In The Home Stretch

I saw my oncologist’s physician’s assistant, Nicole, today. It’s a regularly scheduled appointment, part of the regimented protocol my treatment follows. This is also the first appointment since my last blood tests.

It’s good news all around. Though there’s no specific test for pancreatic cancer there are a few blood markers which can be helpful.

The carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) test measures the amount of this protein that may appear in the blood of some people who have certain kinds of cancers, especially cancer of the large intestine (colon and rectal cancer). It may also be present in people with cancer of the pancreas, breast, ovary, or lung.

Negative.

Cancer antigen 19-9 (CA 19-9) is used to help differentiate between cancer of the pancreas and other conditions, as well as to monitor treatment response and recurrence.

Negative again.

A physician looking at my blood numbers and not knowing my details would see I’m anemic. We’re on that. Chemo brings those numbers down and Neulasta helps bring them back up (a little). So anemic, but under control.

I am five weeks away from the end of my treatment. Four more chemo sessions to take. No one looks forward to chemo. Certainly not me.

Cancer has shown me I’m strong… or maybe it’s made me strong. Chemo sucks, but I can do five more weeks.

Sometimes You’ve Just Got To Cut – Update

I do a little gardening. Not much. My room for growing is small. Of course this being SoCal most plants don’t quite understand the limited space concept.

That’s what happened to a few bushes planted when we got here. Over time as they flourished their top shaded their bottom. Low growth stopped. The bushes became leggy. It’s not a good look.

Cutting back is a great leap of faith, because you’re left with what’s in this picture from three weeks ago. Seriously sad.

Today my bushes are on the comeback trail and their leaves are a whole lot closer to the ground. Because the original roots weren’t cut back they’re growing like crazy.

It always hurts to cut, but it’s never failed me. Every plant I’ve ever cut has come back stronger.

There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Roger Ailes And What He Brought

Ailes brought personalities to Fox. It was much less expensive to have screaming hosts than reporters and bureaus. And it worked better! It was under Ailes that Fox News became the first modern network with a political attitude.

Blogger’s note: The first paragraph refers to the sexual harassment charges and settlements paid on Ailes’ behalf by Fox News. I should have made that more clear from the get-go. Sorry for any confusion.

You shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, but Roger Ailes was a vile man. We’ll get that out of-the-way first. NewsCorp/21st Century Fox should be forever ashamed for what they allowed to transpire.

Ailes was incredibly impactful as a broadcaster. Fox News Channel changed the face of cable news.

Before FNC, CNN was ‘just a news channel.’ It was straight news delivered by straight news anchors. Sometimes they lightened it up a little (I always enjoyed Beverly Williams and Patrick Emery, the “Moonlighting” of TV news), but mostly it was news of-the-day from around-the-world.

Ailes brought personalities to Fox. It was much less expensive to have screaming hosts than reporters and bureaus. And it worked better!

It was under Ailes that Fox News became the first modern network with a political attitude. Saying “Fair and Balanced” couldn’t hide its right-of-center slant. I don’t think they really wanted to hide it anyway.

And it worked.

Fox News Channel was/is fabulously profitable. The dollars involved are mind boggling. This is a few years old, but you’ll get the idea.

Fox led in revenue in 2015; the network was projected to increase by 14% to $2.3 billion. CNN was projected to grow by 6% to $1.2 billion, while MSNBC was projected to grow by 3% to $518 million.

In a half-decade that saw moderate decline in the number of foreign bureaus, CNN continued to lead in the number of domestic and international bureaus. – Mediatite

Fox’s secret was to make its audience part of a cause and then keep them angry. I’m not saying others don’t do this now, just Fox was first and had a huge head start.

Here’s where it all goes off the rails. When there is no reason for its audience to be up-in-arms, Fox will find and promote a story to rebuild the anger.

They did it with the “War on Christmas” and recently with an awful story about the shooting of a DNC employee. Fox connected the murdered man to Wikileaks, as it turns out falsely.

Partisan news outlets aren’t new. The last fifty years are the exception. Newspapers which dominated journalism until the sixties was heavily political. I remember when the New York Post was the liberal voice of labor — really.

Through Roger Ailes, FNC and the other outlets have traded news for adrenaline. This is his legacy. No one should consider it a gift.

A Different Level Of Care

It was extremely uncomfortable. There was no position I could find which would allow my bones to calm down. Until things subsided there would be no sleep. None for my partner in-bed either! She is a sainted woman.

