Sunday, February 27, 2011

Back to back surgery: weepy wound returns us to VGH for operation No. 8

Apparently I have a thing for even numbers.
An eighth surgery will likely come Tuesday at VGH since the wound in my back won't close properly. A bunch of surgeries, along with 20 radiation sessions for the Solitary Plasmacytoma tumour that started this whole mess, can do that, I reckon.
Dr. Robert Lee, our spine surgeon at VGH, has twice added extra stitches, but to no avail. I am not sure what the plan is; Dr. Lee mentioned plastic surgery.
I am not sure how badly this sets back my rehab at GF Strong, but Carol-Ann and I have been set back before and regrouped.
This will only make the party when I get home that much sweeter.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Grin and chair it: people's impression of my wheel transport was all in my mixed-up head

Went to the Vancouver Giants-Chilliwack Bruins game Friday night and learned two things: (1) the Giants don't always know what to do with the lead; and (2) I don't always know enough to ignore the voices in my head.
I should be in my seventh season covering junior hockey, and the Giants in particular, for the Province newspaper and (shameless plug for my employer), but a Solitary Plasmacytoma tumour in my T-2 vertebrae and six subsequent surgeries to put my back back together has left me on the sidelines for much of the campaign.
I made my first trip to the Pacific Coliseum since November on Friday, and was freaked out beforehand about how people were going to handle me being in a wheelchair. My strength has improved greatly in the past couple of weeks, and the good folks at G.F. Strong rehab in Vancouver are pointing to me being home by the end of March, but I just felt that the darn chair would say something completely different to everyone.
If it did, they hid it well. I did not feel any sort of pity. People were happy to see me, and happy to see Carol-Ann. We got a few brief questions about my health, and then about how Carol-Ann was doing. (That's one of the bright spots in this nightmare: the attention that Carol-Ann has received for how well she's supported me. I'm not the least little bit surprised, but it's nice to see other people picking up on the calibre of human being she is.)
Mostly, we talked about everything other than my health. We talked about hockey and about the restaurant business (Carol-Ann works for Earl's...shameless plug for her employer, who has been so amazing to us that words don't do the support justice) and about cell phones. (We sat with Lewis Buble for awhile, and the father of crooner Michael went on about how cells have changed how he communicates with his family.)
Chalk up another loss for my restless mind, which always tends to be focussed on the worst-case scenario. It was highly entertaining for us, especially when you consider that I haven't been out of VGH or G.F. Strong for any sense of time since November.
We did cheat a little, though. The Giants opened up their suite to us, so we made a beeline there, rather than try to brave the crowd of 10,000 or so -- many were there to celebrate Milan Lucic, the 2007 Memorial Cup MVP, being added to the Giants' Ring of Honour. (Special thanks to Ron and Michele Toigo for getting us into the box. Ron and son Peter were the first people to visit Carol-Ann and I when were initially admitted to VGH back in October and the Toigo family have been hugely supportive throughout our ordeal.)
We left after two periods, namely because I was worn out. I feel bad, because I wanted to see Vancouver general manager Scott Bonner, coach Don Hay and a bunch of Giant players, but they probably weren't in a visiting mood, after coughing up 2-0 and 4-2 leads in a 6-5 loss to their Fraser Valley rivals.
I do look forward to going back again sometime soon to the Coliseum soon. Next time, I'll try to leave any preconceived notions at home.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Chair wear and tear: Trying to find ways to cope with having to wheel into a Giants' game

