Friday, December 13, 2013

Jake Takes A Bow

For me, my brain seems to become over-active regularly twice each day.  Firstly when I'm in the shower, secondly as I try to get to sleep.

Why these times I don't know, and believe me I wish I could understand where some of the subject matter comes from.  I struggle to see what the urgency/importance is in rehashing some plot line from a TV program I watched 3 days ago, but for some reason I need to address this instead of just gently falling off to sleep.  And I'm sure what part of the section is next for attention could wait until the morning as well - the shower seems more appropriate for that.

One subject that has however crossed both periods of extra brain activity over recent days has been Jake.  When I went to the Doctor's a week or so ago, she pointed at the scar and for a brief moment she forgot what it was there for.  I've paid scant regard to the scar myself of late as it is largely just a war wound, so had a minor chuckle over Tatiana's lapse of memory.

Why then has my brain decided that I need to think about Jake now?  I have no idea.  I could probably construct one or two wild theories, but the only thing that seems to make any sort of sense is season related.  As you can see, I've indeed been devoting some "normal" brain activity to the subject.

Anyway, with Christmas approaching, I can only assume that at some level there is a recognition that 3 years ago I was just relearning to eat and that Christmas was somewhat of an effort food wise.  It took me absolute ages to eat the basics and the diet was somewhat limited.  Now things are virtually back to normal, with the normal caveats regarding limited jaw opening and saliva issues.  Sure, it still takes more time to eat, but the menu is pretty much restored.

Jake obviously was my source of sustenance during treatment and recovery and over time it is easy to gloss over that contribution.  Obviously the Doctor's visit and sub-conscious brain prompting coupled with coming across my old medication plan (which included the Fortisip "feedings") have all transpired to make me acknowledge Jake's part in all of this.

So, here goes,

Jake arrives 19th May 2010

19th Jan 2011 Jake Comes out
No anaesthetic, just deep breaths

Not even any stitches -
will close over naturally within 24 hours they say

The battle scar today

Jake in all his glory

I have Jake at home as a momento, as I do Hugo, and every so often they come out for show-and-tell.

As we head into the Christmas season, I suppose it is only appropriate to be thankful for what we have, and Jake has certainly played his part in keeping me here, for which I will always be grateful. 

One final thought.  The Brain is part of the wondrous machine that is the human body.  What this little exercise has shown me is sometimes it pays not to 2nd guess but just go along for the ride.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Saliva Issue Shows Itself in New Ways

For almost too long to remember I've gone on about how the treatment related saliva "sacrifice" has what can only be called an ongoing presence as it impacts to varying degrees on my day to day life.

By and large I've adjusted well to the changes, but every so often I find myself being caught out by something that either I've taken for granted previously or something new.

Summer is a wonderful time of year and one thing I've had to be extra careful of now is ensuring my face & neck are always well protected.  The treatments have meant I can't handle direct sun like I used to, so extra care is taken regarding sunblocks.  But the new realisation is with regards to how the summer heat is triggering my dry throat.
I've been  doing a fair bit of work outside of late, and with the unusually hot weather over the last week or so I've been finding that merely drinking copious quantities of water isn't sufficient to deal with the dryness in my throat.
Last summer was really hot (at least for a week or two) and I can't remember this issue being of concern back then.  Yet in 2013, and we're not really into full-summer heat mode yet, this turn of events has had me thinking about how I'll deal with it over the coming months.

Couple this with another event of the last few days, and my limitations have been well and truly been brought home.  On Saturday we went to a concert and having got caught up in the moment, decided (in my tone-deaf way) to sing-along a bit.  As we left the venue, the dry throat kicked in with a vengeance.  Sure it was rather warm on Saturday night,  but I hadn't had similar issues during the preceding days which were equally tropical.

Now, not being able to vocally participate at a concert is probably a good thing for those around me, but given it is now 3 years down the line, I'm surprised to be experiencing such "fluctuations" with my throat.

I've got some biotene spray that seems to provide some degree of relief, but I'm also resorting to an array of other "remedies" that seem to help and some of those aren't good long term for my waistline, so I think it is going to be a case of keeping an eye on what I'm eating, how much talking I'm doing, etc to see if there is some tweaking that I can do to bring this issue back under control.

