This past Friday was round three of chemotherapy and the results from my first PET scan to evaluate my progress with fighting this cancer. During my appointment, I received both good and bad news.
Chemotherapy is working.
The primary tumor in my chest has shrunk significantly. It is now about half of what it originally started as. The other tumor in the right upper lobe of my lung has shrunk dramatically as well. In addition, most of the small nodules in my lungs are almost completely gone.
I was originally scheduled for 8 rounds of chemo, but there is no definitive way of knowing if I will have to do more or less - it will all depend on PET scan results. I am hoping for less.
It seems that each round of treatment brings with it more prominent side effects and a generalized feeling of exhaustion and lethargy. I have heard this is relatively common as your body is continually being broken down and rebuilding itself. It gets harder to feel better after each round, even if your body is technically healing.
The worst part is that there have been some implications that my heart is being damaged from the chemo.
I’ve been experiencing a rapid heart beat, palpitations and other various symptoms which should have improved with the reduction of the tumor size.
I have since seen a cardiologist, received more medication and am scheduled to undergo several tests to better understand what is happening and how I need to handle my daily activities from here on out.
I am also experiencing neuropathy (numbness) in my hands and feet. This is caused from nerve damage which is a notable side effect of chemo that many people experience. I have started a vitamin B6 regimen to help slow any further progression, but the damage is permanent.
Lastly, radiation therapy is almost a guarantee after chemo due to the original, large size of my tumor. My oncologist wants to be sure that we kill all cancer cells to reduce any risk of relapses. This is a bit unfortunate because of the lasting, permanent side effects that come with the treatment and the possibility of developing a secondary cancer afterwards. More to come on this as we learn more.
WHERE I AM TODAY
My most recent set of visitors was my father, Tom, and my step-mother, Kathy. I was able to show them a small taste of Arizona and even shave my dad’s head. He is the guy who gave me my original male pattern baldness and he was thinning out on top pretty bad himself.
I think he may have been jealous of my new look, or he just wanted to sympathize and feel cool like me. Regardless, he’s looking youthful as ever for an old guy.
As the Arizona heat really starts to take hold of the summer with temperatures soaring well into the 100’s, we have a few more sets of visitors scheduled and will eventually be back into a more normal routine. This may be for the better as my side effects regularly intensify.
If you are still reading at this point and want to keep hearing my thoughts spill onto the keyboard, I’ve laid out some questions as to how and why I got cancer while I was in the best physical condition of my life.
It just doesn’t make sense - but does life ever?
ALL THE RIGHT THINGS
I have always considered myself relatively healthy. Remaining conscious of my weight, exercising and always trying to do everything in moderation.
Now, don’t get me wrong - I was a young punk at one point in time and could care less about what I put into my body. I ate a lot of fast food, drank too much soda (and probably alcohol) and even smoked cigarettes on a regular basis for many years.
Needless to say, cancer did not exist in my immediate family. It was nowhere to be found. I guess the bastard had to pick someone to get started on, right? Lucky me.
Even stranger, cancer showed its ugly face at a point in my life which I believed to be my healthiest.
THE MILITARY STANDARD
Any branch of service in the military expects their members to maintain specific weight, waist, strength and overall physical standards. We have to be able to run, perform push ups and sit ups all at specific amounts, in allotted times. We are tested on these benchmarks annually. If you don’t maintain these ideals - you get in trouble or worse, kicked out of your branch of service. It’s that simple.
I enlisted into the Air Force in January of 2016 and left for basic military training (BMT), which is the first phase of training, on May 16th of the same year.
Before I began my Air Force adventure I was running, lifting weights, eating extremely healthy and doing all the right things to prepare for the rigorous fitness routine I was to endure during BMT.
Before departing, I also went through a very intense, comprehensive medical evaluation to make sure I had no pre-existing conditions and was physically able to meet the challenges which were to come. I passed with flying colors.
As I was going through BMT in San Antonio, Texas, I became even more in shape. We exercised daily and were forced to maintain a healthy diet. At the end of the eight weeks, I was in the best physical condition of my life.
Phase two of my training took place in Baltimore, Maryland. This part of training is designed to ease the stringent restrictions put in place during BMT and allow you to begin making conscious, healthy choices on your own.
While not nearly as intense as BMT, we were still forced to maintain physical fitness standards and maintain a trim diet with the guidance of our military training leaders.
I completed phase two, perhaps a few pounds heavier, but still in stellar physical shape. Training was over and I was headed to my first permanent duty assignment at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.
While at Luke, I remained in shape through a three day a week workout routine, various unit physical training sessions and my wife, Rebecca (who is one hell of a cook), providing delectable, nutritious meals on a daily basis.
I was in the Air Force for just under two years when diagnosed with cancer. How is this possible when I was doing all the most virtuous things one can do to live a healthy life?
Did I miss something along the way? Was the sudden change of geographical locations and environmental factors forcing my body into attack mode? Where the hell did this lymphoma come from?
There have been studies and links to people developing lymphoma who live particularly close to farms that use certain pesticides and herbicides. Our house in Arizona is surrounded by these farms. Coincidence?
There was also a report released in March of 2018 from the Department of Defense’s Environment, Safety and Occupational Health division which addresses perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid in drinking water on specific military instillations with high links to cancer. Guess what? I lived on one of these bases for over six months. Another coincidence?
I still have so many questions and no answers.
The truth is, I may never know where this bastard cancer came from, but I will keep searching for the answer.
I have decided that I am going to try and update this blog with each round of treatment or if any significant news occurs. It seems to be the most logical way of relaying information in a chronological manner. Besides, most of the events in my life right now really aren’t that exciting.
That being said, you can plan on hearing something after round four. For the time being, listen to the song I posted below - it’s my most recent “chemo song”.
I might start throwing in one of those each update as well.
In the meantime, stay in touch, visit again and witness cancer through my lens and keyboard.
Until next time…