Hurry, Hurry, Hurry, Before I go Insane

November 24, 2006

I have a secret. A terrible, disturbing secret that could ruin any potential career in conservative political circles: I love The Ramones.

Ok. Anti-climactic. It’s not like they’re Slayer or Twisted Sister (although that may be more of a problem in Al Gore’s office. I’m looking at you, Tipper). Sure they had their political moments, and Joey was a leftist. But hey, Johnny refused to play Bonzo Goes to Bitburg (a anti-Reagan riff, for the uninitiated) in concert after he put two and two together.

I’m not quite sure what it is about the band. Certainly it isn’t their musicality. They use more or less the same three chords in all their songs. But what three chords! And simply put, they rocked. Now that I’ve reached the level of being a mediocre guitarist and finally had the opportunity to jam with a drummer, I fully understand why they went through four drummers. The longest break we took in our jam was after playing “Blitzkrieg Bop.”

Maybe the appeal was in challenging all the political punk rockers during high school. Sure they had their political moments, but the fact that the two creative engines of the group were on opposite ends of the spectrum indicates that the band was about something more than that. It was about a certain spirit, a certain never-say die attitude. 180 beats per minute for two hours. Wow. Their music was always moving forwards, regardless of the lyrics. You could just feel it leaning. The same way a great blues band leans back, the Ramones leaned forward. No-they didn’t just lean. They pushed. They stood in front in our great cultural wall and pushed. With their feet firmly planted in the rock and roll past, they created something new from that same energy. Even today, it’s simply kinetic.

So why does this all matter? Simply put, I misinterpreted a lyric of theirs when trying to come up with a title post, and I needed material. The lyric in question? “I can’t control my fingers, I can’t control my toes” I thoughout it was TINGLING in my toes.

Now why is THAT important? Well, for starters, Joey Ramone died of Lymphoma (albeit of the non-Hodgkin’s kind). Secondly, this is a new symptom that has manifested itself. That’s right: tingling. Imagine your foot constantly falling asleep. Now imagine that it falls asleep ONLY in your heel and your toes. Sounds pretty annoying, eh? This is what I was facing on my way to chemotherapy today.

Again, not too much to report. The only real news is of the bad variety: Apparently some of my veins have decided that want no more of this chemical chicanery. The practical implication of this is that I had to have my nurse try my right arm first, as the left one appears to be getting red and sore around the main injection site. Bad move. Now I have a bruise on my right arm, and I had to get stuck twice on the left. But otherwise, everything else went fine (if not slow; I went in at 8 and wasn’t out till at least 3). Plus the cafeteria had catfish. Delish.

Right now I’m dealing with the usual Friday Night Fun of nausea, but I have yet another sleeping medication to try. So maybe there will finally be some rest for the weary. Good; I’m going to need it for the final dash to the finish of the semester. If you’re of the praying persuasion, save one for my Comparative Politics paper, alright? Alright.

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It’s been such a long time

November 18, 2006

My apologies for the lack of a post since Election Day, but I have my reasons. First of all, I’ve discovered that although cancer tends to shatter one’s usual routine, it brings a replacement routine with it. Naturally, it’s a bizarre one, filled with needles and drugs with almost unpronounceable names and constant appointments, but the fact of the matter is after about a week the whole experience of having cancer develops a certain rhythm to it. Such is the case with my chemotherapy: needle in, drugs in, and I’m out the door for a weekend of nausea and sleeping. I know I have my fans, but to be honest, I can only squeeze so much drama out of each treatment. So frankly, I didn’t have a lot to talk about after last weekend, which I suppose is a good thing. I’ll spare you an overview of my nausea.

The other reason for posting is that I did not have that great of a week. Not only did I have two papers due, but I was also trying to ease myself on to a new sleep medication. Stress really built up, and by the middle of the week I was a bit of a mess. On Tuesday, I had to walk out of my first class, and during my second class I had become so ill that I switched to a run out of that class. I was so disoriented that I ended up getting ill to an audience of one in the lobby of UVA’s exquisite (ok, so it faces the stadium and is blocked by some steam generators). Not my proudest moment. I spent the rest of the week trying to get my act together and think I did; all I really know is that I am now at home for Thanksgiving (so if you’re thinking about sending me correspondence, please be advised I will receive it quickest at my parent’s address through the weekend after Thanksgiving).

