Thursday, July 20, 2017

This is my blog after stem cell transplant on Wednesday. Any questions?

This is the container my stem cells were delivered in.

This is the bathing area for my stem cells.
This is the nurse taking said stem cells from carrying container and placing them in bathing area.

This is the stem cells getting a bath.
This is Bill Wilms and Brendan Batchelor doing play-by-play on the whole procedure. (OK. Joking. That's the guys from an old Giants game at the Pacific Coliseum.)

I feel gross.
I feel blah. I feel bloated. 
I had my stem cell transplant yesterday to combat my second cancer occurrence and I'd love to tell you that I feel like a brand new guy and I'm super positive but I'm back on the steroids and they simply don't agree with me. I'm a cranky twit right now. And apparently I'm writing really, really, really long sentences.
And I do realize that there are a lot of people a lot worse off than me right now. I'm not saying I'm right. I'm just trying to be honest.
I'm carrying five or six pounds of extra water weight already, and I've got three more days of this. Part of my bitchiness is that I lost 100 pounds in 2013-14, in large part because I knew that the cancer was coming back after the solitary plasmacytoma that showed up in my spine in 2010 and led to eight operations and six months in hospital. 
The B.C. Cancer people were blunt about a recurrence, and I knew I needed to better prepared.  I just don't like the idea of getting larger again. I was already up probably 15 pounds from where I want to be, but that probably shouldn't be too surprising since I've been largely inactive since the diagnosis of a tumour in my left leg in February and the fourth months of chemo that prepped me for the stem cell stuff this week.  
Luckily for me, a fantasy baseball pool buddy's wife has went through a similar procedure before and said she put on something like 15 pounds in the early stages of recovering from stem cell but dropped it quickly. I'm trying to stick to that.
I had a Hickman Line inserted in my chest on Friday. Thirty-minute procedure, local anesthetic. Wikipedia describes the Hickman as a "central venous catheter most often used for the administration of chemotherapy or other medications as well as for the withdrawal of blood for analysis."
It has three prongs dangling off it, so they draw out blood and add medication at the same time. It's more a hassle than painful right now, but I realize that all the poking and prodding would mess up my veins. And, to be blunt, my chest modelling days ended long ago.
They used Hickman for the major chemo blast on Tuesday that wiped out my immune system, and for the stem cell transplant yesterday. There was extensive prep with drugs to counterattack side effects yesterday, but the actual transplant took about 25 minutes. On one hand it was anticlimactic. On the other, a doctor and a nurse were by the bed the whole time, just in case there were issues. And they monitored me for two hours afterward.
The plan is to do the whole thing as an out patient, and they've told us that over 70 per cent of their patients manage to do that. They find the patient morale is better and they're less susceptible to infection, which is the major concern. (Lot of sick people in hospital that you can catch stuff from apparently.)
They did a stem cell harvesting a couple of weeks ago. I laid in bed for six hours, a big massive needle in my left arm and a smaller needle my right. They tell you beforehand that you should avoid moving your left arm. The needle is so big that I could not move my left arm. They take out blood, have a machine that collects some stem cells, and then put some blood back in. (I know. That's a terribly basic report. But I blanked out when I couldn't move my left arm. Sorry.)
For the record, the stem cell people have been amazing. The office staff have gone out of their way to make sure all the appointments fit with other parts of my schedule, and the nurses have been absolutely superb at making sure we understand exactly what's going on before it starts going on. We've been so lucky since being first diagnosed in 2010. I know you see a lot of bad stories in the newspapers (damn media) about hospital care, but our experience has been first rate throughout. 
And Carol-Ann has been Carol-Ann, which is to say she's captaining our little team perfectly. No surprise. I know. She props me up and sends me out into the world every day, feeling like we've got this handled. She's the best. She's buffed up the house, with help from the likes of our good friend Susie. It's never looked better. And Carol-Ann has Googled and read and researched and there's a long list of can do's and can't do's and I'm going to abide by them all since I know what's good for me.
We've been told a couple of times that I shouldn't start feeling really crappy until the weekend. We've been told it's like having the flu or a general malaise. Worse case? Your mouth gets infected and swollen and you have trouble eating. I have a mouth wash that I'm swigging twice a day now to try to fight that off. There's also a good chance that I might need a blood transfusion or two. We drive in to VGH every other day for the next three weeks to a month to get tested.
Hopefully that's it. And hopefully I'm not a cranky moron the next time I blog.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Cancer sucks. Steroids suck. Newspapering sucks. At least I married well.

