Because so many people have expressed interest, and have give me such an outpouring of heartfelt, warm feedback over the last few months, I’ve committed to keeping everyone fully abreast of my battle with metastatic cancer. I had an episode today that I was not prepared for, and which has left me truly shaken.
As I’ve been telling you, there are three potential cancers in a race to do me in—one where my kidney used to be that’s also setting up shop behind my spleen, one in my sigmoid colon which somehow managed to spread there from the kidney, and then there’s the bladder itself which is likely to get a third recurrence of cancer eventually but which is clean at the moment. Treatment for the colon cancer via radiation and chemo appears to have accomplished at least part of its mission in that my intestines are not blocked, although there’s no word on how long I can hope for that to remain the case. Chemo and radiation on the other cancerous mass were deemed not successful. Chemo and radiation are what gave me that massive sepsis in June, which damned near killed me, and they contributed to the deep vein thrombosis of my right leg that has left me challenged in getting around. Because the doctors could not promise me that more chemo would not just leave me sicker and perhaps even take away time I might otherwise have coming to me, I made the decision to come off chemo and radiation and go with hospice.
My stamina has been slowly decreasing, and by that I mean that everyday activities such as walking, climbing steps, and so on tend to leave me increasingly winded. The time it takes for this to happen varies by the day depending, I suppose, on how well I sleep each night. I also cope with cancer pain at night which the hospice folks so far are managing well, and which they promise they’ll keep ahead of for me. This is very welcome; as I’ve explained in previous posts, prior to hospice my pain was not being well managed. Being able to get a good 8 hours sleep every night through proper pain management has made all the difference in the world.
Today right after breakfast, I headed upstairs to change when something happened halfway up the stairs. I felt a strong pulse or pop right at the top of my head and below my heart. It’s hard to describe; it was just a light throb that should not have been there; something seemed to give. I immediately fell to my knees on the midway landing. And the next thing you know, I was out of breath and growing more so. Very quickly I found myself panting like an out of shape sprint runner—and it was getting worse and worse. Within seconds I was at the point where I just could not breathe.
In this condition, I stumbled into my bedroom and took a shot of asthma inhaler, but this had little effect. The symptoms were similar to asthma but without the wheezing; I simply could not get enough air in. The world began to turn grey and I felt as if I were about to pass out. It occurred to me that if that happened I might not wake again, so I made a concerted effort to take deep breaths and get my breathing under control. After a few moments of that, my breathing eased slightly. At this point I navigated my way to my study and took my blood pressure, which turned out to be strong but with a highly elevated pulse. Something was going on. Carefully heading downstairs, I told Deborah I was having an emergency, and dialed my hospice service. It dispatched a nurse, who arrived in 30 minutes flat.
The nurse couldn’t find anything wrong, though. Vitals were strong and by the time she got here the pulse was back down to a nominal range. She could find nothing anomalous through the stethoscope. Pupils were reacting normally. There was simply nothing to explain what had happened even though I was still slightly out of breath during this conversation. We discussed breathing exercises, and she had the doctor approve some Lorazapam for anxiety—but what good that did me, I couldn’t tell. Still and all, her visit set me at ease that if I were going to check out, it would not be tonight.
Afterwards, Deborah and I did something to take care of my other anxiety, going on a donut run, which is what I had planned to do before the attack of whatever it was that attacked me. (My doctor has told me that whatever I feel like eating, I should eat and have on hand. Lately I’ve been gaining back some lost ground in the weight fight against cancer, so I’m anxious to keep such foods at my elbow.)
About an hour after getting back with our sugar bombs, though, I tried my hand to see if I had really improved, by way of setting out the garbage cans, and found myself largely repeating the shortness-of-breath experience. I did not get the pop or the palpitations again, but did experience the extreme difficulty in catching up on my breathing. But I was able to calm myself down more quickly this time.
So, I hope this is not where I have now arrived, unable to take out the trash or to go to the second floor for the purpose of writing a blog entry. I’ll make this confession to you now: I’m feeling so useless. I used to be a productive person. Look at me now – sitting around puffing and gulping air while wondering what’s on daytime TV. This isn’t me. But it’s becoming me.
The nurse told me she had no way of examining for clots. My oncologist warned me that this kind of thing could happen. Cancer patients throw off clots; it’s what they do. It seems likely to me that I threw off a small one and that it went to my lungs. If so, it’s not bad news. If that’s what happened, then since it didn’t kill me the body will re-absorb it. There are no signs of a stroke. So I’ll live to fight another day, and I feel pretty good about that.
Meanwhile, Judge Matthis, here I come.
Tomorrow—I don’t assume there’ll be one but if there is you can bet I’ll be on hand with arms eager to embrace it—I plan to write more about the stellar reviews that have flooded in over the last few days. Watch this space.