I had a doctor’s visit yesterday. Well, actually, it was meant just to be bloodwork, but because of some ailments that developed through the week a full check-up was required. Dr. Densmore’s LNP Hayley checked me out, looking at my mouth for the pain and sores that I’ve been experiencing. She gave me some prescriptions, one of which oddly could only be made at Walton and Smoot. As for the bloodwork, my numbers were back up, but again, caution prevails.

Allow me to apologize once more for a lack of posting, but I’ll be trying to get back up to speed. Keep in mind, though, that we’re coming upon exams, which have always been a challenge for I, the master of procrastination, an experience that will be amplified by the needs of my current condition.

One shout out though: Since I am going to be in town for the week, drop me a line at craig.orndorff@gmail.com and maybe we can do lunch of something. And of course, I’ll be free later in December. Still, I’d love to see some of the people that I know are counting on me, and I want to show them they won’t be disappointed.


Touch and Go

November 7, 2006

Although (as with last time) this weekend was practically symptom free (although I was tired, as usual, but again, I never know what’s cancer and what’s college), today brought a mixed bag of news. Ok, so I guess the only actual news was good, while the downer was more of a realization. But enough nitpicking.

I had bloodwork done today to certify that I’ll be able to proceed with my next treatment. Although it took a bit longer than usual (I actually had to have my parking validated, as it was over an hour), the news was quite welcome. All my numbers were good, but the best one was my nuetraphil count. This is the one that determines the degree of my neutropenia. As it turns out, it was at 1500. While it needs to be at 2000 to be completely out of the woods in regards to infection, it was far higher than the 500 threshold for treatment. This also means that I’ll no longer need to run out a room screaming at the sound of someone sneezing; I can just hide under my desk from now on.

Now for the bad part. From the very beginning I’ve been assured that I would lose my hair; it’s just the nature of one of the drugs (adriamycin). I even went ahead and cut my hair in anticipation. Still, I can’t say that was thrilled with the prospect of being bald. Everyone knows that I’ve always depended on my looks to pay the bills…..in the sense that someone pities my terrible haircuts and gives me a tip to help rectify the situation. All kidding aside though, I have an interesting history with my hair. All through my childhood I was plagued by constant cowlicks, but I always kept my hair in more of a, well, typical little kid style. However, around 12, I got a buzz cut for the summer. It was so much easier to keep. Combine this with the fact that my mother could actually perform this sort of maintenance and that, for me, puberty brought a precipitous decline in my interest in all things “fashionable” (I guess it’s the geek gene), I just never went back. At times it could become unwieldy; if I went for too long I developed what was distinctly labeled “the poof.” Not quite an afro, as my hair is straighter than most rulers, but there was a distinct sense of “body” or whatever hair stylists use to describe just plain thick hair. Still, the style worked, as it helped undergird my credentials as an upstanding young man or a pretentious jerk, depending on your age. However, after graduating high school I lined up all my yearbooks to my page, leading me to coin the new adage “The more things change, the more Craig stays the same.” However, I never really pushed the issue. My mother seemed to enjoy cutting my hair, and college made me even lazier in regards to fashion. However, I kept missing in the field of romance, and suppose in my delusional state developed the one condition I had hoped to never have: vanity. Yes, I actually believed that perhaps my run of bad luck was not due to the fact that I lace my conversations with Simpsons references, or that I know of both John Anderson the Singer and John Anderson the politician, or that I still listen to vinyl records. No, I figured that, rather than simply having a unique personality that is simply hard to match, it surely had to be my appearance, specifically my 50’s high school football coach hair, that was impeding my success with the opposite sex. So I decided to let it grow, along with an ill-advised attempt at growing a beard. While the beard quickly succumbed to pressure from, well, everyone, the hair stayed. And I was satisfied. I thought it gave me a somewhat more professional look. But alas, it was not to be, because right when I had it where I wanted it, with a nice little “geek peak”  just peering over the edge of my head, I found out I’d be needing chemo.

