Living Through Cancer
A series of reports
Enclosed is a series of progressive reports on living through the cancer of Ray DeTournay. While originally intended to be a breezy letter about removal of a minor tumor on his neck, it evolved into a continuing correspondence once a malignancy was discovered and diagnosed. To keep from having to answer the same questions over and over, he elected to use
e-mails titled “Ray Reports” to keep family and friends updated on his progress. A number of people have found the information to be helpful, acting as a reminder to pay attention to what their own bodies might be telling them. He is pleased to share this information with those who might have questions about the effectiveness of modern medicine, medical practitioners, technology and the power of prayer.
Don’t hesitate to contact a medical provider about unusual bodily changes.
In deep appreciation to
Paul O. Gulsrud, MD, Omid S. Shaye, MD, Randall A. Scharlach, MD
and their staffs
||Ray Is On The Mend (Letter)
||4 January 2013
||Ray Report 1: Good News/Bad News
||12 January 2013
||Ray Report 2: Jumping Through Hoops
||16 January 2013
||Ray Report 3: “Thanks, I Think”
||17 January 2013
||Ray Report 4: Chemo Cocktail Hour
||25 January 2013
||Ray Report 5: Waiting For The Hammer
||16 February 2013
||Ray Report 6: Making Progress
||26 February 2013
||Ray Report 7: When The Hammer Falls
||11 March 2013
||Ray Report 8: My Hearing Has Improved
||2 April 2013
||Ray Report 9: I’m On The Beach
||14 April 2013
||Ray Report 10: Turning The Corner
||22 April 2013
||Ray Report 11: “Congratulations”
||6 May 2013
||Ray Report 12: End Of The Tunnel? Hope So
||27 May 2013
||Ray Report 13: It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over
||8 June 2013
||Ray Report 14: What A Difference A Month Makes
||30 July 2013
||Ray Report 15: Breaking News
||11 September 2013
||Ray Report 16: Why Me? (Thanksgiving Day)
||28 November 2013
||Ray Report 17: Remission (?) At Last
||28 January 2014
RAY IS ON THE MEND
4 January 2013
Dear Family and friends,
Thanks, so much for your cards, letters and e-mails celebrating my January 3rd yesterday. For those of you who don’t know or…worse yet, forgot…on January 3rd I celebrated my 78th birthday. This is a difficult date…especially for Louise…to come up with a proper celebration since everyone is partied out after Christmas and New Years.
Yesterday she outdid herself. She arranged a special party that took place at the West Hills Hospital here in California. My special gift was to be removal of a tumor on the left side of my neck. I’ve had a nodule there for ten years but it never hurt. Last November I noticed some pain and it set me on a trail to the offices of my GP, an ENT, the MRI, a biopsy technician and finally to the hospital. The needle biopsy was inconclusive so the tumor had to come out one way or another.
Of course, this was no surprise party since I had to sign my life away several times but it was special. When they wheeled me into OR prep it was still decorated for Christmas. “Staff too lazy to take it down” was a nurse’s comment. The party had a clinical theme and everyone was dressed in surgical costumes even wearing plastic shower hats for the occasion. One nice nurse came up and said, “You’re going to have a great time” while she was sticking needles in my arm. My surgeon gave me the Good news/Bad news lecture, mentioned something about my x-ray showing a spot on my lung and solemnly shook my hand. We were waiting for the Anesthesiologist who finally showed up dressed in all black and looking like he had just ridden in on a Harley. He introduced himself, said “Good morning” and then “Goodnight.”
I woke up with a complete stranger holding her fingers in front of my face, saying, “How many?” and “What is your name?” It must have been a helluva party because I had a nasty gash on my neck and a hand-made scarf around my neck fashioned from bandages. Since I must have missed out on the cake in the operating room, she came up with three saltine crackers and some apple juice but she was out of candles. The biopsy will be available next week so we’ll know what is what. Love the wait.
I am now safely home and in recovery. The best part is that they sent the cutest nurse home with me. She does whatever I ask, served me my favorite left-over for dinner and went so far as to go to bed with me last night. I am really looking forward to this recovery.
My best to all of you and hope to resume my e-mails in the near future. If you don’t want to receive future e-mails just click on UNSUBSCRIBE and see what happens.
Ray and Nurse Louise in happy times
RAY REPORT 1
12 January 2013
Louise and I want to thank all of you for your responses and kind wishes for my recovery from the recent (3Jan) surgery for removal of a tumor from my neck. The recovery has gone well with Nurse Louise providing unparalleled service from dawn to dusk and beyond. Her reward comes from climbing our stairs 29 times a day (she’s counting). “Better than the gym’s treadmill,” she says, “except there’s no one interesting to talk to.”
We’ve held off responding until we received a result from the biopsy taken after the surgery. It’s in and is the old, hackneyed “Good News/Bad News.” Last Monday I received a call from my GP (also a friend) who laid it right on the line.
“The results of your tests are positive,” he said.
“Oh, thank God,” I replied.
“No,” he said. “That means it’s malignant.” To make sure I understood,
he then said, “You have Cancer.”
Just before my surgery, the surgeon said, “The x-ray shows a spot on your lung. We’ll go ahead with the procedure and do a biopsy.” This was so casual that I had no problem with it. Yesterday we paid our first visit to a medical oncologist who further identified it as lung cancer from a node on the top of the right lung. He is unsure if it’s connected to the removed lymph node on my neck. I am scheduled for a brain MRI and a PET scan on Monday so he will know what he is fighting.
The oncologist was careful to contrast the seriousness of the disease with strides made in combating cancer, so he hit me between the eyes and then helped pick me up. At this point I am nothing more than a vessel passing between data ports until they get what they need. Our oldest daughter, Lisa, a doctor in Miami, is on top of this like a terrier. Her advice: “Show up, shut up and do what you’re told.” I guess she missed the class on bedside manner.
I’ve learned there are five stages of accepting a serious disease: Denial, Anger, Fear, Hope, and Acceptance. I’m progressing in that I’ve already gone from Denial to Dammit. A cancer-recovered friend advised that I skip the next two steps and go right to Acceptance. Only then will I become useful to my care providers.
So, dear friends, I’m sorry to have to pass along this news but it might give me a new subject to shower my writing talents on. I do ask for your prayers. So far I have accumulated Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Star Wars Buddhist, Non-denominational and even Agape prayers but am drawing the line at anything from the Taliban. Oh, the Good News/Bad news thing? The good news is there is no more bad news. We’ll know more on Tuesday.
Louise and Ray
RAY REPORT 2
Jumping Through the Hoops
16 January 2013
I will answer the question most often asked of me: I feel great and I have felt so since it was first suggested that I have cancer. I went through a Brain MRI followed by a PET scan to determine where there is a problem, if any. I have fantasized someone else was given my original biopsy result and is on his second celebratory bottle of wine. On my visit to the medical oncologist yesterday, I was almost sure he would say, “There has been a terrible mistake and you are cancer free.”
