Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Return Of Drugs To My Life

One would have to say this has been an interesting week.

My head cold finally seems to be getting under control, thanks to Otrivin nasal spray.  Things started to clear yesterday, but this morning has dawned with even more improvement.  Some residual sniffle will curtail weekend activities (keeping warm remains priority), but at least we're moving forward again.

Wednesday was Gang of Seven day and was to end up being a strange old day.  The Gang of 7 was the Gang of 4 to start with - a new oncology registrar I'd seen only once before, Paul the dietician, Shirley the speech therapist and one of the Dental team (who's name I keep forgetting, but he is a really nice guy).  Things were plodding along nicely, then another couple of people joined in and I have no idea who they were.  One was obviously a senior oncology guy - he took over - but doesn't exactly possess a good chair-side manner.

Anyhow, after the usual touchy feely thing with my neck, he decides he wants to put the scope down my nose to have a look at my throat/tonsil.  With the head cold, we agree the right nostril is the least congested, so they numb that up and run the scope down.  Despite having this procedure on a number of occasions so far, it doesn't make it any more pleasant.

The results were mixed - his view was screwed up by the build-up of gunk in my throat, so he ended up not that much ahead.  It was however interesting that he described that gunk as saliva - given the ongoing issues, maybe there is indeed some degree of recovery that I'm not really noticing or just taking for granted now.

So, the discussion moves on to the blood tests and thyroid results specifically.  Seems the last two tests have shown slightly low TSH levels and they want another set of bloods to see how it is now.  If results are still on the low side, they'll call me directly and I'll need to go onto thyroxine to try and stabilise it.

Here comes the technical bits.  The thyroid gland regulates the body's metabolism in conjunction with the pituitary gland.  Every cell in our body needs thyroid hormones to function correctly, so if the thyroid levels are out, things go wonky.  TSH = Thyroid Stimulating Hormone, and its job is to balance out the T3 (Triiodothyronine) and T4 (Thyroxine) levels in the blood stream.  With my TSH level being low, it means it can't produce enough to keep T3 & T4 in balance, thus by boosting the thyroxine, it can return to doing its normal level of duties.

Side effects of the low TSH level go a long way to explaining some of my recent symptoms (I know I've mentioned them before, but it seems appropriate to restate them here) - increased appetite, weight loss, fatigue, weakness, increased anxiety, sleeping difficulties, temperature regulation problems and eye/vision issues.  This last one has actually crept up on me over the last week or so and I had no idea why, but this does sort of fill in the picture now.

Before I move on, end result of Gang of 7 was another clean bill of health.  My weight has stabilised as far as they're concerned and they'll see my again in 3 months.

Thursday morning I got a phone call confirming the the TSH level is indeed still low and they'll mail out as prescription for Thyroxine directly to me - it arrived yesterday and I'm off to get it filled shortly.

So, it seems my pantry will once more contain drugs that I'll need to take on an ongoing basis.  Fortunately it is only one small tablet and I've already set up a daily reminder in my phone to ensure I take the thing each day.

I will also resume weighing myself every couple of days to make sure I don't start gaining weight as a result - not an outcome I'm prepared to go unchecked.

Next medical interlude is the hearing update on the 9th of November.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No Doubt Who Is In Charge

And it isn't me.  Despite all the progress over the last year, my body still likes to exert its authority from time to time.

Yes, I should know better, but as I've started to feel more "normal", the usual warning sniffles seemed to be less of an inconvenience, and more modest in impact.  Damn it, the body was obviously lulling me into a false sense of security.

Maybe I was getting a little cocky, but the weekend was actually quite full on and I was feeling pretty good.  Out for dinner on Friday night, trip to the butcher on Saturday, some gardening and housework to round out the day.  Good day, but that night there was an inkling of sniffles coming. On Sunday, the weather was pretty good, so I spent my first day without wearing my thermals and was pretty comfortable temperature wise - well, I thought I was.  The day was filled with cruising, shopping and some more gardening.  That night it was off to the club to watch the rugby final and I made sure I was warm all night (thermals back in the picture now, I'm not that stupid as to overlook the obvious temperature drop at the end of the day), even on the trip home .  But, come yesterday morning, the sniffles were really starting to take hold and despite a good night's sleep, I was starting to feel decidedly flat.  The day was pretty low key, no risks taken re body temperature, but still the sniffles marched on.

This morning, it's fair to say that the sniffles have become a minor head cold.  My nose is running, throat is a little hoarse and I'm certainly not on top of my game energy level wise.

So, it would seem I've pushed the envelope a tad with regards what my body can tolerate and I can't abandon my thermals just yet.  I certainly hope that time will come when the warmer weather finally takes over, but in the meantime, it looks like I'm going to have to be more conservative in my approach and take a bit more care.

It certainly hammers home that I'm still "special" in that my body still requires me to do things differently and the fact it is warm isn't a signal for me to follow others and dispense with the extra layer of warmth that my body obviously still needs.

Oh well, Gang of Seven tomorrow, so that should provide a distraction from feeling sorry for myself.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Acupuncture Might Just Work

In the past I've related my change of attitude towards needles.  From a healthy dislike, to "just get on with it", to weaning off the seemingly daily occurrence and back to a healthy dislike.

It is from this position that I started going into the initial acupuncture session on Wednesday afternoon.  After some initial chatting, it was top off and lie down on my stomach on the "table".  I must admit I didn't feel most of the needles going in and it was only when the therapist pressed on certain ones to ensure he had the right spot - and I could indeed feel them - that I really knew they were there.

The needles were inserted along my neck, shoulders, the tops of my feet and between the thumb and forefinger on each hand.

After 20 minutes or so, the needles came out and the therapist massaged my neck and shoulders quite rigorously.

