Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Constant Reminder

As I've progressed through this experience, I've worked hard on maintaining my PMA (positive mental attitude) as with everything going on, staying focused on the end goal was the only way of tolerating some of the "abuse" my body was being subjected to.

Yes, there were times when it was hard, but the one thing that always brought me back into line was that I was/am one of the lucky ones.  Along the way there were constant reminders of those who weren't as fortunate, and experiencing first hand the aftermath of my hospital room-mate Rory finding out he wasn't going to come out the other side and how he had to tell his young son and wider family, well, it just made me feel even more lucky - and determined.

I've said on many occasions how I'm not going to waste this second chance I've been lucky enough to be given, and I certainly feel I'm living by that.

However, that constant reminder of how indiscriminate the disease that is cancer can be continues to "haunt" me.  
Before I was diagnosed, my exposure to cancer sufferers and/or victims was quite limited.  My mum died from secondary liver cancer, my best mate lost his wife too young to the beast, my sister-in-law won her battle with breast cancer.  I'm sure if I trawled back through the memory banks I'd find a handful more.

Given my age and the number of people I've crossed paths with, I consider this is a pretty low number, especially as they used to say 1 in 3 people has cancer. But, since I've completed my treatment, there seems to have been a constant stream of people that I've become aware of who are or have been battling the beast.  Unfortunately some are losing or have lost their fight.  I'm not saying these people are even in my close circle of acquaintances, but what I am starting to think is that once you or someone close to you is diagnosed with cancer, it seems to open a sort of Pandora's box.  All of a sudden you are faced with the reality of how this thing in it's many forms, just keeps on coming.  Until then, it was never "personal".  Or is it just because I'm a little more sensitive to it now?

Just as I had a "why me?" moment or two during my battle, I am now constantly having "bloody hell, I am really lucky" moments now, and sometimes wonder why I was/am the fortunate one.  It obviously doesn't do much good to dwell on such thoughts, but it is still a great leveller.  We are placed in many situations throughout our life and while we might think it is our health, wealth and/or intellect that gets us through, the reality is a fair bit of it is plain old dumb luck.

I'm living proof that luck can indeed be on your side in some of the darkest moments and I also believe you can make your own luck at times.  I  put PMA into that category, especially when you're dealing with cancer.  The experts all say those who go in with the right attitude have a better chance of success.  I'm  not going to even think about debating that, but I do know that when faced with all the challenges the treatments throw at you, you have to believe in what they are trying to do for you and work with them.

During the treatments, you cling to every glimmer of hope because let's admit it, nobody wants to die, but I really believe that if you make the conscious effort to consider yourself as a fighter not a victim, your brain will help your body fight that little bit harder.  And every little helps.

This might all be starting to sound a bit philosophical, but I make no apologies.  As the title of the post says, I now have constant reminders of my lucky escape (and even have the physical one in the tattoo) and all b.s. aside, my life now is guided to a large extent by my experiences of 2010 fighting this thing.  Things are still evolving for sure, but I can't (and don't want to) forget what I've been through.  I despair at the way some people take life for granted, and have previously talked about my intolerance for people who "sweat the small stuff" and think they are "hard done by". 

While I would never wish my experience on anybody, there are times when I wish I could give some people a real hard dose of reality to make them see how lucky they really are and just how insignificant their petty quibbles are in the grand scheme of things.  Maybe some day I'll find a way to do just that.  In the meantime, I'll just have to be happy with doing the best I can to ensure my luck holds.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Subtle Changes

I had actually almost finished a post on another subject, but that can wait for another day.

My trip to the dentist today uncovered some interesting things.

Before I get into that, I travelled to Gisborne over the weekend to attend the funeral of the husband of one of my cousins.  I'm not going to go into too much detail, but will say the service was a wonderful celebration of the life of obviously a much loved husband, father, brother and friend.  I was blown away by the strength shown by Lynette and her sons and my love goes out to them all.

OK, the dentist today was to address the two holes on my left side and despite all the dental work I've had over the years, it was the first time I've had the nitrous as part of the process. I'm now a convert.

While I was in the chair, I had time to think about my pain thresh-hold and reaction to pain.  Ashwin, bless him ,was doing his best not to hurt me as he drilled, etc, but there was a couple of times when I winced.  Now, I've had so many people poking and prodding at me, taking blood, giving me drips, drugs, etc, not to mention the chemo and radio, that you'd think I would have built up a fair tolerance.  And, in all honesty, I thought I had, but I've been questioning that of late and today confirmed my thoughts - I still don't like pain.