You may also have noticed I've updated the template for the blog.  I decided it was time for a change and the chequered flag image is somewhat symbolic of winning the 2010 fight and moving on.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Ticking Along Nicely Thanks

OK, so I've been a bit slack of late with regards to updating this blog.  I could bore you with the myriad of reasons, but it all comes down to the fact that life is pretty damn good right now and the infamous new normal just keeps rocking on.

That doesn't mean that nothing has been happening though.  In my post of June 1st, I mentioned I had resigned from my job.  I ended up staying on for a bit longer as a contractor, and finally walked away on Sept 20, closing the door on the best part of 16 years of my working life.  My employers had been nothing short of fantastic during my 2010 challenges and for that I'll be eternally grateful.  But, as I said at the time, it was time for me to face a new challenge.

I've enjoyed the opportunity to unwind over the last few weeks, and getting back into the job market after such a long time has been quite a revelation - especially with regards to how the employment agencies treat their clients (generally rather poorly) and how one can't take the on-line job descriptions as being entirely accurate.  I must admit I'm somewhat amazed at how philosophical I am right now about finding a new job in that I'm not overly stressed about it - although I do admit to a degree of "cabin fever" kicking in.  I know the right role will come along, and until then I'll just keep looking and staying positive.

On the health front, I've had a couple of dental dilemmas over the last month.  Firstly, having suffered a tooth ache for the best part of a week, the dentist found there was a gum infection/ulcer that wasn't healing (potentially a radiotherapy side effect that means the jaw doesn't heal like it used to), but some antibiotics dealt to it just in time before it would have required further investigations from an oral surgeon.  Next, I managed to break part of one of my front teeth, and it seems that was partially due to a loose filling.  The filling concerned had been there for 18 years, so had exceeded it's expected useful life by many years.  My dentist recommended replacing the filling on the next tooth as well because it was also loose, so an hour later I was all fixed and back to dental normality.

The free time has also resulted in a couple of self-inflicted injuries as I work around the section, etc.  My right ankle seems to be the repeat offender with a slight strain a week ago curtailing activities outside for a few days, while last Friday I went whole hog and got myself into a situation while out on an early morning walk that saw my right leg fold under me.  Ankle is now strapped and feeling a lot better today (albeit still swollen), and despite a couple of days of restricted mobility, even my knee seems to have come through the experience largely unscathed.  And why do these injuries happen just when we get a run of good weather?  I wouldn't mind so much being laid up when the weather outside is rubbish, but on both occasions (actually same thing happened with the tooth ache) I've been unable to exploit the good weather that ensued.

The other little health curve ball has been that, for the last week or two, at around 2pm each day my throat has been getting really dry.  In my last post I said my throat had been getting raspy again, but it seemed to have settled down. The usual cures don't always seem to work, so I'm experimenting with alternatives and changing eating patterns as well as meal choices to see if I can get to the bottom of it.  I've always had good days and bad days with the dry throat side of things since the treatments, but I've never had the situation where it recurs on a daily basis at the same time before.  Weird.

And finally, because I'm not working, I've largely stopped wearing my hearing aids.  I have however found that when I do fit them again I almost need to readjust to the effects.  It's not like putting your watch on for the first time in a couple of weeks.  You hear things with increased clarity instantly and because your brain is adjusting to it, I've found I get the odd headache as a result.  There is somewhat of a balancing act here as there is no point wearing them around home when I'm here on my own, but I've found I need to wear them for the day preceding any planned "outings" to get things back on an even keel.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Stolen Limelight

August 16th marked my 3rd rebirthday.  Another milestone day towards the time when I'm deemed to be cured (as much as one can be I suppose) and I'm now officially in the downhill run to that all important 5th anniversary.

In all honesty, I almost forgot it on the day.  Sure I'd remembered in the days leading up to it, but with work pressures, the day itself just crept up on me.  A surprise birthday cake from one of my ex-workmates made me remember.

However, the limelight was definitely stolen by the earthquake that decided to interrupt our Friday afternoon.  And yet again I had cause to contemplate my situation.

Firstly, the earthquake last Friday was the first time in my working life that I've resorted to taking cover under my desk.  It was a goodie without doubt, and some of the aftershocks also grabbed the attention.  Things have certainly quietened down strength wise, and I hope that continues for some time.  Unfortunately the experts reckon we could have another good shake before the end of the weekend.  If we do get one, I'd rather it was when we were at home - getting out of the central city last Friday was a nightmare.

