Thursday, August 3, 2017

Wait! What?

First things first: The pathology report came back with no evidence of cancer.

Yes, Rachel and I are relieved we don't have to fight another bout of cancer at the moment; but it took less than ten seconds of the appointment for the lady ENT to tell us that information.

Now let me tell you about the remaining two hours.

Holy. Shit.

But before we get to that, let me start thirteen hours earlier:

I went to sleep at 9:30pm (my usual time) and Rachel and I both set our alarms for 4:30am (about my usual time to get up). The plan was to make lunch for the four of us, get the boys up around 5:15am (they had no idea we were going to Seattle), eat breakfast, then leave between 6:15-6:30.

At 2:30am I hear my youngest get up. I checked on him, tucked him back in bed, and then got back in bed myself--only I was pretty awake. I had slept well for five hours, so I knew that I was probably up for good.

I wasn't nervous or anxious or really had any worries that kept me awake, I was just, you know, awake. So I lied there thinking about the next few stories I wanted to write, along with the few I am currently finishing up, and just let time pass. In hindsight, I should've just gotten up to write. Instead, I kept hoping I'd get another 30 minutes or so of sleep. Yeah, I knew better.

A little while later I hear, "Daddy."

It was my youngest.

I get out of bed and see it's now 4:00am. He hadn't gotten back to sleep either.

I'm thinking there's not much that can be done; he'll have to muscle through the day we're getting ready to have.

Then I was so very thankful it wasn't my oldest that had interrupted sleep. That would have been a nightmare.

So I tuck him back in bed again and go back to my room. As I'm getting in bed I hear Rachel say, "Is he ok?"

"Yeah," I answer. "He and I have just been up since 2:30."

"Jesus," she whispers.

I don't think he had anything to with it.

At 4:30 the alarms go off. We get up, make lunch, get the boys up, watch The Three Stooges and Bugs Bunny while eating breakfast, then leave at 6:20.

So far, so good.

The drive and ferry ride were fine--we even made such good time we got an earlier ferry than the one we were aiming for--and we get to the city with plenty of time before the appointment.

I really didn't want to take my kids to this appointment. For one, if I the pathology report was not in my favor then I certainly didn't want to deal with their shit on the way home. For two, I didn't want to deal with their shit, period. These trips are already stressful as it is. They aren't quick little jaunts down to the local medical facility like it is in big cities--no, this is an all day event.

But we decided to go ahead and take them. (I do thank Stacie for offering to watch them, though. You rock.)

The doctor's office called the day before and asked if I could check-in about thirty minutes earlier than my scheduled time. Due to the procedure she was doing, she wanted to make sure she had enough time to get everything done.

So a little before 10:00am I check-in while Rachel got the boys setup in the lobby and on their iPhones. They hadn't played games in a long time so they were pretty excited.

Then the nurse called me back.

I don't know if any of you have had a scope down your throat before, but here's basically how that goes: they spray both nostrils with some numbing spray, then run a camera up your nose and down the back of your throat.

I've had this done several times and when it's done correctly it's not bad at all. It's pretty cool, actually, because they are getting video of the vocal chords and the surrounding area.

Well this time the SLP comes in (I've known her a couple of years now) and sprays my nostrils. But then she also stuffs each nostril with cotton balls that are loaded with lidocaine.

That should have been my first clue this was not going to be a regular check-up/visit.

She let those cotton balls stay in my nose for something like ten minutes, then moved me into another room. A few minutes later the doctor came in and said the pathology came back and that it is papilloma (which was what she originally thought it was). It will be another week before we know the subtype.

The subtype is important because some subtypes are more prone to turn into cancer than other subtypes. Regardless of the subtype, though, I'll be monitored pretty closely. But I'll be monitored more closely if it's the I-can-turn-into-cancer-at-any-moment subtype. I'll let you know more when I do.

"Is it cancer?" I ask.

"It's not cancer," she answers.

Rachel sighs, relieved to hear the news.

There's the ten seconds

Now the lady ENT tells me what the plan for the day is.

Remember, when I told you I was tired of being rare? Well...

During surgery last week she was able to get the biopsy, but she wasn't able to get all the papilloma--well, it's more like she couldn't get much of it. This is because when I was asleep, my passageway got even narrower. On top of that, my anatomy is such that, while still in the range of "normal," it is on the challenging side to work with.

Bottom line: She wanted me awake to finish the procedure.

Um, okay.

I wouldn't be relaxed like one is when knocked out from anesthesia, so my passageway would be bigger, and I'd be able to move and help her when she needed it.

"So, we're going to numb you up pretty good," she says.

Remember, my nose is already numb from the cotton balls, and the back of my throat is a little numb from the spray the SLP used.

But wait. There's more. So much more.

She sprays the inside of my mouth with lidocaine, but the first squirt gets my lips and now they are going numb. Then she sticks a needle into the right side of my neck, injecting more lidocaine, then does the same to the left side. The left side hurt, burned actually as the needle went in and released the lidocaine. The right side didn't because it's still numb from last year's surgery to remove the tumor. I think she did two injections on each side of my neck.

