Friday, February 12, 2010

The King and I

This is our dog. His name is Kingsley and today he watched the sunrise with me. 
It was his first walk in four days.  King has been stuck in the house waiting patiently for the sound of his leash and collar coming together.  The jingling sound lets him know that a walk or something equally exciting is about to happen. 
King’s routine this week became an opening of the back door, a few sniffs, a quick relief, and then back to the door to wait for me to let him in. Despite my slow response, he shows no anger towards me and simply follows me back to the couch and curls up next to me.  For the four days when my chemo side effects really zap my energy, we switch our positions from couch to bed – from bed to couch.  Kingsley does not leave my side the entire time nor does he ask me to play or pet him.  He has come to know my chemotherapy cycles and seems to be aware of my discomforts.  He knows when I need to rest and, somehow, he knows when the side effects are over.
Chemotherapy round 69 began on Monday and ended on Wednesday at 1:00pm.  It was a tough round of side effects that made me nauseous, irritable, angry, and unmotivated.  Even though I was disconnected on Wednesday, the side effects lingered late into Thursday evening.  I began dreading waking up on the fifth day to feel the same way.  But this morning was different.  Instead of a curled up Kingsley waiting for me to wake up, I was greeted by a playful paw, a wagging tail, and a bouncing trot. As I left the bed, I noticed that my headache was gone, my face was no longer flushed and burning, and the chemical taste was out of my mouth.  Water tasted like water again and my appetite had finally returned.  This morning, for the first time all week, King finally heard the sound he had been patiently waiting for – his collar and leash jingling together.
It was 5:45am and we were out the door.  King and I had enough of lying around and it was time to get going and make up for the lost days.  We both wanted to make the most of today because in ten days chemotherapy round number 70 will begin and King and I will go back to our routine of shifting from couch to bed – bed to couch….

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Waiting in the Balance

The Scale:

"Wait for the double zero before stepping on” says one of my nurses.

I only have to wait one second but, in that short period of time, my mind races with the potential outcomes: Do I weigh the same, weigh more, or weigh less? 
 This scale, harmless to most, is the benchmark of my success, failures, and efforts.   It tells me if I am living or if I am dying.    

Before treatments, cancer patients have their blood drawn to make sure their "counts” are good.  However, in my case, the blood work results that the doctor reads are from the previous week.  It’s an “after the fact” gauge of my health because two weeks have already passed by the time I hear the results. So, I don’t really get much mental satisfaction from this bi-weekly routine. 

The scale, however, represents a “real time” display of my current physical condition and doesn’t sugar coat anything or stretch the truth.

Throughout my treatments, I have come to fear the condition of "Wasting" the most.  It usually happens after an intense treatment cycle and leaves my face looking gaunt, tired, and lifeless. Sometimes, I can hardly recognize the person I see in the mirror…Out of kindness, my friends and relatives will tell me I look good when they see me at my worst moments.  But, I prefer trusting the scale as a measure of how my body is handling the treatments. 

 "Wait for the double zero,” the nurse says and my heart begins to race.  I think about how hard it has been to sneak in a few extra calories each day.  For the past six years, I have been forcing myself to drink multiple Ensures each day even though the heaviness of its calories sink like a stone in my stomach and  make me feel nauseous.  I think about how I forced an extra forkful of mashed potatoes in my mouth yesterday hoping that would add a few calories to my meal.  I think about how difficult it was to get off the couch this week and walk around the block and do the few pushups I was able to do. Will the exercise add any muscle mass and maybe some extra weight?

"Mr. McGovern, you can step on the scale.” With a deep breath I step on and mutter under my breath to the scale: Come on, you son of a bitch, I will beat you!"

Just one quick second later, I get the result:  144.6 lbs.  Those .6 lbs mean everything to me.  I am .6 lbs heavier than I was two weeks ago!  My efforts have paid off.

The scale has become a symbol of my battle against cancer.  .6 lbs might seem insignificant to someone else, however, in this battle filled with challenges and setbacks, it is a small victory for me.  When added up, all of the small victories that I have been stockpiling help maintain my mental fortitude and allow me to continue the fight.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Seas It means living

The mission of Seas It, in its purest form, sparks the question: “Do you want to live a little each day or die a little each day?” 
This question was raised at a time when Amanda and I were both at a physical and mental low point of cancer treatments.  My body was wasting away from multiple surgeries and ongoing chemotherapy.  My mind was starting to believe that, perhaps, the doctors and their statistics were correct and that I would only live for about 6 months – at best two years.  Amanda was exhausted.  She put her career aside and for months being my caretaker became her full time job.   She fielded every inquiry from insurers and employers, arranged every medical appointment, and oversaw all the travel logistics.  Her reward for a job well done was to sneak a few hours of rest by falling asleep in hospital chairs.  Amanda went from newlywed to nurse in just days.   We did the best we could in our new roles but neither one of us felt like we had any control in the process.
From the moment I was diagnosed with cancer we surrendered ourselves to the medical community.  Our time and my body became their property.  We traveled the Northeast for consultations, opinions, tests, and treatments.  We made ourselves available to their schedules and waited (and waited and waited) in countless rooms so that my body could be poked, prodded, injected, cut, stapled, and radiated.  I felt like my life was in chaos and was spinning out of control.  Then, Amanda convinced me to try acupuncture – we were desperate to attack this disease from every angle. Lying on the bed, while my acupuncturist stuck her needles in me, she told me that I could either “live a little each day or die a little each day”. She asked me, “Which one do you want to do?”
Her question had such a profound impact on Amanda and me.  For the first time since the diagnosis, we felt like we had some control.  From that day on, we have decided to live a little each day.  By choosing to live rather than die, to fight rather than surrender, our fears and anxieties disappeared and were replaced with the determination and motivation to move forward.

Today is better then yesterday. Tomorrow??