the cancer cells. The biopsy said there they were, to the beam goes into that area.

This means it wipes out some innocent cells, cells that are minding their own business, don’t have a criminal record, never swear in church, you get the picture. So, I’m tired because my body is mobilizing against the threat to the system.

All that causes the radiation blues.

Today is day 30 out of 43. Then there will be a few more hormone injections. Yet, when all is said and done, we don’t know at that point how effective the treatment was. It might take three months for my test scores to go back down into the “he’s okay” part of the scale. The doctor said it could take as long as 18 months to see normal test scores.

I told him we needed Star Trek technology. He didn’t disagree even though he doesn’t think I glow in the dark.

Malcolm

My Glacier National Park novel “Mountain Song” will be free on Kindle from September 27 through October 1.

This and That and ‘Shadow of the Wind’

  • Our heatwave continues. (It’s time for y’all to say “there there.”)
  • Our lack of rain continues. The grass keeps growing because I think the house was built on an old kryptonite mine, but the small trees need to be watered a couple of times a week. We got out both riding mowers this past weekend and cut the grass before it looked like a hayfield.
  • I’m half-way through my radiation therapy (43 days in a row not counting weekends) for prostate cancer. Other than feeling more tired than usual, I haven’t experienced any ill effects.
  • On Facebook, people are going through a phase of posting the covers of their favorite books for 17 days in a row. When a friend tagged me to do it, I told her I don’t have the energy to post that many covers. But today, I posted the cover of Shadow of the Wind. It’s one of my favorite books. It has three follow-up books, the first of which was ok, but nothing like this one. I never got around to books three and four.
  • As for my own writing, I posted this on my Facebook author’s page today: Sparrow, who pushes a shopping cart around Torreya, is currently sitting in a diner eavesdropping on a conversation between two cops at a nearby table. They think she’s ancient, frail, deaf, and demented, so they aren’t watching their words about last night’s attempt on the life of the local KKK leader.Sparrow has been sitting there for quite some time, on hold as I go through radiation and hormone therapy to get rid of this cancer. She wants to move on with her story. So far, she’s been patient. She’s the protagonist in my next North Florida story. I hope she doesn’t run amok and change the plot while I’m temporarily away from the manuscript.Meanwhile, I hope y’all are enjoying my change-of-pace comedy/satire, “Special Investigative Reporter.”
  • There’s a nice review of Special Investigative Reporter on Big Al’s Books and Pals.

–Malcolm

Thank you for not giving up

I feel somewhat guilty writing too often about my prostate cancer because, compared with the heartbreaking stories we hear about from some of our friends or via online articles, my cancer is–as of now–rather low key. We lost one of our best friends to cancer a few months ago. Her cancer was thought to have been cured, but it came back and there was nothing for it–other than hospice care. She stayed strong as long as she could.

When I mentioned on Facebook a week ago that my 40 days of radiation therapy had begun, one of my long-time online friends wrote, “Thank you for not giving up.” She’s a feisty New Yorker and deals with issues and events that are quite foreign to me–as I’m sure my Georgia farm life is to her–so we don’t communicate often. But this comment was almost too much for me to take in and to process.

It never occurred to me to give up even though my age is getting up there and I keep reading about people who are younger than I am passing away after having “long and happy lives.” If I were in a worst-case scenario in a hospital bed, I might say this kind of life just doesn’t cut it. But I’m not, thank the good Lord. Sure, the daily radiation treatments are a bit tedious and, like almost all medications and protocols, they include a hideous list of potential side effects.

One of the doctors at the radiation oncology center said I might start feeling a lot of fatigue in several weeks. I mentioned that when I was checking diets, etc. online, I read that while alcohol was okay, I might be too sleepy and tired to care about it. When I told the doctor this, her response was “one’s never too tired for a glass of wine.” I’m glad we saw eye to eye about that.

I wonder how many cancer patients do give up. How many of them think that no matter what they do, cancer will ultimately win. Maybe not today or tomorrow but–like our recently departed friend–sooner than one expects. According to the statistics, all men will eventually get prostate cancer if they live long enough. That sounds like bad software to me. So, I suppose I should feel honored to have lived long enough to get it. I don’t. I’m pissed off because it’s a lot of trouble and it costs a lot of money to treat. Also, radiation is a one-time thing. If the cancer were to come back, we couldn’t use radiation again.