Then she had me gargle some lidocaine and swallow it down, trying to numb my throat.

At this point I'm doing ok. Yeah, kind of uncomfortable to get shots in the neck, and the taste of the lidocaine was disgusting, but overall, nothing too horrible. (It bothered me more psychologically to get injections into my neck then it did physically.)

They're going to run a larger scope than I'm used to up my nose and down my throat. Ok. I don't really know what that means physically, but sure, whatever.

They give a pair of goggles to both me and Rachel, then the doctor and the SLP put their goggles on, (and I assume the laser technician and the transcriber did, as well) for eye-protection from the laser.

I, of course, have had my eyes closed ever since she said she was going to inject my neck with lidocaine. I didn't really open them until the procedure was finally finished.

She inserts the scope into my right nostril and it hurts. It's like pressure only with this uncomfortable grinding feeling that I would rather do without.

"Ok," she says. "More lidocaine." She pulls the scope out, then sprays my nostrils again.

On the second attempt she got further but I could feel the scope on the back of my throat. I have a very sensitive gag reflex and so I started, you know, gagging. We gave it a minute to see if it would pass, but of course it doesn't. Every time she went to extend the laser portion of the scope (to get to the part she needed to laser off), I would gag.

She pulls the scope out again, then injects each side of my neck with more lidocaine. Then she says, "I'm going to inject some into your throat and it's going to cause you to cough."

Wait! What?

She injects a needle through the middle of my neck and directly into my throat. I feel the lidocaine puddling in my throat and sure enough, I begin to cough.

Holy shit! She just put a needle through my neck and into my throat!

I'm trying not to let that thought overpower me as she gives me more lidocaine to gargle and swallow.

Attempt three: she inserts the scope again and it still kind of hurts as it passes through my nostril, but not enough for me to say anything. I'm reaching the point that I want this shit done, and I don't want to prolong it and go through more of the numbing procedure if I can help it.

"You're doing great, Randy," I hear the SLP say. She is on my left side while the doctor is on my right.

I think there's a screen behind me where the video is displayed, allowing the doctor to see what she's doing. I wonder if Rachel is watching it.

I hear the technician say, "We're ready," or something like that. Then I hear a buzzing sound and can slightly feel the laser cutting away.

"Breathe through your nose," the SLP says. She's rubbing my left arm.

"You're doing great," the doctor says; and I feel like I am.

But then I feel it.

I feel it burning me.

Sharp, concentrated burning as the papilloma are incinerated.

Then I smell it.

The smell of burning flesh.

Of my burning flesh.

I don't panic, but I flinch.

She stops.

"I can feel it," I say.

She pulls the scope out and we go through more of the numbing process. When she injects more lidocaine directly into my throat, I don't cough as much. This is good because it means I can't feel it; that my throat is getting numb. "Not as much coughing, this time," she says to the SLP. Then more neck injections.

There's some joking between all of us about how sensitive I am, and about how much lidocaine I need.

But it is what it is. And she is oh so patient with me.

I shake my head and whisper, "Shit." I don't know how much time has passed, but I know they've been trying to get me numb for quiet awhile now. My patience is starting to wane. I'm getting tired of going through this.

Attempt four: I still feel the scope going up my nostril and a little bit on the back of my throat, but I stay quiet. We can get this done, I think and proceed to wait for the laser to start.

The technician signals he's ready, the SLP is still rubbing my arm, and the doctor is in position. I have no idea what Rachel is doing. I want her to come up to the chair and take my hand so I can squeeze it when the doctor begins again. But I know there's not enough room. I remain quiet.

The buzzing sound.

Again I can feel it burning me, but not as bad as before. However, I can feel the scope at the back of my throat and I start to gag. We wait to see if it'll pass. It doesn't.

My eyes water. Not because I'm sad or crying, or even from frustration, but rather from squeezing them so tight for a long period of time. A tear strolls down my right cheek and I wipe it away.

This time she keeps the scope in my throat (it's in a good position) and injects more lidocaine through the front of my neck and into my throat. I'm trying to keep myself from gagging by swallowing my saliva and taking short quick breaths.

"Slow down your breathing," someone says to me. I think it was the SLP. I do, but I'm thinking I need the short quick breaths to keep from gagging. I alternate between the two breathing techniques and along with swallowing my saliva, am able to keep the gagging to a minimum.

"Shit," I repeat.

She begins the laser again.

I can't feel it on the left side of my throat but when she moves to the right side I definitely can. I flinch a little but not too bad. "You ok?" she asks.

I give her a thumbs up. I don't want her to stop. We're so close to finishing that I don't want to do anything to interrupt the process. Let's just get it finished.

My right foot shakes as I involuntarily try to comfort myself.

She begins again. Short little bursts of a buzzing sound followed by the laser doing its thing. Most of the time they were quick bursts, but there were a few longer ones--like she was sculpting wood using a chainsaw.

I feel the flesh being burned off, and I'm confident the smell permeates throughout the room. I wonder if Rachel can smell it. I will learn later that she could.

"Just about there," the SLP says. I grab her hand and squeeze, hoping I'm not hurting her.