I'm going to the Vancouver Giants' game Friday night. Part of me is looking at it as another Christmas morning. Part of me of scared to bits.
I've covered the Giants for the Province (shameless plug for my employer) since the 2004-05 season and I'm freakishly at home at the Pacific Coliseum. I know all the arena staff, all the little shortcuts, all the tricks. And I love feel of the building -- the Giants have a hockey-savvy, blue-collar fan base that appreciates hustle and isn't shy about it. (The joint should be rocking on Milan Lucic Night.)
The problem for me in all of this is that I'm not ready to walk and I'll have to go in a wheelchair and a motorized one to boot. (I'm on restricted movement since ripping out some stitches on Saturday.) I wonder what people will think. To me, the motorized chair doesn't fit, since I'm feeling the best I've felt since November, when we were just dealing with cancer. (Remember when we just had cancer? Just a Solitary Plasmacytoma tumour in the T-2 vertebrae? That was cool. Now we've got these seven surgeries on the back to recover from.)
I know that's my problem, I know that's in my head. I know that's my stigma. I hate that that is the way I feel, but, to quote a famous Canadian, it is what it is.
I went to a Giants' game on a walker earlier this season and it was the same way. The Giants' staff are good, good folk, and, for what it's worth, they went out of their way to make me feel better about it. I told play-by-play man Dan Elliott (shameless name drop), who's a longtime buddy of mine and slopitch teammate (more shamelessness) that I didn't feel too stable and was a tad wobbly, and he looked me in the eye and said, "Nothing bad will happen to you in our pressbox. Nothing, I tell you."Sure enough, he assigned an intern to look in on me every five minutes or so, and then checked in himself during intermissions. (Jumbo, flat out, is one of the best people I know.)
Intermission host Brook Ward (shameless name drop), too, was very kind. I complained about the walker, and he said, "I'm sure I'd feel the same way, but you're the only guy here who really sees the walker. We're just happy that you made it out."
As Sports Talk listeners can attest, that's one of the more eloquent speeches that the Brookster has ever uttered. And one of the shortest. (Like it was going to mushy all the way through. Get over it, Brook.)  
It's funny how being this sick for this long plays with your head. I have massive guilt about how this has affected Carol-Ann. My Cancer Coach Bif Naked (yet another shameless name drop) says that it's quite normal -- patient guilt, she calls it.
Carol-Ann told me recently that her field hockey playoffs were coming up and her team might be short players, and then asked who I might want to come hang out with me when she was away playing. I had completely forgotten that her league had re-started when the weather started to get better. I felt like a jerk that she had stopped playing and I didn't realize it, because I know how much she loves to run around and get some frustrations out.
Now, Carol-Ann's sharp. Super sharp. And if she wanted to play in those games and take a break from being with me, she would have found a way to do it. It's her decision. I get the logic, but the emotion isn't quite catching on just yet.
To that end, I'm going to see G.F. Strong staff psychologist Dr. Brad Hallam Friday and talk about the things that are troubling me. I have no problem admitting that I'm going to see a psychologist; I gave up trying to be cool long ago. To pretend that this hasn't been as hard on my mind as it has on my body is foolish.
I just hope the guy likes hockey and wants to talk a little about the Giants' game.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I've got the power; new stitches prompt switch to motorized wheelchair for short period

The bad news is that the new stitches in my back has led to our surgeon, Dr. Robert Lee, limiting my arm movements for the next two weeks.
The really bad news, at least for the people at G.F. Strong and the general public around King Ed and Laurel in Vancouver, is that they've given me a power wheelchair.
Oh. Mercy. Think of the havoc I can cause with a motor and wheels?
I'm feeling strong and confident, so I think I'll be back doing a lot of walking through the next couple of weeks, but the power chair does have a certain video game appeal to it, since it's controlled by a joystick.
As for the wound, it's a little antsy at times, but it's not too surprising, considering the skin there has been through 20 radiation sessions to battle back my Solitary Plasmacytoma tumour and the seven surgeries. It does seem to be getting more under control after Dr. Lee's on-the-fly stitch session on Saturday.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

He'll be coming down the mountain to do my stitches; spine surgeon amazes yet again

How will we ever thank Dr. Robert Lee?
Seriously. We could use the ideas.
There have been a bus load of people who have been integral to Carol-Ann and I so far surviving this ordeal, one that began with a tumour being found in my T-2 vertebrae in October and has included seven surgeries, two of which featuring rods and screws being placed in my back to stabilize it. Lee, a spine surgeon at VGH, has been particularly paramount.
The good doctor, who got into a battle at VGH to get my biopsy done in a timely manner after it was initially postponed and was keeping tabs on me while visiting his family in England in early December with such fervour that he telephoned Carol-Ann at the hospital to make a couple of suggestions about my care, added to his list of good deeds on Saturday when he had us meet him at VGH to sew up a wound on my back after I had torn out some stitches rehabbing at GF Strong.
The catch? He was on his day off, skiing at Whistler, and hustled down the mountain and back to the hospital to meet us.
(Worried about the new stitches, Dr. Lee has put restrictions on my mobility over the next two weeks, including keeping me from propelling my own wheelchair. I'm not pleased about it, but I'll make it through. For what it's worth, I haven't felt this strong physically or mentally since November.)
The very fact that we even had the surgeon's cell number has stunned nurses both at VGH and GF.
You read the papers (particularly the Province...shameless sucking up to my employer) and you watch the nightly news on TV and there are routinely stories about how messed the B.C. medical system is. Sorry. It's like nothing we've experienced. People have gone out their way, done more than their share, to make these last few months a little less nightmarish. Dr. Lee, of course, has been at the top of that list.
If you have any clue how we can show our appreciation, drop me a line.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Wonky workout leads to getting the word out on women's hockey with Province colleague