Unfortunately, I was given another Good News/Bad News report. The bad news is that I have Stage 4 cancer. I learned that Stage 4 is not a measurement but an identifier. The first 3 stages describe a cancer that is in one general location. Stage 4 indicates that it has spread to one or more parts of the body…like to my neck. There is no Stage 5.
The PET scan shows a 4.1 mm mass on the top of my right lung with the possibility of a 1.5 mm spot on my adrenal gland. The doctor recommends chemotherapy infusions once every three weeks with up to three treatments. He will then determine if the medication has reduced the cancer by any amount. If so, he will increase the dosage to shrink it and, most likely, finish it off with radiation treatments. Certainly not a drive-thru window approach as it will take some time.
While offering no guarantees, he has treated several cancers of this type with measurable success and has offered that as encouragement. My first treatment will be
22 January and will last four hours as they will infuse three different medications. The possible side effects of the chemo are the usual including minor hair loss (I started that years ago). Feel sorry for me, yes, but for Louise even more.
Did I mention the good news? All indications are that cancer spread from my lung to the nodule on my neck causing a tumor. That was my “canary in the coal mine” warning that something was wrong otherwise I could have gone on for months/years while it spread silently inside my body. The tumor was removed and all indications are that the area is now cancer free, so one less worry. The other good news is that the brain MRI shows no cancer so I can continue expressing my slightly off-kilter view of the world…possible bad news for all of you.
The oncologist said I don’t have to change my lifestyle in any way. “Eat sensibly, drink moderately, and continue to work out. You’ll need the energy.” He also recommended the usual consuming plenty of liquids and energy sources. “Many have found that American ginseng helps,” he said. Louise has already been to Whole Foods so we are locked and loaded. She and I want to thank all of you who have responded to this new direction in our lives. Your concern has touched us deeply and your support has been overwhelming. We’re surprised at the amount of first-person cancer survival stories we’ve heard and it has given us great encouragement. In journalistic fairness, we haven’t spoken with anyone who hasn’t survived…and hope not to anytime soon.
Thanks also to those of you who encourage a sense of humor to help sweeten the vinegar. My choices are limited to laughing, crying, or suffering silently. The latter has no appeal to me and I can’t stand the idea of seeing a grown man cry…especially in the mirror. So, I’m left with the challenge of trying to find a smile in a hillock of frowns. Bear with and pray for me.
The Present Me
When something of significance happens we’ll keep you apprised through “Ray Reports.” We hope to keep the contents brief and the numbers few.
With many thanks,
Louise and Ray
RAY REPORT 3
“Thanks, I Think”
17 January 2013
I would like to thank my engineer friends, and other nitpickers, for setting me straight on the difference between millimeters and centimeters. Yes, there was a simple mistake in the e-mail titled, Ray Report 2. My daughter had given me the correct comparisons of my cancer with everyday items but somehow I transposed the two and sent it out to the world. Considering that most Americans have some difficulty with metric vs. U.S. units, you would have thought I’d suddenly become road kill by the amount of birds of prey circling over my transgression. I’m sure the corrections were well intentioned so are accepted as such.
To set the record straight, here is what was intended. The lung tumor is 4.1 cm (about 1 3/8”) or about the size of a golf ball. For those of you who are data driven, the size is closer to the smaller British ball (Sweetshot Dyna 90 Matic) vs the standard American (Titleist Personalized Pro VI).
The nodule on the adrenal gland is 1.5 cm (Just over ½”) so a little larger than a marble. Once again, for you total nerds, that’s bigger than a Pee Wee and even standard Aggies, Opals and Black Beauties but not as big as a Bowler or a Steeley. Let’s hope this puts an end to insignificant squabbling and returns us to feeling properly forlorn for the afflicted. Unfortunately, the damage is done. My daughter is now convinced that I have somehow contracted dyslexia* and is off to find a remedy for that. Stay tuned – Ray
*No offense intended to those who do suffer from dyslexia.
RAY REPORT 4
Chemo Cocktail Hour
25 January 2013
Instead of a Good News/Bad News missive, this one is more like No News. That’s not to infer nothing has happened in the past week. Yes, I did show up for my first chemotherapy treatment last Tuesday. They promised me my money’s worth and pretty well delivered.
Louise and I reported to my oncologist’s office and were ushered into a large room containing seven industrial-strength barcaloungers arranged in a semi-circle. The new patients (ones who are talkative and still have their hair) sit in the chairs on the left. In the middle are patients who look a little pasty and have some hair loss. They smile and nod at you. On the far right are patients wearing stocking caps and they don’t say a word. It appears the aim of the game is to stay as far on the left side as you can.
The doctor has chosen a cocktail mix of three different drugs dripped in one at a time over a three-hour period. The nurse explained the function of each. One is designed to cut off the blood supply to the tumor. The other two are charged with destroying the cancerous cells. Unfortunately, they also kill healthy cells in the area as well. I’ll receive three treatments over a nine-week period. They will then check to see if the tumor has shrunken. If so, the doctor is on the right track and will continue the dosage and frequency. The plan now is to finish it off with radiation. So, it will take some time and that’s something I have plenty of.
Naturally I was interested in what to expect in the way of reaction to these poisons entering my system. The nurse (who has a fixed beatific smile) said I could expect nausea, vomiting, nosebleeds, tiredness, loss of appetite, diarrhea or constipation, hair loss, depression and growing man-breasts. When I asked if I could still enjoy a glass of wine or two she said, “The chemo will probably decide that. If the wine tastes like you’ve decanted it into a #10 tin can for a couple of days, you probably won’t want it.” She said to expect the symptoms to kick in after 48 hours or so.
Now, here’s the good news. It has been over 72 hours since the treatment and I feel absolutely great. None of the above symptoms have appeared and I can hardly wait till the cocktail hour. There is a downside however. Everyone has been so kind, caring, sympathetic and offering of prayers that I’m now becoming sensitive to it…like I should be feeling just a little sick so I really deserve all this attention. An actor friend of mine has offered to coach me in appearing a little morose, depressed, or even pretending to drool a bit. Another suggested I limp a little but that’s a whole different ailment.
So, now you know my latest quandary. You’ve all been so helpful that this latest problem is likely to result in a flurry of advice from those who have only my wellness at interest. While I welcome your suggestions, please try to keep them in the bounds of reality…something that I can do without really injuring myself.
Unless the hammer falls sometime this evening, expect no other Ray Reports for several weeks. I’m told that chemo can let you get by a time or two before it flattens you. When/if that happens you’ll be the first to know that I am finally earning all your love, sympathy, and prayers.
Love from Louise and Ray
RAY REPORT 5
Waiting for the Hammer
16 February 2013
After my first chemotherapy, I was told to expect some reaction after 48 hours and it never happened…nothing. I continued to feel great, had a hearty appetite, physical energy, slept well and was able to work out at the Motion Picture Country Home gym four days a week. So, it was with a certain amount of trepidation last Tuesday that I once again took my place in Dr. Shaye’s chemo cocktail lounge for my second treatment. Certainly this time the hammer would fall.
