BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

What I did on my summer vacation ...

OK ... so those of you who pay attention around here are likely aware that, aside from my book reviews, I've not been posting much on L.J. (indeed, this is just the second non-review post in the past 4 months) ... and, while I've occasionally wanted to, there have been various factors that have led me to just the standard drivel over on Facebook, and not much here.

One of the reasons is that I've been having "health issues", and - as you know - I've been in the hellacious never-ending job search for six-and-a-half years now, and there are all sorts of people who have been "coaching" me to not say anything Political, Religious, or overly Personal on-line because THEY WILL FIND IT and it will DISQUALIFY ME FOR EMPLOYMENT. This has, thereby, been a struggle between the "good angel" who wants to share my on-going existence with whatever reading public I have left, and the "bad angel" who wants to toe the line for the sphincter-grippers of various sorts who think that anything other than the blandest pablum is totally unacceptable on-line.

Anyway ...

For nine weeks this summer, Monday through Friday, I got up in the morning, took the bus down to the Tribune (or just across the street north), laid down in that machine over there ===> (click for bigger picture) for about 15 minutes, then got back on the bus and went back home. As these things go, that's about as uncomplicated and non-invasive as possible, and I was back to "my own devices" by 10am every day.

What's that machine, you ask? It's a Varian TrueBeam™ Radiotherapy System and it was zapping a CANCER (in my prostate).

This whole experience was rather odd. Number one, I had ZERO symptoms ... nothing, nada, zilch that would be telling me that there might be something awry with my plumbing. However, last year (I typically get a physical in February) my internist said that I had an elevated number on some blood test (I have since come to know it as the PSA - not a Public Service Announcement, but the Prostate-Specific Antigen - test) and the Doc said "we should keep an eye on that". Well, this February, the number came back DOUBLED ... and so I got sent off to get a prostate biopsy.

Let me be very clear on the following point: you do NOT want to get a prostate biopsy unless you absolutely need one ... I have had a LOT of surgery over the years (mostly thanks to the 1993 car crash), and this was the singularly most unpleasant medical procedure I can recall (perhaps due to being done under a very mild local rather than general anesthesia). The version I had was "rectal" (which, frankly, compared to the other options I've read about, might be the least nasty), which involved a sonogram probe stuck up my butt, followed by some horrid medieval device with 12 fine spring-loaded needles that punch through the wall of the rectum into the prostate gland and then rip out a small sample of tissue each. There are sites that say "You may feel discomfort or pressure when the needle enters the prostate gland." and further suggest that the spring-loaded needles are "nearly painless". They LIE. I was fairly stoic through the first 4-6 assaults on my inner bits, but was really wishing this had been done under general by #9 or 10.

I don't want to gross you out too much, so I won't get into describing the after effects of this procedure ... but nobody warned me as to how weird (and disgusting) things were going to get ... and it was all "sci-fi horror show" for a while there.

Now, the good news is that 10 of the 12 tissue samples (taken from various areas of the prostate) came out totally cancer-free, but one area was 60% cancerish, and one was like 30% cancerish right next to that (the "ish" coming from their not being able to say absolutely certainly, unless it's at a whole different level, that it IS cancer) ... so this was being caught EARLY both time-wise and in terms of spread.

The urologist who performed the biopsy said that with my other issues, he didn't want to perform surgery on me, and so I was referred off to a oncologist. This next process was pretty bizarre as well, as I had assumed that I'd go in, we'd talk about options, and that I'd be having some time to consider what I wanted to do. Instead, I had a 20 minute chat with the doctor and the next thing I knew I was in a big CATscan ring with them mapping out my innards. The oncologist also didn't want to do surgery on me (in this case, inserting little radioactive "seeds"), and so I was scheduled for 9 weeks of having my mornings in the machine. I put together a little video to give you the sense of how sci-fi this is ...

Again, it was about as simple, painless, and non-complicating as it could be ... although by the later weeks, I was definitely having energy issues, as the radiation was getting to be a bit draining. {Oh, and after I put together that video, I found one that I could have just posted ... it's got more info, so here: if you're interested.}

So, is that it with my medical adventures? ... Nope.

Over the past several years, my internist has suggested a whole laundry list of "stuff I should probably get checked out" ... however, being without a paycheck during this time has made chasing after expensive procedures impossible. The cancer treatments, thankfully covered by The Wife's health insurance from her work, quickly pushed me past both the deductible and out-of-pocket limits ... leaving me in a wondrous 4-5 month period where everything that the insurance would cover was covered 100%.

My very first thing on the list once I discovered this situation (purely by accident - I was filling a fairly expensive prescription at the pharmacy and it came up as $0.00), was to get a therapist ... while a psychologist and not a psychiatrist, I have really appreciated getting an hour a week to vent with constructive response. I had been wanting a shrink for a long time, but it was something I couldn't justify financially (and I'm going to miss that come January).

Next, I got lined up for a sleep apnea test. Those reading my reviews have had a peek at this previously with my review of a book on the subject that I picked up at the sleep clinic. It turns out that I was "waking up" (at least the brain was to force the body to breathe) a whopping 58.6 times an hour ... thereby getting very little rest and pretty much zero REM sleep (i.e. no dreams!). They set me up with a (100% covered, thank you very much) CPAP machine, that makes me look a bit like Bane when I'm sleeping, but I'm now down to almost no wake-ups to breathe. It took a couple of weeks, but I'm suddenly having immersive technicolor dreams again ... which is certainly good for my psychic well being (interestingly, I had calls from two old friends who said, about the time I was starting to have dreams again, that I had showed up in their dreams and they thought they'd check in on me!).

Finally (so far), I've got set up with a "vein clinic" to address the circulation problem I've had in my legs for a few years. I'd always put off this issue as a not-unexpected degrading of the system following decades of neglect (I've always said, in the cowboy phrase, that my body has been "rode hard and put away wet", with long years of being a "type-A", "burn the candle at both ends and in the middle", kind of guy over-fond of opting for stimulants instead of sleep), but my doctor thinks that things will be greatly improved by having procedures done on my veins ... and I have one leg scheduled for one week this month and the other for the next week.

Anyway, all that added stuff comes from the cancer treatments.

I guess at this point (I'm just blithely assuming that we "got" the cancer and it's not going to be spreading or coming back) I'm a "cancer survivor". What is freaky, of course, is that I had no symptoms, and aside from the (very nasty) biopsy, nothing really to show for having supposedly had cancer. For all I know, it could have been a big complicated joke ... but I'm nowhere near that paranoid.

So, there you have it, a VERY personal post. Perhaps more will be forthcoming.

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