The Cancer Diaries, Part 24

Finish line aheadMy final week of radiation treatment is here. I should have felt elated that I would no longer be required to drive every day for an hour or more each way as I have for the past six weeks. Everyone told me it would go by in a flash, but it seems to have dragged on and on. I felt curiously empty when the new week dawned and the end was in sight.

It’s been a difficult time — almost a year since my PSA test showed something was seriously wrong, and seven months since my surgery. While most of the time, I’m optimistic, some days it’s hard to be upbeat. I guess that’s in part because there are still a lot of unknowables about my condition; I don’t know yet what my future holds. There is still more hormone treatment coming, and a likelihood of further treatment, like chemotherapy. Not looking forward to that.

Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.
Job 5:7

Emotionally, physically, and mentally this treatment process has sometimes been draining. A lot like walking uphill in knee-deep snow: you have to keep pushing yourself forward, one step at a time. Some days I feel fine; others I drag myself out of bed, stumble through my ablutions, and fall into the car to drive for treatment. All without any enthusiasm or optimism.

It’s been modestly expensive for a retiree, too. The cost of drugs, diapers, and pads, coupled with the daily cost of driving and parking have added up. I keep reminding myself that if we lived in the USA and had to pay the full costs of everything rather than have most of it covered by our healthcare system, we would either have become bankrupt, or I would have died without treatment. Probably the latter, since I would not want to put Susan into poverty. The number of Americans who claim bankruptcy because of medical bills is staggering. I am glad to live in Canada.

During the past year, I’ve not engaged in several of the activities I have previously enjoyed, because I was either in a frail, post-operative state, encumbered with a catheter and urine bag, or simply feeling listless and sore. I can’t recall the last time I made bread or pasta, two things I used to love to do. I missed a lot of long walks around town with Susan and our dog, too. I didn’t exercise — the rowing machine in the basement went unused. At least I’ve kept up my reading. Perhaps come spring I will be back to a more ‘normal’ life and recovered enough so that I can do everything as I did in the past.

I can take heart that my fears about bad weather have not materialized this winter. It’s been unseasonably dry and warm these past few weeks. Were I a religious man, I would thank whatever weather god(s) I followed for the lack of snow — Wikipedia lists dozens of weather deities, including Thor, Jupiter, Raijin, K’awiil, Horus, Marduk, and many more, but none listed specifically as a snow (or no-snow) god. However, different searches gave me Chione (Khione), Ullr, Frau Holle, Morana, Skadi, Boreas, Hoder, Iokul Frosti, Morozko, Polivah, and a few others who controlled the snow. Who knew there were so many? I suppose I should just thank them all. Isn’t it usual to sacrifice a politician at an altar for this?

But, I remind myself, as Dr. David Orenstein recently asked in a piece at the Humanist.com, “Doesn’t rational truth sustain us better than magical thinking?” He also asks,

Are we so stymied by the present that we neglect learning about the past? Or are we so consumed by the present that we cannot collectively imagine a positive future? And why, for instance, is science and expertise viewed by many with suspicion or as a threat?

Traditional winter weather will come later in the month, starting a day or two after my treatment is over. I take heart that spring is only seven weeks away (cue the laugh track). The next big, province-wide lockdown also gets put in place this week.

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 24”

Musings of a B-Film Junkie

The Gorilla, 1939
I put a DVD of the 1939 film, The Gorilla, into the player and sat back to watch. Bela Lugosi (above, centre) starred beside the Ritz Brothers (trio above), a popular American comedy trio contemporary with the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, and the Marx Brothers. This would be the last year the Ritz Brothers worked for Fox; they stopped making films entirely in 1943. It’s the first full film of theirs I’ve seen, but am not impressed.

Lugosi is best known for his starring role in the 1931 film, Dracula. After which he was typecast as the villain, mostly in horror and monster films. Some of which were great (or at least watchable for those who love the genres), many weren’t. Despite his attempts to get into other genres, most of his roles stayed in that narrow vein, mostly in B-films. His final “A” film was the 1948 Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (which I would personally have rated a B-plus-film), but he continued making B- and C-films until 1955, the year before his death. In the mid-1930s, he played the protagonist in the entertaining fantasy, Chandu the Magician, and later its 12-part sequel, The Return of Chandu.

But sometime in the mid-1930s, Lugosi had become addicted to morphine and later methadone, administered for painful sciatica, and only checked into a clinic for help in 1955. By then it was too late: he died in ’56.

The Ritz Brothers, in this film, look like poor mimics of other comedy groups. And where each character in the Marx Brothers or Three Stooges was unique, with highly differentiated styles, dialogue, and acting, the Ritz Brothers seemed interchangeable clones: indistinguishable from one another. Their work here seems derivative and thin.