Several minutes later the doctor says, "That looks to be all of it." Then she pulls the long-ass scope out through my nose and I try to breathe normally.

Both the doctor and the SLP step back from the chair and look at me. Out of the corner of my eye I see Rachel still sitting in the corner.

"You ok," the doctor asks again.

I slowly open my eyes for like the first time in an hour or so. Everything's blurry. My eyes are wet so I rub the tears away with a tissue. "Yeah," I answer, but not much volume came out. My voice cracked, had no pitch, and was less than a whisper. "Did you get the vocal chords, too?" I choked.

"Yep," she says, and I'm thinking: What the fuck? You just freehanded a laser over my vocal chords. There was no robot?

But I don't say anything.

Because I can't.

I am grateful neither she nor I sneezed, though. If you know what I'm saying?

Then all of a sudden this rush comes over me and I'm trying to figure out what it means and where've I've felt it before. Well...

When I was in elementary school, me and some buddies were rollerskating on our street--I must've been eleven or something. Anyway, there's like four of us, and for some reason we have a long, rusty old pipe. I have no idea where we got it, but we were skating with it down the middle of our street. For some reason it was lying in the middle of the road and we were all going to pick it up and skate with it. You know, like 10 to 11-year-old boys do.

Before I reach to pick it up, though, I see my dad at the edge of our driveway looking toward us, but I'm too far away to hear what he's saying. (I learned later he was calling me home.) In any case, I bend down to pick up the end of the pipe. But as I do, the other boys picked it up before I got my hands on it and the edge of the pipe clocked me in the right eye. I immediately reached for my eye with both hands and started skating home--as fast as I could--screaming. At one point, I pulled my hands away from my face and all I could see was blood. Everywhere. Covering my hands, running down my arms. I panicked. I remember thinking that's it, I just lost my eye.

My parents took me to the emergency room and I remember the doctor saying something like had I been hit a couple of millimeters lower then I would definitely have lost my eye. He stitched me up and we went home.

A few weeks later my mom took me to our family doctor to get the stitches out. I sat there dutifully still while he plucked each stitch out one-by-one, though I felt each tug on my eyelid. When he finished, I was standing next to my mom on the little cushioned bench that was in the room while she talked with him.

Then I felt weird. I got all hot and clammy--like life was just draining out of me.

All of a sudden the doctor grabbed me and immediately turned me upside down. He held me that way for a few minutes.

I was too young to know what was happening or to state what I needed; but the doctor knew. I was about to faint.

I look up at the Lady ENT and say through a cracked voice, "I'm going to throw up."

She quickly gets a bedpan and hands it to me.

A minute later I say, "I need to lay down."

I can feel it. I'm going to faint. It's the same feeling I had when I was eleven years old, only this time I knew what it meant. My stomach was churning and doing flip-flops, and it felt like my blood was draining through my feet and onto the floor.

The doctor immediately lowers the back of the chair I'm in. I start to squirm, trying to get comfortable--trying to not puke.

The room's hot. The SLP gets a cool, wet washcloth and places it on my head. She then puts ice on my chest. A nurse opens both doors to circulate the air.

I feel horrible. I just want to crawl inside a hole somewhere--anywhere but here--and just let time pass.

I'm given the room for however long I need, so I stay put. Rachel checks the boys (I think this might be the second time she's gone out to the lobby to check on them) and then comes back into the room.

After awhile I start to feel better. The doctor and SLP check on me several times and state that color is returning to my face. I no longer feel like I'm going to throw up.

Rachel helps me stand and we go to get the boys.

Two hours after I initially checked-in, I was finished, and we were headed home.

When it was looking like the boys were going to have to come with us on this trip, I made the suggestion one night to Rachel that maybe I should go alone and she stay home with the boys. (I had no idea what this visit would entail. I thought it was just a quick follow-up where the doctor would be taking a little bit of papilloma off. I mean, she wasn't putting me under, so of course I could drive myself.)

Rachel didn't like that suggestion, and quite frankly, I didn't want to go alone. I wanted her with me. Every visit to the doctor is nerve-wracking these days because at any time one of us could get the news we fear the most.

So I am very grateful I didn't go alone.

She drove home and I slept. The boys did pretty well through the whole thing. They do surprise me once in a while.

I asked the doctor about speaking. It was very difficult to get that out, so I knew I wouldn't be able to really speak for awhile. This was a much different feeling than I had after surgery. I could talk fine after surgery; more evidence that she was unable to get much papilloma off during that time.

So I'm not talking. Well, not much, anyway. No whispering. No forcing my voice out. I am to let my body tell me what it can do.

My follow-up is in three to four weeks. Hopefully, I'll be talking better by then.

The whole experience absolutely sucked, and I hope all of you are spared from having to go through something similar. Through it all, my wife, kids, the SLP, and the lady ENT were fantastic. I appreciate them beyond words.

Well that's about it. I'll let you know about the subtypes after I know something.

Until next time, my friends.

