Monday, September 27, 2010

Soup's On

The cyclical nature of chemo has taken me from the highs of a week ago, feeling good and lively, to the lows of the present, feeling tired and weak.  It is part of the dance, a complicated choreography involving me, some cancer cells, and some drugs.  I got in between one and two hours at work this morning, before retiring home for sessions of sleep interrupted by sessions of sitting.  True to form, C will likely rally me for a short walk tonight, after which I'll go early to bed.  Simple living with a foggy head.

It is the unfair burden of the caregiver that more of the household chores fall on C's shoulders during the lows (and probably during the highs, and the pre-cancer years too, but I'll pretend otherwise!).  Luckily, we stumbled upon a time saving recipe in the original Joy of Cooking for soup.  Recognizing that many are pressed for time, I thought I would share it here:

Cream of Asparagus Soup
1 can condensed cream of asparagus soup
1 can condensed chicken broth
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 1/2 cups milk

Now there is some home cooking!  The truly accomplished cooks among you will have recognized that the above recipe can serve as the blueprint for a whole week's worth of meals.  Prefer a cream of broccoli soup?  Simply substitute 1 can of condensed cream of broccoli soup for the asparagus soup!  Cream of chicken?  Substitute a can of cream of chicken!  Cream of mushroom?  Just cut the cream of asparagus altogether!  I bet if you are really pressed for time you could leave out the chicken broth and cream of mushroom, scale back the milk, and still call it cream of asparagus soup.

In terms of a status report, my onc doc gave us a "your doing excellent" Wednesday at the last infusion.  He can no longer feel the tumor in my abdomen at all.  He pronounced that I've been handling chemo just fine.  We'll schedule a PET scan following the last treatment, but he expects it will show everything in remission.  I expect the same.  So now it is just a matter of muscling through these last three treatments and laying the groundwork for a long, long remission period.  In the meantime, soup's on.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Savor the Flavor

It would seem I am at risk of turning this blog into an online hiking photo album.  Another weekend came and went, and we spent another Saturday out enjoying the sun.  The morning was blanketed thick in Anchorage fog.  Tired of the gloom, we drove up to Glen Alps, a near-town trail head up in the alpine.  Part way up, we breached the low lying clouds and emerged into brilliant blue skies.  C let out a squeal and clapped her hands.  Just seeing the sky made it all better.

(House above the fog with Mt. Spur in the background.)

(Fog lapping up on the foothills of the Chugach range.  That is what we lived in the whole of last week.)

We had no real destination to start with, but ultimately set our sights on Ship Lake Pass.  The sun continued to shine, our feet continued to move one in front of the other, and the miles ran away like so many scattering mice.  I did tire, and before long we picked a turn around spot not far from the pass itself.

(Standing where we decided to throw in the towel.  The Peak on the left is the Ramp.  The pass is, well, the pass pictured on the right.)

But we had already come so far!  Our we really turning around?  Yes.  We should stick to our guns.  But is it really that much further?  Should we just soldier on?  Yes.  OK, then.  To the pass it will be after all.

(At the pass, looking into the further reaches of the Chugach.)

(Looking down on Ship Lake in its fall finery.)

So the hike ended up being something over twelve miles, with something around 3,000 feet of vertical gain. It was a good day in the hills, and we were glad for the views.  As we creep up on the end of the third chemo cycle, I've been feeling pretty good, and I'm thankful I could put in a good twelve miles.  I've had more energy than at the end of the second cycle.  I'm not sure what to credit for that, but I will not complain.  C and I went for a run after work today, and the legs felt spry.  I was able to push up to a 7:30 pace and hold it for about a mile.  Not exactly pre-chemo levels, but it nevertheless felt good to pick up some speed and let the legs loose.  And I couldn't have done so at the end of the second cycle.

Now to talk hair.  Hair loss is the most obvious manifestation of chemo, and accordingly always a fun topic of conversation.  Long time readers will recall a prior post with "then" and "now" photos comparing the bearded, full-head of hair version of Scott with the post clippers version.  The truly observant will have noted all along the continued presence of a flavor saver, aka soul patch, aka pretentious patch of hair left behind on my lower lip.  The flavor saver started as a joke, something I would wear to work for a few days and then shave off.  But soon thereafter my hair started falling out, and I decided to save the saver until the bitter end.  The other day, C and I were looking at pictures on the hard drive (remember when you had to do so in albums?) and noted a remarkable change in its appearance.  See for yourself.  Then (first in profile, second straight on):

And now (in a smaller crop):

The vast majority of my pretentious lower lip hair seems to have fallen out.  I knew it had thinned, but didn't really appreciate the degree to which it had done so.  At least I still have my eyebrows.  With eyebrows, the general public is left wondering: Is he a racist neo-Nazi from Idaho?  A straight-edged punk from D.C. circa 1986?  Just a lazy guy who prefers low maintenance hair cuts?  Once the eyebrows go you really take on the look of a chemo-patient, and all mystery disappears.   

