Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dreaming and scheming: Cancer plus Carson equals bringing tumour talk to the forefront

I had a dream about Paul Carson last night.
Carson, the man best known for repeatedly amassing top-notch on-air talent for the longtime Lower Mainland TV phenom Sports Page, died last December after an 11-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
In my dream, we were at a football game at B.C. Place. He was sitting in a row behind me. We exchanged stories about our cancers, and he let me go on and on about my Solitary Plasmacytoma.
I've never been very good about defining my dreams. Heck, one night in my head I had Jessica Biel, with a bikini and a machine gun, chasing after Carol-Ann and I. What could that be about?
This one with Carson, though, seems to have an easy-to-read meaning.
In the midst of the back operation that saw two titanium rods and 15 screws inserted in my spine and subsequent surgeries for the infections that followed, we've pushed the cancer to the back burner.
Dr. Robert Lee, our spine surgeon, has been openly concerned about going back to radiation too early. And, considering the care he's provided, I trust him more than I trust myself.
We've done 20 of a scheduled 25 radiation sessions already, and the plan is to talk to our radiation-oncologist Dr. Jim Morris in the coming weeks. Assuming that they want to finish off the radiations, it'll be starting from scratch, since all the markings they had on my back had been torn away by the surgeries.
As for Carson, I didn't know him particularly well. I did have great respect for his ability to assess talent, and one of my all-time favourite stories at the Province was putting together the Sports Page team for one brief interview and photo shoot in 2008.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Feeling Strong-er: Cancer rehab should include move to new facility this coming week

I should be promoted from the VGH spine unit to the GF Strong rehab centre earlier next week, barring something bizarre.
I have to admit that I'm nervous as much as I am excited. I don't deal well with anything new. (That could be part of the reason that I eat like six different things and that's it.) I'm a comfort zone kind of guy.
One of the few things I know about GF is that they don't have TVs in the rooms. And, frankly, I'm more than good with that,  since I've watched way too much bad television over the past couple of months.
VGH gets about 50 different channels piped into its rooms. Don't get me wrong - it's a wonderful time waster, particularly when you're too tired or too sore to be up and around. But back home we have the full, 250-or-something channel package, so I've not been living my TV life in a style that I had become accustomed to.
I've been glued way too often to Cake Boss, with Buddy, the baker from New Jersey. Apparently, I'm not alone, since they've given him a new show entitled Kitchen Boss, where he offers up a more complete menu. It won't be long until he gets his own channel. I can't wait for him to star in a rendition of Who's the Boss, playing the Tony Danza role, of course. And then he'll be in Boss vs. Boss, where he duels Bruce Springsteen in trivia.
I know way too much about Say Yes To The Dress. I've watched enough of Don't Forget The Lyrics that I  routinely nail whether a contestant can actually sing in the midst of introductions from host Mark McGrath.
And how about My Strange Addiction? The guy who is dating the mannequin? Seriously? Seriously?
For what it's worth, I won't have too much time for TV at GF. I've been told that there will be at least three gym-time classes per day. We do one limited rehab session every day day at VGH. The focus here is getting healthy; the focus at GF is getting mobile.
I'm interested to see what kind of drills they'll let me do with my upper body. Dr. Robert Lee has told me to take it easy with arm and shoulder stuff ever since they found that I broke one of the two nine-inch rods inserted in my back to stabilize my spine. We've decided to rely on the one rod for the time being rather than risk infection with another surgery. (I've had two infection clean-out surgeries after the big operation that put in the two rods and 15 screws, which was the aftermath of my Solitary Plasmacytoma tumour and the resulting radiation blowing up my T-2 vertebrae.)
Carol-Ann can't stay with me at GF, like she can here at VGH. That will be hard for me to take on one level, but it will also inspire me to get home faster and it will make me feel better that her life is getting back to normal. She can come during visiting hours.
I'll get her to give me updates on good TV shows during that time.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Stumbling, fumbling, but recovering: Cancer rehab takes another hit, but regains footing