Take care.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Days In Between

After a fantastic dinner and evening with our good friends Jeff and Sarah, they dropped the two of us--Rachel and I--off at the hotel around 9:30. (Us old people can't stay out too late these days, you know.) And as many of you know, I spent the next hour and half glued to Twitter.

But in the room there was also this strange, black, rectangular box with gray buttons on it just sitting on the table in front of the couch. It was weird. And it felt like it was calling me.

The buttons were labeled with things like the numbers 1 through 9, VOL, CH, and a host of others I didn't understand (and I doubt anyone else understands, either), except for this big red button in the upper left hand corner labeled POWER.

I see why.

I felt it take my hand and pull it toward the rectangular box--my mind unable to resist its force. It was like I was in a short story by Stephen King. One titled The Button or something, and told from the ghost's perspective: "I pushed the button. I died." And that'd be it. A six-word story that he'd probably sell to Playboy for something like $5000 or more before selling the rights to Hollywood for some ungodly amount and then we'd get some hour and a half movie about a guy trying not to push a button.

But anyway.

I digress.

My thumb pressed the red button (obviously I didn't die) and the pixels on the black screen before me came to life. I was watching "the news" but quickly (and I mean almost instantly) I learned that I could not listen to the bleached-blonde lady and her male companion as they talked about what was going on regarding the healthcare vote in the Senate. I just wanted the live feed from the chamber. I didn't need or want the idiotic commentary.

So, I searched the channels for CSPAN. But apparently CSPAN is not a popular channel at this hotel as it was missing, along with the so-called "adult" channels (not that I was looking for those channels, I just happened to notice they weren't--)

Oh nevermind.

So for an hour and a half (way up past my regular bedtime) I read Twitter and posted to Facebook while the television silently displayed its images. Then, after eating two yogurts, I went to bed to join Rachel who had retired 45 minutes or so earlier.

Well, I didn't exactly join her. The room had two twin beds. Yeah. Seriously. So I climbed into the bed with virginal sheets and proceeded to sleep horribly.

Surgery was scheduled much later in the morning than I prefer, 9:45, but I had to be there two hours earlier. I took it as a good sign when they eventually got me to my "room" (which was nothing more than a small area with curtains as "walls") and the number was my favorite number: the number 9.



They put me through all the prep by getting me in my sexy hospital clothes, pumping hot air over me, and hooking me up to the I.V.

Then we waited.

At one point I say to Rachel, "I'm tired of this shit."

She's coloring, trying to take her mind off another hospital visit; another surgery; another possible bout of cancer. I doubt she's being successful. "Me, too," she agrees.

But it is what it is.

We keep moving forward.

It was near 10:30 before they took me back to the OR--the surgery before mine went longer than she (my surgeon) was expecting--but that's fine. If she needs more time working on me, then I would want her to take it and not rush. But, I was getting hungry. I hadn't eaten or had anything to drink since around 11:00 the night before.

Everyone in the OR was terrific--my doctor, the nurses, the anesthesiologist. We were all joking, laughing, and keep everything light. I felt relaxed. I felt good.

They placed the mask over my nose and mouth, then we all joked about the first time we ever saw the word "Sequim" and how we all incorrectly thought it was pronounced: see-qwim.

Then I went to sleep.

Smiling.

A couple of hours later I woke up groggy and dazed. I heard the nurse talking to me, but it took several minutes for me to understand her--for her words to actually become words in my head.

The first thing I said was, "How'd it go?"

She replied, "I know they got the biopsy, but I don't know what else they did."

I'm restless in the bed. I turn over several times, trying to come back to the living; trying to get comfortable.

Again I think, I'm tired of this shit.

I come too enough that they send me on to Recovery 2, or whatever it's called, where I'll meet Rachel.

Only Rachel's at lunch. With Jeff.

Bitches.

To be fair, Rachel was a trooper and only had a coffee during the morning while we waited for them to take me back for surgery. She didn't eat breakfast, so I know she was starving.

"She's at lunch and will be here in about half an hour," the nurse tells me.

I'm actually still kind of groggy, so that was fine. We weren't leaving anytime soon, anyway.

The nurse asks if I'm in pain, which surprisingly I was not in much. Probably still pumped up on something. She offers me something to eat: applesauce, popsicles, and something else I don't remember, but I remember thinking, hell no, that doesn't sound good.

"You have any pudding?" I ask.

"No, we don't."

What? Who doesn't have pudding available for patients after surgery?

Instead of saying that, though, I politely ask, "You have grape popsicles?"

They do and she brings me one.

A half-hour or so later, Rachel and Jeff come walking down the hall. They both get on me right away when I ask them how lunch was.

"You're not supposed to be talking," they both cry, almost in unison.

I can talk, I just need to keep it to a bare minimum. And no whispering.

I say something of the sort back to them and Rachel says, "Well, you sound kinda sexy."

Yeah. I know.

Rachel spoke with the doctor after surgery. She got most of the papilloma but will need to get the rest off during the follow-up visit in her office.

Wait! What?

That sounds like it's gonna hurt.

But I trust her. She's fantastic. So that's the plan.

About 45 minutes or so later, Rachel gets the car while Jeff and the nurse wheel me down to meet her at the front doors. We say thanks and goodbye to Jeff, then head to the ferry.