As I’ve said, I’m not generally one to obsess over my hair. Particularly now that I’ve determined it really wasn’t my hair after all. But there’s still something unsettling about washing what little hair you do have and having your hands covered in follicles. Also, one hair or two is perhaps to be expected on a desk. But the entire area beneath your keyboard should not be layered with it. The real conundrum is that I don’t know how to approach baldness. Since I’ve always had a head of, shall we say, a peculiar circumference, I’ve never been able to find a hat that fit properly. Yet I’m just not sure if nothing up top is going to look right either. But that’s a problem for later.

For right now, I’m going to abuse the platform that I have with a wide swath of people and remind everyone to VOTE TOMORROW. I care not for whom you choose; certainly I have my opinions, but the glory of our country is that I can not only posess such opinion but also act on them. Indeed, we all can, and for that reason alone we should hold tomorrow as a celebration of Democracy, just not a day with an assigned task. I could go on and on with high minded rhetoric about how people have no right to complain if they don’t vote, but there’s no need. You know the choice. Make it.

As an aside, one upside of this whole ordeal is set to reveal itself tomorrow. In the past five years of being involved in politics, I’ve never been able to celebrate Election Day in the manner I’ve always wanted: my own personal Christmas. I know, geeky, but seriously, it’s just a really special day for me. Every year I’m completely floored by the fact that we live in a country where we can have a peaceful transfer of power with a full airing of the issues. For some people Election Day can’t come soon enough, with all the ads and calls and tension. But I relish the day. I just get a swelling feeling whenever I hear CNN’s Election Coverage theme music; my penchant for drama and narrative simply cannot resist the spectacle of Election Night. I have to admit I feel guilty that I’ve been able to add little to the cause this year, but I hope to be back in the swing of things soon enough. Besides, sometimes a break can remind people of why they do what they do in the first place.

Oh well. Enough for now. Busy day for tomorrow, then a long night. Best wishes, and remember: VOTE!


Gray skies are going to clear up….

October 30, 2006

Sorry for the lack of an update yesterday, but it appears that my body has somehow managed to turn this into a cyclical thing. That is, this weekend really wasn’t all that different from last weekend, save the specter of infection. In fact, my nausea peaked at roughly the same time it did before. Fancy that. At least I know what to expect.

However, today did bring a mild bit of excitement. I had some more bloodwork done to see if I would require a (man-made) shot that would boost my blood counts. However, to my surprise my ANC (the important number in all this) was up to around 800 as opposed to the 400 of last Friday, meaning no shot. I was naturally tickled, although at this point I’m being stuck so often that what’s one less time? Still, you have to find the silver lining.

So what does all this mean? Well, not much, really. It moved me from “severe” to “moderate” risk of infection, but all of the rules of engagement from this weekend still apply. I have to report to the cancer center next Monday for another round of tests, which will hopefully put me on track for next week’s treatment. If anything exciting happens, though, I’ll let you all know.


NU’tro-pen”e-ah

October 27, 2006

On my way to writing this evening I stopped by the counter for my blog and noticed that some people had already arrived this evening, perhaps in anticipation of a report from today’s treatment. How did I know it was this evening? By some odd fluke the counter is set for Greenwich Mean Time, which means it rolls over to the next day sometime around 7 and midnight. I have yet to put my finger on it because, quite frankly, I care too little about when people are reading this (if it all) to warrant a full-scale investigation. Still, I feel an apology is in order to those of you who are intently following my condition. Unless, that is, your interest is driven by some sort of bizarre odds-making on my health, in which case I demand a cut of the winner’s earnings. At any rate, I will attempt to avoid being too maudlin or despairing to cause regret on the part of the reader. Such is the nature of the beast I am recording, however. Before I begin, allow me to mention my good friends at the Shenandoah County Republican Committee, who this evening held a dutch treat dinner for Senator George Allen. I hope that the festivities found the Senator in high spirits and prepared the Committee to return the good Senator to Washington for six more years of forward thinking leadership rooted in time-tested Jeffersonian ideals. To my Democratic readers: Now that you may have a taste of the nausea I experience every two weeks, allow me to reassure you that this condition is temporary and most likely halted, in your case, through avoiding coverage of said event. I know I found myself teetering on the precipice of illness after reading a National Review article on the prospect of a Democratic congress.