The Gorilla was shot in black and white, of course, although colour movies were already being made (Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz being the two most famous). It co-starred Lionel Atwill, a polished English actor with a string of credits to his name; this, however, was not his best work. Nor was it Lugosi’s. Although I’ve enjoyed many of his films, in this one he felt wooden; going through the motions without any real effort. 

The GorillaBilled as a “horror-comedy,” I hoped it would be better — much better — than it was, something more along the Chandu lines. While not the worst B-film I’ve ever seen, it’s a long way from the best. And I’ve seen worse gorilla costumes in movies. Not often, however.

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The Cancer Diaries, Part 23

Happy New YearI started the New Year with another welcome three days off, with the final third of my radiation treatment ahead in the next few weeks.

I can’t say I’ve ever been quite as happy to see a year pass as I have with 2020. As if the widening pandemic, lockdowns, Trump’s madness and treason, the nail-biting US elections, the stupid and selfishanti-maskers and anti-vaxxers, the QAnon idiocy spreading among the gullible, Brexit, Jason Kenney and the UCP destroying Canadian unity as well as Alberta, the waste of $9 million locally for the Saunderson Vindictive Judicial Inquiry (SVJI), and Erin O’Toole’s election as Conservative leader weren’t enough to drive a person around the bend or at least into despair, I had to get cancer as well. It has been the worst year of my life, but I suspect a lot of people feel that way about it, even without having cancer.

Susan and I had a subdued New Year’s Eve, Thursday, ordering a takeout meal from a local restaurant. In previous years we would have gone out to celebrate the New Year and toast the anniversary since we met. This was our 38th, and we celebrated over dinner at home and a glass of wine from a box (at least it’s Ontario wine). Susan has been the continued light in my dark year.

We capped off the night with a mediocre movie, then a Star Trek: Next Generation episode (we’re re-watching the series for the third time), followed by an hour or so of reading in bed. Exciting, aren’t we? Didn’t even stay up until midnight to see in the start of the new decade. But it’s not like I got a full night’s sleep: my hot “flashes” and full bladder woke me up several times, as they do every night. 

I would like to see my way through the next decade — 2021-2030 — assuming that my various treatments kill off, or at least manage my cancer sufficiently. I’d like to live to at least 80, although both my parents reached their 90s, as did my maternal grandfather and paternal aunt. I figure it’ll take the next decade just to finish reading all the books I’ve bought in the past few years. I have a duty to read them all. The average life expectancy for men in Canada is 79.9 years. I’d like to be at least average in this aspect.

The five-year survival rate for prostate cancer that is restricted to the prostate and immediate area is almost 100%. That’s a cause for hope. But it falls to a low 31% if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. I don’t know where I fit in that, but suspect from comments made by my urologist after surgery, and the need for subsequent, lengthy treatment after it, that it may have spread further. So I may be in the latter group. If in the former, then my chances of reaching the next decade are 98% and 15 years is 96%. I live in hope. But less than one in three if it has spread. It’s a question I’ll have to ask either my urologist or the oncologist at our next meeting.

A recent study in the USA showed that “…people who have survived cancer in adulthood have a greater risk of developing and dying from new cancers than people in the general population.” That’s not encouraging. The article added,

It is well-known that people who have survived cancer typically have a greater risk of being diagnosed with the disease again, even if their first cancer has been successfully treated. In many cases, this is recurrence of the original cancer or metastatic disease related to the original cancer. It is also not uncommon for treatments for the primary cancer to unfortunately cause another cancer, but in many cases this link is hard to definitively prove. The American Cancer Society study looked at new cancers thought to be unrelated to the first cancer diagnosis.

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 23”

The Cancer Diaries, Part 21

Solar flareHot flashes are becoming more frequent, but I was warned they would be thus in the latter part of the treatment. I’m about halfway through the first stage of the hormone therapy process. My next hormone treatment (Lupron shot) will be given in about six weeks, shortly after my next blood test. I won’t know if I need more treatment (like chemotherapy or more hormones), however, for several more months after that.

I’m not sure why they’re called hot “flashes” as if they were lightning — they’re more like swelling eruptions from within; at least for me they arrive not abruptly but like a wave that builds as it reaches shore, then breaks and dissipates as the next wave is forming in the water behind it. I would have called them flares or surges, not flashes.

Susan and I took a long walk with our dog, Bella, into the downtown and back on Saturday, and on Sunday we walked to and through Harbourview Park; three to four kilometres each time. During those walks, I had hot “flares” several times, making me uncomfortably warm despite the winter weather. And, of course, I wake up with them at night. (If not them, then the cats and dog jockeying for a position to lie beside me will waken me.) And then they’re gone, leaving me cold and dragging the covers back over my exposed flesh (we keep our house cool at night, the thermostat set to 61F/16C).