Well, Rachel, being the one to remember such things, asked the nurse before we left the room if we could get a medical pass for the ferry. That certainly came in handy as we aimed to get on the 3:00pm boat. Without it, we would not have made it.

The drive up HW 305 was nice. A beautiful summer day in the Pacific Northwest as we drove through forests and over the water. The ability to easily do both of those things in a matter of minutes, never ceases to amaze me.

We're headed to Central Market in Poulsbo because I'm hungry. Two weeks ago, you remember, when the surgery had to be aborted, we stopped at Central Market, as well. That's when I learned how delicious their New England clam chowder is. Holy cow. That stuff is good. So yes, we're stopping so I can get some.

Bluetoothed (is that a word?) to the car radio, we're listening to a playlist on her phone. She skips through a few songs before settling on "(Don't Fear) The Reaper)."


Yeah.

Now look, I really like that song, have liked it for decades now, and I'm not offended she chose to play it, but all I can think at that moment is she's either trying to tell me to not, you know, actually "fear the reaper," or she just really needed to hear some more cowbell. (SNL wouldn't let me embed the video, so below is one of lesser video quality. Still, god damn funny, though!)

More Cowbell - Saturday Night Live! from Robert J. Lunte on Vimeo.

I get my soup and we both eat in the car and enjoy the summer breeze, even if we're just sitting in a grocery store parking lot.

"What's your pain level," she asks.

I hold up one finger, then take another bite of chowder. Damn, this is good.

We finish eating and then continue heading down HW 305 toward HW 3, then across the Hood Canal Bridge on HW 104.

"The Days in Between" by one of my favorite bands, Blue Rodeo, came on and I thought, yeah, these are the days in between: the days we find hope, the days we live, the days we love. The days we're happy for awhile.


Between the days when everything falls apart.

And over the past several years, a lot has fallen apart.

I don't have bad news to tell you at this time, though.

And for that, I'm grateful.

During the past couple of years my posts have been about bad news I needed to share, or just flat out needed to write about.

But not this one.

This one is actually turning into the "musical" post. You know, kinda like that musical episode of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" titled "Once More, With Feeling." Except you don't want to hear me sing. (Neither before nor after surgery.)

We're headed up HW 101 now, nearing "See-qwim," when "New Dawn Coming" by the Cowboy Junkies comes on. Rachel turns up the volume. Begins singing. (She certainly sings better than I do.)


I look out the window, watch the beautiful scenery go by, and think about how lucky I am.

Despite all the pain, all the suffering, all the...shit, I have a good life. I know fantastic people, many of which I am lucky enough to call friends. I have a terrific occupation, one that allows me the freedom to deal with the all the shit, and which has been something I've enjoyed doing for 27 years now. (I hope for many more.)

I know who I am and what I stand for.

And I'm not afraid to stand up to the injustices I see.

Then, there's my family.

Yes, I miss my dad something fierce. That will never change. But I have my mom and yes, my grandmother. I can only hope to live as long a life as she has.

And, of course, there's my two boys.

I need to keep talking to almost nothing, right, so I downloaded a text-to-speak app on my phone. The boys have taken to it well (so far). The oldest asked me a couple of times if it was Siri or Alexa that was speaking, and I think he was a little disappointed when I told him it wasn't. I think, though, that I just need to put the phrase "I told you to stop!" on repeat. I mean, they're boys. Most of you understand.

And then, there's Rachel.

We're driving up the road that leads to our house, now only a little over a mile away from home. We're a little tired, not quite as hungry as earlier, and we're happy. "Break Your Heart" by The Gaslight Anthem comes on and she slows the car down so we can listen to as much of it as we can before being overwhelmed by the chaos of the boys.


I love you Rachel.

Thank you for riding this rollercoaster with me.

I have my follow-up appointment next week. Obviously, I'm hoping it's not cancer again, but whatever the case, we'll deal with it.

For now, though, we'll enjoy these days in between.

I'll let you know what we learn next week. Until then, take care my friends.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Of Course

I awoke to the sound of someone saying "Wake up, Mr. Anderson. You're in recovery."

It was the nurse.

Everything was black. I couldn't see a thing, but I could still hear her; like the lamp in the movie projector burned out but the soundtrack was still playing.

The audio track continued: "Wake up, Mr. Anderson. They had to stop the procedure. You're in recovery."

Wait. What?

The lights finally came on; bright hospital lights. Everything white.

"They were unable to complete the procedure," she said again.

My head spun, the fogginess of the anesthesia clouded every sensation.

I sat there and stared at the curtain, the fabric wall that separated me from the hustle of the medical staff.

Numb.

As you may recall, my last surgery had to be aborted, as well. That's the last two surgeries--two routine, out-patient procedures--that had to brought to an end shortly after they began.

A few minutes later Rachel walks in.

What's there to say?

My mind was still in a fog, so I honestly don't remember if I said anything to her or not.

I didn't have a seizure.

Well, that's good.

The doctor visited with Rachel for quite some time after she called the surgery off, while I was in recovery.

