Episode 7 (scroll down for earlier episodes)
SORRY I'M LATE.....
All my working life I've been chasing deadlines and here I am playing whack-a-mole with another one.
This episode of the blog was supposed to be (Posted? Podcast? Pixeled?) three and a half hours ago, but a funny thing happened on my way to the laptop – somebody left a New Yorker on my desk (Oh well, just the cartoons...). Then dinner happened and an Ideas program on walnut farming and---well, cut to the chase, I missed my own deadline.
Deadlines have been on my mind of late as I wrestle to come up with a working title for this blog thingy I've started here. If you're a late-comer to this territory here's what you need to know:
A couple of months ago I was walloped upside the head by a diagnosis of late-stage pancreatic cancer.
DIAGNOSIS VERBATIM: “I'm sorry to tell you that you have pancreatic cancer.”
DIAGNOSIS TRANSLATION: tidy up your business affairs; tell everyone who matters that you love them; follow the exit signs.
This blog is about my (cringe) 'journey' as it unfolds.
And it needs a title. I thought of Dead Man Blogging, but that sounded a little dark. And prejudicial. After all I could be cranking out this blog twenty years from now.
I was about to give up when I heard from Bob Rush, a friend and neighbour whose Puckish sense of humour seldom fails.
Why don't you call your blog 'Last Writes'? asks Bob.
Why don't I indeed? 'Last Writes' it is – and I've met a deadline with a...'dead' line. MBWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
My work here is done.
Episode Six (scroll down for earlier episodes)
NO PAIN, NO GAIN. (STUPID REFRAIN)
Well, hello, pain.
It's been a few weeks now since I was diagnosed with Stage 1V pancreatic cancer, so I've been expecting you.
I did get your earlier communications – the nagging backache, the uncomfortable gut – but this...this is quite another magnitude of unpleasantness. I feel like my gastro-intestinal system has been re-designated as Ground Zero in a paint-ball war. The pain is...not intense, but it's wearying. I feel like an old fortress on a hill beseiged by desultory cannon fire from the valley below. But it's not technicolour yet. A couple of Advil will probably take care of it.
I've been wondering just which particular dance step I'll use when pain – real pain – points his bony finger my way. I have options. Everything from hash oil to ibuprofen to a narcotic called Hydromorphone. That last one is strictly court of last resort: it's an opiod and a viciously addictive one.
Funny how some of the main treatments for cancer involve procedures you'd never use on a healthy human. Chemotherapy effectively declares war on the patient's system. It punches the crap out of your body. And we all know how opiod drugs mess people up.
Question is: with Stage 1V Pancan, what have you got to lose? Decisions, decisions.
Next week's red-letter days include a bone scan(?), and a cancer consult.I get a lot of those.
But that's all very dreary. Let me close with a joke I heard from my friend, Peter MacFarlane.
Three buddies were talking about death and dying. One asked, "When you're in your casket and friends and family are mourning you, what would you like to hear them say about you?"
The first guy says, "I would like to hear them say that I was a great doctor of my time and a great family man."
The second man says, "I would like to hear that I was a wonderful husband and school teacher who made a huge difference in our children of tomorrow."
The last guy says, "I would like to hear them say LOOK, HE'S MOVING!!!”
LETTERS....WE GET LETTERS
This is what happens when your cancer ticket gets punched. You start receiving emails like Carol's:
I thought I’d take time to sit back and figure out what to say to you re your shocking diagnosis, and so my mind’s been zinging all over the place, trying to come up with something that isn’t maudlin, yet says what I’d like to say. So what did I come up with? Nothing too clever, I’m afraid. The best I could do, it seems – without resorting to profanity - was “Rats!” with maybe a “Crap” thrown in.
I LIKE you being on Salt Spring, darn it. Selfish of me, isn’t it? So, would you do what you can to hang out, here, as long as possible?
We've enjoyed your wonderful talent and will continue to do so. Thanks for sharing it with us!
You also get emails like Morgan's who's...quite comfortable with profanity, actually:
I was just trying to be a classy lady in the subject line so I didn’t go straight to your spam folder but motherfudging fudge! I don’t like this news one bit. Not one bit!
So listen here, you lovely, funny, smart man, lover of animals and charmer of humans, I’d like to add my voice to what I know is an overwhelming chorus wailing against this diagnosis but also raising our voices in support of whatever you might need.
Sure, I’m probably not on your speed dial of people to call in a crisis but I would welcome the chance to be helpful in whatever way I can. And if there’s nothing practical I can do, just know that I’m sending you all my love.
All the prayers, all the woo woo, all the good thoughts, all the swear words about cancer, all that I’ve got.