I had an awful rehab session today at VGH. I had trouble accomplishing the most routine of tasks set out by my therapist, Ann, in my battle to come back from a second major back surgery brought about by a Solitary Plasmacytoma tumour.
How will I respond? Like any 40-year-old going on 14, I am going to lash out and pick a fight.
Tony Gallagher, one of our rock star columnists at the Province ( has a resume and rolodex any sports writer in this country would covet. I know I've dropped his name with hockey people in the past to win favour.
Tony's take ( on Canadian women's hockey coach Melody Davidson being undeserving of a spot in the Canadian Olympic hall of fame, though, is off base to me.
Tony maintains that women's hockey is a two-team event, between Canada and the U.S., and Davidson's crews have only needed one substantial victory for a gold medal.
No dispute here.
What I do argue is that set-up makes Davidson's career all the more impressive. The second-place team in women's hockey at the Olympics loses gold, rather wins silver. An entire four-year cycle comes with those expectations, that pressure.
Men's hockey has a bull's eye on it, obviously, but they aren't also together for four-year stretches. They also get other chances at the spotlight, which must lessen the pressure for some players.
And, frankly, so what that Canada demolished the majority of opponents during Davidson's reign? Being really good at something is such a bad thing?
I know that I've stepped in Tony's line of fire. He can be as hard-nosed they come. Hopefully for me, he remembers I have CANCER. (Yes, I am a still playing that card.)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Another surgery on cancer comeback trail and that's no bull

Let's try to make this quick.
Went to GF Strong. Improved initially, but then left leg stopped working. Sent back to VGH for MRI, but it found nothing. Back to GF. Didn't improve. Back to VGH, had surgery. Took out broken rod and drained fluid. Also took out "good" rod, which was bent. In their place, Dr. Robert Lee went with four rods, doubling up on his construction at the lower part of the spine.
Got that? Good.
It is a massive step back, but somehow Carol-Ann is staying positive and I am trying to follow her lead. We will be at VGH until early next week, Dr. Lee hopes, and then try GF again. It is hard to believe that this all started with a Solitary Plasmacytoma in the T-2 vertebrae and has since led to seven surgeries, including two major back ones.
We are still having fun. We got to talking about rodeos with Dr. Lee, a Brit, and somebody joked about me riding bulls, much to Dr. Lee's chagrin, considering his most recent handiwork.
To be frank, I am a big wuss. Carol-Ann brought up me being afraid of donkeys, after watching one donkey put the boots to another donkey at 108 Mile a couple of summers ago.
Lee's response? "But you're not a donkey, Steve."
Little does he know, of course.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tuning up at GF Strong: yet another setback meant singing the blues for awhile, but we're back with the booty-shaking music

Don't you. Forget about me. I'll be alone. Dancing. You know it. Baby.
We interrupt this suspect musical interlude with another look at rehab. It's been awhile, but, to recap, we into Week 2 here at GF Strong, a rehab facility near Children's Hospital in Vancouver.
We're battling yet another wacky setback, but, with the way the last four or five months have played, we'd be baffled if we weren't in the midst of something odd.
(No jokes about me picking lyrics from a band called Simple Minds, by the way. That would be mean. Remember, I HAVE CANCER, not to mention 15 screws and two rods in my back, plus whatever side effects I picked up after three surgeries to fight infection.)
A couple of days in here, I started to feel like my left leg was getting weaker. I mentioned to a couple of staff folk, but they wrote it off as me being tired. By Sunday, my left leg won't react at all to anything I tried to get it to do. It wouldn't fire, no matter the suggestion.
We turned yet again to Dr. Robert Lee, our surgeon from the VGH spine unit. He gave Carol-Ann his cell and his pager (yes, we're astoundingly lucky) and when we called him, he put the wheels in motion for an emergency MRI. We ended up having it done the following day at Richmond General. (If you ever need an MRI, try to get it done in Richmond -- it's huge, open-ended and they give you headphones to listen to the radio. The hour and 40 minutes passed by quite easily. It wasn't like being trapped in the hood of a Pinto with the engine running.)
The good news was that the results didn't show anything odd. Cancer was a concern (I have a Solitary Plasmacytoma, and it does have a huge recurrence rate) and so was a pocket of infection, but neither were apparent.
The bad news, of course, was that results didn't show anything. Dr. Lee wrote it off as my body being tired, and, with how brilliant he's been throughout this process, I won't be betting against him. And, for what it's worth, little movements have started to come back in the past couple of days.
It is much more hardcore here than at VGH. I wish I had listened to the nurses and aids at VGH when they told me to spend extra time in the wheelchair, roaming the halls on my own. On a busy day at VGH, I was up two hours. Here, I'm up seven or eight.
I'll get it figured out, though. I don't doubt that for one minute. I'll be home in no time. I may come back here, though, for karaoke night.