But enough politics. Today was my second round of chemo. My mother came into town and again allowed me the pleasure of sleeping “as long as I could” (read: 11:00 A.M.) Unfortunately my slumber had already been interrupted once by my failure to reset my alarm clock from yesterday’s wake-up call, but a few more moments is always greatly appreciated, particularly in times such as these. Anyways, I got around and we managed to arrive on time at the Cancer Center. They got us back relatively quickly (as we were the only ones waiting), and I settled down for the magic of chemotherapy. My nurse, Susan, wrapped both of my arms in hot towels this time, aware of the struggle we had last time with finding a suitable vein. As I waited she got all of the details of last week’s experience, to see if any changes needed to be made (not that many could). Eventually it was time for the prick, which was again performed by “the master.” This time I was sure to note his name, Dennis. I suppose after hearing of last week’s battle my nurse was simply too squeamish to make an attempt, and I for one appreciate her honesty. Dennis was just about to try a vein in my left arm (where all the action was last time) when he realized my right arm was also available. He moved over and was quite pleased to discover a big blue track running down my arm: the perfect target. Surprisingly enough this involved little pain; with one swift maneuver and no squirming the needle was in and blood was drawn. Little did I know that the blood work would unveil a new twist in this tale.

After about twenty minutes Susan came back and informed us that my white blood cell count was low enough to cause concern amongst the staff and lead them to consult with the oncologist on duty. My doctor isn’t always present, but as a student myself I trust the training of the University enough to have no problem with using another doctor. The doctor approved the treatment, so Susan set me up with some steroids. She also brought some light reading regarding my new-found condition, neutropenia. This is simply a fancy word for “PLEASE DO NOT GET A VIRUS.” Essentially, my Neutrophil granulocytes (a specialized kind of white blood cell important to the immune system that apparently aren’t lymphocytes) have reached dangerous levels. In layman’s terms, an individual should have about 2000 of these little buggers in each 0.0002028841 of a teaspoon of blood. I, on the other hand, had 400. The threshold for my treatment is set at 500, but apparently it is not uncommon to proceed with treatment in spite of such levels. It does, however, raise new practical concerns. For starters, I can’t be in crowds, which means that the Virginia Cavaliers will have to struggle valiantly to eke out another win without me tomorrow. Also, I have to be careful about food preparation, lest I ingest some bacteria or get cut or burnt. This means there is absolutely no room for screw-ups such as last week, suggesting that the microwave find new use as a cooking implement in my home. Surprisingly enough, for a college student, I tend to eschew the microwave as a cooking method. Perhaps my mother spoiled me in regards to the beauty of well-cooked meal. But moving on, it also means that I have to avoid uncooked fruits and vegetables, which made me grimace at the thought of my newly acquired kiwis. However, perhaps the greatest disappointment is that I will be unable to play the guitar for a few days. You see, I recently started playing with great interest again after discovering a purchasing my dream instrument, a cherry red Epiphone SG, with a pick-guard and locking tuners. For those of you unfamiliar with the art of luthiere (the art of making stringed instruments), this is a good thing. This is the instrument of choice for such guitar luminaries as as Robby Kriger, Glenn Tipton, Mick Taylor…..not ringing a bell? Duane Allman? Carlos Santana? Pete Townshend? If none of those names ring a bell, I suggest at least 30 minutes a day with your favorite classic rock radio station. In the valley, I prefer 104.9. Trust me, you’ll thank me later. Anyways, this is all a problem due to the fact that when one plays the guitar too heavily there’s a tendency to develop blisters on the fretting fingers, such as I have. To avoid the possibility of having a blister pop and become infected, I won’t be able to play for a few days. I was quite aggrieved as music has helped me through some tough times (particularly of late). But no matter. I’m sure I’ll be able to return soon enough.