Remembering that patients who sat on the left side still had hair and a willingness to share, I headed for an empty barcalounger. I was cut off by a more elderly gentleman who streaked to the first empty chair and began to prepare himself for his chemo. Obviously this man was a semi-pro with a competitive need to stay in the far left chair.
Since there’s not much else to do, Louise and I struck up a conversation with him and his wife. This 84-year old man is a retired nuclear physicist who had a very active career in the aerospace industry. It involved coaxing early rockets and missiles off the ground and culminated with the launch of space shuttle Discovery. Over his career he has experienced seven heart attacks, two heart bypass operations, has a stent in place, has fought radiation illness from playing with the big toys and is now combating lymphoma. He has a drug port installed in his chest and knows the name and chemical makeup of each drug that they are putting his body. Obviously, I am out of this guy’s class so relinquishing the number 1 chair was an easy choice.
When he asked what drugs I’m taking I had to mumble the answer because I am barely able to pronounce let alone spell them. This has led him to believe that my cancer is in my throat and has impaired my speech. I have decided to leave it that way. If he is an example of the next stage of wellness competition, I’m not sure I’m able to play the game let alone try to win.
It has been over 96 hours since my last treatment and I am suffering none of the feared consequences but the Santa Ana winds came up yesterday and delivered fresh spring colds to Louise and me. We no longer use words to communicate but rely on short snorts, loud coughs, and sniffles. A sneeze means, “Bring some Kleenex.” Louise has taken this as a sign that she should not touch uncooked food and even puts on a mask when calling for a pizza.
That’s Ray Report 5 for now. Thank you all, once again, for your care, concern, and many prayers that have been promised on my behalf. I look toward the day when my cancer will be cured and I can take my place on the other end of the prayer chain.
Love from Louise and Ray
RAY REPORT 6
28 February 2013
Dear Family and Friends,
I’m pleased to send you a progress report on the treatment of my lung cancer. So far I’ve had two chemotherapy treatments and, last week, met with my oncologist to discuss progress. “I’m really curious to see if this is working,” he said and scheduled a PET scan. They inject a sugar based fluid into your arm, wrap you up mummy-like in velcro to keep you immobilized and slowly feed your body into a huge machine that scans it from waist to chin. Sugar seeks cancer and makes it glow. The PET scan seeks the glow. A technician compiles the data and sends a report to the oncologist.
Today, not 24 hours after the scan, I met with the doctor who scanned the report carefully. “Six weeks ago the PET scan showed your tumor to be 4.1 centimeters,” he said. “Today the size of the cancer has reduced to 3.4 centimeters*. Looks like we’re on the right track,” he said with a smile that could be compared to a cat that ate the canary. The next sound heard in the room was a huge sigh of relief…from me, not him.
That doesn’t mean I’m home free but it does show the direction we must take to get there. I’ll undergo two more chemo treatments and do another evaluation. At that point he might turn to radiation treatments to completely kill the remains of the tumor, hopefully leaving me cancer free. So far I have had no adverse reactions to the chemotherapy treatments. Even wine still tastes good
Oh, there is that matter of the eraser-sized nodule near my adrenal gland. While the technician says it is not a cancer, it too has reduced in size. That brings up the question, “If it isn’t cancerous why did it shrink as well?” Just another cliffhanger to keep you all interested in this case.
I’m grateful to have the benefit of competent, highly qualified doctors and technicians supplemented by all your thoughts and prayers. Don’t stop now.
Love from Louise and Ray
*For those of you who are data driven that’s about the size of a walnut. If you’re from the Midwest that’s the size of a buckeye…after you’ve shucked the hulls, of course.
RAY REPORT 7
When the Hammer Falls
11 March 2013
Dear Family and Friends,
Last Tuesday, the 5th of March, I reported to my oncologist’s office for a third chemotherapy treatment for the tumor on my right lung. Pleased that I’d had no reaction to the previous two chemos, I did mention to the nurse that after treatment I would wake up at 2 AM unable to go back to sleep. “That’s the steroids kicking in,” she said. “Best thing to do is get up and clean the house, bake some cookies or find a really dull book.”
That started an exchange of experiences around the room including a lady in chair #3 who looked pretty good considering she is battling advanced breast cancer. “At least you still have your hair,” someone said. “Guess again,” she said lifting her wig to reveal a clean scalp. It was startling because she was sitting in the “most well” section. So much for that theory.
Wednesday passed without a reaction but the hammer was about to fall. After a delicious dinner I noticed a slight burning in my stomach that didn’t go away by bedtime…in fact it got worse until sleep became impossible. This was my first hint of chemo reaction and it didn’t help one bit that I had two helpings of Louise’s tasty homemade meal…bean soup. The resulting battle for my body between the chemo and the beans will be left to your imagination.
The next day was spent flat on my back with little to no inclination to get out of my pajamas or be far away from the bathroom. I finally found the upset stomach medication to reduce the pain but there is nothing available to give you energy or appetite. Friday was a ramp-down, out-of-pajamas day. The comfort is there is only one more scheduled chemotherapy session before we consider radiation.
Now, to answer the most oft asked question. “Are you still able to enjoy a glass of wine?” The truth is when the reaction is at its peak, you really don’t care to think it let alone drink it. At least it settles any question of alcohol dependency.
Keep the medication and the prayers coming. The wine can wait.
RAY REPORT 8
My Hearing Has Improved
2 April 2013
It was with some certain caution that I entered the oncologist’s office for my fourth chemotherapy. If you’ll remember, the last one pretty well flattened me and it took a while to recover. That was pretty much the topic of discussion in our semi-circle of barcaloungers. It seems everyone had similar experiences and was eager to share how they handled it.
The greatest source of information, I’ve found, is the nurse. She administers chemo to tens of people each day, carefully mixing their own special chemo cocktail to the specs requested by the doctor for their particular cancer. She’s the one who knows the potential side effects of each and is eager to share her knowledge. The problem is you have to ask questions. No, I’m not suggesting you question her authority, but simply ask her what the potential effects are for your cocktail.
This is where the improvement in my hearing comes in. When I complained about the nausea produced by the last chemo she said, “You have to take the anti-nausea medication before the nausea starts. Remember?” Same goes for my complaint about burping following meals that causes a burning sensation in my vocal chords and makes me sound like the thousand-year-old man. “Read the bottle,” she said. “It says ‘Take one daily.’ It doesn’t say anything about whether you’re burping at the moment or not.”
Same for the complaint about nose bleeds and clots in my nose. “If your nose is dry use the saline solution the doctor recommended and don’t forget to put Vaseline under your nose.” And so it goes for difficulty with sleep, appetite, and constipation. It seems for every side effect there is a pill to counter it. And it works. I am pleased to say that I had no side effects from the last treatment but what I had to do was ask and then listen. That’s how my hearing has improved.
