Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Crushing The Hills With Humour, plus getting some Boston Pizza help, in a bid to get ready for the Ride To Conquer Cancer

It's a good day.
Three years ago this very 24-hour period I moped my way into Royal Columbian Hospital. I had been feeling gross and listless for awhile and was worried that I had diabetes or something like that. In fine guy fashion, I was going to wait it out and hope that it went away, except that I had some pains in my chest that morning, and Carol-Ann worried that I might be having a heart attack.
Wrong. On all counts. Dr. Joseph Ip said he saw some cancer warning signs. Sure enough, it was a Solitary Plasmacytoma in my T-2 vertebrae. In an effort to speed things up we'll cut to the highlights: 20 radiation sessions, six months in hospital, eight surgeries, a bunch of time trying to learn to walk again.
Today, in honour of Dr. Ip and those other fine people at Royal Columbian and what they did for me, I dropped off a bunch of cupcakes at the emergency. OK, I didn't make the cupcakes. OK, they weren't particularly fancy ones I bought, either. But even average sugary goodness is pretty darn good, and especially when it's free and the calories don't count. (That's what I've been told. Free stuff = no calories.) 
I also had a meeting today with some fine, fine people from Boston Pizza (shameless plug for my mother's employer) and worked out early details for a fundraiser for our Ride to Conquer Cancer team. It's going to be in April, at their restaurant on No. 3 Road in Richmond, and it's going to be a hoot. We're talking silent auction, we're talking appys, we're talking drink specials. I'm just spitballin' here, but we might be talking Stump Scott Rintoul With Sports Trivia. (Shameless name drop...I hope I get to Scott before he reads this.)
I expect you all to be there. Yes, even you, Arnold Sison, you cheap bastard.
We're raising money for our to-be-named team for the Ride, and I feel the need to carry the financial load, particularly with so many of these people coaching me through this. For those who don't know, the Ride raises money for various cancer research programs. It's a two-day trek to Seattle in June.
I've been training for about 12 weeks now, and doing most of my riding along the straight and narrow streets of Queensborough. My buddy Carla McAloney and her brother Jerry (my Ride Yoda, if you will), took me out on my fist REAL ride on Sunday, and, suffice to say, 20 kilometres along the flat lands of Queensborough is quite a bit different than the 20 we did to get from our humble New Westminster home to GF Strong, the Vancouver rehab hospital I spent 10 or so weeks at while I was trying to learn that walking thing.
Hills suck. I hate them. Carla did say a couple of times, "you crushed that hill, Ewen." I assume that is a good thing. I was afraid to ask.
The little trek did show me that I have to much to learn. I'm also better at things than I thought I was. I'm encouraged.
I'd love to write more about it all, but I need to get on my damn trainer and get some miles on my tires before Carla comes over again.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

We're going from Crushing The Tumour to Riding To Conquer and, thankfully, I have a "rock star helmet" to protect me along the way

I'm doing the Ride To Conquer Cancer next year.
There. I said. It wasn't so scary.
Or not.
Yes, we're restarting Crush The Tumour With Humour (CTTWH) as part of my bid to continue to talk myself into doing the Ride To Conquer Cancer (RTCC), and maybe raise a couple of bucks in donations for cancer research.
I used to say that I wanted to "raise money for cancer." My good friend Fiona Rintoul, she of the very classy Flip Flop Shop (FFS) at Fourth and Burrard (shameless name drop and plug to receive discount footwear), always seemed to be around to correct me when I did that, explaining, "cancer is doing just fine. You want to raise money for cancer research."
Oh, Fiona. We're so BFFs. (Yes, I've suddenly become infatuated with abbreviations.)
Fiona did the RTCC this year pregnant. Hello? How cool is that?
It was her husband, Scott Rintoul (shameless name drop), and our buddy Carla McAloney behind this whole thing for me.
Carla hit me with the soft sell, the "You know...Scott and I were talking about it and we think you could do the ride...I mean, it would be a good story, considering the eight surgeries, the six rods in your back and all that CANCER you had."
OK. Carla never said the last part about the operations and the hardware and the CANCER. But she was totally feeling it. I know.
Then Rintoul came in. He's a closer and, to make matters worse, I'm a sucker. I would follow Rintoul into a fire. It's quite sad.
He throws down a couple of "you could totally do it," and "we could hang out and it would be great," and, even though the little voice in my head is screaming, "ARE YOU CRAZY?!?!? YOU DON'T LIKE TO DRIVE THAT FAR?", I heard myself say out loud and quite clearly, "Yeah, Scott. That's a totally good idea. Do you want me to double you on my handlebars?"
So we went to buy a bike. Carla took me to Dizzy Cycles in Kits (most shameless of all name drops, considering I need more stuff and could use a discount) and I found the staff to be quite friendly, intelligent and very well groomed.
I picked out a bike. I picked out a big boy helmet. I was excited. I told my wife, the adorable Carol-Ann, and said I wouldn't purchase anything until she saw it all.
She was keen. A few days later, we went back to Dizzy Cycles.
Took the bike up the cash register. Same with the helmet. And a helmet for her.
Went home. Went riding around the block a few times. I was pretty happy, to be honest, because I did lose enough balance from all those operations and all that hospital time that I wasn't sure I could actually get on a bike for any period.
Carla called later that day and asked how it went. I told her that the riding was decent, and I told her I was really surprised that I didn't feel geeky in the helmet.
She laughed and told me that I had the "rock star" of bike helmets.
"It was $275," she said.
I nearly fell and hit my head. Luckily I still had the helmet on. No way Carol-Ann would let me spend that. I yelled up to her in the kitchen, asking her the pricetag for the head gear.
"I think it was $275," she said.
Afterwards, she said that she knew I was freaked out about the whole thing, that I was way out of my comfort zone. She said she wasn't going to have me pull the plug if I didn't get the helmet I wanted.
Geez, I guess I'm really invested in this now.
I have a meeting tonight about dates and times and when the whole 2014 RTCC happens. I'll keep you up to date.
What have I gotten myself into now?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Happy anniversary: one year ago today I was discharged from GF Strong rehab centre