I'm on the juice. And it's not going well. In conjunction with my chemo treatment designed to evict a tumour from the left leg, I'm on a heavy dose of Dexamethasone, which the good people at Wikipedia describe as a a type of corticosteroid medication that has anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant effects. I'll be on it for four-day stretches over the course of this little journey, and I've been told it's a hefty load of drugs. My chemo nurse looked at my dosage and said, "Oh...that's a lot." The pharmacist at the B.C. Cancer Agency warned my wife that I may not sleep a single wink when I first started taking it at dinner time on Chemo Day 1 on Tuesday. I did get four or five hours that night. Good for me. It makes me edgy. It makes me cranky. I had a phone conversation with former Province columnist Cookie Gilchrist this week where I believe I set a land-speed record for cuss words. I'm not usually so foul mouthed. I don't like it. I'm trying to slow my mind down and take a breath before talking, in a bid to keep from embarrassing myself and especially Carol-Ann. I was on a heavy course of steroids during that first cancer occurrence with the tumour in my back in 2010-11, and I was similar, much to my chagrin. It got better when I could start to get in the swimming pool and wearing out some of the ornery energy. Right now, I have 24 staples in my left leg from the stabilizing rod they implanted in a surgery two Wednesdays ago, and I see the surgeon on Tuesday in hopes of getting them out. That should help. I hope. Carol-Ann probably hopes even more. She continues to captain our little Crush team with grace and courage. I punted well past my coverage. I know it. I do feel better than I felt in 2010-11, when I was hospitalized for six months. I need to keep that in mind. I'm actually trying to work a little. It's helpful to the newspaper at this stage. Bluntly, it's mostly me being selfish, trying to give my mind something else to think about. With chemo, infection is a major concern, so I'm trying to stay out of public places for all but short stretches, so I'm doing stuff over the phone. It's hard. Stupid hard. I wanted to cover the high school girls basketball provincials last week. I didn't get out of the hospital until Friday and I wasn't nearly mobile enough to go to Saturday's finale. I've thought about going to the boys basketball provincials this week but I don't know if that's a good plan for me health wise. I feel rotten about it, though. With the way things are going in the newspaper business, we've hardly been able to give the two tournaments any coverage. In case you missed it, the parent company to the Province and Sun announced Friday that they wanted to lay off 54 people from the Vancouver products, including 29 from the editorial department. It's crazy. I'm still not emotionally over Jim Jamieson and Gord McIntyre being transferred out of sports to news a few years ago. Jim's retired now. He took a buyout. We lost another 20-plus people in the past few months to buyouts, including sports editor Jonathan McDonald, soccer reporter Marc Weber and high school/university reporter Howard Tsumura. Howard hired me at the NOW Newspaper in 1989. He loves newspapers more than anyone I've ever met. He was my first mentor. I helped Marc get hired. He was at our wedding. He took me to a radiation session back in 2010, he snuck into pre-op for one of eight operations during that first hospital stay. I talked to J-Mac often three or four times a day when he was my boss. Those guys love the business. The fact that they think it's time to try to something else kills me. It's so depressing. I'm still smitten with newspapers. I want to stay. I want to fight. I loved the Province and Sun as a kid. I ate them up. I grew up reading Tony Gallagher and Jim Taylor and Archie McDonald and Iain MacIntyre. (Shameless cheap shot at I-Mac, a current colleague who is only a few years older than I am.) I want to stay and fight for those guys. We've brought in some top-shelf young guys in the past few years, like Nick Eagland and Dan Fumano and Patrick Johnston. I want to stay and fight for them. I want to retire as a Province/Sun guy. That's my goal right now. I need to be realistic, though. I need another 20 years. The business may not last. I need to at least be open to other options. At the plus side, I'm not dwelling COMPLETELY on cancer. The next chemo is Tuesday. We'll see how that goes. My understanding is we've got three or four months of chemo, and then likely a stem cell transplant.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Yes, that's a rod in my leg and, yes, I'm also happy to see you

