Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A quick update

OK, here's where I'm at so far with my whole "cancer thing."

Went for my CT scan last Friday all ready to party after getting the results. It's sad that I wasn't nervous about any part of it, except for drinking the medicine they give me to have everything show up on the scan. I was not particularly happy that it was vanilla-flavored. This is just another example of how I'm a 90-year-old man that's trapped in a 29-year-old's body...I have cancer and go in for tests that could tell me I no longer have cancer, and I'm upset about the flavor of medicine they give me. One could probably describe me as "crotchety."

Waited 1-1/2 hours for the results, and when I saw my doctor, rather than the reaction I expected...pulling a handful of confetti out of his white coat and throwing it up in the air while saying in his trademarked, monotone voice "yeah, it's clear," he instead asked me to come over to his computer to look at my scan.

He informed me that my lymph nodes were clear...the chemo took care of the growth that was on them without a problem. This was great news. However, he also pointed out a couple of white spots on my pelvis that the scan produced. These, he said, were slightly worrisome. He spent 10 minutes on the phone trying to get my CT scan I had taken before I started treatment from another hospital with no luck, and so he finally shrugged and said that either way, I'd need a bone scan.

My wife asked him what would happen if the cancer metastasized and went into my bones, and the doctor part of him immediately kicked in...he began talking about more chemo, surgery, all the processes they'd need to do. Then, noticing the worried look on my wife's face, his brain must have screamed, "What the hell are you doing?" and he explained to us how unlikely it was that the cancer had spread to my bones. In medical terminology, he even said, and I quote, that would be "really weird." It was most nothing, but he scheduled my bone scan (which takes place today) to get it checked out to be sure. I thought about telling the doc that when I had my CT scan done, I had some Skittles in my pocket, but thought better of it.

So, that's where I'm at today. I'm going for a bone scan, which doesn't require me to drink anything, but does require me to get some more dye injected into my veins. After this, however, hopefully all of this will be done and I can quit writing these teenage-esque blog posts about how I'm feeling and what I'm thinking about and mix it all in with pop culture references.

I'll update when I find out more this afternoon. If it's good news, I'll likely high five everybody in the state of Iowa, so if you live here you'll likely see me running down the street with a megaphone.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Chemotherapy is almost exactly like Gene Wilder

One week from this Friday, I'll take my CT scan. With good results, less than a week after that, the port that I've been receiving my chemo treatments through will be removed, my hair will grow back within six months and this whole "cancer thing" will be over. It's a weird, strange, synonym-describing feeling to nearly have all of this behind me, and that's mainly because it never really started.

Did you ever read a book when you were younger that A.) Hadn't been made into a movie, and B.) If it had been made into a movie, you hadn't yet seen it? If you haven't, I'm surprised you're reading this blog post right now and not arguing with somebody online about which Twilight character is cuter under the the moniker "MrsBieberLOLZ1995." If you have, however, and if that book was fiction, you've likely used your imagination to create something.

I remember reading "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen when I was younger. I'd never seen a movie about the book (I really, really hope they didn't make one because it would undoubtedly be terrible and it wouldn't force kids that were given the book as an assignment to actually read an awesome book), and when it came to creating an image of what the character looked like and the L-shaped lake he was living on in my mind, I was forced to actually conjure up descriptions of each out of thin air. As the narrative went on, I had to add details to the images that I'd created of this story in my mind, ending with a character and location that likely in no way resembled what somebody else may have created while reading this story.

Now, when you read a book and then see a movie based on that book, everything is destroyed. You can't read "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and then watch the movie "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and see Willy Wonka in your mind as anybody but Gene Wilder. No matter what crazy person you've created in your mind, and no matter what physical attributes you've made them have that fit with Roahl Dahl's description, when you watch "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," Gene Wilder grabs a candy cane sucked down to a point and stabs your image of Willy Wonka right in the chest, making him evaporate and disappear from your mind forever. Then, if your mind works the way mine does, Gene Wilder looks you in the eye and says, "I'm Willy Wonka. Capiche?" (Why he's suddenly an Italian gangster and why Johnny Depp's character doesn't even play into this equation is completely unknown. This is how my brain works, and I tend not to question its eccentricities.)

This is how cancer and going through chemotherapy has been for me...like reading a book and then watching the movie. As a journalist, stories about people with cancer tend to be like catnip for readers, and so we write a lot of them. Although I'm only 29 and have been in journalism for about 3 years now, I've written probably a dozen stories about people with cancer...whether they're about benefits, a prelude to a cancer walk, etc. While writing all of these, I developed an idea of what having cancer, and going through chemotherapy, would be like. I had no idea what it was like myself, but through interviewing and talking with people that had gone through it, my imagination created this dark, abysmal picture. Then, by some crazy bit of chance, I rode a horse, exacerbated my left testicle and was diagnosed with cancer myself. Who'da thunkit. (Not sure why I correctly used the apostrophe there...that's making a goulash out of several words and a mockery of the English language)

Anyways, after being half-neutered and finding out that I needed chemo, I felt I had a pretty good idea of what to expect: hell. I'd metaphorically "read the book" and had created a nice description of what I was to expect in my head. It wasn't until I started going through it that I realized that everything I had thought about chemo was completely wrong. My idea of chemo had been "Gene Wilder-ed."

For each of my three rounds, the only thing that seemed like legitimate chemo was the first week of each...the week where I was in a chair for five straight hours. First week of round 1 was OK. First week of round 2 was tolerable. First week of round 3 was completely horrible. None of it was how I had imagined chemo to be like, however. Talking with others, I thought it was going to be like having the flu for two straight months. Sometimes I'd feel good, sometimes I'd be throwing up, but it would vary day-to-day. This wasn't the case at all...I was actually able to prepare myself for the worst, and it never got close to being as bad as the scenario I had built up in my head.

Now, being near the end, it feels like I never really even started this whole thing (other than being bald), and I'm really anxious to interview somebody with cancer at this point. I'm interested to see if they've had the same experience...if they went into it with a preconceived notion about what it would be like, and if their idea held any weight whatsoever.

So, now that I've seen the movie, my idea of what treatment would be like for all of this is completely shattered. I guess if I was interviewed about this process, my story would be pretty unremarkable and the journalist that was asking the questions would be sitting there thinking, "Come on, give me something to give this story some oomph" like I have so many times while sitting in that same seat. I supposed that's because there's a huge disconnect between people that have read the book and people that have seen the movie. Once you've seen the movie, your entire perspective on it changes, and there's really not any way to see it any differently, and at this point I'm pretty happy about that.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Done with chemo.

It's over.

I'm actually hesitant to type that, so I'm going to clarify: I just finished my last chemotherapy session this morning. I now wait a month, take my CAT scan on Dec. 23 (it's actually a family holiday tradition to drink dye, hold our breath while passing through a large machine, and then have diarrhea, so that's actually pretty normal), and then if everything comes up clear, I have my port removed (deported) shortly after Christmas.

In the meantime, my white blood cell count, including my neutrophils, are way low again, so I'm trying to take it easy and not get sick when I'm this close to the finish line. Fortunately, I've got more antibiotics and I don't plan on hanging around any flu-ridden people anytime soon. Actually, that's not entirely true, as I have an ambulance shift for my EMT class this Saturday, but I plan on wearing a mask on the calls until I find out the person isn't some sort of disease carrier. Nothing inspires confidence when you call for an ambulance like a pale bald guy in a surgical mask, huh?

Now, we start the monitoring. Apparently this is far from over, what with tests every 4-6 months for the next five years or so. I've read a lot of personal experiences of other guys having a problem with this, but I'm actually a big fan of it. It's essentially buying insurance that says I will not have to worry about finding out I've had cancer blitz my body for the next five years. Sure, I could get the news that it's returned, but then i just start working on the cure for it again...a hell of a much better option than being told it's Stage IV and having the doctor have to psych himself up to give me updates.

With the chemo treatments behind me, it's nice, but it doesn't feel like the monumental moment I was thinking it might be. I'm still slightly tired, I still don't have the teenager-like-appetite I had before this all started, and I still go to work looking like the principal from Back to the Future that calls everyone "slackers." It feels like, with ongoing treatments and my hair slowly growing back...apparently not likely to return until next April or May...I'm going to be eased back into normal life. Hell, I'm not sure if I'll ever be able to return to life like it was before I started this entire process, and I'm not even entirely sure that I want to. It's not like I'm living carpe diem, running around barefoot and smelling roses and freaking everybody out (which would inevitably come from my barefoot-ness...I have strange feet), but I'm not like I was before, either. I think more about my future and my health, I think more about my life's "to-do list" and what I want to accomplish, and I'm a lot more reflective on what I've done so far in my 29 years of life. I'm not going to lie, initially hearing the words "cancer," even with a high rate of a cure, does make you think of death, and it made me realize how short life is and all that stuff. More than inspiring me to go do heroic deeds, however, this process has made me realize that I'm proud of the life I've lived so far and will hopefully keep me focused on not screwing up what I want to do with my future (items on my life to-do-list still include "Have an organized crime outfit owe me a favor (and use that favor on something meaningless...like the boxed DVD set of Dawson's Creek)," "Reach a point as a father where I realize I've created a sarcastic little monster," and "Write a book that includes a worthless, cleverly hidden message in the final paragraph."

This entire process has been beneficial for me...I just have to make sure that I keep in mind that I conquered testicular cancer when there are many people diagnosed too late to do that, and be grateful for that. Then I can use that thought to motivate me to save a mobster's life or teach my future son or daughter to say, "Well, that's....unique." Or, you know, good stuff.