Now, I don't like to think I'm an attention seeker by any means and while I'm happy to discuss my journey with anybody who asks, I don't go out of my way to raise the subject.  So having said that are the anniversaries of the end of my treatment really that important?  In the overall scheme of things, probably not.  Undoubtedly the first anniversary was really special, but with the passing of time, they seem both less special and more special at the same time.  As I alluded to above, they represent the milestones towards my clean bill of health, and for that reason alone I'm happy to acknowledge them.  And I'm happy to do that in a low key manner as well.

Why are they less special?  Well they also signal the always evolving return to normality that I've mentioned previously, and as such my challenges are slowly but surely being pushed back into memory.  Every so often something happens that "opens the box" and stirs things up, but as I've been quick to point out before, day to day life is certainly the norm now, so the occasions when those "interesting" times of 2010 are recalled actually require a fair bit of recollection.

It's not the same issue with the physical "aftermath"  Over the last couple of weeks my throat has been particularly raspy and I'm struggling to find something that soothes it.  Not an issue before radiotherapy, so just goes to show you can never take things for granted.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Another All Clear

Today was clinic day and despite the fact I've had so many, it is still hard to predict what format it will take.

This time it was a more familiar process.  Hearing test first (no significant change), then sit and then wait for Mr Morrissey to see me and give me a look over.

Like most medical appointments, it requires a fair degree of sitting around waiting, which begs the questions as to whether you should really tun up on time, or just arrive late and reduce the waiting time.  It was 20 odd minutes after we arrived before  being called in for the hearing test, and then we waited another 10 minutes or so for Mr Morrissey.

As the title of the post says, it was another good result.  He is happy and there is no sign of the cancer having made a return visit.  While he won't say I'm cured yet, he said in reality it isn't too far away given we're almost at the third anniversary mark.

Next clinic is in six months time, but he said in reality by the time they make the appointment, etc it will be more likely closer to nine months, which he felt was a good time anyway.

It's a funny old thing timing.  We discussed how things had all settled down, etc and how this is probably as good as it gets for me.  That's all fine and I have admitted more than once that I don't really think about it too much now, but circumstances transpired to give me a gentle prod this evening.  Our home phone was dead and the ensuing calls with Telecom to try and get it sorted has left me with a very dry / raspy throat.  If that's the price of still being here, I'm more than happy to pay it.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Self-medicating Isn't A Good Idea

When this whole adventure started, I learnt pretty early on that when the professionals offer drugs, you take them - they've dealt with many patients and know what is best.  And while I was at home, I also learnt that trying to be a hero was a silly idea - taking the drugs to alleviate the pain not only meant I was more comfortable, but it was also easier on those assisting with my care.

Over the last three years, my life has pretty much got back to normal and the only drugs I take now are to compensate for the long-term affects of the radiotherapy on my system.  They are part of my daily routine and by in large I don't give them another thought.  Only last weekend, I did give it thought and suffered as a result.  

You see, one of the drugs I take is to deal with the acid reflux I now suffer.  In my "wisdom" I decided that I'd see whether my system really still needed these pills, so I decided not to take the pill on Saturday morning.  In all honesty, during that day I didn't really notice any difference, so I pushed the boat out and gave the Sunday pill a miss as well.

By then end of the day, I was starting to suffer.  Obviously there had been enough residual benefit in my system to tide me over until Sunday morning, but come late afternoon I was feeling decidedly queasy and contemplating just popping a pill.

But then the next dilemma kicked in - if I take one now, can I resume the routing again in the morning?  How often am I allowed to take them before it is an effective overdose?  I know the doctor told me, but I've been diligently taking them each morning for so long now that I couldn't remember.  Caution finally overtook bravado and I waited until Monday to resume the pill-popping.

Lesson learned!  This is where I struggle trying to justify why I was so stupid in the first place.  I've always followed the medical advice throughout this whole journey, I always do as I'm told for general ailments, so why did I decide I knew better all of a sudden?  

Regular readers of this blog will know how I've gone on about the new normal and how I don't want to fall back into old habits.  Yet here I am seemingly ignoring all of that.  Maybe it's also because as the 3rd anniversary of treatment finishing is fast approaching that I'm feeling a bit cocky about the long term prognosis.  Honestly I don't know why I did it (it seemed like a good idea at the time), but I do know this simple little exercise in futility and discomfort has certainly hammered home the truth.

