Monday, July 27, 2015

Et Tu, Cancer? Part 5 - The Last Thing I Remember The Clock Read 4:50am; The Next, I Wake Up Screaming!

Finally, the day of my major surgery had arrived. On July 15th, I caught a cab to the hospital, as there were no buses running at that hour of the morning. It was a very nice summer morning in the San Fernando Valley. Major surgery. Indeed! I was about to under go a Radical Cystectomy with an Orthotopic Neobladder. Read about the surgery if you want and please note the irony of 'orthotopic' (my production company is called Orthicon Ghost Productions). There were no McDreamys or Clooneys scurrying about the bowels (more irony!) of the hospital where the surgeries are performed. There's gross simplification passed off as fiction and then there is rampant failure as writers, but hey, that's for another bloody blog post. Keeeeee-ripes!

Even for surgery, part of my actor training was still used whether as a defense mechanism or just pure instinct. Fear. Come on - a dash o' fear. My call time/check-in time was 5:30am, I showed up at the hospital at 5:10am! Technically, it was same day surgery: to begin at 7:30am and end at 4:30pm. I had some trepidations, sure. I mean after all, my first surgery was canceled within hours of it's scheduled beginning and look at the freaking mess I was in now! Thank you freaking mess! This time, there was no last minute cancellation, this bad boy was going down. "You're going down bad boy!"

(Blood leaking out of one of the many holes poked into my hands and arms over the course of my hospital stay. See also, "Et Tu, Cancer, Part 3")
I had some ideas of what life would be like after cancer and with a neo-bladder. Reality versus "what may be' is often what the middle ground turns out to be. Or not to be (hey, sorry, couldn't resist). That's why these blogs are not primarily fashioned in a linear narrative. But, there was no doubt I would be spending at least two weeks in the hospital.

Like the previous surgery that wasn't entirely successful, I went through the preparation period, confident that this time this surgery would be entirely successful. Think about that for a moment, please. All the mental gymnastics I went through regarding what could happen during that first surgery, all the ducks that had to be placed in a row before even daring to attempt to sleep a fitful few hours before getting up for the surgery AND then...the call, the call I was lucky to get from the hospital, "did you know your surgery had been canceled?" --- "canceled!?!" --- so, here I was again, for this major surgery, this time, because all shit rolls downhill, right?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Et Tu, Cancer? Part 4 - Holy Sterilization, Batman!

I couldn't have said it any better, old chum.

Getting the news I had bladder cancer after months of blood in my urine was a bit of a shock to say the least! Then there was the first surgery and that didn't go as planned because the doctor couldn't remove all the tumor for fear of bladder perforation. Finally, the more grim news, well, that's what they call it in all those dramatic pronouncements of cancer, "more grim news". Well, I didn't think it was all grim. I know grim. Grim and I are old companions. The doctor told me it was an aggressive cancer that was untreatable with chemo and/or radiation.

"What's the next step then, doctor?", I sheepishly asked. The answer was surgery, and lots of it. That is the only way to remove the cancer and it was a good thing it had not metastasized. The nine hour surgery is the removal of the bladder, the prostate and the lymph nodes along the hips. Then, taking out 2 feet of intestine to create a "new" bladder. I was a good candidate for that last option. OK, no bladder, new bladder. That would seem to take a lot of getting used to, but what the hell? There's a lot of lymph nodes in the body, so what's the big deal? But, the prostate? What did I know about the prostate?

Not much, outside of all those commercials about a growing prostate and not being able to piss and so forth. The only thought I gave it was along the lines of "poor design". I know about many things: history, economics, politics and I certainly believe in myself as an actor and writer. So, I decided to look up what it is exactly that the prostate does when it's not growing to the size of a watermelon and cutting off one's urine flow. I read and hence the title of this article!

What an amazing thing, this prostate. It creates seminal fluid and without it, of course, no more ejaculations. In effect, I'll be sterile. I can still have kids, mind you, the testicles still produce sperm and from there it's a hop, skip and jump into a nearby artificially...well, you know. I had to take some time to absorb (as it were) the news and to really think about how I feel and think of myself as a man. Which head did I think with and which was more important to my self worth, and in the land of post-surgery how would my self-esteem and body image be worked into all that?

Like any man, I do think with both heads, but a majority of time I'm using the one that houses my brain. My brain, my intellect, my ability to write, act, et al, my friends, is what makes up the most of me. Ejaculation can be a big deal (pun intended?) but without a prostate it does not mean orgasms will not happen (given healing time). Man, what a selling point at the bar when picking up some babe! "No cum, baby! No more spitting out! No more gagging!" Well, there goes the other head talking, trying to convince the brain it won't be such a big deal. I think my self-esteem will survive just fine. The 8 inch scar leading downward from my belly button won't lead to a negative body image in the long run. It's something to show off. "Look, I survived this whole ordeal!", and I'm telling you that you can, too. Stay focused. Stay positive.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Et Tu, Cancer? Part 3 - The Shunning

"Don't surprised if people shun you. Family and/or friends."
"You're kidding, right?"
"I wish I were."
"That seems so wrong."
"Well, yeah."

That conversation I had with a friend shortly after being diagnosed with bladder cancer turned out to by prophetic. Shunning, or stigma, happened to me, with a few people, but it was sudden and shocking nonetheless. It was also painful and stressful and depressing and heaped upon a plate that was already overflowing. I have cancer, dammit, and it's not contagious! Yet, they simply disappeared, almost overnight.