Fortunately, that reminder won't be hard to keep in mind. I just turned 29 earlier this month, and in the true spirit of awesomeness in my family, my brother and sister-in-law found the perfect, sentimental gift that says more than words ever could. It's subtle, touching and will provide me with a constant reminder of getting past one of the most difficult parts of my life...and it's sure to make my wife feel awkward when she takes the car keys that this is on. That's the gift that keeps on giving.

For those of you keeping count at home...I'm up to three.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Long overdue update

I apologize for not updating my blog last week like I meant to...the truth is, I tried to write an update several times, but every time I'd try to describe the experience, I'd start feeling sick. Fortunately, I'm feeling much better now and can talk about my last marathon week of chemo without feeling like my stomach is going to revolt on me.

So, the nausea finally hit me last Thursday. I woke up, ate breakfast, threw on my "Chemoutfit" (I kind of hate myself for typing that a little bit), went to the hospital, was led to my little chemo suite, and as soon as the nurse left the room I made a beeline for the bathroom and got violently ill. As I wasn't expecting this to happen, I suspect I ruined Captain Crunch with Crunchberries for me for life. It was like what I imagined chemo might be...horrible and Exorcist-like.

That day, I went through treatment, dozing through quite a bit of it. I was able to keep my stomach under control once I put on my headphones and listened to my iPod, which did a decent job of drowning out the sound of my IV pump. I used to not mind the somewhat rhythmic noises it made, but now it just makes me feel sick (kind of like the band Offspring. How do you go from "Ixnay on the Hombre" to that Weird Al style on "Americana" in one year?). The tough part is, looking back on my early morning ruining of Captain Crunch with Crunchberries, I didn't know what music I could safely listen to without ruining for life by associating it with chemo sickness. I also didn't want music that was super slow or super hard, so I had to find kind of a middle ground...settling with a mix of The Shins, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and Jack's Mannequin. When I'm going through treatment, I guess I need the type of music that makes for awkward concerts...the music is too slow to rock out, but too fast to just sway, leaving the audience in a weird, bouncing motion.

After treatment Thursday, I was done. I went home, forced myself to eat some mac and cheese, sent off an e-mail to my EMT professor letting him know I'd be missing class that night, and went to sleep. I seemed to drift in and out of sleep all afternoon, evening and through the night. Although spending 18 hours in bed sounds appealing at some points during your day, it's really pretty horrible...especially when your mind is on a constant loop of "OK, think of something besides chemo and foods that make you feel sick. Nope, don't think of that. Nope, don't think of that. OK, think of anything...waves, the ocean...and you're just relaxing on a....where the hell did that Burker King sandwich come from? Stop thinking about that, you're going to make yourself sick!"

The next morning, it was more of the same, but in a different order. Wake up, get violently ill, go to treatment, listen to bop rock for five hours, go home, play "Chicken" with thoughts of foods that make me sick and doze. By Saturday, I was able to move around a bit more, but not much. I watched TV nearly all day and felt pretty successful when I was able to eat some chicken nuggets and tater tots. Sunday was a little better, but definitely not 100%.

Oddly enough, today is probably the first day I feel like I'm back close to normal (or the "new normal" I've been able to redefine through this experience). I had my onc appointment yesterday, and it was nothing but good news: my neutrophil count is back above 2,000, so I don't need to worry as much about getting sick, my white blood cell counts are good, and I'm on the downhill slide for my treatment. My onc even managed to schedule my CT scan and port removal before December ends so that it can all be counted under my "out-of-pocket expenses" on my 2011 insurance, which is huge for me since that'll probably hit my cap and save me some cash.

So, that's where I'm at. I'm nearly back to normal, and I've only got one chemo treatment left now...next Tuesday, and it's only Bleo, which takes me about an hour and the only side effect is jittery legs from putting Benadryl in my IV.

While the past five days have been horrible with nausea, it really hasn't been anything unbearable at all. I noticed that, whenever I worry about throwing up, that all disappears after it happens. I freak out, feeling like crap, not wanting to throw up, and then when it happens, I realize it wasn't that bad and I feel a whole lot better. The only downside is, after I'm done I look in the mirror and see this pale, bony, sweaty bald guy looking back at me and I think I've encountered one of the vampires from "I Am Legend," which is a bit unsettling. Fortunately, now I know that Captain Crunch and Burger King is like garlic for these beasts, so that should be able to keep them at bay.

I'll wait to get really introspective on this entire process until it's officially over, but looking at the point I'm at now and where I've come from, I've been pretty happy with all of it. Cancer is a bit of a roadbump, but it really hasn't been the "show-stopping event" that I thought it might be. Total tally, over the course of my diagnosis, surgery and treatments, I think I've missed four days of work. During that time, I also managed to get through my 135-hour EMT course (although it's not finished...my final test will be a couple weeks after treatment ends), launch a couple of new projects at work and continue the minimum amount of updates on my Civil War-era house that allow me to feel not completely worthless. Of course, nearly all of my productivity happened on weeks where I wasn't going through "marathon chemo," but I'm still happy with how it's been going.

So that's where I'm at right now. Nearly back to normal, excited to eat large amounts of food this Thursday, and counting down the days until my final treatment is over and I can get that last CT scan to see if my cancer is totally gone. If it's not, no biggie...I know now that I can handle chemo (even with some nausea) and if it requires surgery, so be it. It's not like there's anything more I can be doing, and if this experience has taught me anything, it's that you can only do so much with what life deals you. An obstacle isn't made any easier to overcome by worrying, crying, griping or getting angry. The only thing I've found that makes a tough situation easier is laughing about it and doing what you've got to do to put it behind you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Three down, two to go...

I got through Wednesday of my marathon chemo week just a few hours ago, and man...it's a journey.

Sitting in that chair for five hours each day is kind of rough. Yesterday, I brought along my iPod, hoping that three seasons of "Breaking Bad" would help me just space out and pretend like I wasn't having poison pumped through my veins. I totally forgot that the main character in the show is also being given chemotherapy, however, and seems to get sick every five minutes. That's like one of the Kardashians watching ESPN to try and forget about a failed relationship.

I've definitely been taking advantage of sleep this week, too. I got home from work yesterday at 5:30, napped on the couch until dinner was ready at 6:30, ate dinner and hung out with my wife until 8, and then slept until this morning. I woke up, went to chemo, did a bit of work on my laptop, and then napped for about 2 hours. That's a crazy amoung of sleep for me, considering I usually operate pretty well with only 6 hours of sleep per night.

Not only that, but apparently this low white blood cell count isn't a great deal for me either. I'm low on neutrophil, which although reminding me of Nutri-Grain bars, is apparently a type of white blood cell. According to some hard-core research I did on Wikipedia, normal people have about 2500-7000 units of these. People going through chemo tend to have levels around 1000. I apparently am sitting pretty with 360.

As a result, I've been forbidden to do much of anything where I have a chance of being exposed to illnesses. So, my normal weekday activities (giving zerberts to babies with runny noses, licking door handles of 24-hour convenient stores and hanging around local pharmacies just breathing in the air) are out. About all I'm risking is going to my EMT class tomorrow, and that's only because I have a test and there are hand sanitizer pumps every 15 feet.

Aside from living the rest of this week in seclusion, I'm constantly battling with my stomach, which is trying to decide whether it hates me and everything I put inside of it, or whether it just wants to chill and go to bed. I haven't thrown up since starting chemo (you can't see me right now, but I'm knocking on wood like crazy since typing that), but my body is definitely giving me some signs that it would very much enjoy doing so. That nasty chemo taste in my mouth, weakness and the fact that any food I think about makes me feel slightly nauseous isn't working in my favor, so I've just kind of got to force whatever food down my gullet that I can and then try to sleep for 12 hours straight.

So, that's where I'm at. I've only got two more freaking days left of this week. If experience is any indicator, once I hit this weekend, I'll still be weak, but I should be steadily improving. Then, it's just a 1-hour treatment on Nov. 22, Thanksgiving on Nov. 24 (which should be perfect timing for my appetite, granted my white blood cell counts rebound or I don't have sick family members at home), and my final chemo treatment on Nov. 29. Then, a mere 3 months after this whole "cancer thing" began, I should be somewhat done with it and can start concentrating on the fun stuff in life - waterfowl hunting in panhandle Nebraska this January, the Iowa Newspaper Association convention in February, and a trip to San Antonio, TX, in March.

Even more than that, however, I'm looking forward to ditching this "new normal" I've created and returning to my "old normal," although slightly tweaked. I can't wait to cook and eat food and actually appreciate the taste of it, I can't wait to hang out with friends without worrying about someone being sick or whether having one or two beers will make me nauseous, and I can't wait to get back to a life where, although appreciative to have beaten the "lowercase C" (I still consider early-stage testicular cancer to be 'bargain bin cancer' compared to others), I can actually base time in terms of doing stuff with my wife and friends, rather than what week in what round I have coming up for chemo.

The nice part is, all that separates me from that "old normal" is just two five-hour sessions this week, and two cakewalk treatments spread out over two weeks with some great family, food and fall weather in-between. If I can just keep myself from puking at the sight of an IV bag, I should be able to coast past this finish line after all.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Let's start the countdown....5 days

Got some pretty bad news from my doc today. My white blood cell count is way low, so they're putting me on antibiotics. No, that's not the bad news...the bad news is I have to eat two spoonfulls of yogurt with my antibiotics. I freaking hate yogurt. The doc said it, and I glanced at my wife who was shaking with laughter. I could have sworn she paid the doc to say it...but then again, I would respect any doctor who was taking low payouts to hilariously tell people they need to eat food they hate. Force a guy to eat some yogurt and make $20 on the side...respect.

