Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Bearded man

I'm out of the hospital after my big surgery. It went well – the surgeon found only the two known tumors to be removed. The one in my rectum had grown to the size of a lemon and was very near complete obstruction, so I'm lucky that I didn't need a half-assed emergency surgery in the weeks leading up to the one we planned.

The rest of my abdomen looked clean, so they took out the tumors, applied heated chemotherapy, and sewed me back together. My rectum was lost to the tumor, so now I have a permanent colostomy. The tumor was also attached to my bladder but fortunately the surgeon was able to separate them and save my urinary tract.

I've been back home for a week, enjoying the peace and privacy that lack during any hospitalization. I skipped shaving in protest, as an energy-saving measure, and out of curiosity for how I'd look with two weeks' growth. My energy and appetite are slowly improving; my brain is still a bowl of mush.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A big day

I'm coming up on one of those days that's common in the life of a cancer patient: a Big Day. On Monday I'll check into Mercy Hospital in Baltimore and on Tuesday Dr. Armando Sardi will attempt to remove my chemotherapy-resistant tumors and fry any stray cancer cells with a heated chemotherapy flush.

He told me to expect an average hospital stay of two weeks for this procedure and three months for full recovery. But I know from my big surgery in 2005 that complications could prolong that by at least a factor of three.

I don't know exactly what shape my body will be in after the surgery. I'll probably have a new colostomy. I might have a urinary ostomy. The previously irradiated section of pelvic bone will be removed if it's still harboring malignancy. The doctor might find that there's too much disease to treat when he opens me up and just leave it be. Or all could go wonderfully well and this could finally clear me of the cancer I've been wrestling with for more than four years.

How do you prepare for a day of such uncertainty? I spent extra time with family at Thanksgiving and celebrated some parts of Christmas early since I won't be able to travel to be with them. I have already finished wrapping presents for my girlfriend and my mother who will be in town with me. For my scientific consulting business I have made arrangements to work from home during recovery and put projects in motion to continue in my absence.

But it's hard to predict just what will happen beyond Monday. It's like driving on a strange road in thick fog. There are other times in life when we all experience such uncertainty: the first day of school, the first day of college, the first day at a new job or the first day in the military. Those are days like this where there's a known unknown, an experience which we'll look back at someday and appreciate what changed at that moment. Another big day.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The face of cancer – 2 years

Two years ago I began taking daily photographs of myself to track how my appearance changes as I battle with cancer. During that time I started a different chemotherapy, treated a bone tumor with radiation, knocked the cancer back into remission, finished chemotherapy, diagnosed a recurrence, started another chemotherapy, and found that these drugs that helped before are no longer stopping the cancer's growth.

I previously posted time-lapse movies of these self portraits at the 6 month and 9 month marks. Now I present two years of self portraits as a high resolution download or as a streaming video.

The early months were marred by the severe acne and hair loss from the previous ineffective chemotherapy. Since then I think my appearance has continued to improve even through the latest months of recurrence and unsuccessful return to other drugs.

The best plan of attack now is a big surgery to go after the tumors directly. So I am preparing myself through eating, exercise, relaxation, and planning for months of recovery. The break from chemotherapy at this time might show in the extra twinkle of energy and clarity I feel.