We met with the oncologist today and he announced, “You’ve done well so far so you’re ready for the next step in treatments.” Of course this caught my attention. “I’d like to get more aggressive,” he said. “I’d like to start thinking outside the box.” This could be dangerous talk because it’s my life he’s tinkering with but I decided to use my new skill of listening to hear him out. He recommended additional chemotherapy, this time with different drugs administered five days in a row, followed by one day of a large dose of another drug. Then a week’s break and do it again twice more. I was already totaling up the daily mileage to and from when he dropped the next layer on me. “At the same time you’ll begin radiation treatments,” he said. “We’ll schedule you for radiation five days a week for a total of eight weeks.” “My God,” I thought. “It’ll be June before I finish. I hope Louise hasn’t planned a cruise.” “The best part is,” he said, “the radiation treatments will only take 8 to 10 minutes each.” With such a short treatment time it made me wonder if they have a drive-in window.
So, that brings my story up to today. Louise and I are now planning to adjust our daily living to a schedule that seems almost impossible to maintain but what are the options? I am putting my trust and future in the hands of a man who wants to think outside the box. At this point it is my belief that his greatest goal is to keep me “outside the box” as well.
Keep your kind thoughts and prayers coming…in or out of the box, doesn’t matter.
Love from Louise and Ray
RAY REPORT 9
I’m On The Beach
14 April 2013
Let me explain the subtitle. In Hollywood, when actors and production workers, etc., meet each other once a month at the unemployment office, the conversation typically goes, “Are you working now?” The answer usually is, “I’m on the beach.” Translated it means, “I’m out of work so I go to the beach every day. It keeps up my tan for the next audition and it’s free.” That’s pretty much what happened to me this past week.
I was to begin my new daily chemo and radiation treatment schedule last Monday but my oncologists (I now have two) wanted confirmation on the exact location of my tumor. Chemo will pretty well locate any cancer in your body and go after it but radiation is more specific. “I want to know exactly what I’m aiming at,” said my newest oncologist. “When I pull the trigger whatever I hit is gonna die,” he said soberly.
I’m slowly learning the protocol of cancer treatment. My first oncologist treats cancer with chemotherapy medication…a Medical Oncologist. Radiologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating various diseases and injuries using medical imaging techniques. A Radiation Oncologist specializes in the treatment of cancer patients using radiation therapy. So, that’s how I ended up being treated by two oncologists operating in harmony…I assume. Their first co-decision was to send my original pathology to another lab just to make sure. Can you believe it? Doctors asking for another opinion! So for the past week, while we’ve been waiting for the latest pathology decision, I’ve been “on the beach,” so to speak.
When I told our doctor daughter of their decision, she went right to the point. “Oh, Dad,” she said. “One of them wants to go on vacation. We do that all the time.” I immediately sprang to their defense until I remembered my medical oncologist mentioning an upcoming family getaway to Hawaii. Perhaps the medical version of “On the beach.” Just a coincidence I’m sure but he did look a little tired and I want him to be at his rested best when we begin the next stage of healing. The new pathology report came in on Friday and the original diagnosis stood so I will resume treatment tomorrow.
“More intense” is the best way to describe the regimen. Chemo in the morning for 6 days and repeat it in 3 weeks. At the same time, radiation in the afternoon 5 days in a row for 5 weeks. Most of the chemos will be 2 hours except for some 6-hour sessions. Radiation treatments are approximately 8 minutes each and I’ll be through by cocktail hour. Both oncologists agree that by the time the treatments are finished I will be the sickest I’ve ever been in my life. They also assure me the tumor will be dead and I won’t be. I have elected not to seek a second opinion.
Actually, the week was productive for me. During that time I replaced our valiant 2001 Audi A6 Avant with a 2010 version just out of lease even though the old car still had plenty of life in it. Next was the problem of selling it so I buffed it up beautifully and placed an online ad on Craig’s List hoping to attract a qualified buyer.
The first caller caught me a bit off guard with his questions. The first was, “Has the water pump been replaced?” followed by, “What about the thermostat, the timing belt, the ABS module and the transmission?” When I answered in the affirmative to all those questions he then asked for directions to our house.
He shook my hand and gave me a business card. Just my luck. I asked God for a qualified buyer and he sent me an Operations Supervisor for the German airline Lufthansa. He immediately dropped to his knees, inspected the disc brake pads, the condition of the rotors and tread depth on the tires. Then he popped the hood, pulled out the dipstick, and checked the condition of the oil. Next he opened the rear hatch to verify there was a spare tire. He folded the rear seats and carefully inspected the leather. We went out for a test drive in the local mountains during which he opened/closed the sunroof, lowered and raised all the windows, played the radio (both AM & FM) and tested the Tiptronic shifting.
On our return he asked to see the service records. I was pleased because I didn’t think anyone would ever care to see them but me. He didn’t just thumb through them but read each one (10 years of paperwork) and asked pointed questions. He finally threw out an offer and we quickly arrived at an agreeable price. My final memory is of him going down the driveway in the Audi and me standing there holding a wad of American cash
Our youngest daughter called shortly after and I told her, “I just asked God to send me a qualified buyer. Instead He sent me a meticulous German.” “No Dad,” she said. “Instead of a buyer, God sent you a doppelgänger.* Just live with it.” Thinking it over, she just may be right.
Will let you know how chemo and radiation work together in the next Ray Report. Love and thanks to you all for your support and prayers.
Louise and Ray
*Doppelgänger is German in origin and is loosely translated as a mirror image of oneself.
RAY REPORT 10
Turning the Corner
22 April 2013
I guess, “Turning the Corner” best describes this past week. A week ago today I resumed chemotherapy treatment for my lung cancer and did it in a big way. Six hours in the barcalounger absorbing about two quarts of a solution meant to buffer the effects of a new chemo cocktail. Then two hours of the chemo and another thirty minutes of an anti-nausea solution. Chemo for the rest of the week slimmed down to two hours per day with the weekend off. After the six-hour version I’ll be off for three weeks.
To pass the time I come equipped with the LA Times, The Wall Street Journal, an iPad loaded with music and an iPhone for e-mail and calls. I also read a just released book by my good friend, Dr. George Fischbeck. For those of you outside LA, Dr. George was a meteorologist and gifted weather reporter on KABC-TV, Channel 7 in Los Angeles for over twenty years. During retirement he spends his time in volunteer efforts all over the State and is a much-loved character. The best part is that his book mentions just about everyone ever involved in Los Angeles television. He promised me that I’d be in the sequel.
Being in chemo every day of the week is a much different experience than every third Tuesday. The barcaloungers are filled with a passing parade of cancer patients. Many women are old-timers who come in, plop down, pull out a book, and take off their wigs or scarves. Itchiness seems to be the most consistent complaint with the only reward being they don’t have to shave their legs anymore. Since hair-loss is predicted for me, it means I won’t even have to start shaving mine at all. Louise is in her element. She runs around the room plumping pillows, fetching water, and loosening jaws. Recipes that don’t taste of metal are shared and any little success in weight gain/loss is applauded. Nothing is taboo except with some of the men who are less willing to share. I have seen a lot of courage in this room and it is fed by the compassion of the nurses who are intent on saving our lives.