I start my last marathon week today, and I couldn't be happier to get it over with. These marathon weeks are the worst, and by the end of this I should be absolutely dragging, so I'll try and blog each day this week to let people know how it's going.

Today, I went through my usual routine: go in, get my port accessed (read: stick a needle with a tube coming out of it in my chest and let me walk around with that thing dangling out for a while...like a car with its gas tank open), go to a small room and get my weight taken. They have this trick where, before they call the patient back, they set the scale to what your weight was the previous time. This allows you to know within a matter of seconds whether you've gotten fatter, which is nice. Today was weird...I actually lost weight from my last appointment. My wife confirmed how weird this was. "You've eaten nothing but cake this past week," she said. That was entirely accurate...in fact this morning, remembering my doc told me to eat something before chemo, saw the sheet cake (90% eaten by myself this past week) on the table. I quickly cut a piece and, knowing that the daycare kids would be arriving shortly and my wife would give me crap if she saw I was eating cake for breakfast, decided to eat it as quickly as possible. I cut off a huge bite, shoved it in my mouth and chewed it twice before I heard my mother-in-law say from behind me, "Cake for breakfast?" As I was explaining my orders to eat something, my father-in-law came up behind her. "Cake for breakfast?" Next, my wife came out of nowhere, before I even had a chance to swallow my bite. "Cake for breakfast?" Yes. And if we're being honest here, it's the third time in the past week I've done it (once with ice cream) and I still lost three pounds. Maybe I should start marketing a very specific diet...cake and cancer. Sure, it's a give-and-take type of diet, but it gets results. And it makes you feel like you're a 10-year-old living alone like the kid in "Blank Check."

I'm actually feeling pretty good starting my chemo today. I'm trying to start the week with a good attitude so by the time I get to Friday, and the then-25 hours I've spent having chemicals pumped into me, I'll hopefully still be clinging to a fraction of that enthusiasm and not want to just lie in bed and spend all my energy convincing my body not to get sick.

So, I'm preparing for war. I've got my laptop, some coffee, three seasons of "Breaking Bad" on my iPod, work I should get done for my full-time job, and homework I can always do for my EMT class.

For my EMT class, I showed up for my first ambulance shift yesterday wearing a plain, navy blue stocking cap approved by my instructor. On my first call, I impressed the paramedic I was riding with by, after providing care and during our transport back to the ER, engaged our patient, who was 90+, in a lengthy discussion about Canada, the midwest, agronomy and other random subjects. Once we got the lady in a room and situated, he complimented my bedside manner and what I did, but asked "what's up with the stocking cap?" I told him about my chemo and how I figured it didn't inspire confidence in patients to have a bald EMT student responding to help them. He laughed and said that as I long as I kept up a pleasant demeanor, they didn't care what we looked like. "Besides," he said, "look around." Every guy in the room was bald. I may have found the perfect part-time job for a bald dude, however I'll have to see how much cake the cafeteria has.

So, that's where I'm at right now. Five days of five-hour-per-day chemo sessions, then two weeks of the easy stuff - one chemo appointment per week (on Tuesdays) for about an hour, and then I'm done. I'll finish my chemo at the same time I finish my EMT class, and life will go from crazy to an absolute standstill - no appointments, no lab work, no class time, no clinicals. I'm not exactly one to just sit still, so I guess I'll have to find something else to take up my time. Maybe I'll get lucky and catch some other crazy disease. Or maybe I'll just learn Spanish. One of those sounds much more appealing than the other, but we'll see what happens.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Like a cancer patient loves cake...

I apologize for the lack of blog posts the past week here...this would normally be a situation where I would just blame it on cancer (pulling the C-card), but that's really not the case. To be honest, it's because, cancer-wise, I've felt fine and have been trying to do as much as I can before I start my marathon chemo week next week. I figured that, while I didn't feel like just sleeping all day and fighting with my brain over the urge to get sick, I might as well take advantage of my health and get some freaking work done. Mission partially accomplished...I think I've managed to get half of what I wanted done at work completed, and raked my front yard. By the way, for my friends I make fun of for living in nice, new neighborhoods with no trees, I take it all back....raking my front yard, which is about 1/5 of my lawn = 22 bags of leaves. As my wife would say, "that's a sarcastic amount of yard refuse."

The past two weeks I haven't taken any anti-nausea medication at all, and I've been eating like a horse. They always say that chemo affects your appetite, and on the weeks that I have treatments every day, it does (taking my appetite almost down to nothing), but in these off-weeks I've definitely been making up for it. In fact, during these off-weeks I've actually gained weight (mainly just gaining back weight I lose during the marathon weeks). I chalk this up to me using the C-card to eat whatever I feel like at the time. ("Do I want ice cream? Hell yes I want ice cream...I've got cancer.") If people get ice cream when they have their tonsils removed, I feel like I've earned an entire sheet cake for having a testicle lopped off. (I love describing it like that for people...taking a complicated medical procedure and making it seem like my oncologist just used a butcher knife and removed it like he would a coconut from a tree).

Next week starts my third round, and the end of this whole thing is finally in sight. Well, somewhat. Even if I'm given the "all-clear" after finishing chemo, waiting a month, and getting another CT scan, it sounds like I'm still going to have to go in once a year for pretty much the rest of my life to check my body and make sure it isn't harboring any more cancer. There are really two ways to look at it...the first is that I'm going to be a patient the rest of my life. That's kind of depressing, so I completely disregard that perception and look at it in another way: I've pretty much been given a card that says that odds are very good that I will never be that person that goes into the doctor's office and is told that cancer has taken over my body. With yearly CT scans, it's very unlikely that shortly after a scan, some cancer is just going to "do work" and take over a chunk of my body, catching me completely by surprise the following year. Worst-case scenario, they'll catch cancer that's had 11 months to take hold, and my chances of fighting it off will be much higher. That's like having the Cadillac of cancer prevention plans...and it's a big "take that" to my insurance company, which I'm pretty sure would try to deny me everything but "a gallon of leeches for a transfusion" if they thought they could get away with it.

I haven't really started thinking about what life's going to be like when this is all over...mainly because I'm focused on just getting through next week, and the constant distractions in my life are doing a good job of keeping me focused on the short-term right now. I talked with a guy who has survived a few cancer scares last week, and he told me that with each battle, it's been the same thing. Get cancer, get a new perspective on life, beat it, slip back into just taking life for granted, repeat process. He had cancer at a young age like me, and said it was actually really beneficial, which is kidn of how I've been looking at it, too. It's kind of like taking a life experience that most people don't get until they're 75 and giving it to someone in their 20s...now, in addition to my other old man habits (playing Scrabble, eating Werthers Originals, waking up early, reading the newspaper, making inappropriate jokes about death, griping about how horrible modern music is, etc.) I can add "taking a nonchalant attitude towards having cancer" to the list. Maybe now they'll let me buy a Caprice and join that assisted living center in town. I mean, I'm already bald.

That brings me on to another weird thing...being bald. As part of my EMT classes I'm currently taking, I was required to complete 16 hours of clinical time working in a local emergency room. This is strange...a young bald guy that looks like he has cancer working in an ER. Because of my low white blood cell count, I pretty much wore a mask into each room I went into until I ruled out the possibility that they had something I could catch. With each patient that reported a medical history that included cancer (man, there's a lot of them!), I wanted to mutter a "Yeah, I hear that," without looking up from my clipboard while scrawling notes, but I didnt' feel that was appropriate. I also found out that being bald, pale and wearing a surgical mask scares the hell out of kids. I'm going to keep that in mind for Halloween next year.

So, that's a quick recap. Three weeks left of treatment, I wait one month to make sure everything is out of my system, and then I take a CT scan to make sure the cancer's gone. If it's not, I go in for Retroperitoneal Lymph Node Dissection (RPLND), where they essentially carve off my abdominal lymph nodes....pretty much what my wife does when she cuts the fat off chicken before cooking it. Yep...that's another example of taking a complicated medical procedure and reducing it to a cooking metaphor. Either way, whether the chemo takes care of it or surgery does, it'll be done before next summer. I'm thinking once this is all finished, I'm going to have to throw a "welcome home" party for my hair. You're all invited, and there will be alcohol and wigs involved.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The timing on getting cancer couldn't be worse...

Of course I get cancer and have to go through chemo at the same time the McRib is released for only a limited time. Man, life sucks.

OK, that's a bit hyperbolic, but the frustration with eating foods I enjoy is definitely being felt.

I haven't updated in a while, and that's because last week was my marathon chemo session - five days in a row, approximately five hours each day, non-stop chemo action. I tried to write a blog entry about it late last week, but I felt nauseous even writing about what I was feeling. For some reason, although I've never been one that's heavily dependant on my senses, when it comes to chemo it's absolutely brutal trying to recall the smells, sounds and tastes of everything. I get a whiff of the blood thinner, or alcohol or even the soap that they use in every freaking hospital bathroom and I just immediately feel sick. I feel like a bloodhound with a super-sensitive nose that has been tied up inside of a Long John Silvers. No variety here...nothing but fried fish and hushpuppies, and it all smells like garbage.

The weird thing is, I haven't even gotten sick yet. I've been close...on Thursday, before they put the needle in my port, I put in a watermelon Jolly Rancher to help me forget about the smells and tastes involved with the chemo and I had to spit it out immediately...I nearly got sick at that moment. That one hard candy triggered some Pavlovian reaction where my body knew when I took a watermelon Jolly Rancher, my body was about to get pumped full of poison. I assume Chad Kroeger's body goes through the same thing when he yells out "Hey *city name*, we're Nickelback. Are you ready to rock?"