I'm frustrated, but unlike last time, I am not raging with anger. I'm not yelling at the nurses or cursing to relieve my frustration. Instead, I just sit there. Staring.

It's surreal. I almost fall into a self-pity party because really, can't anything just go as fucking planned?

The doctor joins us a few minutes later.

She has terrific bedside manner. She's compassionate, concerned, and attentive--three reasons I have been seeing her the past couple of years. When she emerges from behind the cloth wall, I see the sympathy in her eyes, she seems just as frustrated as I am.

Bottom line: I have a very narrow passageway from my mouth to my vocal chords--and it needs to be straight. Mine, of course, isn't. There is also still quite a bit of swelling from the radiation treatments which makes the passageway even smaller.

So she couldn't get a scope down my throat--she didn't have one small enough. It's the second time in her twenty year career to see such a thing.

Of course. Of course, it would be me. I'm already in the 2% club for having a congenital bicuspid aortic valve; I'm one of the rare ones that has gotten staph endocarditis (and of the much rarer ones that have survived it--ok, that's like really good); and I've battled stage four tonsil cancer, which apparently the treatment helped screw up this procedure (though I think it would have been aborted anyway, even if there was no swelling from the radiation). I'm tired of being rare.

Ok. That's it. That's my fucking pity party. I'm done.

So, she couldn't remove the warts.

No removal. No biopsy. Nothing.

She gave us four options. The only one I'm going to tell you about is the one I'm doing next: we're trying again. She's going to get a smaller scope, probably one for a child, and we're going back to try this shit again.

Yeah, I'm pissed off about it. Yeah, I'm frustrated, disappointed, and sometimes sad.

But it is what it is.

If the next time doesn't work, then we'll go from there. I still have three more options, remember. But as some of you know, when you get down to the last few options, well, they all kind of suck, if not just completely outright suck. Here's to hoping we don't have to keep going through them.

So that's the latest. Thank you all for everything, Rachel and I appreciate all the love and support.

I'll let you know what happens next.

(No jokes about my small passageway.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

Are You Scared?

After the beauty of an intimate encounter, she rested her head on my chest and draped her arm across my body. "Are you scared?" she asked.

"Not yet," I replied.

But I am.

Not of the possibility cancer has returned or if I'll have to go through all that pain and suffering again, which was, of course, the question she was asking, so no, I didn't keep the truth from her.

But I'm scared of other things.

Things like you and the boys not having health insurance if I die.

That shit keeps me awake on some nights.

I don't understand a world where people think, no, make that where people actually believe that such a situation is the way it is supposed to be; that healthcare is a privilege for the few and not a human right for all.

I don't understand people who are fine with their tax dollars going to the military, or some undisclosed, secret governmental organization, for the purpose of killing other human beings, but are so against those tax dollars going toward the healthcare of others.

As if dealing with health issues is a choice.

"Get a job that has health insurance," some say.

"Healthcare should not be a for-profit business," I respond.

But it falls on deaf ears.

It falls on those with no empathy for others.

It falls on those with only selfish motivations.

Mostly, it falls on those of privilege.

Almost all of my fear is health related: My cancer, your cancer, his seizures and other ailments.

It's a large part of our life together but I am thankful it's you that I go through this with.

I'm also scared for our children's future. Not because of the orange asshat that is currently in office, he is just a temporary blip, but of the way a large part of the population sees our child and those like him. What does his future hold? It keeps me up some nights, as well.

For our other child, my fear stems from what the future will be like for him. What will be left for him to do to earn a living, to be productive, and to find happiness?

Most parents have this fear for their children, but there's never been 7.5 billion people on the planet before. And this number will continue to grow.

I teach mathematics. I know this growth rate is not sustainable. I know the future will have problems that we humans refuse to acknowledge today.

More of that selfish motivation.

I know most jobs will be automated. Much sooner than many of you realize. Thus, there will be more people looking for work than there are today, but there will be far fewer jobs available.

Call me paranoid.

Call me foolish or stupid or insane or any other word you want.

It will not phase me.

If you've chosen blindness, that is your right.

But it leads to more of that selfish motivation.

More of that us versus them mindset.

We need more of that "we're all in this together so let's help each other" mindset.

We're all going to die.

You're not stopping that from happening.

So instead of being selfish, we need to help one another.

We need to listen to one another.

We need to have empathy for one another.

We need to realize we are all pieces of meat, made of stardust, riding this very small blue orb around a much larger orb in an average spiral galaxy through the vastness of space.

That's not hopelessness.

That's reality.

And that's why each of us are no better than anyone else on this planet regardless of money, occupation, or social status.

We really are all equal in the eyes of the universe.

It's unfortunate human nature doesn't let us see it that way.

But we are.

The truth doesn't need your approval.

It's doubtful you'll live approximately 2.5 billion seconds without any health issues. (That's around 75 years.)

And so our health matters.

Healthcare is a right.

Not "access" to healthcare.

That's bullshit.

We deserve actual healthcare, paid for with our tax dollars, as well as the knowledge that we will not lose everything we own when we get sick.

