Tuesday, 31 May 2011


I used to read a lot of cancer blogs on the internet and many of them ended suddenly. Everything was going fine and then there would be no more posts. I used to wonder what happened to these people. Shake my head and think 'those poor bastards, couldn't even make it to the keyboard before cancer felled them in their tracks'. I now realize people stop writing about cancer well, because it's boring to write about cancer when you don't have it anymore. I'll keep this blog up in case someone stumbles across it and finds it amusing or useful. I'll update it if anything bad happens with my health, but I think I'll move on to new projects. I'm planning on writing a book on quantum physics this summer that's going to be a real page turner.

I had my post treatment scan this week - one month after the end of chemo. I opted for an MRI scan (Mike Resonance Imaging) since I was beginning to be concerned about the number of CT scans I had received. CT scans dump a lot of radiation into you, where MRI doesn't. There are studies showing an increased risk of developing further cancers down the line from too many CT scans, so if the option is there I would go for the MRI, at least for routine monitoring. The drawback with MRI is that it takes longer, and is louder. You have to wear earplugs and there is loud repetitive banging. Having gone through a stage of being really into minimal German techno I didn't mind this too much, but I could see how it could annoy some people.

Anyways, here are two images they took. Look at my head! Amazing. In the top view picture you can see my brain, looking foldy and clever. There is also something heart shaped in the middle. I don't think it's my heart, but it's kind of cute. You're alright brain.

The next one is the important one. It shows my neck in profile, with no lumpy lymph nodes to worry about. It kind of looks like me too, if I was a backup dancer in that Robbie Williams video where he takes all his skin off. God I love that video. 

So I've been given the all clear by my doctors. We've decided on a monitoring plan - no more scans unless we're worried about something, such as unexplained lumps or night sweats or weight loss. Blood tests every three months, and keep an eye on my lymph nodes and general health. I still have a lot of issues from the chemo - neuropathy, dried out skin, thinned out hair etc. but considering I went 12 rounds in the ring with that shit I feel pretty good. 

I went out for coffee with a friend the other week and she asked me how cancer would change my life. I thought about this for a while. I've read about people who descend into depression after cancer. I've read about people who quit their jobs to reduce stress, people who become vegan and give up alcohol, people who find God and people whose relationships implode. Me? I'm changing nothing. Maybe try to eat more fresh veg and take a few more vacations. But in terms of my friends, my job, my lifestyle, I love all of it. From the very beginning I've understood that Hodgkin's lymphoma is a result of very, very bad luck and is likely not related in anyway to lifestyle choices. So I'll continue to work hard doing a job I enjoy, and to travel like crazy. I'll take ill-advised whitewater canoe trips in bear country. I'll remain ambivalent about bearded sky-wizards. I'll still enjoy good food and good wine with my friends and basically live my life the way I want to.  Does that sound arrogant? Probably. But if I change who I am then cancer wins, right?

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Chemotherapy Round 12: The Grande Finale

Well now, that's done with then. Six months of fortnightly injections of cytotoxic chemicals. Hair loss, a blood infection, a hospital stay, a less-than-expected amount of vom. 8 pounds of gained steroids weight. Every episode of Mad Men, Father Ted and Black Books. 100 levels of angry birds.

I actually feel a bit strange about the whole thing ending. On one hand, chemo was awful, but at least I knew that drugs were doing bad things to the cancer. Now, the situation is a bit like when America gets involved in some foreign war and then decides to leave and nobody is really sure what's going to happen. Chemo completed, and we're now handing over control of defences to my immune system. Except we all know how well that turned out last time. I'm expecting it will take a few weeks for the full implications of all of this to sink in.

The final infusion was actually a bit anticlimatic. I got the drugs, said goodbyes and thank-you's to all of the nurses. Shook my doctor's hand and made plans to see him in three months. Walked home, had some ice cream and watched Masterchef before getting an early night. All a bit ho-hum really. I mean, this surely is a momentous occasion is someone's life isn't it? The end of 6 months of feeling like crap all the time? I think anyone who finishes a full round of chemo deserves a medal or a certificate or something to hang on our walls. 

Back in school in Canada, every student in gym class used to get awards as part of the government sponsored fitness ParticipACTION program. Bronze, silver, gold or excellence depending on your scores on various athletics tests. I always got bronze because I sucked at climbing ropes and kicking balls and running fast, but at least you got a little badge you could take home and put on your fridge. It added to the sense of achievement of it all. Anyways, I'm awarding myself the medal of excellence for chemo survivorship. It's not really in the spirit of the ParticipACTION program, since I let my gym membership lapse during chemo and spent a lot of time sleeping on the couch, but I'm sure Canadian fitness greats Joanne Mcleod and Hal Johnson would be okay with it.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Tiger, tiger

Recently, I have developed stripes. Three of them, about 10 cm long across my right bicep. They are dark streaks of skin made extra visible by my pasty white British-ized arms. I find this most interesting. As the good people at the  lymphoma forum have pointed out, this is probably a side effect of one of the chemo drugs, Bleomycin, which is the one that can also screw up your lungs. Turning into a human tiger is probably my favourite chemo side effect so far, easily ahead of eyebrow loss or the shits. 

My new stripes remind me of a cartoon I used to watch on television when I was growing up called Thundercats. I definitely wanted to be part of the Thundercats team. Maybe not the leader Lion-o, since he had stupid hair. But I figured I would settle for being one of the minor characters, maybe Panthro or Tygra. Anything in order to get to spend time with Cheetara, whose costume was in hindsight perhaps a bit risque for a Saturday morning children's cartoon. Even at the age of 8, I knew that Cheetara was girlfriend material. I was a little unclear what one got up to with a girlfriend, but whatever it was she was the one to get up to it with. I'm dedicating my chemo tiger bicep to Cheetara.