So, last week got progressively worse as the week went on until Friday, at which time I went to treatment, listened to my iPod nearly the entire time to drown out the sound of the infusion pump, sprayed cologne on my stocking cap before going in so I had something to put up to my nose when I knew I was going to deal with strong smells from meds and such, and went home to sleep away the rest of the day. Yep...I carried around a cologne-sprayed item like I was in Shakespearean times, and that's because my body is now a smell factory.

I never really realized how much my body identifies smells. In the past, before going on a vacation, my wife and I would do what most people do...go out and buy soap and deodorant because we don't want to be all sweaty in a different location, and like most people, we have an irrational fear that the hotel we're traveling to might be the one hotel in the world that doesn't supply soap and shampoo. We found out after doing this a couple of times that we tended to buy new-smelling deodorants or soaps, and after returning from our vacation we would associate those smells with our trips. That finally hit me after sitting in the chair on Thursday, pulling my stocking cap down over my face and immediately being reminded of Mexico for some reason. It wasn't until I got home later that night that I realized the soap I used on my bald head that morning was the same type I used on our vacation...and that I hadn't used it in a long time since that morning. Surprisingly, it actually helped quite a bit...I was thinking about sandy beaches and fish tacos during a time that I usually try not to think about Burger King (which is something that seriously makes me nauseous now...not fun considering my brain knows that and tries to test my nausea's strength with this knowledge).

This weekend was about par for the course on recovering from the marathon week. Friday I made up a batch of some good soup, which always seems to do well with my stomach. Saturday I watched a "Top Chef" marathon for a good chunk of the afternoon and after getting in a mood to cook, ended up making Hamburger Helper. Yep...that's the only thing that sounded good and didn't allow me to chop, dice or double-broil anything. That's like watching Picasso paint for six hours and then deciding you're going to make something out of dried macaroni and glitter. On the plus side, it allowed me to eat half a pound of food, which is something I haven't accomplished at any point this week.

By now, I feel like I'm pretty close to normal again. I found out that the entire trigger with my nausea is what metaphorically seems like a metallic-tasting drip that is constantly going down the back of my throat, tainting my saliva and anything I eat with this horrible flavor. When I'm going through my marathon week, this taste is stronger, and outside of my marathon week it's much weaker and nearly non-existent. It makes eating, and especially drinking water, a major challenge. It makes me feel like I'm killing any food I eat right now...if I eat a McRib now and associate it with that chemo-ey taste, it will be dead to me forever, and I just don't know if I can live in a world where I'm not brought a great deal of barbecuey joy every 9-12 months. There's a third-world problem for you...worried about your cancer treatment taking away the joy of a semi-annual promotional fast food sandwich.

So, here's the summary: I'm bald (I had the wife take a razor to my skull last night so I wouldn't look, as she so delicately put it, "cancer-ridden." Washing my bald head now feels like I'm petting a fish underwater), I'm full of food that's not gourmet or McRibbed, I'm sleeping a ton, I'm drinking very little, and I'm missing more work than I ever have (I missed two days last week. For me, that's quite a bit...but I do get a kick out of calling in "cancer sick"). Four weeks down, five more to go...with only one more "marathon week" and four "one-treatment weeks," which should be a cakewalk. We'll see how I end this whole treatment thing...running through a finish line or dragging myself across with a dainty hankerchief up to my nose. One of those sounds slightly manlier than the other, and with my "Mr. Clean haircut," that's kind of the option I'd like to choose.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I feel like Joe Rogan is watching me eat a banana

I felt like calling in sick to my third day in my weeklong chemo marathon today. It was brutal...and the weird part is I don't think it's physical. The sight of the hospital parking lot, the chemo rooms with the rolling IV carts and that little jar of candy makes my stomach turn, and even describing it right now makes me feel sick.

After tomorrow, I'll be more than halfway done with my treatments, even though I'm only a portion of the way done with the first week of my second round. That will feel pretty good, but I know I've still got 5 weeks to go after this week is done...even if only one of those weeks will be treatments 5 days in a row.

In the meantime, I'm just sleeping, working when I can and trying to find any kind of food that I can swallow...so far it's been primarily Jello and applesauce, although I've found that Rice Chex provides that no-taste kind of food option that doesn't make eating feel like a punishment. It's sad when I feel like I'm on Fear Factor when I sit down to eat a banana.

So, there's a quick update. Two more long days to go...I'm probably going to be pretty sick by Friday afternoon, but if this follows the pattern of my first round, I should be OK by the following week and nearly normal by the end of next week. We'll see how it goes and I'll post a more in-depth update when I feel a bit better.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Another marathon week

I'm back in the chair again today, which means I'm back to finding ways to avoid doing work on my laptop and updating my blog with the crazy journey that cancer is. Well, not really, but it's kind of funny.

I've developed a cold to complement my bloody nose...creating a runny/bloody nose mixture that requires me to blow my nose constantly, lest I bleed all over the floor of wherever I'm currently at. This has gotten a bit tricky, as it resulted in a group of native Americans following my blood trail over the course of this weekend in the hopes that it was a wounded buffalo. After several days of tracking, they turned the corner into my yard hoping to find the majestic animal lying dead in the yard, which would provide them months of meat and a variety of tools. Instead they found a bald, pale, overprivileged white man sitting on his porch Googling "How to cook a goose" on his phone. Disappointed at the decline of mankind into this species that is so entirely dependant on technology, the native Americans gathered up their spears and left. One cried a single tear that rolled down his cheek...I tried to get a picture of it with my Blackberry, but I forgot which hot button I set up for the camera and instead started up my GPS app.

I got an e-mail from my "Cancer Buddy," (my Nana who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer) who half-jokingly talked about friends that keep suggesting "the best doctor" they insist on having you go see.

This is something I can relate to. When I was first diagnosed, I had several people suggest I get second opinions, check out "their oncologist" or drive up to Rochester, which seems to be like the holy grail of cancer treatments. For me, the last option was out due to the fact that everyone I know that has gone up to Rochester has been for the "serious cancers." I'm not saying testicular cancer isn't serious...it can be...but for a cancer that hasn't spread to my brain, I'm not going to go into lifetime debt.

Really, the people that have gone through cancer that suggest oncologists are completely understandable. There's something about going through a cancer diagnosis with a person that makes you feel like they are the greatest human beings on earth, and mine is no exception. If you told me that after leaving the hospital each day, my oncologist puts on a cape and a mask and fights crime across central Iowa, I would completely believe that. My oncologist is awesome, and he's helping me through what is a pretty intensive process for a pretty nasty disease.

Nobody has had cancer, goes through a successful treatment and says, "My oncologist was OK. I could have gotten somebody better, but he got the job done." Hell no...you're not hiring a high school kid to mow your lawn or eating a hotdog when you're really hungry. This is cancer, and if there's even a slight chance that you won't survive, you don't want the friend of a second cousin who really needs the experience doing it for you. You want "Thor, Battler of Cancer," and oncologists know this...that's why they put a lot of effort into getting to know you and answering every single one of your 500 questions during your meetings. Once you get going, you put a lot of faith in your onc, and they end up looking like Superman because of that.

When you're first diagnosed, however, you don't have a lot of time, exactly, to hop on Angie's List and start comparing oncologists like brands of detergent. Things move fast...I went from feeling healthy to having cancer and losing a testicle in 24 hours...I've eaten slices of pizza that have been sitting out longer than that (I'm not proud of that, but it's a true statement). That leaves you no time to go out and shop around, but when you get your oncologist you immediately recognize their awesomeness. It's no doubt that they recommend their doc so strongly. "Oh, you have cancer? I have a cancer guy...he's the best."

When it happens to you, you've got a very small window if you want to shop around, and by shopping around you're likely not going to find someone better. I found out later that someone who had my onc sought a second opinion at Mayo, and everything - prognosis, treatment, etc. - was exactly the same. All oncologists are good...I don't think there are many that just skim through their classes, get wasted on the weekends, and somehow land a job as an onc at a reputable hospital. "Oh, hey bro. Heard you have cancer...bummer. Let's try and 86 it, cool?"

Almost finished for today, and feeling decent so far. We'll see how this goes once I get near the end of the week...by that time the first week, the sight of an IV bag made me feel nauseous.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Cancer is a lot like monkey urine

You know what's worse than cancer? Cancer with a horrible cold.

The chemo I'm on dries up my nose and causes nosebleeds, and now I've got a cold that continuously makes my nose run a near-water consistency. Also, since my white blood cell count is low, it's likely that it will take my body a longer period of time to beat this cold into submission. So, let's recap...dry, runny, bloody nose that I have to blow every 2 minutes with slight nausea tossed in. I feel like a drugged out rock star, except with less spandex (still some spandex...but less).

Monday I begin my marathon chemo week again...five straight days of sitting in a chair with a needle in my port, sipping coffee and watching Pop Up Video on VH1 in an attempt to prolong doing actualy work. My staff at work has done an amazing job of picking up the very little slack I've given in going through these treatments, but I hate putting additional work on them....which is funny because I pull out the C-card for nearly everything else. They wanted us to check the blood sugar levels on each other in my EMT class and I pulled out the C-card - "Hey, I'm on blood thinners because I'm taking chemo for testicular cancer, so I think I should sit this one out." The instructor almost stumbled over himself agreeing with me...it's like I have a pass to get out of whatever I want. "Ooooh, I'd like to rake the leaves today, honey, but my cancer's kind of acting up."

I joke around about this a lot, but it really has kind of changed my day-to-day quite a bit. I'm taking my temperature constantly, self-evaluating to see if I'm getting sick, and every time I walk in front of a mirror I freak myself out...expecting a blonde-haired guy to be staring back and seeing this sickly bald dude. And I do that every single time...I usually just walk around forgetting I'm bald until someone points it out to me.