Back to the treatment. After the steroids and my drug cocktail they started me off with Adriamycin again. At first I suspected I may have avoided a repeat of last week’s episode, but my highly trained nurse knew what to look for. Ok, she didn’t know exactly what to look for, but she did know that big red line across someone’s chest (I was wearing a polo shirt that has a tendency to pop open) and that falling backwards into the chair are not good things. She quickly summoned a cart to take my vitals, which came with a disproportionate level of staffers to tend (or at least stare) at me. I bounced back just as I did last time, but it was just as scary. The next two drugs went in without incident, although I did develop the aforementioned gassy sensation but that was to be expected. It was not until dicarabazine arrived on the scene that a new twist emerged. The nurse ambitiously set the machine for 400 m/l per hour, which given my dosage meant I would be out within thirty minutes. Since I didn’t have a problem last time, I figured this was a good thing. However, after about 10 minutes, I suddenly developed a sharp pain in my vein, along with with a red streak on my arm. Imagine someone literally pinching your vein; the sensation was localized entirely with my arm but unbearable nevertheless. The nurse could not get there soon enough. She flushed me with saline, turned the timer down, and went back to business. Unfortunately, this started a cycle. A little longer, and the pain would reeemerge. My mother had to get a nurse at least four times. Fortunately, 175 did the trick, and I was out by 5:30, just about the same length as last time. The symptoms are much the same: gas and nausea, plus a little fatugue. However, I’ve come to expect those, and though I suspect the symptoms may worsen, chemotherapy is not aware that I have over 16 years of experience in warding off nausea due to my chronic motion sickness and inner ear problems. I know I may have looked absolutely helpless on debate trips, with our station wagon pulled off the road and me steadying myself against the vehicle as I expunged the contents of my stomach. Little did my fellow students know that I had waited until we found ourselves on an open stretch of road where it was safe to pull off, which in Fairfax can take upwards of 40 minutes. This world has many unsung heroes.

But enough of my fantasies. It’s time for an observation. Over the past few days, I’ve found myself experiencing the sort of turmoil that college students often find themselves in: heartbreak. I’ll spare you the details to save everyone from some potential embarrassment and, more importantly, to avoid accusations of using this blog as a forum for my signature melodrama. But I’ve learned something from the combination of disappointment and my condition. You see, as many of you (especially my younger female readers can attest), I’ve spent a great deal of my time perusing romantic interests, particularly during my time here at college. Many times I’ve been castigated for pushing the issue, for being ahead of my time, for simply “wanting it too much.” And I suppose that at times I have been consumed by it, for the quest for affection (particularly of a physical nature), can be a powerful thing? And why not? It brings us joy, happiness, and all those things associated with a hug or a gentle stroke of the head. But it’s not the only kind of love. Over the past few weeks I’ve received an outpouring of compassion that I’ve never experienced before. Perhaps I’m overstating things; I may be mistaking the social nicety of cards for something else. But many of the notes, letters, and yes, even cookies have indicated something differently: that I’ve touched people sufficiently to warrant them to take time to let me know that they care about me, that they worry at the prospect of something happening to me. Perhaps this is a self-aggrandizing notion, but it is one that has opened me up to a new line of thought, that perhaps what I was seeking was not the most important kind of love, that mutual love between friends based not upon a deep physical and emotional attachment but rather a belief in the innate goodness of another individual is the sort of love that drives our society and has the power to make the world a better place.

At the same time, I’ve realized that love is only one of a whole range of emotions. There are good ones, such as joy and happiness. But there are ones that rip us apart, such as sadness and anger. At their greatest intensity such emotions have the potential to cause far more damage than the satisfaction of romantic love. This may seem a pessimistic notion, but it’s a fundamental truth. Shakespeare may enlighten individuals, but war, poverty, illness, and a myriad of other things can destroy society and create a general malaise. The experience of cancer has brought me to a new outlook: love may be a many splendored thing, but it’s not everything. Effort used pursing love could very well be used for other purposes. Love, if anything, is a pleasant accident, but not one that can be repeated at will. However, through perseverance and determination there are things that can be done to make this world a better place. So I have decided that it matters not if I never find myself in a romantic relationship again. It would certainly be a pleasant aside, and perhaps could strengthen my purpose of being, but I feel there’s enough out there that it’s not a necessity. If I die with the knowledge that a single act of mine somehow relieved some microscopic degree of human misery, I shall die a happy man. Will I refuse love henceforth? Hardly. But there’s no need in pursuing just one part of the rich tapestry of human existence.

I apologize for my jumping into matters of a more philosophical nature. Surely you did not expect it. But again, this is not just a means of communication, but an outlet to deal with the problems surrounding it’s reason for being as well. I thank you for respecting my thoughts, or at least sloughing through them on the way to this: Good night.