I've fallen. And I've gotten up.
Fresh off warnings Friday from our surgeon, Dr. Robert Lee, that I needed to be careful due to a broken titanium rod in my back, I took a tumble Sunday. I was on my way to the bathroom, with my father, Robert, close behind. Two steps before the door, my right knee buckled and I said to my dad, "that's interesting."
Two more steps, and both knees gave. Both knees buckling at the same time hadn't happened since October. I feel backwards, hit my head on my dad's knees, and ended up in a heap in a floor. Simultaneously, I heard Dr. Lee's speech about my broken rod and my wife Carol-Ann's monologue about how dangerous I made things by getting back into bed on my own after falling October.
I was freaked. I laid there, as my dad went for help. I didn't recognize the first couple of staff members who arrived on the scene, but then Jose, a nurse's aid, burst into the room.
Jose is a little bit older than me, maybe in his mid-40s, and we kibitz back and forth all the time. He gets after me about not staying up long enough and spending too much time lying down, and threatens to put "nails in my bed." That, of course, leads me to burst into song: "Nails in my bed...Jose thinks I dread...Doesn't realize I'm so over-fed...They won't make me go red."
As soon as he showed up on the scene, it helped calm me down. I feel safe with him. Fortunately for me, they have a lot of staff here at VGH I feel that kind of comfort and security with me. The staff that we've come across on the Spine Unit here has been exemplary.
They got me back to bed and after a few quick tests the doctors decided that I hadn't added to my injuries.
Emotionally, I was a busted, though. I had been having trouble with my walking for a few days. I wondered if the broken rod was part of it. I wondered if I was ever going to get a good break again. I cried and cried. I even told Carol-Ann, "I'm going to die here."
She was having none of it. She scolded me, and demanded that I take that back and made me repeat that we would be going home to New Westminster soon. By the end of the day, she had me believing again.
Monday came, and Dr. Lee shrugged it off as bad luck when we told him about it. Our physio therapist, Ann, did the same. That made me feel better. And, sure enough, I walked for 20 minutes, which was the longest I had gone in over a week.
It's a small victory, but, like I've said before, we'll take what we can get right now.
GF Strong, the Vancouver rehab centre, was supposed to take me Monday, but Dr. Lee wants me to stay another week. That's fine. I'm just subtracting the extra VGH time off the GF time.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Oh snap: Cancer rehab takes hit with rod break

Part of the reason that I've scaled way back on posts is that it felt like every time I hyped up good news something bad would follow.
Yep. Here we go again.
Dr. Robert Lee just informed us after looking at an x-ray that one of the titanium rods placed in my back after Solitary Plasmacytoma blew up my T-2 vertebrae has snapped.
The macho part of me is pleased that I tore up the titanium. The part of me that is tired of VGH and wants to get Carol-Ann back to real life is gutted.
At least we know why I've been experiencing shoulder pain the past few days. The consensus had been that it was from amping up the rehab sessions.
Dr. Lee did say there is research that backs not replacing the rod if the other looks strong. The fact that I'm not the first person to break a titanium rod in his back makes me feel a little better.
He wants to meet with other surgeons.
By the's Carol-Ann's birthday today. I certainly planned on getting her something better than this news.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Steve Ewen, unplugged: Cancer rehab takes step forward with machines, tubes going goodbye

I've gone acoustic.
Our jolly good surgeon Dr. Robert Lee took off the external vacuum and drain this morning, meaning that I no longer have to drag wound drainage machines around with me when I go anywhere. I had always felt like a bit of a monster with chords hanging out of my upper back.
(My pick for greatest unplugged CD has to go to Eric Clapton's 1992 guitar-ladened release. Iain MacIntyre, he of Vancouver Sun fame, was by this morning and was talking up entries by Nirvana and Neil Young, but I'm not picking up what he's putting down.)
This puts me one giant step forward to moving from VGH to GF Strong, the Vancouver rehab centre.
Carol-Ann, my adorable wife, can't stay with me at GF, so that should inspire me to get through there quickly and get back to our New Westminster home.
We have been moving forward the past week, for what it's worth. Last Wednesday was the first time I walked merely with a walker. I had been needing a sling, to support my buckling knees. These days, I'm walking in the halls, with a walker, twice a day, not to mention doing some rehab in the gym. I feel much stronger and confident. The doctors and other medical staff have said all along that they thought my walking problems were tied to dwindling strength and self doubt.
Things have gone so well, in fact, that one of the nurses came by our room last night, saying how my walking was a major topic at the nurses station that night and how happy they all were with the progress. Either they are pulling for us after everything that's happened (20 radiation sessions at B.C. Cancer after a Solitary Plasmacytoma diagnosis, a surgery to put two titanium poles and 15 screws into my back after my T-2 vertebrae blew up, four more surgeries over the next month after getting hit with three different infections) or they're tired of us and want us out of here. We're taking the positive spin, for what it's worth, and using it for inspiration.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: I did have to look up when Clapton's CD came out. I also had to look up what paper Iain MacIntyre worked for. Keep that between us, though.)
I'm not sure how much longer I'll be here at VGH. Dr. Lee said that he  wants to see me on Monday, but  I could be off to GF soon after that.
I hope they're ready.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Putting a bounty on infection, wound; rehab feels like it's going in right direction once again