I've thought several times about what I'm going to be like when this is all over. Am I going to shrug it off and just go on with my normal routine...working long hours for five days every week, eating a big breakfast on weekends and just wasting away my time on the weekends? I feel like I should be freaking out and going "carpe diem" on everything, but I'm just kind of taking cancer in stride as kind of an inconvenience...something getting in the way of me spending my weekends watching reruns of 30 Rock and putting off a home improvement project. I think that's why I've gotten kind of a kick going through this chemo...it's something different. If everything in my life went according to plan, I'd be bored as hell. At least getting cancer mixed it up a bit.

Six weeks left to go. This whole thing has been much easier knowing the odds I'm facing...98 percent is something I would put some serious money on if I was gambling. I can't imagine how people facing lower odds do this. This is easier for me knowing that it will all be over in another 1-1/2 months...I can't imagine going thorugh chemo and THEN having a doctor say it didn't work and order you to go through more chemo or something. And if you add in lower odds, I would be far from nonchalant about all of this. Don't take my laxidaisical attitude as me saying that cancer isn't scary...it can be, and for a lot of people it is. Even someone else in my position I wouldn't fault with being nervous about all of this...there is always that 2 percent and there are some people far less optimistic than I. All you can really do is just go through your day to day and try to put the fact that there's poison rolling around in your veins out of your mind. It's kind of like having a monkey on your shoulder that urinates every five minutes...it's easy to try and forget about it, but a wet, smelly T-shirt is hard to ignore. There you go...that's an interesting metaphor. Cancer is like monkey urine.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Hi, my name is GREG. Ask me about my LACK OF HAIR"

Well, I’m bald, so now comes the awkward part where I make everyone feel like jerks for asking about my head.
Guy – “What’s with the shaved head? Did you lose a bet?”
Me – “No, I just finished my first round of chemo.”
Guy – “*BLAGGHHH*” (The sound of pulling his foot out of his mouth)

I suppose it’s my own fault for not renting a billboard to let everyone know, but it’s an awkward thing…trying to tell people you’re not super close with that you’ve got nut cancer. So I'm left with fielding legitimate questions with awkward answers...which makes me feel a little bad for the person asking. Maybe I should get a T-shirt that proclaims this fact to others. "Cancer-ridden," or something similar.

Anyways, being bald is actually pretty awesome. I'm actually leaving the hats behind now and proudly rocking my bald head in all sorts of situations. Of course, that may change now that the tiny bit of hair I do have on top of my head is shedding, creating awkward situations where people feel it's appropriate to rub the top of my head and then get a handful of hair stuck to their hand, which they try to rub on their pants like they just pet a shedding dog. It's a lot of fun.

Nausea is still at bay, but for some reason now I'm not hungry at all. I'll be sitting at home, watching TV, and all of a sudden realize that I haven't eaten anything since breakfast. I'll try to think of what I'm hungry for and nothing sounds good, so I'm usually forced to eat a sandwich or something. I'm not sure if you've ever forced yourself to eat something when you're not hungry (probably not because that's insane), but it's like forcing yourself to sit down and watch a movie that you know is going to be awful. That's me forcing myself to eat a grilled cheese...it's kind of sad.

As of the end of this weekend, I will officially have one round done (I was counting after Tuesday, but that's not entirely legitimate). This Sunday, I also take my first rounds of practicals at the local hospital's ER room for my EMT class. I can't wait to one-up some sick-o people. They haven't told us how we're supposed to address the patients we assess, so I have a feeling this is going to be fun.

Greg: "OK, I'm just going to probe your lower abdomen to check for any pain."
Patient: "Sounds good. How long have you worked here?"
Greg: "Oh, I don't work here. OK, let's get that shirt off."

Nothing like being probed by a pale bald guy. Not that anyone plans for this sort of thing, but if you do, avoid the ER this Sunday. Otherwise you'll be wondering why the guy that just took your blood pressure shed all over you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I don't think anyone's ever seen my skull

I was thinking about it, and I don't think anyone has ever seen my skull. When I was born, I was the only kid in the nursery with a ton of hair, and I've always kept it up there.

I think all guys go through a period where they want to shave their heads. I know I did, but every girl I ever dated growing up told me not to even think about it, so I held off, thinking they knew something I didn't. Turns out they just liked my hair...I thought they somehow knew I had a weird-shaped skull.

Fortunately, I finally got the chance to shave it last night. My hair was coming out in clumps, and rather than wake up sleeping on a hair pillow, I decided to just get it over with...somewhat. My wife and I both had some wine, and I gave her the clippers and my camera and told her to just have fun. She seemed to have a bit too much fun.

Here's a baseline to show you what I looked like prior to the shave. Forgive the lighting...I forgot to change color balance on my camera, so all the pictures have funky lighting.

OK, my wife's first stop was a somewhat seasonal theme. I was shocked she did as well as she did on the unstable canvas that is the back of my head.
Here's a shot that pretty much summarized our evening.
She next attempted to do lightning bolts. They didn't turn out so hot.
This is where she started to get a little weird with it. I'm not sure how to describe the shot below other than how my wife termed it - "A male pattern baldness island."
Following that, she shaved the sides, leaving just the crown of hair and the island patch. Kind of a good look for me...like combining all of the 3 Stooges' haircuts into one. The pose I'm doing I should explain...I was talking to my wife about the little kids' plates she bought with three separate compartments and how her daycare kids eat, and made some reference to how the food just kind of sits there in their own little compartments, patiently waiting to get eaten. Then I made the pose below, which we both refer to as "Patient Potatoes," which is, essentially, a pile of mashed potatoes sitting there, patiently waiting to be eaten. My wife and I are weird.
And, finally, we took off that creepy hairstyle and went back to basics.
Just in time for the cold, Iowa winters. This is going to be interesting.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Enjoying my last full day with hair on my head

Nothing in your life truly prepares yourself for waking up one morning and pulling out a chunk of your hair.

There's no warning, there's no easing into it...I woke up this morning, scratched my head and noticed that I pulled out a large tuft of Greg hair. That's disturbing...I had to check twice to make sure I wasn't having a nightmare and that any moment Ron Paul wasn't going to emerge from my closet and chase me around the room with a hammer. (Your nightmares don't involve Ron Paul?) It happened extremely suddenly. Last night, after EMT class, the other guy from my department in the class asked me if I'd been losing my hair yet, and I pulled on my hair and showed him my hand as proof...nothing. If I did that today, it would look like I plucked a muppet turd off the top of my skull.

And so it begins. Tonight's the night I'm just shaving it all off, because as my oncologist alluded to earlier, I don't want to sleep in a pile of my own hair like some sort of a mouse. I'm finishing up work, going grocery shopping with my wife, and then the trusty old buzzers will take care of the rest.

I had my oncology appointment this morning, and after getting checked in (which now amounts to me walking in, and the receptionists saying 'Greg!!' like I'm Norm on 'Cheers'), I sat down and did my usual casing of the room. Average age is always 65...I don't care if there are five people or 25 people in the room, that always averages out right. This is made even more obvious by the 1,000-piece jugsaw puzzle on a nearby table that seems to cycle out once per week. That's some serious jig-sawing, and jig-sawing is not a young man's game.

Now that I've had a chance to observe this treatment bit a little more, I've found that oncology departments are nearly exactly the same as prison. You walk in and sit down, and everybody's quiet. You see eyes look at you, but when you make eye contact, they quickly look away. The consensus is obvious - "I wonder what he's in for? He's way too young to be here...it must be bad." Then they avoid eye contact. Why? Respect, that's why. It's all prison-style in oncology.

I've always been the youngest person in these types of situations. Growing up doing archery and fishing tournaments, I was always the youngest; I was the youngest supervisor at my telemarketing job in high school; I was the youngest general manager of a bar in college; the youngest newspaper editor for my company; and now I'm the youngest person in the chemo ward. Unfortunately, I don't see that being anything I can put on my resume, unless I run for political office. That's always seemed strange to me...if you were applying for a job at a respectable company, you'd keep everything job-related, but when politicians run they'll tell you in the first 10 minutes if they've got a dead parent, if they've had cancer before, if they are a foster parent or if they grew up poor. Talk about exploiting a bad situation...maybe I should run for Congress now.

So, bleo treatment went well, and now I'm just waiting for the day to end so I can see how I'd look bald. Growing up, every single girl I ever dated told me not to shave my head, so now I'm a little bit excited to finally have permission to do so (although Lauren never forbid me from shaving my head...just from growing a moustache). By the way, the end of my treatment today essentially marks the end of my first round of chemotherapy. One down, two more rounds to go, and this first round was a cakewalk.

I'll post pics of my bald head when it happens, but until then, don't sit on any of my work furniture unless you want to be lint rolling your clothes all day...I'm shedding like a sheepdog in the summertime.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

I've got a cancer buddy!

As the fates might have it, a mere month and a half (whoa...it hasn't felt like that long) since my diagnosis, my grandmother received a diagnosis for breast cancer. I got an e-mail from her immediately saying she sees my testicle and raises me a breast...I couldn't love my family more.

So, I have company, and although I won't print any of what her e-mail said (as she told me not to, and I assume she still has the ability to put me in a time out), I will say she shares my love of laughing at the absurdity of all of this...from the complete exposure and lack of modesty you get baring your private parts at doctors as they furrow their brows and nod knowingly to the invasive surgeries and complete disruption receiving a cancer diagnosis brings to your life.

One thing that I will never get over in all of this is how people don't know how to react to news that someone they know has cancer. I can't blame them...until I was put in this situation, I didn't know either, and quite frankly I don't think there is a correct response. So many people, however, come up to you to talk about it and whisper the word "cancer" like you can get it if you say it at full volume. It's the unknown for them, and they're concerned. That's always touching, but it's a little bit funny that the word is always whispered.