Happy anniversary.
One year ago today, I was discharged from G.F. Strong rehab centre, sent home with a walker, a wheelchair and, in my mind, more will than won't.
I thought about getting a tattoo to celebrate. Maybe something across the top of my back, near the spot where they found the Solitary Plasmacytoma tumour in October, 2010, and where they did most of the work on the eight surgeries that ensued. Maybe some italics stating, "Dr. Robert Lee was here," and then a rendering of our good surgeon smiling and giving a thumbs up, followed by a list of the operation dates.
Yeah, if it wasn't a Sunday, and I wasn't deeply afraid of needles and pain, I'd totally do that.
Maybe next year.
May 20, 2011 feels like a lifetime ago. I had hoped to walk out of G.F. Strong under my own power, but I wasn't ready and was exclusively on a walker.
One of my goals coming home had been to walker every day to a fruit stand up the street and around the corner.
I tried it the first time my first morning home. I got to the front yard, across the the length of our house and then up the street a few blocks before I could do no more. I cried every step. Carol-Ann cheered every step, and trying to make it all better.
That was a frequent storyline this year. I was frustrated and angry and sad a lot when I tried things for first time.  I'm still not sure to this day whether it's because I've always thought I was further along than I really was or I'm just a stubborn son of a gun.
I remember the first day physiotherapist Paula Peres came to the house. She put me through a series of tests. I was pissed off at my results in every one. Finally she said, "Get over yourself. I'm here because you need work on things. You're paying me to work with you on things. You know that you're paying me, right?"
I really wanted to be good to work with. I know that was part of it. I told her that I wanted her to know that I was a hard worker. She said, "You wouldn't have gotten this far if you weren't a hard worker."
Oh, Paula. You had me at "Get over yourself."
We quickly progressed from walker to cane to nothing at all. Freestyle, as it were. One of my first walks around the neighbourhood without a cane or a walker I told Paula, "I'm a little freaked out."
Paula said: "I've got some advice."
I was keen to hear it.
"Don't fall. It could hurt."
Oh Paula.
She really was amazing. There was something very logical about her approach. I could see how her progression was working from drill to drill and I trusted that she knew what I was capable of. She had also had a good sense when I needed a boot in the butt and a pat on the back. There was days that she'd show up and say, "Yeah, you don't have that much today. We're going to take it easy."
We don't get anywhere close to where we are at without Paula.
Paula punted me in December, saying that I didn't need acute physio anymore. I'm still going to the pool four or five times a week. I've joined a gym in New West, and I actually played my first slopitch game of the season last week. I've started jogging even, albeit a few 100 metres at time, with stints of walking in between.
I've been clear of any signs of cancer for a year, and our new surgeon, Dr. Scott Paquette, said that I have no restrictions. (Dr. Lee moved back to England. He said it wasn't my fault, but I reckon it may have something do with it. He said one time, "I'm not dreaming about your wound anymore." I told him, "You can have nice dreams about my wound. You and my wound could be frolicking in a meadow, for instance.")
"Just go ahead and live your life," Dr. Paquette said.
Thanks for that, doc. Geez. In front of Carol-Ann? I thought I was going to get a pass from moving anything heavy. I thought I was all set. No such luck.
She's fair though. She'll give me every May 20 off to celebrate.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mumps? Seriously? Shouldn't I be exempt from that type of stuff after cancer?