I’ve written about this before. Once you enter the ‘life or death’ portion of the program EVERYTHING changes. Medicine becomes much more proactive and caring, even (especially) outside normal appointments.

This morning was a good example. I left a voicemail message for Nicole, my oncologist’s physician’s assistant.

If you’re sick you want Nicole on your team. I’ve told her as much more than once. I told her again today.

It started after 4:00 AM when my body woke me from a sound sleep. It was as if my bones had grown too large to fit.

It wasn’t painful. I didn’t start screaming. It was extremely uncomfortable. There was no position I could find which would allow my bones to calm down. Until things subsided there would be no sleep.

None for my partner in-bed either! She is a sainted woman.

I had a doctor’s appointment this morning with my cardiologist (all good, even cutting back on my statin), so as Helaine drove I called Nicole to see if she had any insight.

My suspicion was this was Neulasta related. It is known for its bone affecting side effects, but usually on Day +2, not Day +4.

Nicole’s return call came while my cardiologists was examining me. Their offices are on the same floor. I stopped by on my way out.

“Nasty stuff” is my takeaway from our conversation. My post-chemo Neulasta shot is nasty.

Having a moment to see Nicole and discuss this speed bump made all the difference in-the-world. So often in cancer treatment you’re in unexplored territory. Who knows why you feel a certain way at any given moment?

I’m not TV-boy here in SoCal. This is not special treatment for a celeb. It’s just the way it is.

Thank God. If you’re ever in this position you’ll see how valuable this level of medical care truly is.

Why More Chemo?

“But why chemo,” you may ask? Aren’t you cancer free? Aren’t you cured? The problem with pancreatic cancer is there are no really good tests to find it. We know from my Whipple surgery all the identifiable cancer is gone. Blood markers often seen in those with pancreatic cancer are in the safe zone.

I remember this routine. At the doctor’s office at 10:30. A quick exam then short drive later, chemo. I was on my way home around 1:00.

“But why chemo,” you may ask? Aren’t you cancer free? Aren’t you cured?

The problem with pancreatic cancer is there are no really good tests to find it. We know from my Whipple surgery all the identifiable cancer is gone. Blood markers often seen in those with pancreatic cancer are in the safe zone too.

Are there microcells in the process of forming? Who knows? That’s why there’s chemo and radiation. We are taking no chances. It must be effective because Blue Shield has approved every step in the process.

The problem with chemo is it’s an indiscriminate killer of cells. We’re zapping good along with bad. The assumption is the good will grow back.

The whole process is slow-motion stressful. I’ve slept as much as twenty hours on Saturday after a Thursday infusion. Until Saturday the chemo had no physical effect at all.

No part of my cancer treatment has been beyond my ability. It’s the cumulative effect of all the little pain, inconvenience and indignities that has begun to get to me.

This is the last scheduled treatment, six chemo sessions in eight weeks. Enough already.

Without Insurance A Death Sentence

US Department of Health and Human Services and Medicare logos.

I am alive today and will be alive going forward because I have great health insurance — Medicare with a (free in California) supplemental plan. Though Helaine and I saved up a significant nest egg over 30+ years it would have been wiped out in one fell swoop by my cancer.

Though I pay some money for drugs my medical treatments and visits have cost zero dollars! I’ve had a half dozen ‘procedures’ plus major surgery, spent six days in the hospital, gotten 28 radiation treatments plus eight weeks of chemo with eight more to come. Zero dollars!

My worries started one night after dinner. One of my spicy favorite meals uncontrollably began exiting my body. It was everything gross you can imagine. It followed a few months of low level stomach upset. That night I decided I’d see my doctor in the morning.

My cancer was found while looking for the reason my stomach was upset. It took thousand of dollars of tests to make the diagnosis. Would I have proceeded had the money been coming out of my pocket? Maybe not. Probably not.

Like I said, we’re lucky. We were able to put money away over time. Most people cannot.

Without insurance my cancer would have been a death sentence. It wouldn’t have been found until my symptoms were more classically those of pancreatic cancer. By then it would be too late.

All around the globe in every other “first world” nation healthcare is something you get, like an education or police protection. It is coordinated and often provided by the government. That’s one reason our healthcare system is so lacking and expensive. Your health is constantly being weighed against an insurance company’s profit.

Congressional Republicans are finding Americans scared of the “every man for himself” system they’ve been promising for years. It’s 2017. Medical care doesn’t seem like it should be optional anymore.