From some of the first phone calls to friends, I found it funnier and funnier having to tell them about my own diagnosis.

Friend: Hey man, what's happening.
Me: Not much, what's going on?
Friend: Nothing. I just got a dog.
Me: Cool. I just got cancer.
Friend: Awesome. Wait, are you serious?
Me: Serious as my left nut.

It's a surreal experience. There's no correct way to respond, and no correct way to tell people. It's all just a big, weird mess of a situation...so I resulted in telling people the oddest way I could. I'd have somebody pressing me as to why I missed a meeting and I'd tell them I came down with "a slight case of cancer." Or I'd have somebody saying they heard I was in surgery and I'd tell them it was to have a cancerous testicle remove and make a joke about my insurance company only approving for me to go to a vet ("Now, that's half the cost of a neutering, right?").

When the chaotic happens, you aren't left with a lot of choices. You can awkwardly share the news with friends and loved ones and have them stand there in shock not knowing how to react, or you can joke around about it and allow them to stand there in shock not knowing how to react. Either way, it's a weird situation to deal with.

Knowing my grandmother (which is weird to type, because I've always called her "Nana"), and talking with her back and forth via e-mail since she got the news, I'm finally in a position where I know what she's going through and how awkward it is to tell everyone. So, I suggested that we get both of our removed cancerous parts, dip them in bronze and make some sort of a new-age lamp out of it. Being an interior decorator, I'm sure she's on board with the idea.

My "Nana" is one of the most outgoing, social, funniest people out there, and I know she's going to handle this "tough of cancer" with the same flawless grace she handles everything else...and it's going to be easier now with both of us knowing that each of us is going through the same thing.

I'm already a month and a half into this whole ordeal, so I've got a little bit of a lead on her, but still, I'm glad to now have another "cancer buddy" that isn't afraid to laugh with me about something most people won't say out loud at full volume. This is going to be a completely new experience for the both of us, but I know we're going to come out of it with some great stories, great scars and a completely new perspective. That's almost worth going through this in the first place. Almost.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Proof my current job is better than my last one

For those wondering why I would work all night at my current job, it's because I love it. Take, for example, my last job...selling insurance. Awful. We were sent, at one point, to a leadership retreat at corporate headquarters for some of the worst-constructed icebreakers and leadership building activities ever. At the end of it, they gave us a poker chip with the company logo on it (yay...only 399 more for a full set!) and a card we were supposed to write down two professional goals on. This was mine, and I still keep it to this day to remind me that, now that I have a job I love, never to take a different job only because it pays more.

By the way, I accomplished both of those goals during my remaining 6 months there before I left to take a job in journalism.

Yeah, I think the chemo wore off

No post for a couple of days, and it's not because I've been nauseous. In fact, I'm pretty convinced the chemo wore off, as I haven't felt sick or had that weird chemo-ey taste in my mouth since my last treatment on Tuesday.

For the past two days, however, I have been working my tail off at work, and it's felt almost normal. I worked a full day Wednesday, went to an open house for a newspaper I used to work at, came back, and worked all night all day the following day - nearly a continuous, 32-hour shift. And I felt pretty good throughout all of it (albeit tired near the tail end of it). Fortunately, this was due to my "work bed."

After finishing my major project (a 24-page special section nearly entirely full with content I had to write), I got a jump on the next day's paper and then remembered my "work bed." If you don't know what I'm talking about, go back a few posts...there's a picture. So I discreetly got up, snuck into the room, set my phone's alarm for 2 hours later and zonked out. I woke up 2 hours later feeling like a million bucks.

After going back to my chair, I worked for about 5 minutes before a hard truth hit me like a slap in the face...I was chewing gum when I feel asleep, and now I wasn't. I went back and checked all over the bed, checked my clothes and carefully checked my hair. I felt like I was in preschool, wanting to catch it before interviewing someone for an article and right after asking them an intelligently-worded question, have them respond with "Is that gum in your hair?" "Just answer the question," I'd say, "And do you happen to have any peanut butter?"

When I'm not acting like I'm 5 years old, I act like I'm 85. After work I had to go straight to my EMT classes from 6-10 p.m., which just added to my 48-hours of no sleep trance I was in. The other firefighter I'm in class with and I were driving to the hospital and he kept talking about wanting to go have a few beers. I kept talking about how much I wanted to go home, eat some soft food and go to sleep. "What are you, 90 years old?" he asked. "No, I'm just tired," I said as I discreetly put the Werther's Originals hard candy I was going to offer him back in my pocket.

Well, I got caught up on my sleep last night, I'm skipping work today and I've got a full weekend in front of me that's looking pretty bright. I haven't felt nauseous, even a little bit, since...Monday maybe? It honestly feels like my chemo has wore off and I'm just waiting to get another shot of bleo next Tuesday. For anyone reading this that's been through chemo before, don't worry, I'm fully aware that I'm the lead character for the first 10 minutes of any horror movie...just happily trudging along, oblivious that anything bad is going to happen. I'm fully prepared for the other shoe to drop, but I'm just trying to get some work done in the meantime.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I need to find a good Frank and tell him about a sweet flash mob

It's 10:39 p.m. and I haven't been able to sleep at all for like the past 24 hours. Is it chemo-related? Eh, I can't tell anymore. All I know is my body wants to sleep and my brain won't let it.

Last night? Exhausted, and just dozed in a half-sleep all night. Today? Came home for a nap before an evening meeting and just closed my eyes in bed for an hour and a half. Tonight? Same deal...I lie down and just can't get my brain to settle, despite my body begging to just let it shut down. So, with nothing to do but post a blog post while waiting for my Benadryl to kick in, here's what's on my mind.

I want to tell a friend, let's call him "Frank," that I'm organizing a flash mob to take place at a church service where everyone all of a sudden breaks into a musical number. I get together 50 close friends and we rehearse two hours each evening for one week. The musical number is intricate, beginning with one person in the front pew jumping straight up, reaching for the sky and singing the word "Superfreak," holding the "ee" in "freak" as long as possible before breaking into an elaborate dance, synchronized with the 50 people in various pews behind him. The dance number is done in six parts, following the tap solo by the front pew man. Rehearsing gets intense as a week passes. We up the practices to three hours a night, and include weekends. This thing has music video quality choreography, and is more Broadway than clubbing. During the course of this practice, I casually mention to Frank how good his voice and dance moves are several times...a flattering comment to Frank. The day of the flash mob, we're ready, except for one problem...the person who kicks off the whole show is gone. Confident from weeks of flattery, Frank steps up to the challenge. The church service in the megachurch kicks off, and at the given cue (after the first hymn), Frank rockets out of his seat in the front pew in front of hundreds of people wearing their Sunday best outfits, scream-singing "Superfreak," while holding that last note until he's almost out of breath before breaking into his elaborate dance pattern. After the dance, he turns, hands outstretched to the audience for the four strategically-placed groups to begin our dance towards the front of the church for the first musical number....only to find that all of us snuck out shortly after the service started.

This is what's keeping me awake. I want this prank to happen...I just need to find a good "Frank."

Permission to sleep on the job?

Well, it's official. I have the coolest co-workers ever. They called me back to our conference room today for a surprise - they had created a dark room without a phone specifically for me to nap in. My boss told me if I ever get tired, they want me to stop what I'm doing and either go take a nap or go home.

My office is awesome.

Boo yah sticker!

Guess what an extra brave boy got after labwork this morning?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Why would I eat a dessert if it's not holiday-themed?

I feel like what started out as a "chronicle of my cancer-nous" blog has quickly turned into a weight watchers blog once I started chemo. Constantly monitoring what I eat has been weird...like that part in "Jaws" where they cut open that Tiger shark and start pulling all of that weird junk out of its stomach, and today is no exception. I actually felt pretty decent much of today, and here's the junkyard goat diet that helped facilitate that:
- 3/4 of a waffle and four strawberries. Morning was a bit rough, but I was able to get this food down.
- One halloween cupcake. The women in my office like to bake, but I believe they're not allowed to bake unless the food is made into some kind of a theme...hence me devouring a cupcake with orange frosting and tiny chocolate bat sprinkles on it.
- Two slices of gas station pizza. This was....a bold move...for somebody on chemo. It sounded like the correct move at the time, however, and nothing so far has told me otherwise. Time will tell on this one.
- One bag of cookies out of the snack bin at work.
- One ham sandwich, plain, eaten like a ham-eating zombie.
- Three bowls of cottage cheese. That deserves repeating...THREE FREAKING BOWLS OF COTTAGE CHEESE. Oddly enough, someone posted a picture on Facebook of themself happily eating cottage cheese, and my stomach said, "Yeah...I want to be that happy." Fast forward to me driving home from work and plowing through a container of large curds like some sort of dairy vampire (that cupcake put my metaphors in a holiday mood, apparently)
- One package of chocolate donettes. If you think I mistyped, you're incorrect...these are the plastic-coated Donettes because they were generic and thus I couldn't take the brown-coconut looking crumb ones (there's a system).

Aside from monitoring my stomach constantly, sure that if chemo causes nausea on its own that two slices of gas station pizza and three bowls of cottage cheese were going to tango like a 50s street gang, the day was pretty good. It felt good to put in a full day at work, and it's days like today that make me realize how happy, and humbling, it is to be the editor of a small town paper. For tomorrow's edition, and I don't kid at all, I wrote two felony crime stories, one column musing on the lack of choice in our political two-party system (Using "I'm not partisan, but I'm political" compared to people that say "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual"), included pictures from the homecoming powderpuff game and had one letter to the editor run about a lady who had money stolen from her out of a cooler that she had on the honor system for peopel that wanted to buy eggs. That is freaking variety...and awesome.