I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this. It fills me with swears, I can only imagine how it’s making you feel. I’m glad you’re blogging and will be following along, every post. But should you ever need anything, I’m right here. I’m really good at swearing in a crisis. It’s more helpful than often people realize.
Thinking of you. And cursing that fudging fudge of a cancer.
A sobering business, this terminal cancer stuff. But for all its horror, it's not entirely bad. The announcemnt of cancer unleashes a tsunami of compassionate response. Near strangers swim in front of you, eyes bleary and give you a great grizzly hug.I received an email from Thailand recommending an anti-cancer chant. Someone else left a book in my mailbox which the accompanyng note said “Saved my sister's life. She's cancer-free ten years.””
There seem to be a lot of treatment options, not all of them swirling around in the maw of Big Pharma. I'm going into this thing with an open mind but I've got old-school backup. Last Friday they punched a hole in the inside of my upper right arm. Then they threaded a tiny filament into the hole in my arm, up a vein ending close to my heart. It's called a PICC – stands for Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter. Now I've got a porthole in my arm with a bandage over it. It's how they mainline the powerful chemo treatments into your body. Incidentally, you don't feel a thing while the RN wriggles and pokes the wire inside your chest. You can't. No nerve endings in our veins. Fun fact.
Scroll down for episodes 1-3
I, ARTHUR BLACK, being of sound (sort of) mind, stable-ish judgement and having achieved the venerable age of three score and fourteen...
....have decided to become a druggie.
Forced into it, really. Last month my doctor told me I have pancreatic cancer. PanCan is not one of your cuddly, curly-haired cancers. It's aggressive and remorseless. It does not respond to incantations, infusions or an apple a day.
Drugs? Well, yeah, pancreatic cancer sort of acknowledges drugs. That's why I am currently taking magnesium, Omega 3, B12, milk thistle, curcumin, vitamin D and something my bookie swears by called Coenzyme Q10.
But that's just the over-the-counter stuff. I am also, by perscription, throwing back recommended daily doses of multisyllabic intruders with names like Ramapril, Rabeprazole and Metformin.
Oh, and there's one other chemical kick that I'm treating myself to these days. Cannabis extract. If you bought it in the park you'd ask for hash oil. (Though chances are you'd end up with a rusty cap full of WD40.) I prefer to get my dope from an establishment a little more bricks-and-mortar than a park bench, so I went to the legit storefront in my hometown.
Where I purchased a slim plastic syringe-type pump full of something that looked like a gob of road tar on an August afternoon.
That's yer hash oil, my friend. Just take a tiny, tiny dab – on the end of a toothpick, say – and tuck it under your tongue...
A dab about the size of a rice seed, they advised. Well, I squeezed too hard, the hash oil oozed up. I took a dab about the size of a dried raisin.
An hour later – nothing – I dig out my hash stash and lever another dab onto a new toothpick. Under the tongue. Yuck. Tastes sour and sappy all at once.
And STILL the hash oil isn't work....wor....wo....Whoa....Wheee.....Whatthe....
The hash oil worked, although it was hardly a euphoric, flowers-in-your-hair experience.It was a body stone, where every limb feels heavier than a bag of turnips and every decision up to and including shoe laces – especially shoe laces – feels impossible to initiate.
But here's the thing: the pain in my back and my belly – gone. And it stayed gone for hours. Word on the street is that this hash oil takes away more than pain. The handout claims hash oil has been successfully used to treat major illnesses “including all forms of cancer...”
Yeah, well, that and a couple of bucks will get you a Starbuck's Grande...
Still it can't hurt – and as medicine goes, it's more pleasant than castor oil. In fact the only downside I can see to Cannabis therapy is the fact that a headful of Cannabis tends to make life
That's it for me and Episode 4...If I can just finish
Episode Three... Scroll down for Episodes 1&2
MAKE LOVE NOT WAR AND PEACE
So what's it like to get what amounts to a diagnosis of 'terminal' from your doctor? Like getting smacked by a giant nerf bat, initially. It rocks you back on your heels and yet it doesn't hurt.
For latecomers let me explain: I've just been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. That is not one of the nicer cancers. It is the Mike Tyson of cancers.
But I've got other problems to deal with first. Little things like cancelling three or four speaking engagments scheduled for the spring. I explain the circumstances over the 'phone; the principals at the other end are understanding and...stunningly kind, really, considering they're dealing with a guy they've never met who's just stiffed them. They all send condolences; they all practically reach through the phone to tell me how sorry they are to hear of my condition.
That has been the Big Lesson so far in this kinky kancer kavalkade I'm hitched my surfboard to – the unremitting kindness of everybody who hears of my situation.
At the end of a back adjustment, my chiropractor asks shyly, if I'd mind if he prayed for me.