At the start of the session, he had managed to find a very tender spot on my left shoulder, yet working the same area after the needles did not induce the same severe reaction.

I also thought the movement in my neck was a tad easier.  This acupuncture thing might just work.

It seems the therapist has had pretty good success with this type of treatment with other cancer survivors and it seems also with people suffering from stress.  He says it will take 3-4 sessions for things to really start to show long term improvements, so I'm happy to give it a go.

I'm not sure I fully grasped what he told me, but it goes something like this.  The body normally gets rid of toxins by converting them to CO2 and water - we therefore expel them by breathing and peeing.  In my case, because of the "events", my body hasn't managed to get rid of the toxins and they have been turned into lactic acid.  What we're now trying to do is break things down to let the body resume it's normal duties.

I saw Melissa for osteo on Thursday, and she felt there was some degree of increased movement.  Coupled with my own perception, that was indeed positive news.

So, in summary, it seems we might be on to a bit of a winner with the acupuncture and as I have another appointment this week, will have a better idea after that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Good Old Fashioned Service

Sometimes thing happen that restore your faith in society.  We've all moaned about a decline in community standards, moral values, dedication to service et al that we've seen over the last few years and personally one of my gripes has been the way that doctors now only give you a 15 minute appointment and just seem to process you as a number, not a person.

In all fairness, that started to change when I got this little challenge handed to me last year.  I've said it before and only too happy to say it again - the service I received from the public health system has been second to none.  Apart from praising my GP, Tatiana, I've never really acknowledged how my appointments with her are almost a trip down memory lane.  There is no pressure on me to be in and out within 15 minutes and I feel I'm actually talking a my personal GP,as opposed to just another patient that they don't really know the history of.

This change was driven home even more on Sunday.  While at home and happily watching the Great Race that is Bathurst on the TV, the phone rang.  It was Tatiana with my blood test results.  When was the last time your doctor actually made that sort of effort on the weekend to contact you?  I've actually had to ring and chase test results in the past myself, so was really quite impressed when I got the call.

The results were all good.  As previously noted, I had tests for diabetes, cholesterol, prostate - these all came back clear - as well as my haemochromatosis and thyroid function.  It was these two that Tatiana wanted to talk about.

The previous haemo tests had my level pushing the 1,000 mark, which was getting very close to requiring intervention (I'd already greatly reduced my iron intake to try and keep it at bay).  The level now is down to 600, so no longer such a potential time bomb, even though it will still need to be monitored from time to time.

The thyroid function came back as being slightly elevated, but not to a stage that necessitates medical intervention right now.  They'll keep an eye on it though.  The slightly high level would apparently explain my body heat retention issues, so that's nice to know.

So there you are, a tale of good old fashioned service that just continues to add to my new found faith in the medical system.

Tomorrow sees a new direction in my efforts to overcome the muscle scarring around my neck.  Melissa (my osteo) has referred me for some acupuncture to see if that won't accelerate the blood flow and help to loosen things up.  Will let you know the outcome later in the week.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Peace Of Mind - At A Price

And when you look at it, the price wasn't too bad.

As I mentioned last time, I've had a few niggling concerns over the last few weeks with regards some changes I've noticed.  On Wednesday I got to see my GP, Tatiana, to discuss them all, and here is the results of that appointment.

I went in armed with a list of my concerns (didn't want to forget any) and after telling each one to Tatiana, the first comment she made was "the cancer is gone and your body is still adjusting to everything it has been through".  To be fair, that set the tone for what was to come, and it was great to hear her say the cancer was gone.

Weight Loss:
So, we know my body is still adjusting to things and unless it continues to drop, it's nothing to get too concerned about.

Increased Appetite:
Obviously my metabolism has also taken somewhat of a hit and has adjusted as well.  Again, nothing to worry about, in fact it's really a good sign as it means my body is seeking more nutrition and is therefore returning to a new normality.

Combined, these two are quite interesting - I'm eating more, but still losing weight.  We also discussed what my ideal weight should be, and while Tatiana says she would be happy if I was carrying an extra 5 kg, she accepted my current weight was perfectly OK as well.

Unable to retain body heat:
Reality is because of all the weight lost, along the way I've also lost fat lipids, so no longer have the previous "mass" to retain body heat like I used to.  Looks like my thermals and me will continue being buddies for a while yet.

Energy Levels:
Again, give the body time to recover.  Don't do any more exercise than I'm comfortable with and just build it up over time.

Itchy Skin:
Seems just as my throat now gets dry, my skin in certain parts of my body (forearms & legs) have also been affected.  There doesn't appear to be any medical reasons other than this for the itchy skin.  Solution is to moisturise every day instead on just in response to the itchiness.  Great, another addition to my daily morning routine.

Immune System Recovery:
Normal for this to take 1-2 years, so I'm effectively half way there.

Thyroid Levels:
An interesting one this.  While it is indeed possible the weight, appetite and itchy skin issues are a result of a change in thyroid function, Tatiana feels it isn't the cause.  Interestingly enough, the Gang of Seven haven't been passing on the results of my blood tests to Tatiana, so I went and had a comprehensive set of blood tests for thyroid, diabetes, cholesterol  prostate (why not seeing as I'm there), hemochromatosis (as haven't looked at that since this journey began) to give Tatiana some updated base levels.  We'll see what comes back in due course.

So there you are.  My increased awareness of changes in my body had raised some issue, and thankfully all of them fall into the "normal" basket fortunately.

The price of this peace of mind? - a modest $41.

And one closing piece of news.  As part of Tatiana's consultation she weighed me - and my total weight loss now comes in as 29kg. While beating the cancer is obviously the single greatest positive to come out of my journey, this weight loss has to rate as #2. It is indeed part of the 2nd chance I've been given and I have no desire to return to all those bad habits.