What a twist! (The Network Version)

March 23, 2007

I apologize for the light level of posting (particularly since so many of you seem to be held in spellbinding suspense, according to my parents), but alot has gone into to making this the most heart-pounding, exhilirating finale ever! Plus I had two exames and a paper this week.

Anyways, the doctors decided NOT to stop OR put in a port. (See, bet you didn’t see that one coming. Ask McGuyver. There’s never two choices.) Rather, they decided………..

To try again. See, this is a time honored staple of the sitcom writer. Build up great suspense, realize you can deliver on a twist that will alter the way we view television, and then merely do what you were expected to do but trump it up as a “gotcha.” Alternatively, your idea may be so horrendous that you have no choice but to do it, angering your loyal fans once. Now I am not a loyal fan of chemo, but I was relatively disappointed when I found out that the solution was simply to try again. Though it beats cutting stuff.

But what’s this? Another twist! Yes, it may appear that we are actually on our way to a story arc (ok, we’ve had a basic story, Craig has cancer, but this is that special story the fans really care about. It’s again, like Seinfeld. People were somewhat drawn to the basic dynamic of the main group of charcters and their wry observations on the absurdities of social conventions, but it wasn’t until Season Four, with a season long story-arc about Jerry’s pilot, that the show reached the Top 30. Whether everyone loves a winner, or these characters represented our worst traits and frankly we loved, we’ll never know, despite all the Facebook groups petitioning for the show’s return after 9 years. Not likely, given the skyrocking success of Michael Richard’s care………oh wait). So where are we?

Well again, options. A new character was brought into the mix on Wednesday: the CT machine. He may have a tough exterior but he has a heart of gold, or at least titanium, which is better than gold…..seriously, why do you think the things are so expensive? Turn him on just right and he’ll fill anyone up with radiance……or radiation, I can’t remember from the intitial character sketch. Anyways, I’ll encounter him on Tuesday. They plan on taking images of the whole body. And here’s where things get interesting. We have a magic number: 90, as in 90% reduction of the mass in my chest. If we get there, then no more chemo. We’ll have to re-evaluate our options, including the possibility of radiation, but it’s a heck of alot better than this “gentle nightmare.” (Hmmmm, catchy, maybe I should start speaking on this topic….). If we don’t get to 90%, then not only do I get more chemo, but there’s a good chance I’ll have to have a PICC line installed. A PICC line is similar to a port in that is a semi-permananent device implanted under the skin to allow for easy access for drugs. However, while a port is in the chest, this device goes up through the arm vein and dumps out over the heart. It requires more maintenance, but suits my short term needs better. Frankly, though, I’d rather have none.

Our public schools have turned 90 in a rather aggrevating number. Prior to the whole “Free To Be You and Me” push to increase our self-esteem (which no one has every really explained to me as a valid concept, other than keeping yourself from swerving off the road in the morning), 90 was the baseline for an A. You pull in solid 90’s, you can probably keep off the shame of your parents, eventually get into a decent school, work in a less-than-fulfilling job but have a happy wife and loving children that you not only love but provide for, you’ve done ok. But now that they’ve bumped an A up to a 93, the score has completely changed. Everyone’s special, but some are more special than others. It’s not enough to want to be satisifed by family, friends, and social actitivies. Everything has to be perfect now. It is, after all, FOR ME. When you bring home a 90, you’re showing your parents a blackhole of underachievment from which you may never escape. You’ll never be a doctor, and only the best women marry doctors. Sure they cheat on them, but who needs love when you have a career? Besides, you’re a doctor, you think that prescription pad is just for looks (CENSOR’S NOTE: We can’t insinuate that all doctors all drug addicts. Only Dr. House. And he helps people. Don’t you want to help people Craig?) Did I say Doctor? I mean lawyer. Lawyers are perfectly ethical all the time and are even known to be more ethical than doctors. (CENSOR’S NOTE: That’s it, I give up) But my point is, there’s alot of pressure for success in this country, a good deal of it misplaced. I’m terribly sorry for what I’m about to say, I really am, but here goes: Probably only four of the people I graduated with will become lawyers. Two will be doctors, and one might just be a vet. The simple fact of the matter is that these individuals help make up the backbone of society requires them to be highly trained and educated, and some people, even though they may think they do, simply don’t have the gumption, the will, or the intelligence (which is not a bad thing, as I will explain in a minute). But the thing is: these are NOT the only jobs that make society possible. Sure, they may have the highest profile and help the most people, but they aren’t solely holding society together. What about road builders? Can’t get to the hospital quickly on adirt road. Plumbers? Not easy to santize instruments with stagnant water. Butchers? You won’t be doing too many surgeries without the proper nutrition. The point is, everyone wants to be special, to be the best. And bluntly put, that’s why we created the concept of “excellence” in the first place: so we could recognize those individuals who can help us in ways we cannot help ourselves and go above and beyond what’s required for basic employment to aid society. But you see, excellence comes in many different forms. You can be an excellent father, an excellent political activist, an excellent fundraiser for charitable causes. And even in the field of employment, just because you aren’t “excellent” doesn’t mean you aren’t important. In fact, I consider anyone who does their job well, no matter how much it irritates them, and in turn does not drain from society, to be important, and indeed, capable of excellence. But in our current material society, the greater goods take a back seat to career success, because money can always get us what we want. I hope to challenge that notion. But not today. Too tired (Ok, bad example)