It was also a cliché of sorts. I was surprised by who wound up going the shun route and equally surprised who stepped up to the plate to offer all sorts of help or encouragement. I am writing this to tell all fellow cancer patients that the sooner you forget about being shunned and who is shunning you and move on, the better it will be for you. Way better. People will shun you regardless of their socio-economic backgrounds, political beliefs, religious or non-religious affiliations. It cuts across everything and at first it will cut you deeply.

But, you have to move on. You already have enough stress, et al, in your life and you need to forget about these people and how they are acting. It's not worth it for either your short term or long term health and recovery. You can't spend your time worrying about why you are being shunned because it will be for a variety of reasons both comprehensible and incomprehensible. They don't know how to behave around you, they don't know what to say, they don't know what to do, they are afraid of you, they are afraid of their own immortality and on and on and on. You can't afford to go scurrying around that rabbit hole when your health and recovery need to be your top priority.

Look, I know it seems harsh and it wasn't easy for me by no means. I'm talking about relationships that can be months and even decades old. But, once I made the decision, I didn't look back. And neither should you. Get on with your life, get healthy. That's all I'm trying to say.

(Abra the cat; 100% guaranteed not to shun.)


Friday, July 3, 2015

Et Tu, Cancer? Part 2 - The Blood Is The Life, Mr. Renfield

I remember the date well, August 1st, 2014. I had helped a friend move to Mojave and on the way back to the Valley, we stopped at an all night diner. It was 4am. I went to the bathroom and there it was to my surprise, blood in my urine. After getting home, I went to the ER and several hours later was told I had a bladder infection and was given some antibiotics and sent home. A full account of my insurance travails can be found here. With this missive I'll be concentrating on blood. "The blood is the life".

Blood in the urine, that's how it all began. Then, the seemingly endless trips to the ER and the doctors that finally ended with the diagnosis of bladder cancer. But, I couldn't get just good old fashioned bladder cancer. No! Ya see, I have a diverticulum of the bladder. I've had it for about ten years. It's like a bubble sticking out from the muscles around the bladder. So, the not so nice cancerous tumor started growing a year ago in the diverticulum. Or as one doctors explained, "the worse possible place". When all was said and done, I wound up with stage 2 aggressive cancer untreatable by chemo or radiation. Radical surgery is in my immediate future.

(I was going to the ER so often I started bringing a book because of the always long waiting times.)
But, it was that blood. My blood. Staring back at me, as it were, from toilet and urinals. I went to the ER again before seeing my primary care doctor (awaiting first appointment) about two weeks later. Not only blood that time, but a few little clots as well. Bloody hell! Again, an infection was the cause and antibiotics were given yet again and I was sent home several hours after I arrived. When I did see my doctor he thought it was odd that a man was getting bladder infections. He also told me that while it might look like a lot of blood to me, in actuality it wasn't. If I was really bleeding a lot, I'd be dizzy, faint, vomit, etc. Well, that's a plus, I thought.

(The blood in the urine is the life)
September was thus filled with a couple trips to the doctor for blood sample after blood sample, stool samples, urine samples. Samples, samples, samples. And, of course, blood in the urine. I think I went to the ER twice that month. Same results, same antibiotics. I felt like Chekov in the "Star Trek" episode, 'The Deadly Years'. Yet, my samples did finally bare some fruit, it was late September or early October. All my tests, bladder, lung, kidney, spleen, liver, et al, came back negative for cancer. In the meantime, more blood in the urine after a couple weeks of being 'clean'. That time, I didn't go to the ER. Time is money, they say.

This bloody urine...there was no reason to it. Sober for weeks - blood. No coffee for weeks - blood. Cranberry juice for weeks - bleed. And so forth, and so on, and so it was. And every damn time it happened, I was thinking, no I was feeling, like my life was draining from me. Oh, yes, I was sent to get not one, but two sonograms on the oft-chance I had stones in my kidneys or bladder. What always baffled my doctor or the ER doctors was I didn't have any pain. None. Rarely an occasional burning sensation in my urethra. Yep, I'm a rare one alrighty then.

A new year of 2015 brought a few more ER trips with the same results. The only deviation from the usual script was an ER doctor who exclaimed to me, "you have a virulent bladder infection". Way cool! Then came February and my first look at what was at the time a 1cm tumor. No biopsy was done, but I figured that bad boy was cancerous. So, in five months I went from cancer free to cancerous. I continued to have blood in my urine episodes and they were more frequent and would sometimes last almost three days. When I had an infection it was sweatville and clamyville. Neither ville I'd wish upon anyone.

The only difference the last few months have been compared to the other months were less and finally no visits to the ER. What was the point? Endless hours and the same result. "Hey you got blood in your urine! Here's some antibiotics!" Ack. Oh wait! And another difference, I was experiencing pain. Right in the good old bladder area. It hasn't ever lasted long, but it has been intense at times. As always, you may now realize, was the blood in the urine. The clots, big and small. Dark colored or pink lemonade colored. Blood, blood, blood.

Then the knowledge, in less than two weeks, the blood will be gone because the bladder itself will be gone. A piece of my intestine will take its place and as an actor I can appreciate when one takes the place of another. If the intestine cum bladder ever starts to bleed, well, then, there now, that's a different. Kettle. Of fish. For the blood is the life, right?