Everyone knows it.

It's not a secret.

Life is better than death.



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Where We Go Now

It's been a year since I wrote Don't Count Me Out, Yet. A year since my world changed after I was given my tonsil cancer diagnosis; a cancer caused by one of two cancer-causing strains of HPV. A rough year, indeed, with many dark moments where I didn't think I'd make it through. But here I am, one year later.

While there were many difficult days, I remember one particular morning when I stumbled into the kitchen, barely hanging on to whatever humanity I still had, frustrated by what I was going through, and in complete misery from the pain in my mouth and neck, and I said to my wife, "If this doesn't work, or if this shit comes back, then that's it. I'm not going through this shit again."

For those of you that know my wife, you can guess how she responded. For those of you that don't know my wife, well, let's just say that's not what she wanted to hear.

But I was suffering, the worst suffering I had ever endured in my, up to that point, forty-eight trips around the sun. I wanted it to end. I can not describe to you, to help you understand, what it's like to go through such an event. If you haven't experienced it, and I hope you never have to, or if you haven't experienced something similar, then you just simply can not understand. That is no fault of your own, it's just the way it is. Life is funny that way.

Obviously things got better. Yes, it still hurts to eat and swallow, and some food is more difficult to eat than others, but for the most part I've recovered nicely. Well, except for the part where sweet things taste different now, especially chocolate. Yeah, that sucks.

I'll continue to be monitored with blood draws and scans and whatnot for quite awhile. That's fine. I'd like to catch it early if it does decide to come back again and rear it's ugly head in a second attempt to try and take me down.

And today I can't say what I said to my wife on that ugly morning last fall. If that shit does come back, then we'll deal with it again. If that means going through all that suffering again, then so be it. Life is only for the living.

I have more living to do.

So, since that is all under control at the moment, it is time to again deal with my voice. For those of you who have been around me for the past several years, you've noticed my voice has gotten worse. It's getting even more difficult to talk, today. No, this was not related to the cancer treatment I received, it was it's own separate thing.

I was seeing an ENT for the voice issue when that had to be put on the back burner because the cancer thing came up. You know, staying alive became more important than being able to speak. Priorities and all.

Well, now I'm back at the voice.

I saw the same ENT this week and, well, let's just get right to it: I'm going to have surgery.

Yes, this is frightening because, as you recall, the last time I went in for a quick surgery (to put in a chemo port), I had a seizure on the table and the procedure was aborted. No chemo port. Then, no driving for six months. I don't want that shit to happen again, so the ENT recommended I see my neurologist before having surgery. Ugh. More doctor visits.

I'm having surgery because all around my vocal chords, including on them, there is papilloma; small wart like things that are caused by, you guessed it, HPV. We won't know if it's from the same strain as the one that caused my cancer until after the biopsy, so, yes, there is a concern they may be malignant.

However, I recently had a PET Scan that was clear of cancer, so I'm thinking there's a good chance it's benign. That doesn't mean it can't, or won't become malignant at some point, though. But I can't worry about that now because I don't know what to worry about. Let's see what happens after surgery.

The surgery will happen near the end of June and I will not be allowed to talk for something like ten days. Ten days? With my kids? I'm going to need to go away to a secluded island for that to happen.

Hmmmmm. That doesn't sound too bad.

In any case, this is where we go now.

It is what it is.

We'll get through it.

I'd like you to know that HPV can cause all kinds of other problems that are not cancer. In fact, of the many different HPV strains, something around 100 of them, only two of them cause cancer. But there are other high risk strains that may cause other serious issues. So with that in mind, my PSA is as follows:

Since my diagnosis a year ago I have been an advocate for kids and young adults to get the HPV vaccine. I have little tolerance for the anti-vaccination crowd. If you're in that group, go ahead and let fear run your life, but Autism is not caused by vaccinations. In fact, you're probably alive today because you were vaccinated as a kid. Be thankful we have such medical technology today that allows us to live healthier lives than in years past.

Get your kids vaccinated.

And if you're a young adult that is already sexually active, talk with your doctor. It might still be worth it for you to get the vaccination.

There's the update. Not the best news, but not the worst either. I'll keep you posted. For now, though, I'm trying to get what I can taken care of before Congress allows my health insurance company to put an annual or lifetime cap on what they'll pay out regarding my medical treatment.

You shouldn't allow that to happen.

You may be fine now, but you don't know what your future holds.

Until next time. Take care.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

We Know

I could drink the Kool-Aid, take the blue pill, or just bury my head in the sand.

Any of those would be the easy thing to do.

But I can't.

And neither should you.

Why, you ask?

Because we're better than this.

We're better than what the man in the White House portrays about Americans.

We know we wouldn't be where we are without science.

So we should not be bashing it or trying to suppress it.

We know we wouldn't be where we are without journalism.

So we should not be trying to create confusion between what is real and what is fake.

We know we all depend on truth and facts.

So we should not be advocating "alternative facts" and "untruths".

We know we wouldn't be here without refugees.

So we should continue to accept them and offer them a safe place from the horrors they flee.

We know we wouldn't be here if there had been walls.

