It's the end of a glorious week here in the Mile High City, and as I sit here in the study on a late night listening to the coyotes howl outside our house (seriously, they are right down the block carrying on like it's mating season) - I'm thinking it's time to talk about some digestive destruction at the hand of the chemotherapy regimen, and a little high-elevation phenomenon that can make one embarrassed and laugh all in the same moment.
It's been the standard post-chemo reactions since my last posting right after treatment #4. Days 4, 5, & 6 "post-chemo" are the 'crash days' when my white blood cell count drops to about 10% of normal levels. It's a strange feeling, as I finish my steroid intake on the Monday after treatment, I descend into this wierd world of hazy exhaustion.
Many folks have asked me 'what does it feel like after chemo?" Here's the best description I can muster - I'm a 'stomach sleeper' and usually wake up face down spread eagle in the morning, so on days 5 &6 when I wake up my body feels as if a mack truck has hit it. In a nutshell, I feel such a mind-numbing exhaustion that all my limbs and body can barely move - even my fingers are tired. That's the only way I can properly sum up the experience is that the little digits are actually so tired it's tough to move them. So, Bill - how in the hell do you manage to get up and go to work that week? Only by the power of Quaker Oats do I manage to drag out of bed and get downtown.
Before I continue, I want you to know that we have some dear family friends who are members of the Society of Friends. While endorsing the consumption of "Quaker" oats as a food product I do not endorse the characterization of those who are members of this religious sect as all being pasty, slightly chubby, colonial-looking white men in funny hats with white scarves around their neck. Ok, now my PC statement is done and we can continue....
I used to make oatmeal before long bike rides or Morgan's triathlon days in Cincy, and EVERY TIME it prevented the dreaded 'bonk' that would plague me from time to time when riding with friends. Amanda started making oatmeal for me when this chemo treatment started, and let me tell you I can absolutely tell you it works. A little bowl of the slimy snot-like concoction and I can make it through the morning. I'm still a bit tired, but it helps get me to work-readiness and cope with the day. As the post-chemo week ends, my energy level recovers and I don't really need the morning snot-like food regimen, and can go back to regular cereal & fruit. Then, I get about 2 weeks of 'good energy' before going in for round #5, which happens next Thursday.
The chemo drugs basically go after all fast-growing cells in the body, of which Cancer is the 'first string'. But, there are also 'second' and 'third' team cells which get their asses kicked by the chemo drugs including, but not limited to, hair cells (hence the baldness and random manscaping) and digestive tract cells (esophagus, stomach, mouth/tongue cells). So in addition to having random baldness throughout the body (not just the head - sorry for the inferred details), the digestive tract is generally whacked out all through the process. Typically, most chemo patients throw up for a day or so after the treatments, but I've been lucky in that it hasn't happened yet (knock on wood). Also, you can get mouth sores (another wood knock), and generally have digestive wackiness (hence Miralax blessings). I've always got some sort of indigestion, my food can taste like metal, my taste/likes of food changes all the times (don't even let me smell an egg right now - blech!),but the most humorous thing is the incredible amount of gas production that is happening down there.
When we used to visit Colorado, I almost always passed gas like a madman out here. I'd heard that some 'flatlanders' (those of you down at sea level) could experience this phenomenon when coming up to elevation. It happened again when we moved out here, but had settled down as our bodies adjusted to higher elevation. One of my good friends since childhood, Craig Clark, came out for this past week to visit us from Ohio, and during a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park last week he coined the phrase "HAF" to describe the incredible amount of methane being produced in my Jeep by the two of us while on Trail Ridge Road at 11,000+ feet. What does this stand for, you ask? "HIGH ALTITUDE FART". Let me assure you, between my chemo belly and his flatlander body we could have bottled volumes of the stuff to serve as a 'green' power source. I felt like a renewable energy power plant up there, but unfortunately for my poor, poor, wife Craig's HAFs have stopped, but my chemo-inspired HAFs continue. Here's hoping for the sake of my wife and dogs that the HAFs stop when chemo is completed and the drugs are out of my system come mid-October.
- My old friend Megan back in Ohio has enlisted her sister onto Team Baker. Here's giving props to Kailey and her friends on TEAM BUDDHIST who are on board the bus. Spin a prayer wheel and chant a bit for me Kailey - welcome.
- I heard through the grapevine at my in-laws that some close Fritz family friends on the UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST team are in our camp as well. For those of you who don't know, that's one of those MethodPresbyLutherPalianesque groups.
- I had an appointment this week with Dr. Ross Wilkins, my orthopedic oncologist at Presbyterian/St Lukes Hospital in Denver. They took some X-rays and - yep - there's more bone a-growin' where the tumor holes in my pelvis were. I'm down to one crutch, and have been given clearance to start doing stationary bike, elliptical trainer, and swimming at the YMCA. I'm hoping to get my first workout in about 5 months in this weekend downtown - whew! I've been going stir crazy.
- Many of you knew that I was a possible candidate for Proton radiation therapy at Massachusetts General (one of five in the USA), and had been weighing this option versus staying here in Denver for conventional Photon radiation. We had a consultation with the Radiation Oncologist at MassGen this week, Dr. Evelyn Chen, and after reviewing my test results from the start of chemo through the PetScans after round 2, I'm no longer a candidate for Proton since I've responded so well. So, I'm staying in Denver and should start the radiation in the 3rd or 4th week of October. I'm relieved in that I'll be here at home, and also able to continue to work. While five weeks in Boston would have been great, I would have been pretty bored after a while.
- Check out this link to a video from the Global Cancer Summit recently run by the Livestrong Foundation. I found it inspiring: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGfgReJU8bM
There it is - stay cool, and thanks again everyone for your continued cards, letters, emails, notes, and phone calls - keep them coming.