Lots of good news to report today.
First of all, just watched the best Dog the Bounty Hunter of all time. Oh, you know the one. Don't pretend. It's the episode where Dog and the boys mistakenly go up the elevator when the tweaked-out drug addict is coming down, and Baby Lyssa, left on her own to stand guard at the front door, is forced to try to wrestle the junkie to the ground. He gets away at first, but she eventually catches him down the street and her brothers converge.
The moral of this story? Even Dog's daughter is a toughie.
Meanwhile, Carol-Ann and I got moved into a massive room here at VGH earlier this week. The bathroom is bigger than the last room we were in.
And the sausages they had at the cafeteria this morning where top shelf.
Oh, and, by the way, the doctors here at VGH say that they're happy with my progress again. Dr. Robert Lee, my esteemed surgeon (he gets a ballyhooed adjective today because he brought good news), said this morning that the markers in my blood tests are suggesting that my jacked-up antibiotic cocktail is winning against my infection. (Whatever they count had been scoring in the 100s late last week, but now it's in the 20s.)
Also, my back wound is closing up neatly, according to Lee and others. I'm still saddled with a vac-dressing (a vacuum is connected to the dressing to pump out the bad stuff) but I'm used to it by now, even though it looks freaky.
We are no where near talking about when I'm going to GF Strong to continue my physical rehab, or when I'll talk again with B.C. Cancer about my Solitary Plasmacytoma, the tumour in my T-2 that started this whole gong show back in October. (The cancer was connected to the disintegration of the T-2, which was connected to the surgery that implanted two titanium rods and 15 screws to stabilize my back, which was connected to the infection.) But, for the first time in awhile, I feel like I can see the proverbially light at the end of the proverbially tunnel.
I also know that I won't ever mess with Baby Lyssa, in the event I come across her.
OK, it wasn't actually a pot shot at me, but I needed somewhere to to slide this in. Slopitch pals Derran and Carrie Watts (she'll always be Carrie Watson to me, but you get the idea) came by last night. When D-Watts heard about the titanium rods, he wondered aloud: "Do they have those in stock, or do they say in the morning: 'Hey, we need some stuff for this Ewen surgery -- can somebody go down to Home Depot?'"
I'm afraid to ask, considering that Dr. Lee told us that he used a screw driver to put the screws in.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Positive attitude might be infectious; Cancer rehab takes turn with antibiotic cocktail

Happy New Year.
Carol-Ann and I quietly kicked off 2011 in our tiny room at VGH. I had fallen asleep earlier in the evening, but woke up just in time to watch the Barenaked Ladies and Rick The Temp (I know he has a last name now, but he'll always be the Rick The Temp for me) ring in the New Year. Granted, it was a repeat from a Toronto show, but, at this stage, we'll take what we can get.
Carol-Ann was fast asleep at midnight, cute as can be.
I am recovering from a fourth surgery in a month, this time a clean-out Tuesday to get rid of the infection brought on by the surgery that inserted two rods and 15 screws to stabilize my spine. For those new to CTTWH, that heavy-metal operation (the docs keep talking about how I have "hardware," now) was brought on by the T-2 vertebrate disintegrating, which can likely be tied to 20 radiation sessions to combat a Solitary Plasmacytoma in that region.
We just had a doctor here from Infectious Diseases (it's not somebody from SWAT, but it's still pretty cool) and she figures that they've come up with the right antibiotic cocktail currently. That's exciting.
It would have been even more exciting if she rolled up in a hazard suit, but it was just regular folk clothes for her.
(She could have at least had a theme song, aomething to rival SWAT's Da, Da, Da-Da, Da or whatever it was. That would have been fun. In fact, we should all have a theme song. Life should be more like pro wrestling.)
I do feel spry and saucy.
With all this, my surgeon, Dr. Robert Lee, says that I might be here another month. I told him he's wrong. (My language to him was more colourful, but, hey, my mom reads the blog.) No way it will be that long.
Dr. Lee will get over being wrong.
And I'm sure he'll miss Carol-Ann and I when we are off to other places.