For those who are interested, if anyone is diagnosed with cancer in the future and has to cope with chemo (I know you're all keeping your fingers crossed), I've found the cure for the chemo symptoms: terry cloth robes. It's amazing and makes me feel like an early-50s pervo. Oddly, my wife was channeling me today when she called me at work with "something very important" and made me look up a website for adult footy pajamas. This made me second-guess my choice of terry cloth robes, as these pieces of clothing, which they endearingly refer to as "Uni-Lazys" look like you have completely thrown up your hands and given up on the world. I can only hope I don't give off that vibe when I wear my robe. Even better than the horrifying embrace of the public to this product are the testimonials (https://www.orderforeverlazy.com/Testimonials) which can be read from the perspective of the following description: "A group of people who were told that a piece of clothing is available that requires them to remove less while going to the bathroom," or, more specifically, "like wearing diapers you don't have to change." It's truly a disturbing read, and will give you a list of people that have given up on societal norms and decided to forge a path ahead based solely on comfort. That's a dangerous game.

No side effects that they warned me about with the chemo so far other than slight nausea....disappointingly, no "moon face," "Doug Funny legs," or "Leguizamo-nose."

Taking EMT classes for my part-time firefighter gig has made this whole experience much more interesting, however. Today we learned about IVs, and I felt like I had a complete leg-up on the entire class. After all, learning to spike an IV bag is near-instinct when you've watched a nurse do it daily for five days straight, along with checking your blood pressure. I almost offered to let everyone in the class "feel my port," but felt it wouldn't transfer well after being said aloud, so instead I joked about documenting the administration of candy to diabetics ("Do we have to document whether it's 'Fun Size,' 'Regular,' or 'King Size,' and does the dosage double if it's a Twix?")

I've been receiving so many questions from friends, family members, co-workers and random people about having testicular cancer that I've decided to share a few of the Q&A's with the rest of you who haven't had the opportunity to pester a guy with cancer on mundane topics. I'll close out this blog post with "Ask a guy with cancer."


Dear Guy with Cancer,

How do you feel?

Dear Concerned,

Not bad for a guy who planned on spending the fall finishing up his kitchen renovation and instead had his plans shifted slightly to remove one ball, all of his hair and be given a nine-week hangover.


Dear Guy with Cancer,

Are you hanging in there?
Dear 'hanging,'

Yes. It's not like I have any other option...despite all the "battle against cancer" metaphors out there, there's not really any way for me to give up (unless it involves order a "Uni-lazy," and shipping takes longer than my chemo will). If anything, chemo has given me permission to be lazier, so I'm hanging even more than usual.


Dear Guy with Cancer,

Are you going to shave your head all at once when your hair starts falling out?
Dear shaver,

No. My wife is actually really excited with what to do with my hair first...last time I checked, she was opting for a checkerboard pattern. This will raise some eyebrows at work.


Dear Guy with Cancer,

Does it feel weird having one testicle?
Dear testicularly concerned,

Not really. I never spent a great deal of time in the past taking inventory down there, and surprisingly my posture has improved greatly since my surgery (and I've lost 10 pounds). Coincidence? Unlikely.


Dear Guy with Cancer,

There are ribbons for breast cancer, organ donation, domestic violence...is there one for testicular cancer?
Dear ribbon touter,

Likely, as without ribbons touting bad stuff like a freaking terror alert code, none of us would ever know how to feel about a subject and we wouldn't have a secret code to let other half-sackers know who we are. These ribbons are like Jesus fish...they used to stand as a code to let others know who was awesome, but now they're freaking everywhere and can be bought in magnet form in gas stations by someone with a buck fifty and low willpower for garbage. It's for this reason that testicular cancer survivors have taken to using "Truck Nutz" as a signal of hope and strength for our movement. Rest be assured...if you see someone driving around with a pair of "Truck Nuts" on their vehicle, they're either a testicular cancer survivor or a redneck...but either way they've got less than two balls.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sleep, sleep and more sleep

I think I'm spending a good chunk of my days now trying to not think about food or getting sick.

I'm near the end of my first weekend on chemo now, and it's the first two days I've had without treatments, so I figured it'd be a cakewalk. Not quite. Here's a little summary of my weekend so far: Friday, in bed by 9 p.m. (due to nausea). Awake at 9 a.m. Saturday. Ate two baked potatoes (very slowly), showered, dressed, went out to run some errands. Came home at 2 p.m. because I was tired and feeling a little sick. Took a three-hour nap (pants off nap...there's a critical difference between a pants-on nap and a pants-off nap. While some may say the difference is whether you're wearing pants, and they're smart-asses, it's a world of difference between how refreshing the nap is), ate some ravioli, went on a 2-mile walk with the wife, came home, tried to watch a movie and went to sleep at 9 p.m. I just woke up this morning at 9 a.m. and forced myself to eat breakfast (a Rice Krispie treat, two packages of pudding, half a tin of mandarin oranges and two bites of a banana...I'm like an anorexic goat).

So, let's recap. So far this weekend, I've gotten 24 hours of sleep (27 hours if you count the pants-off nap), and my Sunday just started 2-1/2 hours ago. There were times in college when I would get 24 hours of sleep in a week...and feel rested. I've spent more time sleeping this weekend than I have in forever and I still feel sick and slightly tired.

Not only that, but I have to psych myself up to eat and try and figure out exactly what I can put into my stomach that will likely stay there. This may seem over-dramatic, and it's possible I am overreacting to this, but I'm not convinced. My doctor asked me last Friday if I'd thrown up yet and seemed genuinely impressed when I told him I had not. There have been several times I've felt like throwing up, but haven't, because it just seems pointless. All the reading I've done on chemo has attributed nausea to the affect the medicine has on your brain and messing with your stomach lining. When I've thrown up in the past, it's always been to get something out of my stomach I didn't want in there anymore (alcohol, bad seafood, a spare quarter, etc.). Now, when I feel like throwing up, I think about how it's not to get anything out of my stomach I don't want in there...it's just because I'm on some medicine that's messing with the part of my brain that wants me to get rid of food I put in there for absolutely no reason. That annoys me...hence the reason why I haven't gotten sick yet: spite. I'd say a majority of the decisions I make is based on spite, even when it's me fighting against my brain.

I've got medication to help with the nausea, and it seems to do a halfway decent job when I have it. The fun part is, my insurance company (which previously tried to deny allowing me a port to take chemotherapy because it's a bit more luxurious than stabbing at my veins during 21 separate sessions) decided that my severe nausea medication would only be covered once every 24 days. Not a big deal, right? Well, not really until you take into account that my severe nausea medication is six pills, to be taken once every 8 hours. Now, I'm no mathemagician, but....8 hours x 6 pills = 48 hours = Two days of non-sick Greg every 24 days. I'm just giddy with excitement trying to figure out which two days I'm going to use next month (as I've already used up my allotment this month). I'm thinking Halloween and then maybe save the others to pool around my birthday in November. This is so exciting...I feel like a prison inmate that's been given a few packets of salt to use on whatever prison meal I choose over the next several years!! Insurance companies are the tops!

Despite some overly-dramatic comparisons and the past couple of blog posts on here touching on insanity, this chemo isn't devastating. In fact, if I could just forget I was going through it, I'd likely spend a lot of my day oblivious. My problem is I keep self-assessing myself, paranoid of reaching a point where I'm sick and I dont' realize it (which makes zero sense). I feel like if I don't constantly monitor my body, it's going to do something without my knowledge, and before I know it I'm in the middle of a supermarket perusing the samples of ordinary foods on toothpicks when my body decides to empty my stomach all over the floor. I feel like if I walk around all day constantly monitoring when my stomach feels slightly more or slightly less queasy, however, I can catch any change in momentum before getting sick and have ample time to get home, get medicated and get ready for the sickness...which has yet to show up in the way I've imagined it will. I've prepared myself for war (bent over the toilet, dry heaving and drained of energy) and all I've gotten so far is someone TP'ing my house (feeling slightly nauseous and having to go to bed at 9 p.m.).

I'm quickly adapting to "a new normal." I'm developing new standards for how I should feel on a day-to-day basis, I'm changing my minimum requirements for how much sleep I should get and I'm finally starting to let myself worry slightly less about how my body feels every 5 seconds ("Did my stomach just gurgle a bit? Should I eat some pudding?"). Hopefully these changes will help the next 8 weeks fly by faster than this first week. If not, my body is going to freak me out so much over the next 3 months that I'll either be crazy or have super-human abilities by the time this is over ("Wait...did you hear that? My blood pressure went down slightly. Give me half a piece of toast, I need to get that back to normal.")

Friday, October 7, 2011

Here we go...now THIS is what chemo should feel like

Ok, yeah, this is what I imagined chemo is supposed to feel like.

I woke up this morning feeling pretty nauseous after waking up an hour before my alarm with feverish thoughts. Have you ever had one of those work dreams where you dream you're handling a monotonous task at work all night, and you wake up mentally exhausted? I had one of those for the last hour of sleep...dreaming that people kept handing me memos and I kept putting them somewhere in my mind, scanning them and trying to keep track of them all. I then woke up feeling nauseous, as someone who spent a good chunk of their morning handling nonsense paperwork might.

After a slow shower, an even slower breakfast and a long nap in the car, I finally made it to my final chemo appointment of the week. The nurse took one look at me and gave me some more anti-nausea medication and some Tylenol.