On the same day I started radiation treatments that will continue daily for five weeks. Going to the radiation center is a completely different experience. As you might expect in a technology environment, the treatment rooms are antiseptically modern. My first impression was that of a television control room that overlooked a studio containing a giant machine. It is called a Linear Accelerator and, to me, looks like an over-sized cell phone. I lie on an adjustable table that contains a body mold that holds me firmly in place. With one hand I hold onto a large peg and with the other clasp my head like a yarmulke. The attendants locate three tattoos on my body and line me up. The radiation oncologist has studied various scans of my body and plotted a path for the machine to most effectively reach the tumor on top of my right lung.
The table then slides under the machine and dotted green lines appear like crosshairs focusing on my chest. The cell phone then begins stalking my body moving a round object that looks like the mouth of the giant squid from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. It locks onto the green crosshairs and begins a silent trek around my body while applying a seven-minute burst of radiation in the direction of the tumor. When moving to another spot it passes over more sensitive areas of my body so the radiation strength is reduced. As it reaches another clear shot, the radiation is increased. The purpose is to cause as little damage as possible to items like my heart and esophagus as it passes over them.
The techs work in a windowless control room but can stay in contact with me by cameras and a microphone. They are shielded from radiation by a lead and cement lined wall and door approximately 1 foot thick. I did ask the tech if he was bald before coming to work there and he said, “Yes, I was.” Once a routine is established the radiation process passes fast and before you know it, it’s over. Not even time for a short nap.
The process is so brisk because the machine cost two to three million dollars and there is always another patient awaiting your exit. We pass in the hall like ships in the night, being careful to avoid eye contact. The collegiality of the chemo room is not present in this environment but is more like checking in at the Hot Pillow Motel.
I do hope those of you reading these reports don’t regard me as a whiner. I have seen so many others who have suffered greater reactions to chemo and radiation and I hope to speak for them. Three men who have read this blog have had suspicious marks and spots on their bodies checked by a physician and I’m gratified. Louise and I witnessed an example of courage and acceptance last week. One young (late 30’s) woman breezed into the chemo room, got settled, and revealed a permanent port in her chest. Louise closed in for the kill so the woman told her, “I’m here for maintenance.” “Great,” I thought. “She’s on the mend.” Louise asked, “What was your cancer?” She replied, “I have colon cancer that has metastasized to my liver. I’m terminal.”
So, it turns out that such a hopeful word like “maintenance” has another meaning in this different world. The rest of the morning was spent listening of the time she spent in Las Vegas swimming in a tank with a dolphin and her plans to go ski-boarding at Mammoth Mountain. Her mortal time is limited and she has chosen to create a bucket list of earthly things to do before that period is up. The sobering part for me is that I have spent the last several months secure in the knowledge that if I show up and shut up, I will be cured. It was my first experience with someone who has met her fate and looked it square in the eye with no whining…just a bucket list.
Louise and Ray
RAY REPORT 11
6 May 2013
I had just completed my twelfth treatment of radiation to seek and destroy the cancer on my right lung and was waiting for the weekly meeting with the Radiation Oncologist. Usually we talk about cars but things were different that day. The radiation treatments had left me weak and barely able to walk from the car to the treatment center, the gym, the house or into the bedroom. When I enter a room I immediately scan for a place to sit or lie down. No couch is safe if in my view. In addition, my hands are perpetually cold and I’ve been reduced to walking around the house with gloves on …even on hot days.
The chemotherapy has left me with nosebleeds that form into large clots that inhibit breathing. You can tell where I’ve been in the house just by looking into the wastebaskets. It has also done away with my taste buds and, of course, my appetite. I tried to rely on memory about how things used to taste but it didn’t work and I now evaluate foods by texture. The carnitas burritos with avocado that I used to love now feel slimy. Chicken Florentine is like cardboard and Basmati rice tastes like sawdust. Someone asked how I know how sawdust tastes and I reminded them I was in the Army and did my daily dozen in sawdust pit every morning. I do know that taste.
Louise served some spicy Indian food the other night but I didn’t recognize or taste it. I finally asked for hotdogs so she pulled some chicken hotdogs from the freezer and microwaved them. Unfortunately they came out looking like medical specimens and had the texture of chewable rubber. She’ll get some ballpark dogs tomorrow. Ice cream continues to be a “must have” after each meal but even so I have lost fifteen pounds and discovered a new/old wardrobe that’d been hiding in my closet for the past fifteen years.
The Radiation Oncologist burst into the room shouting “congratulations” and shook my hand. “What for?” was my response. “You’re half-way through,” he said followed by, “Man, your hands are really cold.” Obviously we weren’t looking at my progress through the same prism, as I wasn’t sure I could endure another two weeks of treatment and side effects. Then he started brushing tufts of hair off my shoulders and said, “the hair loss is the chemo but you knew that was coming, right?”
The next stop was to my long-time barber who almost wept as his clippers zipped through the hair he’s been grooming for so long. “Chrome Dome or Retired Marine?” was his question and I knew he’d done this before. The hair loss came with a suddenness I didn’t expect. Hair on the pillow and in my mouth was the first sign and the need to constantly clean my hairbrush was the next. There were other signs as well. No more hair under my arms, on my chest or even down there. Eyebrows are gone as well. The best news is I don’t have to shave in the morning. Oh the choice with the barber was Retired Marine, which leaves me with what we used to call a buzz cut. I still flinch when I glance in the mirror and see a bald stranger staring back.
Talking with someone suddenly gone bald is a delicate thing. It reminds me of when someone shows me her newborn baby and expects a positive comment. My mother helped me with that. “Just say, ‘Your baby has a nicely shaped head,’ and that will keep you out of trouble,” she said. I have used that technique successfully but always with my fingers crossed so I wouldn’t be caught in a lie. Yesterday was my coming-out day at church and my sudden baldness caught a few people off guard and three of them said, “You have a nicely shaped head.” I couldn’t tell if their fingers were crossed or not.
Cinco de Mayo is typically a day of celebration for me but not for the obvious reason. Forty-four years ago I was a 1 ½ pack a day smoker. My seven-year old daughter had just watched an anti-smoking commercial on TV and said, “I don’t want you to die.” When I asked what she had in mind she said, “If you’ll quit smoking, I’ll stop sucking my thumb.” Even though I knew I should, I had never tried to quit smoking. Frankly I was more afraid of failure than lung cancer. This was my chance to quit and save a bundle on my daughter’s orthodontics. Cinco de Mayo was the day we chose and on this date I publicly thank my little girl, now a grown woman with children of her own, for addressing her own addiction in order to save her daddy’s life.
The irony is, forty-four years later, I contracted lung cancer. But now I have the advantage of a family that can face the world on its own; medical advances in cancer treatment that have taken place over that time; the support of the many friends we have since made and the power of prayer to get me over the humps. Now that’s where congratulations are in order.
The New Me
Thanks for your thoughts and prayers.
Louise and Ray
RAY REPORT 12
End of the tunnel? Hope so
27 May 2013
It seems somehow appropriate that Memorial Day is the day I will finally emerge from the tunnel I’ve been in since late January…at least I hope so. Tomorrow brings the final scheduled day of chemotherapy for the lung cancer that has occupied my time and mind for those past five months. I must say that I have not suffered one ounce of pain from my cancer during that time but the medication and methods used to cure the tumor have more than made up for it.