So to make a long story even longer, just when we saw the light at the end of the tunnel, we have started a new round of “hurry up and wait.” As I’ve said many times before, cancer simply tends to replace your regular routine with a more agonizing, agrregavating, and draining one. Cancer is very methodical in how it works, and so must be methodically fought. So it’s a continuous cycle of drugs, tests, and trying to get on with your normal life.

So as for today’s treatment: It went remarkably well. The first vein in the left arm didn’t take (despite 10 minutes of digging), but the right arm was beautiful. Thanks for the water, mom. However, the line was very particular; we had to apply continuous pressure to keep the flow. However, I had no immediate symptoms,and as a matter of fact I’m experieincing very limited nausea. That may be due to being hopped up on Percocet AND Ativan, though.

As for ME, I’m doing well. It was nice to have the past week off, and I’m relieved that we may be reaching an end to this ordeal. I’ve been experiencing some new…..well, more exacerbated than anything else. I’ve been experiencing a great deal of twitching in my legs. It’s not interfering with my function, but it’s still agrrevating. I’ve also experienced some diminished motor function. Now don’t sound the alarm bells here. Ask Coach Hockman. I’ve always been clumsy. I always figured those were sympathy As in gym; you can’t just punish someone who was given so little in the balance department. However, my balance seems to have been a little more precarious than usual. Yesterday I looked down before I crossed the street. Before I knew it, I was down. Quite a scene, and I’m still a little stiff. In fact, I didn’t even realize that I had been cut until I got a shower. Fortunately, by that time it was already healed over. This reminded me of an incident the other week, when I tried to get out of the bed to answer my cell phone, which was charging on the kitchen table, just a few feet from my room. Well, as I got up my left leg locked up, and although I was trying to move forward, I had no choice but to stand still. This caused me to fall backwards into my closet, which fortunately is on sliders. It hurt, but no damage done. This, in addition to the constant cramping, more frequent parathensias (a two dollar word for your limbs falling asleep) and the jaw pain, has led me to be concerned over possible long-term nerve damage or an underlying neurological condition. Upon consultation with my doctor he feels that the sympton complex is most indicative of peripheral nueropathy, which is associated with the use vinblastine. It should be temporary, but needs to be monitored just to ensure that there is no greater problem being masked by the treatment. God willing, I’ll be back to my regular clumsy self soon enough.

That’s enough for now. I’ll be sure to post an update after my scan Tuesday. Thanks again for all your wonderful thoughts and prayers, and your emails. Although I may not get a chance to to reply to them all, don’t think I don’t read and cherish each one. The outpouring of support from family, friend, and even family friends I’ve never met has been absolutely remarkable. Thus, since you all have been with me every step of the way, I’ll be sure to let you know how everything turns out. Until then, god bless.

Tune in next week for our exciting conclusion….

March 16, 2007

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge fan of The Simpsons. I know that alot of adult find them to be a bad influence of children, but let’s face it: just because it’s a cartoon does not mean that it’s a show for children. In fact, the only reason that it’s a cartoon is that it allows the writers to mock the absurdities of real life without playing by its rules (well, that, and voice actors can be paid far less than regular actors, and most animation is outsourced overseas). Why do I like it so much? Because I’m a fan of pop culture. I just love the absurdity of it all, and I like trivia. Nothing makes me feel prouder than knowing who wrote that 80’s song that girl I like really loves (usually John Mellencamp’s Jack and Diane). Now it doesn’t impress her, but it’s still a nice feeling. Now why does this matter? Because the Simpsons writers also love pop culture, television in particular, and love it so much that they feel obligated to needle it, as one an old friend.