Anyways, one more chemo treatment to go. Peripheral neuropathy is still there, but I've been taking Glutamine supplements on the suggestion of one of the readers.  Hopefully I'll start to see some improvement.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Chemotherapy Round 11: The Agony Aunt update

I just figured out that Blogger allows you to see the search terms people have typed in to Google that lead them to click through to your site. I went down the list and there are quite a few questions that I'm afraid my blog lacks answers to. I'm sorry I didn't hold the information you were looking for. 

However today chemo number 11 went alright, which puts me in a charitable mood. My toenails are turning black and one is falling off, but if I were in their position I'd be knackered too. Can't blame them. Go join the nose hair and the missing bits of my eyebrows. I release you. My doctor and I decided to reduce the dose of the Vinblastine to 50% of normal since the neuropathy is getting worse. Hopefully this will sort things out. 

Anyways, this post is all about righting wrongs, so I've gone down the list of failed Google search terms and I'll try my best to answer your questions.

"Does a guy like you when he teases when friends are not around?"

I know where you are coming from on this. Back in grade 5 there was this girl who I think had a crush on me, and she showed it by kicking me very hard in the nuts. So hard I couldn't really stand up or breathe for some time. I just lay there thinking that maybe this is what death was like. Anyways, even if I did fancy her the massive impact to my crotch put me well off of her. So to answer your question, a little bit of teasing could mean he's into you, but if he kicks you or says your thighs look fat you should just run the other way.

"Are you feeling punk?"

Yes. Every day. Even though I now wear sensible shoes and collared shirts to work, I retain my punk spirit. I just took a great big gob in the face of cancer. You can't get much more punk than that.

"Should emaciated elderly woman take chemo?"

My guess is that this is the sort of question your should probably ask your doctor instead of Google. But if I were to go out on a limb, I would say go for it. Chemo made me feel old, and since you are already elderly you will probably just feel normal. Also, chemo made me put on 5 pounds which would help you be less emaciated. Ask for extra steroids and eat lots of bread.


Well done. This is a good term to search for in Google if you want to find my blog.

"Spock radiation poisoning"

I feel your pain. I don't mean to ruin the plot of "Wrath of Khan" but Spock essentially melts from the inside out. I know it sucks, but just watch "Search for Spock" and you'll see everything turns out okay. He rises from the dead, a little bit like Jesus but with less beard and more ears.

Right. Job done. I'm off for an early night - only one more chemotherapy session left and I'm done treatment. Seems strange to think about.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


In this era of austerity, cutbacks are everywhere you look. Where I live the government is gutting higher education, reducing funding to social programs, and generally wrecking society in a ham-fisted and ill-thought out way. In a move of solidarity my body has decided to embrace this spirit of thrift by cutting back on eyebrows by 50%. 

Not to worry though friends. I found a website that sells replacement eyebrows to cancer patients made with real human hair. For only $45! This poses a number of interesting questions. Where, for instance, does the raw material come from? Does it really cost $45 to make a pair of eyebrows? And how would it feel having someone else's man hair stuck to your forehead? As you can see I've tried them out, and I think you'll agree they are highly realistic, probably an improvement over the ones I used to have. I think I'll invest in a few pairs post-cancer, you know, for those special occasions.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Ain't no mountain high enough

In an ill-conceived burst of energy I hiked up a mountain in Wales on the weekend. The big sort where you need to use your hands to pull yourself to the peak, all the while contemplating how fractured your spine would be if you fell. There is nothing like risking life and limb to make you appreciate how grateful you are for not dying from cancer. I know that logic sounds twisted but it works in my head. It was great to do something strenuous and physical, and I was surprised how my strength is slowly returning. It would have been impossible to do that sort of thing a few treatments in, so I guess my body is getting to used to the chemo. In a strange coincidence it turns out my oncologist has booked a trip to hike exactly the same mountain with his tennis buddies. He says he'll use my example to motivate/tease any of his friends who are lagging behind on the climb. 

I had chemo number 10 yesterday, and it went pretty smoothly. My neuropathy (nerve damage in the fingertips) is becoming more of an issue and we're considering dropping the dose a little. I've been told it's getting to the point where it may become permanent, and I could lose some fine motor skills. A life being unable to incessantly text and play angry birds is not worth considering. Also, I'd struggle with doing up the buttons on my shirt and so would have to go around dressed like Tom Selleck most of the time. 

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The C word

Lately I've been noticing how people tend to avoid using the word cancer around me. Why is this? They ask 'how is your health?' or 'how is your medical condition?' Friends, I'm fairly certain that saying cancer doesn't give you cancer. You're not going to hurt my feelings either. It's not like I don't think about cancer all day, every day as it is, so you won't unintentionally remind me that I'm sick. "OMG - did you just say cancer?! Great, thanks. I totally forgot that I have that. Jerk." It's perfectly okay to talk to me about cancer, and you can use that word as a noun, adjective and possibly even a verb if you are clever enough.

Anyways, yesterday was chemo treatment 9. Three more to go after this. You know what's a really weird side effect of chemo? Ultra vivid dreams. Dreams so realistic you wake up and are shocked to find you're not actually leading a convoy of escaped zoo animals through London to freedom or, as admittedly improbable as it sounds, you are not actually making out with Scarlett Johansson in your parent's backyard. If you are getting chemo and are experiencing this side effect I would strongly recommend that you do not watch 'The Road' before bedtime because that is going to guarantee a pretty restless night.