During the last Ray Report I remember complaining about perpetually cold hands and always being on the edge of shivering. The medical oncologist found that my platelets were way below adequate causing anemia. “I’m scheduling a blood transfusion,” he commanded and the next day I spent seven hours receiving two pints of someone’s blood. The hospital bill isn’t in yet but I’m guessing blood is not cheap or, for that matter, neither was the hearty meal they served. Based on the expenses I have been reviewing, the roast beef, mashed potatoes, spinach, bun with butter and sherbet dessert will be billed at $2,000 but Medicare will pay only $12.95 without tip. The blood did the job though as my hands have been toasty warm ever since and I can once again hold Louise close without her flinching.
Another milestone was achieved last Monday when I completed 26 days of consecutive radiation treatments. That’s a little misleading since cancer seems to take weekends and holidays off so it was a little longer than 26 days. As I left the radiation room I could hear the familiar strains of “Pomp and Circumstance.” On entering the lobby the entire staff was applauding and showered me with gifts along with a certificate of completion signed by everyone including the business manager who seemed relieved that he could finally bill for services. This genuine response made me wonder exactly how many radiation patients actually make it through the process.
The Golden State Gang
On the same day I resumed the final stretch of chemo. Six consecutive days (with time off for the weekend and holiday, of course). The first day was a killer as it took seven hours to input the necessary chemicals plus anti-nausea and anti-burp medications. Faithful Louise was with me each day and became a nurse’s aide of sorts when she plumped the pillows of the other patients; fetched them water and then loosened their tongues. We are genuinely impressed at the many forms of cancer being combated in that room and the dedication of the nurses who make sure we don’t get the wrong chemicals or doses. In spite of the pressure, they do it a serene smile but it is no wonder that none of them is there more than two days at a time.
I am not expecting any sort of ceremony as I leave the chemo room. “You’re not through with us,” was the statement of a nurse. “You’ll be back in several weeks, then months, semi-annually, etc.” Cancer is a disease that cannot be counted on to go away. “I’m in again after eight years,” offered one of my seatmates. He seemed genuinely glad he had gotten that amount of time which means I will have to alter my way of thinking about what it means to beat cancer. Apparently it is not forever…just for now.
The two oncologists say we now will go into a 12-week waiting period while the medication “percolates” through my system. Then will come a PET Scan that will tell us if the cancer is gone…for now. I choose to think positively but would like to remind you to keep me in your prayers…the final medication.
Love from Louise and Ray
RAY REPORT 13
It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over
8 June 2013
I don’t want to accuse my Radiation Oncologist of quoting Yogi Berra but the outcome of our meeting last week was essentially that. He asked, “Do you remember the day we met?” I said, “You bet.” “And do you remember what I told you then?” he asked. “You said you were going to help save my life,” I responded. “Of course,” he said, “but I also told you we were going to treat the larger tumor on your lung first. Then we’d go after the small tumor on your adrenal gland.” Frankly I’d forgotten all about it and had to go back to Ray Report 2 to get the details.
The nodule on my adrenal gland is 1.5 cm (Just over ½”) so a little larger than a marble. For you total nerds, that’s bigger than a Pee Wee and even standard Aggies, Opals and Black Beauties but not as big as a Bowler or a Steeley.
The doctor said the chemotherapy had done its work of containing and starving all my cancers but the adrenal gland cancer wouldn’t be dead until he had a whack at it. “If we don’t get it all, we’ve just wasted our time,” he reasoned so it is back inside the giant cell phone next week. The good news is it will require only five treatments and they will be completed in one week’s time. I did vaguely remember our earlier conversation but, frankly, that was before my hearing problem was cleared up. Prior to that I only heard the doctor’s words that I wanted to hear. Now I pay much closer attention.
As an example, when my medical oncologist recently said, “Your blood count is lower than I like and your weight is down which opens you up to infection,” I was all ears. “I think we can clear that up with antibiotics,” he said so for the next two weeks I am adding another pill to the morning’s lineup. It comes with restrictions like no dairy two hours before or six hours after taking. Also, no anti-acids, calcium, and no strenuous exercise because of tendonitis. The last is an easy one because I still have difficulty making it across a room without sitting down.
Then starts the three-month waiting period. I did ask why the wait is so long and was told, “It takes time for the chemo and, particularly, the radiation to do its job inside your body.” Then I think they dumbed it down just in case my hearing problem returned. “Once the medication does its work the body will try to rejuvenate itself. The damaged good cells will be successful. The tumor, after being starved by chemotherapy and bombarded with radiation, will also try to restore itself. We have to give it time to fail. We can’t reliably tell by x-ray because there will be scar tissue in place that sometime resembles cancer. The final determination is by PET Scan.”
I’m not discouraged but I did question the purpose of the graduation party after
completion of my initial radiation treatments. “We thought you needed a little encouragement before we hit you with the hammer again,” the Radiation Oncologist said in his best bedside manner. “Besides, it was Friday and we needed a reason to celebrate too.” I wonder what Yogi Berra would have said about that?
Tune in next time. Louise and Ray
RAY REPORT 14
What a Difference a Month Makes
30 July 2013
It is well over a month since the last Ray Report and I am pleased to say,
“What a difference a month makes.” On the 28th of May I received the last chemotherapy needle injection and on the 21st of June I was inserted into the radiation machine for the last time. It was the end of treatments for cancer of my lung and adrenal gland. For those of you who keep count, they amounted to 16 chemotherapy and 30 radiation sessions …many of them concurrent. In between were the MRI’s and PET scans, after which I was advised not to share an elevator with a pregnant woman or hold her infant. Then began three months of what I call my “perc” period. During this time the chemicals and radiation will percolate through my system. Then the tumor on my lung will attempt to restore itself and, if they got it right, it will fail to do so. Finally they will inject sugar into my body and use a PET scan to see if any cancer is present. Only then will we know if I can get on with my life.
Here was my status a month ago. At the completion of the last radiation treatment I had no taste in my tongue with only texture as an oral sensor. This affected my appetite and about all I could stand to eat was “cream of’s” (potato, mushroom and clam chowder soups), macaroni and cheese and ice cream after every meal. I lost twenty pounds and all my hair. (Never knew hair weighed so much.) Nosebleeds were a regular occurrence and my trail through the house could be followed by checking the Kleenex in the wastebaskets. There was a complete lack of energy and I found it difficult to cross a room or pass a couch. All my plans for reading, writing, and organizing my computer files were eclipsed by sitting and staring at my lawn. Burping acid reflux fried my vocal chords and for about a month I sounded like a character from the Godfather. Did I mention constipation? Well, I won’t but it was there. My doctors were sympathetic but only to a point. They reminded me that others have suffered greater after-effects not to mention those that wouldn’t live to do their own Ray Reports. Overall they were upbeat and helped me develop a positive attitude about the effect of the treatments.
