A Legendary Day - May 25, 2009

The day referred to in the title is yesterday rather than today. Yesterday was my birthday, the big Five-Oh. ---> 50 years. Half a century! Hard to believe - to believe that's it's happened, and to believe that I enjoyed it. It's been a weird year plus a few months to say the least, and a big attitude change for me. In my mind I am still 25, ready to adventure, and spoiling for a fight. Now actually double that, reality is not at all how I envisioned it. Instead it is much better!

I guess I always wanted to be twenty-something forever. When I turned 30, I grew a ponytail. I had plenty of hair, thin and straight and some grey, but lots of it. Apparently this thing was ugliest thing ever. Since I could not see it, I asked everyone how it looked. They all said, "It looks great!" When I finally cut it off the very same people all said, "Thank goodness you got rid of that stupid pony tail - it looked really bad." If they had been honest, it would have been gone much sooner. But I suppose they thought they were being polite or something. So when I turned 40, I decided to just disappear. Got on the bike and headed for the mountains for 5 days. Rode until my brain was numb. In retrospect, probably not the best use of a good ride. Then Y2K came and went without much fanfare, or blood in the streets as some had predicted. But 9/11 came and there was blood and ash in the streets. Then Afghanistan and Desert Storm. Like most Americans, I became jaded about it all. Work, go home, eat, drink, play, church once a week, and repeat. Then March of 2008, and the "Big C" gave the biggest shock of all to the system. What I said a couple of months after that is so true, and even more so today. CANCER WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE. It's up to you and God whether it will be for the better.

I am thankful today that my life has changed for the better in every way. Despite the crushing economy, scariness of the medical situation, frustration and uncertainty in the employment arena, etc. I am doing just fine, thanks! Since my last birthday I have lost 35 pounds (wasn't a goal, but a welcome byproduct), changed my diet and exercise habits radically, and improved my general health in every way. In fact, I believe I am a year younger today than I was at my last birthday! Truly amazing stuff. And rather than moping about a birthday or trying to cling to lost youth, I have embarked on a program of health that has been anti-aging as well as anti-cancer. I never would have believed it possible, and flatly would have declared such changes inconceivable for me. I also am attempting to take up squash, a much more difficult game than the racquetball or handball it resembles. Thanks to my friend Trevor for suggesting it and helping me learn.

Due to the American Memorial Day holiday today, we made no plans to travel, but chose to stay home. Most of the neighbors did the same, probably due to school being in session still. I know several who plan to hit the vacation highway next weekend. I may do a recreational motorcycle ride sometime in June as well. We have a dinner out next weekend, a play and tailgate to attend in June, and a wedding in Texas. There are a lot of things to celebrate and enjoy in the upcoming weeks, and we decided to stay at home this holiday weekend.

So this milestone birthday was anticipated and celebrated with relish. My wife worked for days preparing healthy meats, salads, snacks, and even desserts, and we had several people over for an afternoon and evening of great food, great beer, great wine, and even greater company. I am greeting 50+ with a smile rather than a snarl, and it's a whole new ball game and attitude for me.

Several folks gave generous donations to our church's building fund for my birthday, which was a wonderful gift. And my parents and my friend TK decided to celebrate the moment with coins. On the right we have a pic (click to enlarge) of a handmade plaque from TK, with 51 pennies, one from each year in order from 1959 through 2009. What a thoughtful and creative gift. And my parents, with justifiable concern about the state of the global economy and potential for currency collapse, decided to give me the gift of hard-money. Ten silver "rounds" with one troy ounce each of .999 pure silver good for (and backed by) BEER! Each good for "one or more beers anywhere in the world," and worth about 14-15 beers today. Very cool indeed, pictured below, click to enlarge. The day and evening passed quickly with great conversation and fellowship. I thank all who stopped by, and those out of town who emailed, called, and otherwise toasted my longevity. I can only hope your day was as joyful as mine. Now I can see that birthdays are a gift to be cherished rather than events to be dreaded and ignored. I look forward to another 50 years full of happiness (and perhaps even more blogging). Life is an adventure, now more than ever!

Wishing all you readers the best in health and in life.


Judgment Day #3 - ALL CLEAR - May 14, 2009

Hello and thanks to one and all for reading along, caring, and praying or sending alternative forms of positive energy. Mixed with my complementary therapies, we have a resounding success in the form of an ALL CLEAR today. Only thing to wait for is the lab result from the urine cytology and FISH tests. So today we have the CT scan results showing nothing of concern, a urine exam for bacteria, blood, and/or tissue all clear, and a visual inspection via cystoscope also all clear. With the lab results next week we should be able to declare me cancer free for a year minus a few days, but close enough! The doc confirmed that he will go to every six months on the BCG, so no treatments this time, and then another scope to be followed (if all goes well) by 3 BCG treatments in September. Until then, I am free from medical obligations.

So let the celebration begin! We got some fresh fish at the market for dinner tonight, and some very expensive cheeses to use as appetizers. This was truly an awesome birthday present.

We left about noon for our 1:15PM appointment. We had to pick through two construction areas on different freeways to get to the doc's office, so we left earlier than usual. Arrived at about 1:05 and was into the exam room by 1:15. Urine provided and checked, I hopped on the table to await the doc. He came in and told me the X-rays showed a minor scar on the kidney, but nothing at all to be concerned about. One thing was different this time. While the office has four doctors, they have only one video-cystoscope, and today was the first time my scope day had lined up with Dr. Hopkins turn to use the video. So Kathryn and I both got to watch the whole thing live and in color. Counter-intuitively it was not "yucky" at all, and being engrossed in watching distracted me from the discomfort so much that the stress balls were not even needed. The doc took his time and explained what we were seeing, which was a pretty healthy looking bladder. One unusual area near the ureter where one tumor had been, and a tiny pink spot that most likely came from the scope bumping into the bladder wall with its hot lamp. Dr. Hopkins assured me that it was nothing of concern, as CIS spots look much different - he described them as "velvety." The narrated video tour made the exam take two minutes instead of one, but no discomfort at all. Of course, urination is fire-y today and likely tomorrow, but that's the price of admission to this club! I got a copy of the CT report from the radiologist, a single antibiotic pill to take prophylactically, and we were on our way. Maybe next time I will request a video of the procedure for the hardcore blog readers out there...