Just got home from VGH. Being told that the Wednesday surgery to implant a rod in my left leg went well.
The care we received, once again, was amazing. The give-a-damn of the medical community in the Lower Mainland continues to astonish both Carol-Ann and I.
Surgery scares me more than anything. Yes, even more than cancer. I don't hide it at all, but our surgeon -- Dr. Peter O'Brien -- and our anesthesiologist -- Dr. Jacqueline Trudeau -- went out of their way to try to calm me down. Dr. Trudeau suggested a spinal (yes, Scott can call me Spinal Tap for the time being) instead of the full pull and I found things a little less daunting.
We see our oncologist -- Dr. Kerry Savage -- on Monday to go over what's next on the docket, but I believe right now that we'll spend about 10 days healing, get the staples out of the leg and then have one radiation session before starting chemo/stem cell transplants/infusions.
The rod -- technically a "gama spike" -- was brought into play with fears that the treatment to knock the tumour out of my left leg would have left it susceptible to breaking.
My one concern remains that the rod in my leg is stainless steel, while the six rods in my back from our eight surgeries in 2010-11 are titanium. Will the other multiple hardware patients out there mock me because of various metals in my body? It just doesn't feel fashionable or trendy.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Cancer's back, but it better not get comfortable because it's getting evicted

I have a surgery some time this week to put a pin in my left leg. Hopefully it doesn't clash with the rods in my back.
The cancer is back. Multiple myeloma. I had been in remission for six years, but when I was diagnosed with a solitary plasmacytoma in 2010 we were told that there was a good chance that it would return. We received recurrence rates of anywhere between 30 and 70 per cent then.
Carol-Ann and I both understood the possibilities.
This week's surgery (likely Wednesday) is to stabilize the leg, with worries that treatment (chemo and infusion and stem cell) will leave it susceptible to breaking if something isn't done. Chemo, right now, is slated to start March 7.
It will be my ninth surgery, following eight on my back in 2010-11 after radiation led to the collapse of my t-2 vertebrae. I have six rods and a bunch of other shrapnel. We did six months in hospital, including about two and half months at G.F. Strong,  a rehab hospital where they started teaching me to walk again.
This is why we trained after getting healthy from the first cancer. This is why we got a trainer, Derek Baker. This is why we have dropped 100 pounds. We wanted to be ready to fight again.
The prognosis is good. Dr. Kerry Savage has said that, being in remission for six years, makes her think that whatever she throws at this cancer will send it packing.
It's still rotten. I'm angry and I'm terrified and I'm confused. I feel bad for Carol-Ann.
Dr. Savage has been great. We found out on Monday. I had my first of surely several meltdowns on Wednesday, wondering far too much if I was in jeopardy of losing the leg altogether. I sent her an email. She got right back to me. She was decisive, saying that it wasn't happening, that it wasn't that kind of situation.
I buy what she's selling. She diagnosed the original cancer in 2010, and she was blunt and to the point then, and she's been that this time, too.
This is a good place to be sick. That's what part of what I'm rallying Everyone we've dealt in the medical profession has been a rock star. The give-a-damn of these people is astounding. They're angels.
They seem to have picked this up early. I had elevated protein markers in blood work in August and December. That led to an appointment with Dr. Savage.
My knee had been bothering since October, but I had been toying with the idea of running a 5K. I had been training in the pool largely. I had been playing a little ball hockey.
The knee morphed into the quad in the past few weeks, after my initial appointment with Dr. Savage. We tried massage therapy and physio. The physio diagnosed it as a strained quad.
No such luck.
Stay tuned. Looks like we'll have reason to update this blog more frequently.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Ride To Conquer prompts conversations about cancer, making it well worth all the work