Now on to the good news. Everything has begun to improve but very, very slowly. The taste on the tip of my tongue returned first and I was able to eat more with each sitting. It took time but about a week and one half ago I was able to finish a complete meal with taste intact. The best news is that I am able to drink a glass of wine without having to push the unfinished portion across the table to Louise. This is just in time as I was concerned about a drinking problem on her part. I have stabilized my weight loss and been rewarded with a whole new wardrobe that I had the prescience to purchase fifteen years ago. My hair is beginning to show signs of growth but I’ve been assured that there will be none where there was none before. The downside is that I am now shaving every day and have lost the one real connection I had with women cancer patients who loved the idea of not having to shave their legs.
Energy has returned with my hair and I no longer look around the room for a chair to collapse in. Friends who thought I was being friendly now realize that my show of affection was really just a device to hang on them for support. I can now stand-alone and BS with the best of them. I still haven’t gotten around to the reading, writing, and file sorting that I planned but I did have enough energy to wash our car last weekend. Strangely, I missed doing that. My voice returned…slowly as well…and is now steady and strong but I don’t think I can pass an audition yet. Nosebleeds are almost gone. Did I mention constipation? Well, now I don’t have to.
Through it all I have relied on my helpmate and homemade nurse, Louise. She suffered through the appetite problems trying to figure out how to make a meal bland enough that I could handle. She opened doors for me on the way to the doctor’s offices and took notes when the doctors insisted on speaking in Latin or, in the case of radiology, in binary. She was the one who always told me how good I looked no matter how bad I felt and I believed her. I’m sure she was rethinking the “in sickness and in health” part of our vows because she’d already been through the “for richer or poorer” part. She really didn’t know how good she had it because she is now lamenting she must plan meals that are tasty again. Not only that, since my taste is back, I’ve cut off her wine.
You may remember that the radiation people threw a party for me once I completed my treatments only to remind me that the adrenal gland required a few more. Well, once those were completed, they threw another party so now I have two commemorative coffee cups, two embossed post-its, and two diplomas. That, however, was nothing compared to the next treat. The following day the organist and violinist from our church came to our home to perform a mini-concert to celebrate my passage through the valley of Chemo and Radiation. We had the piano tuned, moved it onto the patio and prepared for an evening of the 3 B’s (Beethoven, Bach & Brahms). Not wanting to be selfish, we borrowed tables and chairs from our neighbor and organized a “Payback Party” for friends and neighbors who have seen us through the travails of the past six months, especially those who volunteered to read my finished novel and offered opinions and criticism. We thank the friends who pitched in with home cooked items and hard work at the grill that produced brats steeped in beer and Afghan chicken cooked over a fire so intense I felt concern for our carport roof. All in all, we had a wonderful feast for the body and soul.
We felt especially blessed to have two of our three daughters here and two of our four grandchildren to show off. Our family from Miami especially marveled that we had an outdoor party with no humidity, no bugs, and no alligators. Frankly, it was too early for the coyotes to be out or we could have had our own California-style evening.
Now I am patiently waiting for mid-September when they slide me into the PET scan machine again. I’ve been fortunate to have medical caregivers and providers who have applied their knowledge and experience to treat and defeat the cancer in my body. The only treatment left is one that doesn’t require an advanced degree except in that of Faith. Many have said, “You’re in my prayers” and all I ask is that you keep it up until mid-September. Then we should really have a reason to celebrate.
Until the next Ray report, love from Louise and Ray
Ray Report 15
11 September 2013
Dear family and friends,
Yesterday we met with the medical oncologist for a progress report on my lung cancer. “You are cancer free” is what I hoped to hear. Instead he said, “I’ve looked at the results of your PET scan and am pleased to say your cancer is stabilized….” I must have looked disappointed but he continued, “…and that’s just where we want it to be.”
He went on to explain, “Your PET scan in January showed a fourth stage lung cancer that had metastasized to a lymph gland in your neck. The tumor on your lung measured 4.1 cm, which was not very encouraging. We took a gamble using chemo and radiation that worked and the tumor now measures 2.7 cm, which means it has stopped growing and most likely is disintegrating. You will never be cancer free because you’ve already had it, but now we’ll monitor you through blood and other tests until we’re satisfied that you have reached a remission stage. Until then consider yourself as stable, recovering and very fortunate.”
That’s our welcome breaking news. There will be more to come in an upcoming Ray Report. Just wanted you all to know.
Thanks for your concern and prayers.
Love from Louise and Ray
RAY REPORT 16
28 November 2013
This is a message of Thanksgiving and not the start of a pity letter so don’t be alarmed. However, “Why me?” is a question that I’ve asked a number of times over the past year. Let me do a quick review. Last Thanksgiving I noticed a pain in my neck in a lymph node that had been pain-free for 10 years. Being a man I decided to live with it. An ENT specialist changed my mind. “Whatever it is, its gotta come out,” he said, sharpening his scalpel. On the 3rd of January (my birthday), I went under the knife and then waited for the biopsy report. My General Physician called and said, “We have the results and they’re positive.” “Oh, thank God,” I said with great relief. “No, you don’t understand,” he said. “Positive means it was cancerous.” That was my introduction to a world that speaks English but the words have different meanings. The only word I understood really well was Cancer
In telling friends I had lung cancer the inevitable question was, “Did you ever smoke?” I responded, “Yes, but I quit 44 years ago. Where’s the fairness in that?” They always followed with their own stories of family or friends who had serious cancers and survived or died a horrible death. I finally resorted to saying I didn’t feel well that day.
The PET scan diagnosis was 4th stage lung cancer that had metastasized to the lymph node which was like the canary in a coal mine. Because I felt great with no pain from my lung, I thought they had the wrong guy. I stopped thinking that way when the oncologists wanted to try treatment that was “outside the box.” That meant 16 chemotherapies and 30 radiation treatments concurrently.
In short order I experienced nausea, weakness, tiredness, nosebleeds, cold hands, pasty complexion, fried vocal chords, constipation, loss of taste, loss of appetite, loss of weight (20 lbs), and loss of hair. This went on for months. In addition, the phone stopped ringing. Since no one knows what to say to a cancer patient, they just don’t call. Didn’t really matter since my voice sounded like a character from The Godfatherand it hurt to talk. I planned to use the downtime to review computer files, clean out file drawers, read the manual for my car’s GPS, etc. I ended up staring out the window for hours.
The last chemo/radiation treatments were on 20 June followed by a three-month wait while the medication percolated through my system. A PET scan would follow. Slowly I began my journey back to normalcy. Taste came back a little at a time along with my appetite, forcing Louise to again prepare food with flavor. I’m now able to drink a whole glass of wine so she doesn’t have to finish it for me anymore. You might get the idea that Louise is not entirely happy with this change of events. My hair has grown back thicker than before. I was told it wouldn’t grow where it wasn’t and it hasn’t. The big surprise is that it came in wavy and Louise can’t keep her hands off it. In fact, she wakes up with a sly smile each morning until she realizes it’s me. The PET scan showed that my tumor had shrunk from 4.1 to 2.7 cm. The medical oncologist said I was stabilized – exactly where he wanted me to be. The next PET scan…and last I hope…will be in January.