Fast forward two hours, and here I am, much more chipper and happily snacking on saltine crackers, waiting for this final chemo treatment to be done. After this marathon week, I only have one appointment next Tuesday, one appointment the following Tuesday, and that's it. Well...that's it for round one. I'll be going through three rounds total, but I'm not thinking about another marathon week yet...I'll deal with that one when it comes around.

I'm looking at this whole experience of going through chemo as something that will shock my kids and grandkids in the future. There have been some magnificent advances in cancer research in the past 30 years, and I just know that there are going to be many more in the next 30. It's for this reason that I think when my kids hear I went through chemotherapy treatment where they put a port in me and pumped drugs directly into my veins, it's going to be like hearing I had a relative that was given leeches for a blood transfusion.

I have a feeling in the near future, very few people are going to look back at a time where we pumped drugs into the veins of cancer victims as a team of "breakthrough science." Hopefully in the future, very precise surgery will be developed, pills with few side effects will be developed to be taken (hopefully orally...oh man, hopefully orally) and cancer will be like the yellow plague of my grandparents' generation. Until then, though, I've got to sit in this chair and go through this iron-lung garbage. Fortunately, it's successful, but just a bit miserable.

Sharing this discussion with my nurse this morning, she said when she was involved with administering chemo 20 years ago, they had very few other drugs to help combat the side effects, so people just had to deal with the nausea. She recalled one person she helped out coming up to her years later and telling her that the sight of her still made her nauseous. Man, and I thought back when I worked in the insurance industry it was bad when going into work made myself nauseous...I can't imagine if it had the same effect on other people (besides my then-boss).

On the plus side, I'm done with my fifth-straight chemo session. That's five days down, 58 to go. OR, if you look at it optimistically, that's 5 sessions down, 16 to go (which is a much better way to view it). Now, I've got a weekend full of, for the first time in many months, NOTHING. TV, video games, board games, movies and hanging out with my awesome wife. I'm sure I'll catch up on sleep and hopefully eat some food that tastes like something other than acid, and be ready to hop back into the chair next Tuesday...getting ready to adjust to this new version of normal. Getting used to food tasting differently, feeling weaker, waking up nauseous and having standing appointments for nearly half of the next month.

Well, it could be worse...I could still have a ballsack full of cancer with a nutty center. I'll take the cure over the disease any day.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chemo is not as much fun as a crayon box full of bees

For the first time since I've started off my chemo treatment, I woke up a bit nauseous.

It could have been the fact I took an anti-nausea pill last night and went to bed at 9 p.m. It could have been the fact that I'm on chemo and spent each morning this past week having different cocktails of poison pumped into my veins. Or, it could have been the fact that last night I ate half of a large Papa Murphy's pizza, walked two miles and went to bed. I'm not a gambling man, so I won't make a wager on the true cause of my nausea, but I suspect it was going to bed early. I figured tonight I'll take an anti-nausea pill, eat half of a Virginia ham and go to sleep around midnight.

While feeling a bit nauseous this morning, it's actually not all that horrible. It's not exactly like when you're sick with the flu and just keep waiting to throw up...the feeling is constantly there, and it's more from weird stuff, like smells, that triggers the nausea. I can only assume this is what being pregnant is like, but saying "pregnancy is like having cancer" is a phrase that will be misread entirely and likely drop some jaws, so I'll avoid typing that again. I think pregnancy morning sickness could be similar to cancer, however, and that's a fair comparison that won't get me yelled at by every woman I know.

Really, more than the nausea is the monotony of all of this. It's the same routine every morning. Wake up, shower, throw on a T-shirt with a neck I don't mind getting stretched out, force myself to eat something, take my medications and drive 30 minutes to Ames. I check in (they know me by name now, like I'm some sort of chemo VIP), wait 5 minutes and I'm led back to a chemo dorm. They clean the spot around my port, stick me with a needle, we make small talk for 10 minutes and then they start pumping fluid into me for the next 5 hours while I do work on my computer. The smells, the sounds and everything are all intertwining into this big ball of monotony that is just entirely maddening.

Most people that know me well know that I can't handle being bored very well. When I was young, I doodled fairly frequently in class. To break monotony in fifth grade, I spent a recess period with an empty crayon box catching bees and putting them in the box. After I got about 30 of them into this 24-crayon pack that was about the same size as a pack of cigarettes, I closed the lid and brought them with into class. About 30 minutes into our lesson, I started getting bored and shook the box to hear the hum of 30 angry bees stuffed into a small container. The buzz kept growing, which started to concern me. My elementary school in Omaha, Neb. was growing quicker than facility upgrades could keep up, so my classroom was inside one of 30 portables - classroom trailers that were fairly quiet - around the main school. It was peaceful, secluded and easily disturbed by a crayon box full of 30 angry insects. I looked at my limited options - fess up and accept my punishment or release the bees and hopefully dilute the noise. I chose the latter, opening the lid slightly and casually tossing the box into a corner like a grenade. Within 15 minutes, the classroom was in chaos. Occasionally, a bee or two would get into the room and it would distract the students, who were all scared to death of the insects...this fear was amplified when they were required to sit in their desks. Thirty bees roaming a classroom, however, was too much for my teacher to handle. We were given recess and a janitor was brought in with a can of Raid and asked to find an explanation for why our classroom all of a sudden became a honey hole for stinging insects. To my knowledge, he never developed a hypothesis.

The bottom line is, when I get bored, I get somewhat mischevious. In elementary school, I entertained myself with doodling and odd habits. In high school and college I moved onto pranks.

Now, a 28-year-old adult, I know that pretending to fall asleep in my chair and slowly blowing up a surgical glove inside my shirt a little bit more every 10 minutes to make the nurses think my stomach is filling up with air, or chemo, or whatever is childish. I get that entirely, but that's kind of how I'm wired to behave. And when I'm stuck in a room for 5 hours each day with a variety of MacGuyver-like instruments, such as tongue depressers, cotton balls and Q-tips, my mischevious brain just starts pumping and I can't help but thinking about how great it would be to sneak a bird's nest into the potted plant in my room, leaving yet another person scratching their head about how something like that could have happened.

Chemo (and large helpings of pizza) seems to be effectively doing something to me physically, but it doesn't look like it's done much to curb my mischevious side. Let's hope that it does before I bring some red paint to dab on the ears of my nurse's stethoscope.

"Sally, are you bleeding from the ears?"

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A remarkable diagnosis (a non-humorous post, for a change)

I've been using this blog for some pretty light-hearted stuff (If this is the first post you read, this isn't the norm...keep reading after this), but I just wanted to throw this out there as a major component of my cancer diagnosis, and while it may start off a bit depressing here, it's an interesting coincidence nonetheless and can be taken however you'd like to take it - spiritually, as a mere coincidence, intervention, etc. Well, this is an interesting disclaimer, isn't it?

My younger brother, Ryan, died just over three years ago from an accident, which has been tough on my family (that may be the biggest understatement ever!). He was only about 1-1/2 years younger than me, and we were very close growing up. While I'll never completely get over losing a sibling, I've come to terms with what has happened, and part of that involved figuring out what to do on the anniversary of the date he died each year.

The first year I skipped work and went fishing...something both of us enjoyed doing growing up (the fishing part...having my family own a small business, we didn't have much of a chance to skip work!). The second year, I reflected on his life at home. This past year, though, I wanted to start a tradition. I wanted to start doing something new on the anniversary of his death each year - something I hadn't done before. It could be as simple as trying a new type of food or something as dramatic as visiting a new country. I started making plans to skydive, but timing made that a bit of a challenge this year (I plan on it next year, however), so as a result I made plans for my wife and I to go on a full-moon canoe float. I had never gone canoing at night, and it seemed like a perfect way to spend a warm, August night...reflecting on my brother's life out on the lake.

Anyways, as the date started getting closer, I started second-guessing myself. The full-moon float was technically scheduled the night before the anniversary, and it wasn't supposed to last past 10 p.m. (it was a county conservation department sponsored event). As a result, I decided to add another "Neverdunnit" item to this year's calendar for that anniversary - horseback riding.

I've been horseback riding before, when I was young enough to be picked up and put on top of a horse, but they were always trail horses walking in a straight row and couldn't be steered, sped up or slowed down. In essence, I was placed on a smelly, hairy wagon and given a rope to hold until I was told I could get off. I wanted to actually steer a horse and make it go faster than a lazy walk.

The full moon canoe float was amazing...despite the full moon, we were still able to see some fantastic shooting stars in the sky (a meteor shower was peaking that night), and it was awesome, but like I mentioned before, it wasn't on the day of the anniversary of my brother's death, so I was really looking forward to horseback riding.

The following day, I went out to my in-law's farm (they own horses) and was finally able to mark something I'd never done off my list - ride a horse solo and make it gallop. I went out with my wife, Lauren, and my mother in law at first, learning how to steer the stubborn animal I had, and eventually had a chance to take it out on my own, steering it along a pasture, through their backyard and in-between grapevines they have on their property. I even got it going pretty fast, galloping, which jostled me like crazy up and down on the saddle as I mentally checked this year's item off of my list.

The next day was when I first noticed my testicle hurting. It went away the following day and reappeared a couple weeks later, but that jostling up and down on that horse was what first made me go, "Hmmm...that pain seems abnormal." It was that pain that subsequently lead to my testicular cancer diagnosis.

I've gone over the what-ifs since all of this occurred. What if I hadn't gone horseback riding that day? How long would it have taken for that pain to develop? How long would my TC have gone undiagnosed? How far could that cancer, which eventually progressed to my lymph nodes, have gone if left unchecked for another month? Two months? Six months?

I don't care if you're religious or not, something like that will give you pause and ponder the question of how mysterious, and awesome, life can be. For me, just thinking of that makes me shudder, as it rightly should.