Pray? Would I mind? Hell no, I'll take all the help I can get.
Another neighbour, a deceptively gruff lady farmer, pulls my partner aside and offers her assistance with whatever...infirmities and/or indignities await down the road. “I'm usedta cleaning up ya know. Cow poop, people poop, it's all the same to me”.
A minister from a church whose services I've never attended stops me outside the supermarket and offers a shoulder to lean on should I ever feel the need.
It's a time for some personal weeding and pruning too. One afternoon I blitz my library, winnowing it down to just 30 or 40 books I really feel I have to read before I hand in my library card for good.
Including, I shudder to admit, Tolstoy's War and Peace. I've been humping around a W-and-P paperback the size of a Galapogos tortoise since way back in the shank of the last century.
Never got past the preface.
But War and Peace looms once again on my now-groaning night-table. I plan to get to it right after I polish off Coupland's Girlfriend in a Coma.
Yep, I'll be diving straight into old Count Leo. All 1545 pages of him.
I mentioned I was an optimist, right?
to be continued.....
Scroll down for Episode 1.
SO FAR, SO GOOD!
Just between you and me I don't really believe them, you know. The Doctor Dreads, the Mournful Medicos, the pessimistic professionals who keep shaking their heads and telling me in the most nose-stretchingly, euphemistic ways possible, that cancer-wise, I'm screwed.
They can't even get their numbers straight, for starters. My first doctor gave me one to six months. The second doctor made it four to nine. I've already anted them up to 12 months at the outside. What orifice do they pull these numbers out of?
In the meantime, a new diversion to wile away an afternoon. I go to Royal Jubilee Hospital and submit myself to the Imaging Department for a liver biopsy.
Which is much less scarey than it sounds. I lay down shirtless on a gurney while someone rubs cold gel on my chest just below the sternum. When the surgeon reckons he's found the right drill site, he pokes it with a freezing needle (ouch!) then waits for the freezing to kick in. With the help of a CT wand he locates 'lesions' on the liver, then drills down to scoop up samples in syringe. None of this hurts at all. The hospital sends me home on my own steam. The only reminder of my adventure looks back at me from my bathroom mirror: a tiny pink bandaid nestled between my man-boobs like a misplaced pastie.
Next adventure: my first encounter with a bona fide oncologist, ominously named Dr. Sulfer. He will deliver the real nitty gritty and outline my options.
That happens in a couple of days. In the meantime, I'm puttin' on a Happy Face. I feel like the perennially optimistic window washer who lost his footing outside the 29th floor of an office building and went into an arm-flailing freefall. Just before he hit the concrete, bystanders heard him shout: “SO FAR, SO GOOD!”
I'VE GOT WHAAAT?
Depend upon it sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged
in a fortnight, it concentrates the mind wonderfully.
I'm sure it does. Much the same effect can be achieved by having your doctor tell you that you have pancreatic cancer. It's not just the words coming out of his mouth, because he backfills with chatter about treatment options and staying positive and blah and blah.
But his body language! The doctor looks, as the Brits say, gutted. He looks like he was cross-checked crossing the blue line with his head down. He looks worse than you do – and you've got pancreatic cancer, for chrissake!
Not that I had a clue. Oh, I felt a little fatigue and I had a backache that wouldn't quit – but pancreatic cancer???? And what the hell's a pancreas do, anyway? Until I received the diagnosis I hadn't spent a moment thinking about my pancreas – or anybody else's. I thought Pancreas was a stop on the London Underground.
Pancreatic cancer is a mean mofo that blindsides neary six thousand Canadians every year. Pancreatic cancer took out Pavorotti, Joan Crawford, Count Basie -- even Steve Jobs, with all his billions and his brilliance. Hardly seems fair that PanCan bellies up to the bar next to me, spoiling for a brawl. I'm a clean-living lad, 74 years young, non-drinker, non-smoker. I eat an annoyingly healthy diet and I have a partner Lynne, who holds it all together and makes our world go 'round in every way.
But it's not news that life – and death – aren't fair. If they were I'd be signed up for the Old Timers' Decathlon and Trump would be waving his diagnosis around yelling PANCREATIC CANCER??? FAKE NEWS!!!
My diagnosis is not fake news. I see a second doctor with sad, warm eyes who sits me down and gives it to me straight: pancreatic cancer which has metastisized into the liver. I have one to six months to live.
We'll see about that. Any way you cut it, I'm on my last big adventure. I plan to chronicle the journey right here for as long as my fingers type.
Which right now feels like forever. “How can this be?” I ask the doctor. “I feel great.'
“You will,” he murmurs from under those puppydog eyes, ”until you don't.”
TO BE CONTINUED...