One of the conventions they’ve mocked in the past is the cliffhanger. A little background is due here. The cliffhanger is generally a two-part episode, with the first episode creating an extreme sense of tension by ending with an unresolved but highly dramatic storyline. Perhaps the greatest example of this is “Who Shot JR?” from Dallas. The show was nearly dead before that storyline, but with that one phrase become a national phenomenom and stayed on the air for 11 more years. Countless shows count on, usually rolling out two parters during May sweeps, a period when advertising rates are set. Therefore, networks roll out big events in order to inflate their ratings and thus set higher ad rates. As writing has evolved, cliffhangers have become a relatively normal occurance. In fact, one could argue that every episode of 24 ends with a cliffhanger; essentially, that’s the point of the series. Also, as the concept of a series “mythology” has evolved and continuity has become more important to writers, more series have embraced the cliffhanger, if only in a more mild form. Examples include Lost, The West Wing (now cancelled), and The X-Files. Even Seinfeld, a sitcom, had a relatively healthy number of cliffhanger episodes, and callbacks to previous events and characters were pretty common. In fact, one season had one storyline of Jerry’s series being picked-up.

Now what is the point of this, either than giving me the self-satisfaction of giving an impromptu lecture on a topic I love but could never possibly make a living pursuing and taking up space? Well you see, there’s a little bit of poetic justice here. And as I told you all last time, today was intended to be my last chemo treatment. Everything seemed to be going quite well. Dennis was called into to get my IV in, and he go it on the first go, blood return and all. They did the saline flush with no problem, and my dexamethasone went in with no problems. However, when they started administring the adriamycin, they got to about the 1/3rd point when suddenly the injection spot started burning. Bad. REALLY BAD. They nearly yanked the IV out, because the fact of the matter is that adrimycin can cause serious tissue damage. So they switched to the other arm , but the first stick produced no return. So they finally got a gone one, but when they got to the saline….OUCH! So they went for a consult, and my LNP decided that they couldn’t treat me.

That’s right. Ladies and gentlemen, I a massive television buff, have my very own cliffhanger. The LNP told me that we’re looking at two options: 1) We may go in for a sooner scan, and I may not have to the last treatment, due to my remission rate or 2) we may have to put in a port for two more rounds. Two very different choices. You can guess what I’m counting on.

So stay tuned for our thrilling conclusion. This is one for the record books.

So far, I just can’t see….

March 3, 2007

Eleven down, one to go. That’s right, today was (hope of hopes) my second to last chemo. As to be expected, it was quite an ordeal to get an IV in. After several rounds of use (due to the early retirment of my right arm thanks to the discovery of a clot in my right arm), my left arm has now atrophied to a degree. They had to move up to my elbow, which although it required three pricks, turned out to be quite the charm. Apparently contrary to what they said earlier THEY can use the veins near the elbow when need be. Also, as it turns out, I get far less burning from the dacarbazine when the IV is placed up higher. Usually we have to go with a drip rate of 150; today, we were able to zoom along at 275, meaning I was able to leave the hospital by 2:30. Outstanding.

Now, the usual. A little nausea tonight, maybe some heart burn tomorrow. Plus we have the continuing problem of my jaw pain. It seems to settle in earlier and leave later now. As a matter of fact, I was in a good bit of discomfort last night, but I had to conserve my percocet. My LPN is unsure why the pain has gotten so intense, given that jaw pain is only a relatively rare side-effect from the vinblastine to begin with. She suggested watching it once treatment ends (MARCH 16th!) and then seeking the counsel of a dentist (Dr. Helsley, I’m looking at you.)

And so it continues. I’m a little fatigued for anything profound, but I’ve had plenty of revelations. Maybe I’ll get them together for next time. Of course, why put it off? Spring break IS this week.

That’s right. I’m on break through next Sunday. I’ll be in Woodstock the whole time. My body (and my wallet) are not up to disembarking for any exotic locale at the time being. Besides, “exotic” for me usually means the Wax Museum down in Virginia Beach. And I don’t even like wax museums. I’ve always had a problem with such a still depiction of real individuals. I have this conception of people as vibrant, dynamic, and to see even a depiction of them caught still in space has always greatly troubled me. I don’t have a problem with photographs. Oh sure, I may get misty eyed or smile depending on the subject, as would anybody, but photographs for the most part of depicitions of events. Still people, outside of the context of an event, dare I say, frighten me, as I consider people and events nearly inseperable. When a person is completely immovable, withdrawn from reality yet there nevertheless, well, I consider that troubling. This is the same reason I avoid open-casket funerals. After his passing I went to sign Ralph Bauserman’s condolence book. The body was open. I turned to pay my final respects, but I was stopped after that step. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t confront him in that state. You could accuse me of being scared. I’ve gotten this many times in the past month. But never of cancer or death. As my prognosis is very positive, those things simply don’t bother me. In fact, I’m constantly looking to the future. And it’s in this that I’ve been accused of being scared.