I don’t see the logic of putting my family $100000000000000 in dept for treatments that would prolong my life at a low ebb for another six months. But that’s not where I am with this. Nonetheless, when Lynne wrote, “Thank you for not giving up,” I felt that living out my life mattered to somebody–in addition to my family–and that gave me a strong dose of positive vibrations, the kind we should feel for all who are in need since they are stronger than most cures.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the recently released “Special Investigative Report” that’s available in hardback, paperback and e-book editions.-

My new home away from home

Okay, I didn’t pick this place out on the House Hunters TV show, so you won’t see me in an upcoming episode looking at ensuite bathrooms, kitchen appliances, or backyard pools. Actually, this is Rome, Georgia’s radiation oncology center:

Since I’ll be going there daily for radiation treatments starting August 15th, I feel like it would be easier if I had a penthouse apartment upstairs. Two days of CT scans have been completed, so now they (the doctors) have a template for where they’re going to beam the radiation for 40 business days. I suggested that walking into a nuclear power plant would be faster, but apparently, that has unpleasant side effects.

The waiting room has large black & white photographs of people who went there and were cured. Each has a positive blurb next to it. There’s also a bell you can ring on the day you’re cancer-free. Since the prognosis is good so, I might right that bell, even though nobody’s promising to but a poster-sized photo of me in the waiting room with links to where people can buy my books.

The whole thing is expensive, but Medicare pays most of it. I’m not especially stressed out about this, just kind of ticked off that I’ll be driving over there every day (except weekends). On Facebook, a lot of people who’ve gone through this before, have spoken of their experiences and the fact that they’re doing fine now. That’s nice to hear!

In other news, we haven’t released Special Investigative Reporter yet because we’re waiting for a proof copy of the hardcover edition. I’m still working on another Florida novel but set it aside temporarily because this prostate cancer stuff was making it difficult to return to the world of Eulalie and Lena.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Malcolm

 

Hello, Cancer, my old associate

Okay, here’s an update, and then I’ll get off the personal stuff and look again at books (including my own, of course), writing, and a bit of magic.

The news and our neighborhoods are constantly filled the talk of cancer as though it’s a shadow that follows all of us or, at the very least, hovers nearby as friends, neighbors, and widely known people either die from it or become survivors.

I’m already a survivor–from kidney cancer and successful surgery–two years ago. It was caught by coincidence when I suddenly came down with appendicitis and the CT scan and MRI found the tumor. Fortunately, it was on the outside of the kidney and could be removed before it invaded the kidney. I ended up with a six-inch scar that took a long time to fade away, but I feel hesitant to mention that I’m a survivor because I didn’t undergo the long and painful journeys that many survivors face.

You notice that in the title of this post, I didn’t say, “my old friend.” Yes, I suffer from depression, but not the fatalistic kind that would put cancer on my Christmas card or Facebook friends list. Suffice it to say, we’ve met before. I read somewhere that 80% of the men who reach 80* have cancer cells in their prostates. Sometimes it’s treated, sometimes it’s simply monitored. However, the older a man gets, the more his doctors insist upon a PSA (Prostate-specific antigen) blood tes several times a year. The higher the number, the worse the result is. So, you want to see nothing higher than, say, a “3” in the results. As you get older, that acceptable number gets a bit higher. My number has bounced up and down, partly because I had BHP (Benign prostatic hyperplasia) which can impact the results.

So, when the number shot up to 22, it was “what the hell is this?” The doctor put me under sedation and did a biopsy. A relatively small number of cancer cells were found. Fortunately, the follow-up CT scans showed that the cancer had not spread, the worst case being into one’s bones. When my wife an I talked the urologist yesterday about the results and prognosis, we were actually relieved because we already knew it was cancer and were more concerned about how bad it might be.

The treatment will probably be radiation since the cancer cells are scattered–rather than comprising a tumor–along with hormone therapy. We won’t know how this will be set up until June 10th when I have an appointment with the oncology department. The prognosis at this point is that the treatment will make me cancer free again by this fall. The radiation treatments [External beam radiation therapy (EBRT)] are a five-days-a-week protocol, and that’s way more doctor’s visits than I want. The treatments are painless and the side effects impact a very low percentage of those being treated.

So there it is, more cancer details than either you or I want to read in a post or anywhere else.

As for today, Lesa and I are celebrating our 32nd wedding anniversary. We’re having homemade mousaka for dinner along with some wine or Coke and maybe something amusing on TV.

Malcolm

* P.S. No, I am not in my 80s.