First my doctor thought I had pneumonia. Just recently, she figured I had the mumps.
I had cancer. Shouldn't I be exempt from certain things now? Shouldn't I get a little, lamented card that allows me to bypass random stuff?
It's goofy.
No matter.
Sorry I haven't written in awhile. I have been doing well, working 40 hours a week, getting into a good fitness routine (the UBC thing didn't work out...a gym two blocks away from home is a better fit) and even throwing a little bit with my good friend Carla McAloney as we prep for the upcoming Headliner slopitch season. Scott Rintoul, our centre fielder, and Bif Naked, our catcher/infielder/outfielder/trash talker, would be so proud. (SHAMELESS NAME DROP TIMES TWO.)
Then my jaw swelled up two Wednesdays ago. Puffed up huge. Couldn't see my left ear looking at me straight on. Good thing my modelling career is long over.
I have to admit I was more than a little freaked, considering that we were told at the time of the Solitary Plasmacytoma diagnosis in my T-2 vertebrae in October, 2010, that there was anywhere between a 30 per cent and 70 per cent chance of recurrence. Stuff starts swelling up, cancer seems like a plausible answer.
We checked with the dentist first, though, hoping it was a tooth. It wasn't. He sent us directly to Richmond Emergency, which, of course, sent me into freaking out overdrive. Poor Carol-Ann. I wonder if she hasn't gone looking for the receipt on our marriage certification, hoping for a return policy.
At the hospital, a cheery fourth-year med student handled us at first, and then came back with a doctor.
They were wearing face shields and masks.
Good news? This doesn't present like cancer. Bad news? We think it presents like the mumps.
I'm over 40. The mumps? What next? Will my voice change again? (I'd like something with a Southern Drawl if someone somewhere is taking orders.)
Long story short (I know...too late), the mumps tests came back negative and our rock star GP, Dr. Jennifer Rogerson, reckons that I had some sort of virus acting some sort of gland. (Once she said, too, that it didn't present like cancer I stopped paying complete attention. Carol-Ann is on it. It's all good.)
The worst part, it's laid me up for the last 10 days or so. Back when she thought I might have had pneumonia (I didn't, by the way), I was still able to get my rehab work done. I was working out regularly. This thing has kicked my butt for about 10 days. I wasn't able to get my stories for the Province (shameless plug for my employer) completed, but little else. I'm just finally starting to feel like myself again. I got my first workout in over this stretch, albeit a lazy one at the pool, this morning.
Dr. Rogerson says that my immune system is only slightly compromised because of the radiation treatment and all the garbage they dumped into me during the eight back surgeries, but I really felt like I used to brush this stuff off before.
We'll see.
To quote my good friend Bif Naked (SHAMELESS NAME DROP PART DEUX), it's "always interesting."

BTW Here's my little speech from Interesting Vancouver.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

This cancer rehab thing still sucks three or four days a month

This cancer rehab thing still sucks three or four days a month.
Heard you missed me. I'm back. (Hey!) Brought my shameless plugs. (Shameless plug for Hot For Teacher, one of the all-time best Van Halen songs.)
Sorry I haven't blogged in awhile. I'm feeling great a large percentage of the time. I'm more active. My energy is increasing. I'm doing more around the house to help my Carol-Ann. I'm working 40 hours a week. At times, it's hard to remember that we were diagnosed with a Solitary Plasmacytoma tumour last October, went through 20 radiation sessions and eight surgeries.
And then there are days like today. My legs feel trunks full of encyclopedias. My back is squealing. My head is in a fog. It's a combination of more activity and more work and the fact that we're still not a year out from my final two surgeries and I'm being weaned slowly off the Hydromorphone pain killer.
I'd like to say no one told me this was coming, but my rock star physio, Paula Peres, predicted right away. She said that, as much as I've improved, there were going to be days like this (days like this my physio said) and I needed come to grips with it and not worry.
It's hard. I want to get something physical in, the pool or a walk or something. But I know that if I push through I could feel worse tomorrow.
I had my last apparent session with Paula last week. She said she was pleased. I don't know where we would be without her. Her and I meshed right away, and I trusted her methods, which, to me, is a major part of the battle. And she wasn't good for just the physical stuff -- the fact that she told me these melancholy days were coming does make them a little less daunting.
Another quick radiation-oncologist Dr. James Morris gave another clean bill of health last week, meaning that we're up to nine months cancer free.
It's exciting but I'll be even more upbeat when we are more free of these type of days.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