I start the fourth cycle tomorrow.  Here's to the approaching 2/3 milepost.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Sun Will Come Out

It feels like it has been a busy two weeks since I last updated the blog.  As previously noted, my parents came to visit.  Concern about their baby's health will prompt even my parents to suffer through the rigors of air travel.  In case you are wondering what became of the green chiles, we whipped up a quick sauce as evidenced by the following picture:

(Stolen without permission from my Dad's Picasa page.)

In addition to the chiles, my folks brought with them more rain.  In contrast, my inlaws came to visit last weekend and brought blueberries and sunshine.  When push comes to shove, I like chiles better than berries, but sun better than rain.  So, we will call it a wash and say C and I had a nice visit with both families.

The sun was actually a very welcome treat.  To those of you who have not been living Anchorage's weather on a daily basis, we have set records this summer for crap.  So having made it through the worst parts of my third round of treatment and with sunny skies beckoning, we headed to the hills last weekend.  On Saturday we walked for four miles or so on the Prospect Heights trials.

We forgot the hand made sign, but I'm holding up a 53 to signify 53 days of chemo.  While those of you in warmer climes may not think it, fall is actually approaching fast:

Having decided that the warm weather and exercise were doing us good, we returned to the mountains on Sunday and made 3.5 miles and 2000 vertical feet up Wolverine peak before I turned us around.  Unsurprisingly, it was turning to fall in the higher elevations too:

Near our high point, with Denali, Foraker, and the whole of the Alaska Range visible in the background:

At our high point, with vibrant yellow tundra countering the glare from my scalp:

And finally, over looking Anchorage with the airport, Mt. Spur, and another hiker all making an appearance:

The warm (meaning 60 degrees; warm is a relative concept) temperatures continued into Monday, but yesterday the fog rolled in.  My best guess is that the sun continues to shine somewhere above the clouds, but visibility in our neighborhood has been cut to a couple of hundred feet.  Its like a balmy January out there.  But as they say, it is better to have sunned and lost than to have never sunned at all.  And the way this summer had been going, we were squarely in the never sunned at all camped a few days ago.  I'm glad the break in the weather came at the right time in my treatment cycle.

As far as I know, I know everyone who has ever laid eyes on this blog.  But this being the information age, and information wanting to be free and all, there is the (slim) possibility that someone out there stumbled upon this page through the power of Google or by dumb luck.  As a newly diagnosed NHL patient, I scoured the web for what information I could glean, and read other's experiences in blogs and forums as a way of getting a handle on what I was facing.  If someone similar is reading this, I should note that notwithstanding pictures of sunny mountains and smiling Scotts, R-CHOP is not all daffodils and Belgian beer.  I feel good this week, but chemo has had its fair share of "This Sucks" moments, perhaps captured by the following picture taken at my second treatment:

And yes, the picture is sideways.  I like to think it is an artistic way of capturing the sideways feeling of bright orange liquid pumping into a valve on your chest, but really it is just that I'm too lazy to open the file in an editor and rotate it.

To wrap up this post (and get myself to bed), I'll just toss out a hello and thanks to T&A in Olivet, France for a CD that just arrived in the mail.  Several years ago, C and I traveled through Europe and spent time with T&A in France and Switzerland.  We spent a night (or two?) with A's family in a small town outside of Geneva.  We spent the nights with A's grandparents with a window overlooking vineyards, and the days at A's parents house, a traditional looking alpine chalet, watching chickens run through the yard.  One sunny, comfortable afternoon, C and I were sitting on the back porch.  Upstairs, A's brother and a friend had picked up some instruments.  The air smells clean, there was probably raclette in the oven, and guitar and accordion music spilling over the balcony.  It is a nice memory, and the playing was very good.  A's brother and band mates have now finished what is being referred to as a "pre-pre-production" version of a CD, and we just got a copy.  Many thanks.  The music is cheerful and will remind us of relaxing days in Switzerland.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Three Down

I received my third treatment yesterday.  That is the third of six.  Depending on how you look at it, I'm half way through.  The alternate view is I will not be at the half way point until I surface from this batch of side effects.  Either way, we're that much closer to bidding adieu to the leather chairs (aside from occasional tuneups, which are limited to one of the 5 primary chemo drugs and should have limited side effects).

Luckily, the Vuelta de Espana (Tour of Spain) bike race is underway.  It gives me something to relax to while shaking off the fogginess and leaden tongue.

Short post today.  Just a celebratory nod to the passing of time.  Some moments you want to last a life time and others can't expire fast enough.  My last treatment is on November 3rd.  I feel a little like a kid staring at December 25th on the calendar wondering if Christmas will ever really come.

But the really good news is that the chemo seems to be doing what it is designed to do.  Previously swollen lymph nodes are undetectable.  The other good news is that my blood counts were good this round.  I have a blood draw every three weeks prior to a treatment to analyze various parameters of my red and white blood cells.  Prior to the second treatment, my white cell counts were on the low side of borderline.  As such, I've started getting a shot to boost production, and it seemed to work.  Counts were good; treatment a go.