This is a good time to ask what I have learned. The answer is obvious but still surprises me. I’ve learned how much you can take when your life is on the line and you are no longer in charge. I’ve learned to listen when a doctor speaks because, for a while, I was hearing things they never said. Their main goal was to keep me alive but I had to do my part. That included daily workouts at the gym. Family support was important; more so for my caregiver nurse Louise than for me. We got that. I’ve learned the value of friendship and the encouragement that comes from it. Even when your friends lie and tell you how great you look, they do it to keep your spirit up. There is an inestimable value in having the support of your church. I deeply appreciate the many who said, “I’ll pray for you,” but I’m most grateful for those who actually did.
Regarding the question, “Why me?” I must confess to being somewhat conflicted. Louise and I have attended a number of memorial services for those who didn’t make it but the one that made the greatest impression was for a member of my Friday morning Bible study. Our cancers were diagnosed at the same time. Mine was lung, his colorectal. We began our chemo together and compared notes as we progressed. I watched carefully as he lost weight, became pasty faced, lost hair and his hands turned ice cold…like mine. His chemo wasn’t effective and he reentered UCLA medical center. When he was released it was to hospice care. I visited and we small-talked uncomfortably but there was no doubt of his fate. Eventually he asked to be removed from life support and was gone in a day or two. He was young enough to be my son (47) and left behind a wife and 3 year old daughter. My question then was not “Why me?” but “Why him and not me?” My oncologist advised I quit thinking that way. “It’s called survivor’s guilt,” he said. “There’s no answer so just be thankful.”
At this point a good question might be, “Thankful to who…or to what?” Those of you who know me well are aware that I’ve had a problem accepting faith without question. It drives the members of my Bible study nuts because I have yet to fall on my knees and proclaim. Recently one of them asked, “Ray, do you believe in God?” I reverted to my early Catholic experience and said, “I’m afraid not to.” My dilemma is if I didn’t believe in God what would I believe in? Certainly not in myself. So, that’s the mountain I’m trying to scale and I ask for your ideas and prayers to help me cross it.
During this illness I’ve become aware of the elasticity of Christian faith. We are encouraged to pray for the recovery of friends who suffer from a serious disease. When they survive we praise God for saving their lives. If they don’t survive, we attend their memorial service and say, “It was God’s will, and now his suffering is over.” Or, “She’s in a better place and is walking with Jesus.” In a faith with that kind of positive flexibility, how can you possibly lose?
This is a good time to recognize and publicly thank the doctors who saved my life. Dr. Paul Gulsrud is the GP physician who first spotted the lymph node on my neck and sent me to Dr. Jerome Vener for further diagnosis and removal. He then teamed with Dr. Omid Shaye, medical oncologist and Dr. Randall Scharlach, radiation oncologist to come up with a plan to attack my particular form of cancer. These are all bright, capable, and experienced medical practitioners who have strong opinions on problem solving. They are assisted by staffs that are not only highly capable, but caring and deeply concerned about your survival. That they were able to work as an effective team is a credit to their dedication to patient welfare. I hope you never need them on a professional basis, but if you do, you’ll be in good hands. Just show up, shut up, and do what they tell you.
That brings me to today and the purpose of this report. Thankful? You bet I’m thankful…not only for the things I’ve mentioned, but also for the lessons I’ve learned and for a future life. But what about that pesky question, “Why me?” Cancer has given me time to finish the novel I’ve been writing for the past ten years and prepare it for publication. Is that the reason? There are a few other projects that I would like to complete but none important enough to extend my life. Perhaps I’m being saved for a “Road to Damascus” experience but who knows. For now the answer to the question “Why me?” appears to be, “We’ll see.”
Thank you all for the love and kindness that you’ve shown to Louise and me throughout this ordeal. We both wish you a happy Thanksgiving.
Love from Louise and Ray
Ray Report 17
Remission (?) At Last
28 January 2014
Hopefully this will be the last Ray Report that chronicles the cancer that invaded my body over a year ago. Just a quick summary: On January 3rd, 2013, I underwent surgery to remove a neck lymph node that suddenly began giving pain. The biopsy results were positive, which in medical practitioner speak meant, “You have Cancer. Not only that, it is stage four lung cancer that has metastasized to your neck. Would you like to sit down?”
From that point on, my life was in the hands of three doctors who were seriously determined to keep my name off a granite slab. They conferred and came up with an outside-the-box plan that included a custom mix of chemotherapy cocktails and precision-applied doses of radiation. It was explained to me as, “The chemo starves it and the radiation kills it.” A seemingly simple plan devised to keep me outside the box as well.
The treatments went on for six months, during which I lost my taste, my appetite, my energy, my hair, and twenty pounds. Progress was measured by PET scans that showed the tumors were shrinking. The careful calculation of the doctors did its job and I was on my way toward the goal of remission. In short order my appetite returned along with renewed energy and a nice crop of hair that came in wavy. Fortunately most of the weight is somewhere in limbo. Louise is in ecstasy over the hair.
As good as the doctors are, I must say that the whole process would have been almost impossible without the loving care of Louise and our family, the kindness of friends, the competence of the medical staffs and the prayerful support of our church. I consider myself very fortunate to have had all those elements pulling for me. The best thing is they are still part of my life.
My final challenge came a short time ago when I reported for a PET scan. A lady with a benign smile injected a sugar solution, wrapped me up mummy-like in velcro and slid me into the machine for one last look. The next stop was the medical oncologist who interpreted the data. “I read the scan and am quite pleased,” he said. “And what exactly does that mean,” I asked expecting to hear the “R” word. “It means that you are satisfactorily stabilized,” he replied. I think he saw my disappointment when I asked, “What about remission?” He paused. “Typically we use the word ‘remission’ to describe leukemia patients,” he said, as if the leukemia folks had taken out a trademark. “Well, if I was a leukemia patient in my present condition, how would you describe me?” I asked. “I would say you are in remission,” was his response.
What I have come to realize is that doctors who deal daily with people whose lives are in their hands, have learned to speak in a non-sueable language. It is so easy to hear encouraging words and elevate them to a non-assailable truth. Then, if a cancer returns, the doctor is placed on the defensive and has to remind them, “I never said you were cancer free,” etc.
Yes, I now know cancer can come back. That’s why I will have blood tests for the rest of my life. “We want to make sure it doesn’t sneak up on us again,” the doctor cautions. After discussing patients whose cancer has returned, and others who never reached the point where I am, I said, “I wouldn’t have your job for the world.” “What do you mean?” he said. “I save lives. What better job can you have?” This is a man who sees the glass as half full and is looking for the bottle to fill it up. How fortunate am I that there were two others just like him.
Next week Louise and I will have the pleasure of sitting down to a celebratory meal with these men and their spouses, and lifting a glass to toast their knowledge, experience and dedication to their chosen field. Best of all, I will have the unique opportunity to look each of them in the eye, shake their hands firmly, and thank them for saving my life.
This officially marks the end of the Ray Reports. We hope they have been interesting, informative, and helpful. Thank you for your attention, your indulgence, and those prayers.
Love from Louise and Ray
The Now Me