This weekend, I suffered a tad more from an irritable bowel than earlier, if that’s the proper description. The radiation is affecting my intestines, and I am expressing mucous when I excrete or urinate. Not sure if this will get better and my body will recover when the treatment stops, but I suspect my bowels will never fully recover. Radiation kills cells. And possibly my gut flora won’t recover, either. Damn, but I need to ask about it’ find out if there’s anything I can or should do to help my intestinal fauna. I hate to think the cure is worse than the disease.

Meanwhile, I’ve started reading (among the many books on the go) the first of the second of Len Deighton’s spy thriller trilogies: Hook, Line, and Sinker. I first read it back in the 1980s, but wanted to re-read it as I had re-read the first trilogy (Game, Set, and Match, finished this fall) and plan to go on to the final trilogy, Faith, Hope, and Charity (which I have not read) when done. As Prospero says, in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “My library/Was dukedom large enough.”

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 21”

The Cancer Diaries, Part 20

A weekend off from the long, daily drive and the treatment certainly seems like a treat these days. On weekends, I get to have an easy morning, leisurely cups of tea, do some writing, play some computer games, take a long walk with Susan and Bella (weather permitting), then enjoy a quiet afternoon of reading, more tea, and maybe some online gaming with a friend. The prospect of spending another five or more weeks driving back and forth, suffering increasing side effects while missing my leisurely mornings, doesn’t thrill me.

What choice do I have? That’s one of the things about cancer: it reduces the number of choices you have in life. You really can’t do anything or go anywhere without thinking about it. But at least on weekends, I think about it less.

I’m now experiencing more hot flashes, particularly at night. Susan even changed the duvet for a lighter cover because we both suffer them now. I still usually have a small dog and a cat or two sleeping against me, though, so I sometimes get hot quickly. A thrash of covers usually follows. Then the inevitable cooldown comes and I wrap myself up again.

I took a chance on the weekend and stopped putting a pad in my underwear. I had been wearing one ever since I had my catheter removed, back in mid-July. I started with the full diaper, but only for a day or so, then moved to a heavy-duty pad. I quickly was able to use a thin pad, though. And I’ve continued to do my Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles because I don’t have a prostate to control my urine flow. I seem to have gained sufficient control, and not had any leak, even a tiny one, for the past couple of weeks. I’ve hesitated to stop using a pad before this “just in case,” but decided I’d had enough of them. And so far, it’s been fine.

However, since I began radiation treatment, my urine flow has reduced, which I suspect has something to do with the radiation scarring or hardening my urethra. Not sure what this bodes for my urinary future.

(As an aside, over the weekend I ordered some books from the UK, which I don’t expect to see until January, including the collected essays of George Orwell (the Everyman edition, which contains material not found in any of my current books), and a Hannah Arendt reader.)

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On growing old

De Senectute“We truly can’t praise the love and pursuit of wisdom enough,” wrote Marcus Tullius Cicero in one of his last works, How to Grow Old (De Senectute; aka On Aging or On Old Age), “since it allows a person to enjoy every stage of life free from worry.”

“Ancient wisdom for the second half of life,” is how Philip Freeman subtitles his translation of Cicero’s little book in his 2016 Princeton University edition. Cicero wrote his essay (not really a book as we think of them today) in 44 BCE, when he was already 62 years old. I’ve been reading Cicero again of late, searching for his wisdom as I, too age, and deal with the physical and medical complaints of aging. Freeman is a good translator, too; able to turn Cicero’s words into a readable, modern text.

I admit I guffawed a bit thinking of how Cicero’s praise for the lifelong pursuit of knowledge and wisdom compared with the current state of deliberate ignorance, conspiracies, QAnon piffle, the plethora of fake news among the rightwing, and the glut of pseudoscience in our modern world. From wingnut anti-GMO cultists to anti-maskers, homeopaths to anti-vaxxers, flat earthers to birthers, the ignorati in the White House to the banal plodders on Collingwood Council, we live in an age where knowledge is suspect, experts vilified,  truth denied, and wisdom is as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth.

There are, will always be, those who aggressively avoid learning and reading, comfortable in their self-perpetuating stupidity. For whom the concept of “lifelong learning” ended in childhood. It’s just unfortunate for the rest of us that some of them are in government.

But Cicero wasn’t writing about politics, although he had a lot to say about politics in many other works. Reading his thoughts about governance, ethics, duty, and responsibility is always inspiring. To those who actually read, that is; admittedly a shrinking class in the Age of Ignorance (how many of our local councillors actually know who Ccicero was, let alone have read him?). But in De Senectute he was writing about how to grow old gracefully, calmly and stoically, without despair, yet still active and engaged. He didn’t want the latter part of life to be seen as merely an end, but rather as a continued opportunity to live, learn, and grow.
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