So we should not be building one to separate us from the rest of the world.

We know we wouldn't be here without nature.

So we should be trying to save it, nurture it, and love it instead of trying to destroy it.

We know we wouldn't be here without women.

So we should be embracing them, listening to them, and respecting them.

We know we are all humans on this little blue dot floating through space.

So we should not be trying to create divisions, but instead foster tolerance and inclusiveness.

We know that all any of us ever want is to be loved.

So we should love.

--Randy Anderson
January 28, 2017

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Year Without A Heart

Goodbye, 2016.

You were not the year I was hoping for when this whole thing started back on January 1st.

You were vicious, uncaring, dangerous, and vile.

From taking artists that helped shape who we are, to tearing apart hopes and dreams, to holding up a mirror forcing humanity to see the ugliness that had been previously hidden, to my own personal battle with monsters and demons.

I will not miss you, 2016.

One year ago I stated I would not be looking back fondly on 2015. My dad lost his battle with cancer while my wife fought her own battle with breast cancer. It was truly a shitty year. I was ready to move on to a better 2016.

As you all know, that didn't happen.

Instead, I received my own diagnosis of cancer.

Then I fought my own battle for a good portion of the year because the treatment was so difficult.

There are no words to describe what one goes through when battling cancer. It "sucks" and "fuck cancer" just don't quite do it justice, but it's about all we've got.

Fighting it becomes your life.

Both that you are literally fighting for your life and that your everyday life is about battling cancer.

Since I chronicled the experience as I was going through it, I won't rehash it again now. I'll just say, yes, the treatment was difficult both physically and mentally, but the added stress to our family because of the diagnoses (both my wife's the year before and mine this year), the treatment, my inability to be a functioning human being for months, and the fact that I was forbidden to drive for six months because I had a seizure on the operating table, all made the year even more difficult.

Then there were the friends that had their own battles with cancer this year. Some ongoing, others a new diagnosis.

I now relate to people learning they have cancer in a way I never knew existed. It can be a perfect stranger and I'll feel this overwhelming empathy for them.

When it's not a stranger, the feeling envelops me, swallows me whole, and then spits me out and leaves me a crumpled mess on the floor.

I said it in my first post regarding my cancer adventure, "I've joined the club no one wants a membership to."

But that's what it is, a membership.

And I am emotionally affected by others becoming new members.

I'm tired of cancer.

But it is what it is.

For now, I will not say I am "cured". (It just hasn't been that long since I was in the throws of battle.)

Instead, I say: according to the last scan, there is no evidence of cancer present.

And I am grateful for that.

So while my personal difficulties were quite challenging in 2016, there were also many other things going on in the world that made 2016 quite the shitty year. Everything from the climate to politics to ignorance to hatred.

It was the year a good portion of music died: Prince, Davide Bowie, Glenn Fry, Merle Haggard, George Michael, Maurice White, George Martin, and Leonard Cohen to name only a few.

Some others that were lost in 2016: Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Mohammad Ali, Florence Henderson, Ron Glass, Kenny Baker, George Kennedy, Gary Shandling, Patty Duke, Garry Marshall, Arnold Palmer, Alan Thicke, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Harper Lee, Morley Safer, Gordie Howe, Richard Adams, and of course, John Glenn.

Then, because 2016 wasn't finished fucking with us, we lost Carrie Fisher with four days remaining in this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year.

The following day, her mother, Debbie Reynolds died.

Losing famous people often makes us realize our own mortality.

For a certain age group of people, we were given many opportunities this past year to have that realization.

It's sobering.

We know we're going to die but we rarely think about it. Then a famous person who had some impact on our lives dies and we realize, holy shit, that could be me. Particularly when that famous person is relatively close to our own age.

And/or we realize that all this, this bullshit that we war over, hate over, hurt others over is all just that: bullshit.

And/or we realize our childhood has been dead for many years and that we have far fewer years ahead of us than we do behind us.

Or we just don't give a fuck and we get right back to warring, hating, and hurting others.

Then it eventually passes and we move on to just trying to live through our busy lives, not giving another thought to death. That is, not until the next death of someone that has impacted our lives.

But while the year was filled with celebrity deaths, it was politics and world events that out shined everything else.

In the year 2016, humanity showed its true colors.

And they were not pretty to look at.

The disgusting U.S. Presidential election left most of us confused and despondent. Is this really the country we live in?

Apparently so.

Do so many fellow Americans harbor so much hatred?

Apparently so.

Then there was Brexit, Aleppo, Sudan, Russia, refugees, and the mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub.

This is the world we've always lived in.

It is what it is, but I don't have to like it.

So I will not be looking back fondly on 2016, either.

It can not leave fast enough.

So good riddance 2016.

You personally brought me pain and took me way too close to death.

You brought many friends pain and fear.

And you tried to squash our hope with humanity's disgusting displays of violence, hatred, and killing.

It was the year full of hate
Where intolerance and ignorance did shine.
It was a year to never forget
As we crossed line after line after line.

It was the year full of death,
That needed to end right from the start.
It was the year full of pain.
It was the year without a heart.