I’ve always made it clear that I wish to return home in some capacity following my graduation. For the time being it’s unclear how I’m going to make this possible. So there’s some uncertainty in that. But that’s not what I’m afraid of. I can make it work, and I’m so dedicated to moving back here that I’m willing to make some major financial sacrifices to make it possible. No, what I’ve been accused of being afraid of is the rest of the world. I tell my friends that I want to return home, and they look at me like I’ve completely lost it. “There’s a huge world out there. DC, New York, Pariee! Why miss out on that?” Then they ask why. And I tell them simply that I want to help serve others. And they say that’s never possible, that we just say that to get ahead, that we should be “young, wild, and free.” They tell me that it’s a complete tragedy that I have taken such a hardline against what I see as the mindless activities of my age cohort. I won’t point to any particular activities, but suffice it to say that I find them to be a grand waste of time, just simply standing around, losing ourselves in libations and talking of the smaller matters of the world.

Call me pretentious. Call me mad. But I feel a higher calling. I’ve always felt the call for public service. I feel it is one of the most noble pursuits a man can undertake, trying (and even failing) to produce a grand vision (or even a simple manner) in which to improve society. For we are not long for this earth. We are born, we live, we love, we die. But there’s a great deal of empty space between those commas. Even in the short space of eighty years there is alot (and a little) to be done. Our time is limited and yet we can do so much. Why squander any moment of it? I guess, though, there are widely varying of squandering time. One man’s party is another man’s nap. We all need time to ourselves. If we simply work towards one goal with no stop, we will soon be consumed with maddness, or worse, apathy, as we see that perhaps not everyone shares our enthusiasim for our project. And so we play. But as with work, play takes many different forms. And one man’s play should never be held in contempt, for it is that which makes his work possible.

But back to my desire to move home. I know that I was dropped her by providence. I had no choice in the matter. And yet the decision whether to make a life here is completely in my hands. Many of my friends are stricken with a great wanderlust. I often hear “I love my little town, but I can’t live there forever.” Well what’s so wrong with having the opposite sentiment? I know many world travelers who grew up in a time when the world was quickly expanding. Air travel was just beginning , sea travel was being refined, and the best way to see the world seemed to be get out of your little town. But now, the world is moving in the opposite direction. Great advances in technology allow us to communicate with anyone anywhere in the world in the flash. Woodstock is just two hours from the heart of our nation’s politics. With a computer and a phone I can be in constant contact with the goings on of our system in an instant. If you can find deep comfort in one place, even if you were put there by fate, why abandon it? And that’s how I feel about Shenandoah County. I’ve been around. I’ve seen Richmond, DC, Florida, Pennsylvania. I suppose I’ve never been out west or to New York, but the zeitgeist of instant fame and wealth just doesn’t appeal to me to begin with. Part of this place’s special charm is the great value it places on hard work. Sure, I’ve never traveled aboard, but I’m too much an American to ever feel comfortable in a foreign land. As for our own land, there are many places LIKE us, but none with just the same mix of elements. Say that I’m afraid. Say that I can’t let go of the people who raised me and taught me the good things in life and who will always be here for me. Maybe it’s not really possible, maybe I can’t love them. But I like to think it’s love, and I want to return it. So say that I’m afraid, that I’m limiting myself. But never question my motives. Because you cannot get inside my head and heart. You can’t know what’s like. Cancer has taught me that we all have a purpose, that we’re hear for a reason and that what we have thrown at us only helps to shape that reason. Perhaps I’ve had the great “misfortune” of suffering cancer early in life, driving me to find my purpose. Oh well. I must say, I’m not new to this thought. I’ve always been greatly aware of my mortality. Some have said it’s my great downfall, that I move too fast and have been prone to depression because I can’t move fast enough. But now I’ve seen how close I could be, and I don’t want to squander a single moment. There’s no reason to live life as if they greatest accomplishment is death. And yet, there is also no reason to use our time just for ourselves. As I’ve said before on this blog before, if I can comfort just one person, make their life just a little better, I will be able to die a happy man (hopefully, though, far from now).

Oh dear. It appears that I have gone and written something. Nothing that profound, either. Oh well. Such is the fate of having time and no ideas on a Friday night. (I at a party? Cute. I appreciate your optimism, though). Good night to all, and remember, I’m in town all week.