Cancer creates unique conversations, and that's even with the fact I've been disease-free for over four years.
I was hanging out at one of our slopitch league games a few weeks back. A guy from one of the other teams called me over towards their dugout. Don't know him super well, but I've always thought he was good people.
It was just the two of us, standing there, looking over their pile of snacks on the bench. You've heard of beer leagues? We're a beer-and-candy league.
"I've been meaning to tell you this for awhile now," he said, "but thanks for not dying.
"A lot of people die with what happened to you."
First thought: Hallmark probably doesn't have a card for that.
Second thought: Good on him for starting the conversation.
To steal a premise from my buddy Bob Mercer: cancer is one of the scariest things in the world, but it might be THE scariest word in the world.
It is a major reason why I'm taking a second crack at the Ride To Conquer Cancer, the, two-day, 220-KM bike trip from Cloverdale to just outside Seattle that occurs on Aug. 29-30. It forces dialogue. It gets me talking about being diagnosed with a Solitary Plasmacytoma in my T-2 vertebrae back in October, 2010, and about having 20 radiation sessions and about undergoing eight surgeries after my back collapsed and about spending six months in hospital learning to walk again with six rods and a bunch of screws and other shrapnel holding things together.
The Ride to Conquer is the bravest thing I've ever done. It's the runaway leader. It's the farthest thing from my comfort zone.
I don't WANT to bike to Seattle. My bike especially doesn't want me to bike to Seattle. (Former junior hockey player turned ALS advocate Don McCusker offered to donate money to my bike seat.)
I WANT to eat pizza and sit on the couch and watch the WWE channel.
I NEED to do the Ride. I need to start those conversations. I need people to know if you're going to get sick and it's cancer in particular, B.C. is the place for it to happen.
The medical attention we received from beginning to end was next level. It was like my own all-star team. The system is messy. It's bogged down by red tape. The give-a-damn of the worker bees in it, though, is amazing and frankly quite inspirational.
This is why we do this. But it hasn't been simple.
I had lost so much balance from the operations and the hospital stay that my wife Carol-Ann and I weren't even sure if I could ride a bike at all when we bought one in the preparations to take part in last year's event.
We could sell it, I thought. It would have to go at a severely reduced price from all the scratches that I'm bound to get from crashing, I rationalized, but we could sell this.
Carol-Ann was well aware that the whole process scared me out of my freaking mind and if I had an out, like I was having trouble riding and had not bought a bike, I was going to bail on the whole process. 
I still remember my first trip around the block. Carol-Ann demanded that she come with me, walking alongside. I balked. I won out. Barely.
Our Ride team coaxed and cajoled me into doing about 150 kilometres of the event last year. This winter, I connected with a trainer, a guy named Derek Baker. With his help, we've dropped a few pounds, and I hope to have less trouble peddling my way across the border and beyond this time.
If you're interested, we're having a fundraiser for the Ride tomorrow night at the Earls on Fir Street in Vancouver. For more info on that, check out our Facebook site. 
For more on the Ride and my own personal donation page, check out here.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Look who's Crushing the Tumour With Humour again, and taking yet another crack at the Ride To Conquer Cancer

Anybody asks me how I'm doing these days, my automatic response is, "I'm outstanding."
I'd like to tell you that it's because I'm so well adjusted after four-plus years of being cancer free. I'd like to say that I'm so enlightened because I'm mobile and active despite having six rods and a bunch of bolts and screws holding my back together from a Solitary plasmacytoma tumour attacking my T-2 vertebrae.
Sorry. I'm not nearly that noble.
I go with "I'm outstanding," as my default because there were two or three people in a row about a year ago who asked how I was doing and you could see the fear in their faces when I told them I was "crappy." I can't recall what the issues that were bothering me actually were. It could have been work or the house being messy, or, quite likely, the lame-ass performance of my Terry McKaig League fantasy baseball team.
Didn't matter. They went straight away to the cancer being back. You could see the panic. I felt horrible for them. I couldn't back track quickly enough.
A buddy of mine, Bob Mercer, says that cancer is one of the scariest things in the world to endure but the word itself -- CANCER -- may in fact by the scariest connection of letters ever.
That is why I'm going back for another crack at the Ride To Conquer Cancer. It's a 200-kilometre ride, from Cloverdale to Seattle, that goes the weekend of Aug. 29-30. If you're interested in donating, my personal page can be found here. I'm working on updating it.
We'll be having a fundraiser in the coming couple of months. Look for updates. I'll probably be begging lots of you for auction items.
I don't want to talk about cancer. I don't want to think about what happened. But I don't want to avoid it. I don't want people to panic about the very idea of cancer.
For some messed up reason, ever since I was a little kid I worried about dying on the operating table from some crazy complication during a rather routine procedure.
I had eight surgeries. Eight. Eight times I tried to say goodbye to my wife. I was scared out of my mind. I had a whole speech worked out. I didn't worry about her without me, I'd say. Carol-Ann is the toughest person I've ever met. I'd tell her that. I'd tell her, too, that I would just miss her, that I had so many things I wanted to go see with her and do with her.
She would smile and hold my hand and the proceed to tell me why I was going to be OK. Our surgeon, Dr. Robert Lee, was such a pro and so invested, she would say, and, by the end, he understood every inch of my system. So did his crew, Carol-Ann would explain.
By the end of her speech, I was psyched up. It happened every time. I was ready. I was going to my Super Bowl. My chin would be sticking out, all proud and defiant. In my head, I called it my "Jay Leno moment." (Apologies to Mr. Leno, who I am certain is a devoted reader of blogs about dudes with cancer.)
The nurses would be wheeling me out of the room and I would be telling Carol-Ann, "I will fight for you, I will fight you," again and again and again.
It's stupid. It's crazy. We did that dance eight freaking times. And you know what? We survived it, to the point that I am able to put my fat ass on a bike and pedal for a bunch of hours over two days. (Oh, mercy, it will not be pretty.)
I'm one of the lucky ones. I'm aiming to prove it again.

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.