I'll credit the drugs (morphine rocks) with my perceived increased tolerance, but it could also have been that it was so much a part of the routine that I just switched off.  Now I've been "clean" for so long, my aversion seems to have returned to normal.  When I got my celebratory tattoo last month, I felt a fair amount of pain, but put that down to the loss of muscle condition and weight meaning there wasn't as much padding any more. Today merely confirmed that this aspect of my recovery is back to normal - I feel pain just like I used to.  So, in future, I'll be adding the nitrous to my dental treatments.

Another observation / subtle change.  As a result of the road trip, I've worked out that when I do things out of the norm that requires more effort/exertion (or whatever you want to call it), my body has developed a mechanism to make me take it easy as it recovers.  Clever thing the body.  In my case, I get a bout of the sniffles for a couple of days.  When it first happened, it was after my first late night outing, so as I'm susceptible to the cold now anyway, I put it down to the night air.  It happened again on each of the other times I've been out late, but when it happened during the road trip (Gisborne was a balmy 22 degrees each day, so you can't blame the cold), the penny finally dropped.  I'm finally coming right again now and have a little warning signal to heed in the future.  I'm sure over time I'll find a way to know when I'm about to over stretch myself and thus avoid the sniffles.

In case you were wondering about the tattoo, it is of the cancer society daffodil design.  When I started treatment, I promised myself I'd get that tattoo once I came out the other side and beat the cancer (I might not have the official all clear yet, but as far as I'm concerned I won, it lost), as a reminder of how lucky I have been and the 2nd chance I have been given.  It's on my right shoulder and here it is..

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Nitrous Oxide Rocks (and other things Dental)

Had another check up today with the oral guys at Hutt Hospital.  Another all clear, so the good news keeps on rolling on.

I think this was check-up #3 and I freely admit to developing quite an "affection" for nitrous oxide.  It certainly mellow the mood and the only downside is it is over as quick as it started.  Then again, that may be a benefit as I can drive away straight away (and don't need anyone else to get me home because I'm whacked out).

When I go to my usual dentist,and I need a filling (more on that later), I've always just taken the anaesthetic injection to solve the pain issues.  Now, I'm beginning to understand the extra relaxing properties of the nitrous, I may just have to add some of that in.

I think Mr Gillingham actually got a bit heavy handed with the dosage today - his nurse was pretty quick at turning it back down.  Never mind, I was happy by then.

This week so far has been somewhat all about dentists.  I usually have an annual check-up, but last year's got caught up in everything else, so I never had one.  Monday was this year's check-up and Ashwin was pretty happy with what he saw.  Seems the saliva issues have one positive side effect.  Seems saliva and tartar are linked - as a result of a lack of my issues, I'm not developing tartar.  Yippee.

On the downside, I have two small holes on my left hand side (one upper, one lower) that need to be filled.  That will happen next week. Semi-Boo.  Now, I found out today that these small holes can pop up from time to time potentially as a result of my treatment.

When they took the 5 teeth out last year before my treatment started, it was to ensure the jaw, etc could heal before the zapping created havoc.  Post treatment, there was/is the risk any teeth removed could cause issues as the jaw won't be able to heal as well (if at all?) as it could before being radiated.  So, 5 teeth down, everyone was happy we had a good base to work from.

Now it seems this little "decay issue" may be an ongoing thing that needs to be watched.

The one thing that annoys me most about it is I'm getting tooth decay without enjoying the normal root causes (no pun intended) - things like chocolate, sweets, takeaway food, etc.  In the past I've gone for a few years without needing fillings, while going crazy on the bad foods.  Now I'm being a good boy (by in large), only have small quantities of treats (normally as dictated/restricted by the saliva issues) and I've got god-damn fillings required.  Let's not forget I couldn't actually eat for 5 odd months during all of this either.  And, I just remembered, I do most of my eating on the right hand side of my mouth now as well.  Talk about stacked odds.

So, despite being a good boy with cleaning my teeth, using the required mouthwashes, etc, I'm screwed yet again by the after effects of the treatment.

Given the alternatives, I'm happy to have a slightly increased filling rate.  At least I'm around to moan about such things.