It's slow going with throwing, but with cancer putting a dent in my mediocre slopitch career for a year, at least there's knowing

My rock star surgeon, Dr. Robert Lee, said that I couldn't start throwing a softball until after Christmas.
I gladly obliged. I waited for Boxing Day.
My good pal Carla McAloney came by yesterday and we threw for about 15 minutes in our front yard.
Beforehand, I was worried that my shoulder was going to fall off. I mean, they took the bottom of my trapezius muscles and folded them into the middle of my back in my eighth and final surgery. Who knew what might happened?
My shoulder held up fine. I'm not even sore today. On the flip side, though, I was disappointed at my balance. I didn't feel comfortable at all transferring my weight from my right leg to my left. Yes, it was the first time I had thrown in over a year, the first time since a bout of Solitary Plasmacytoma cancer, 20 radiation sessions and eight surgeries involving the collapse of my T-2 vertebrae.
Worried that I fall, I short-armed the ball a bunch, prompting Carla, of course, to belt out, "Nice work, T-Rex."
I know. It's just a starting point. I just thought I was farther along balance wise.
Overall, though, it was a spectacular Christmas, especially when you consider that I was tied to bed at VGH, with all sorts of tubes and contraptions connected to me, a year ago. We had a bunch of family from both sides over on Christmas Eve, I saw my folks on Christmas morning and Carol-Ann and I had dinner at her brother's on Christmas.
I even made it over to VGH after breakfast on Christmas. I picked up a couple of bags of chips, a couple of bags of cookies and assorted other junk food and dropped them off for the staff. You can't imagine Christmas in the hospital. You really can't. 
And then I walked out of there and went home. That was my present to myself.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Talking world juniors, Brendan Gallagher and that crazy Solitary Plasmacytoma cancer

I feel bad that I haven't checked in here in awhile. The good news is that it's because I'm busy. I'm working 30 hours a week. I'm getting closer and closer to my share of the household chores.  We even hosted a little shindig. (More about that later.)
Why now? It's world junior hockey tournament time and I don't think you can be a sports fan in this country legally without taking in that event with gusto. Vancouver Giants winger Brendan Gallagher has made the team, and he's a fan favourite looking for a place to happen. He's this scrappy, 5-foot-9ish guy who just might have been born minus the fear gene, considering the way he goes to the net and battles in the corner.
Let me offer up a little more about him. From what I know, he's a 19-year-old of tremendous character.
I've covered the Giants for the Province newspaper (shameless plug for my employer) since the 2004-05 season, so when I got sick last year among the first phone calls I put in were to team owner Ron Toigo, general manager Scott Bonner and coach Don Hay.
Just a few days before I got sick, Gallagher's grandfather, Matt, had lost his battle with cancer. Gallagher even started a fundraising campaign immediately afterwards. (Read about it here.)
Toigo and his son Peter were the first visitors to the hospital room for that initial stay, but Gallagher and fellow forwards James Henry and Craig Cunningham, with strength and conditioning coach Ian Gallagher (Brendan's dad) riding shotgun, were close behind.
I remember thinking how the three of them didn't have to be there, and Gallagher especially. Gallagher knew way too much about hospitals and cancer talk at that point. But they stayed and joked and told lies that a bunch of guys do and made me feel way better.
It was one of those inspiring moments I had during this whole bizarre episode.
I tracked down Gallagher when I got out that first time and went to a Giants game. I thanked him and told him that he wouldn't understand how much it met.
His answer? He shrugged and said, "Steve, it meant a lot to us that you were willing to see us."
Seriously. He's that kind of kid.
Meanwhile, I am feeling better. I haven't used Evander (The Cane) in over a month. My back is feeling a little out of sorts from time to time, like something is pulling, but I think it's a case of me getting more nerves working. There was a point in the hospital where I could feel so little in my back that one of the doctors put in a stitch or two without freezing. Or so I've been told.
The party, meanwhile, was a success by my way of thinking. Dr. Robert Lee, our rock star surgeon, showed up  and was the toast of the whole affair. He begged Carol-Ann and I to stop calling him, "Dr. Lee," but how do you not refer to the person who saved your life in something other than the highest regard?
We did manage to bust out a few "Roberts," before the night was done but then Scott Rintoul (shameless name drop) saw the good doctor for the first time and started bellowing, "Dr. Lee, Dr. Lee, Dr. Lee!!!"
It was like I set it up, but I didn't, which makes it even better.