The waiting is the hardest part

October 21, 2006

My apologies; the below post was meant to be uploaded a few days ago. It was meant to explain my absence, which by now may be alarming to some. No fretting, though; all in all it was a good week.

On Friday I got some bloodwork done. I thought I might at least get to speak to Dr. Densmore to inform him of my experiences last time, but unfortunately it was a relatively minor event. I went in, sat for a few minutes, and was out in a flash. I have yet to hear any results, and I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. Certainly if something was seriously wrong they would have told me, but they also have a tendency to spring “minor” bad things on you after the fact. The possibility I’m most worried about is being prescribed a particular shot (the name of which escapes me) which tricks the body into believing it has an infection. The shot in of itself is a medical wonder and would be welcomed if needed. However, it’s presence would mean two things. One, that I needed it and have an increased risk of infection, and two, that I (or some poor shmuck I can convince to do it for a dollar) would be required to shoot me up every other day. As I said before I’m trying to be calm about the needles, but they’re fighting back pretty hard; plus, I’m not sure I trust myself with one.

If I learned anything from this, though, it’s that cancer is turning out to be a game of hurry up and wait. For several weeks things were nothing but a whirlwind of tests, procedures, and appointments. Now that treatment has actually started, things have slowed to crawl. Chemo is every two weeks; I find myself sitting still for three hours each Friday; results don’t come back quite as quick. I guess it’s just one of those things, but annoying nevertheless. Man has little patience, no matter the trauma.

Another observation I made this week is that cancer makes one acutely aware of the intricacies of one’s body. On the one hand, this can be an enlightening experience. In class one day I found myself with my thumb and pointer grasping my nose, as I often do when I’m tired or frustrated. For some reason, though, I held on a little closer than usual, and discovered that I’d never really felt where my nose connects to my face before. This may seem at best an odd anecdote and at worst cause for concern for my mental health, but frankly I feel this new sense of personal intimacy to be quite relaxing in light of what’s going on with the rest of my body.

On the other hand, this new awareness can be quite troublesome in another department: pain. I first discovered this during my nausea, but it reintroduced itself later this week when I was attempting to cook a steak in some olive oil (I know, but please do not knock my culinary choices). I’ve never been a particularly good judge of how much oil in enough (which I assume is a genetic fault prevalent only in those born below the Mason-Dixon Line), but in this particular instance I was way off. I also had managed to forget the sort of reaction that occurs when cold meat is placed a hot pan. Add to this ignorance of the Archimede’s principle and failing to wear shoes and you have a recipie for disaster (not steak). When I threw (another mistake) the meat into the pan the oil promptly became airborne, and had only one place to go: the foot of the stove, where my size 15s were located. After some yelping I managed to make it to the bathroom, where some cold water quickly took care of the grease (but not the pain). I managed to escape with only a burn relative to a sunburn (albeit a rather severe one). This incident has made me greatly rethink both my manner of dinner preperation and my choice of kitchen wear.

On a bright note my parents were in town for Parent’s Weekend, but most particularly my third-year ring ceremony. I dare say that the sudden realization that I’m half-way through college (last year’s detour aside) was more frightening than learning that I had Hodgkin’s. Perhaps it’s a result of the time skew that’s caused by cancer, but I’m beginning to rethink the way I’ve viewed college. It may end up true that men far wiser (deservedly so) than I were correct. I’ll have to collect my thoughts on that for later, though. It seems to require a grander degree of exposition than I am prepared for right now.

By the way, given the aforementioned nature of the timing of cancer, it appears that readers may have to suffer through material of a more philosophical and personal nature in my feeble attempt to provide regular content for myself. Also, I’ve recently decided that I want to improve my skills as a writer, and what better excuse?

Anyways, it’s getting….well, not particularly late, but at the very least time for me to enjoy what remains of my Saturday. And given my haul from Plan 9 Records today (HALF OFF ALL VINYL!), it will be quite enjoyable.


Days like this

October 16, 2006

So, nothing really happened today.

Well, it did, which I guess is what made it normal. I was able to get to class, and I ate on a rather normal schedule. I also was finally rewarded with the removal of my stitches, allowing me to choose which side I want to lay on! Yippie!

But other than that, not much to report. I’ll probably be out for a couple of day, but I’ll try to let you all know what we find out from my bloodwork on Friday.