All's well that ends well, and Judgment Day #3 is now in the books - ALL CLEAR!!

Judgment Day #3 - May 14, 2009

Judgment Day #3 has arrived, exactly 51 weeks plus one day since the surgery that was verified microscopically to have begun my cancer-free state. With bladder cancer, such a state must always be viewed as temporary - and very much so in the first year. The doctor will have the radiologist's report from the CT scan last Friday, and I will bring him the physical films - should he wish to see anything pointed out in the report. Add to that a cystoscopy, where he will also visually inspect my bladder to look for any new cancer growth. Last will be a urine cytology and FISH test, the results of which should be available in about a week.

Upside is 3-4 months free from medical interventions of any kind. Downside is something not to contemplate until necessary. Results to be posted here later today...

The 20 Most Intense Minutes of My Life (so far) - May 10, 2009

My doctor's office did call on Thursday to demand that I get a new CT scan ASAP. We scheduled it for Friday afternoon, and it went without drama. Now with only 4 days remaining until Judgment Day #3, I have been pretty sanguine about the whole affair. This is much different from last time, and I am not sure why - confidence or overconfidence? I think I am more secure in the outcome, whether it's the good cancer-free one or not. At least I hope that is the case. Again, there's not a lot of room in the universe for me to feel sorry for myself. Having a decent job in an awful economy while friends all around are being laid off (made redundant for you UK readers), and with a great set of health benefits to go with it - that's a lot to be thankful for. And again we have the example of Nick Vujicic, a man born without arms or legs, who is happy and grateful and doing great things with his life. You may recall Nick from this earlier post, which contains a video that is absolutely worth 5 minutes of your time.

Here's a short (2 min) rockin' good video showing Nick at the C28 concert in Temecula last year:

Why do I mention Nick again? It just so happens that he visited Utah last week, exactly 7 days before my cystoscopy, for a National Day of Prayer celebration less than 5 minutes from my workplace. I had to be there - to see and hear him in person. I went with my wife, the pastor from our church, and his wife. Nick is much more powerful in person than any videos. I have been all over the world, and I have seen a lot of things - both good and bad. Despite all of this, I have NEVER been more moved than during the 2o minutes that Nick spoke to the standing-room-only crowd, even though I had already heard most of the stories he related. Here is a man with no legs who "stands" at the gates of hell to redirect traffic. This is the attitude to take with suffering and difficulty, and I thank Nick for setting the example for me.

What's Brewing in Utah?

In other news, would you send $100 for a worthy cause? Not Nick Vujicic (though certainly worthy), but to my church. We have entered into an agreement to purchase an existing church building and property, a difficult task in this day and age, to enable us to leave a rented facility and establish a physical presence in the state of Utah. While there are many church buildings around the state belonging to the predominant local faith, there are very few for other religions. Think about making a small investment in the future of this strange and beautiful place called Utah. Please check out my invitational note and explanatory information at THIS LINK.

And if you are still curious to hear more from Nick Vujicic? Check out this fascinating 21 minute video below:

Confidence or Presumption? - May 4, 2009

Last week I did something I have not done since this whole cancer affair started. Twice. What was this earthshaking event? Brace yourselves: I made plans. For dinner. AFTER Judgment Day #3. And both will be paid in advance! What's the big deal, you might ask yourself. It's really quite simple.

If the doctor sees anything suspicious in his cystoscope on May 14, he will schedule me for surgery, most likely on May 20. Based on the lab results (probably May 26), the worst case scenario is radical surgery within the next 4-12 weeks. I would have to get several surgical consults, do heavy research into "deviations" (where the urine is routed and stored, plus how it's expelled), surgeons, insurance, and the like. Then 12-24 weeks of recovery. Then a new and very different (and unpleasant) lifestyle. A less draconian alternative might involve chemotherapy and/or hyperthermia, investigations of different approaches and providers - all of which are out of state, and some may be out of the country! And the best outcome would be that the lab shows nothing problematic, and we go back to our regularly scheduled program of treatments, diet, and exercise. No matter what the outcome, the chances of being able to (or even wanting to) go out socially are pretty small.

On the other hand, if all goes well on May 14, there's no big deal at all. We will go to dinner with our wine club on the following Sunday, and on June 21 we will participate in a "tailgate party" to be followed by a live play making fun of Utah. (On this last item, you have to live here a while to understand. Utah is a beautiful and strange place. And often, like Camelot in Monty Python & The Holy Grail, it is a very silly place. Details: Saturday's Voyeur and heavily biased review)

What all this means is that, for the first time, I feel confident enough in the combination of medical and alternative therapies I am employing to make plans that hinge on all going well. Up to now I have flatly refused to do anything of the kind, because the odds of a good outcome are 50%. That's still the case for the next 13 months or so, but I think the alternative therapies have improved those odds. They have certainly improved my general health and outlook on, well, everything. Yet I do wonder, am I being confident or presumptuous in this feeling? In about 10 days we will know. It would be nice to live life more than three months at a time! For the first time, I am planning on it...