That truth is things will never be the way they were and all I can hope is to minimise the impact on my daily life.  Given the alternatives, that doesn't seem too high a price to pay.  Every so often I receive one of these little reminders and in total honesty I'm thankful for them because I don't want to forget what I've been through as doing so devalues the efforts of everyone who helped me win the fight.  It also helps to remind me of the second chance I've been lucky enough to have, while so many have been less fortunate.

Will I ever do something silly like this again?  Guarantee I do.  Will I come to the same conclusion as I did over the weekend - you can bet on it.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Everyday Life Takes Over

I often wonder about the effect everyday life has on our general well being.  How often do you hear somebody bemoaning they never seem to have any time and/or how fast time seems to fly by now?  This is a theme that seems to keep coming back to me.

I've had reason to consider this even more over recent months as it seems indisputable that I'm falling back into some old ways and not strictly following the path I set myself three years ago.

Yep, it's been three years since the diagnosis - and in another couple of months it will be time to celebrate my 3rd re-birthday as I mark the end of the treatment.

While my health is now pretty much stable/normal, I've noticed that as time passes, the lifestyle changes my journey delivered are being pushed to the back by the "pressures of modern life".

Deep down I know the importance of staying true to the changes I promised myself, but it is no longer so easy to make sure they are always considered as part of the decision making process.  Is that an issue, am I "falling off the wagon"?

Life has indeed moved on, and April has again seen some major changes in my life.  This time, being faithful to the "new normal" wasn't so hard.  As a result of changes at work, the opportunity arose to consider moving on to a new job, and after some not insignificant deliberation, I decided that it is time to face a new challenge.  I've been where I am for fifteen odd years now, and honestly before the cancer I would have probably thought I'd retire from there.  But now, I know I need to be true to myself and despite some last minute second thoughts, I handed in my resignation on April 17th.

I have no idea where my search for a new job will take me, but I know I have made the right decision.

April played another card as well - my annual Diabetes check-up.  Before my cancer journey, I was diagnosed as border-line type 2 diabetic.  The weight loss and diet changes have effectively put paid to that, but I'm still in the system and always dread that as a result of diet or exercise lapses, the HbA1c level in my blood will be above what it should be.  As it happened, there was no need to worry - my level was 27 (53 is the trigger level apparently).

So,what I've learnt over the last month or so is that despite not necessarily "walking the walk" all the time, when something does come up that "threatens" them, these new values just rise to the surface and reexert themselves.  I now know that I can trust myself not to regress to the bad lifestyle choices that used to be my life.  While we Taurus' are renowned for being stubborn, this is a whole new level of subliminal determination that I know is wholly attributable to my 2010 journey, and man , am I grateful for it.

As an aside, I continue to have cause to realise how lucky I have been in successfully coming through my journey.  I was lucky to be correctly diagnosed early, the radiotherapy and chemotherapy did what they needed to, and the love and support of my extended family helped get me through it all.  That is why whenever I become aware of a family that hasn't been so lucky, not only does my heart goes out to them, but it serves to harden my resolve to make the most of my second chance.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Yep, I'm Still Here

It's strange how time just passes by these days.  I consciously decided not to do a normal "end of year" review, and before you know it, we're at the beginning of March.  Bugger me.

So, given the passage of time, what is there to pass on?  Surprisingly quite a lot.

I started the new year with a strange tenderness on the left side of my head.  It ran form basically the top of my head down to just above my ear.  Being the side the cancer was on, my ever logical brain knew it wasn't normal and having persevered with it for a week or so, it was off for what ended up being a series of Doctor's visits.  Not that the tenderness required prolonged treatment, the problem was they couldn't decide what the problem was.  None of this was helped by the fact my normal doctor was away.  So the diagnosis fluctuated from potentially something to worry about, to possibly scabies, to nothing to worry about, to something to talk to the specialist about at my next appointment.

Hmmm, at least when I had the cancer, there was no doubts.

Anyhow, as the specialist appointment was the following week, it was decided he would have to sort it out.

Which takes us to that very same appointment.  The appointments with Mr Morrissey normally start with a hearing test, and this was to be no different.  They like to know if the hearing is staying static or getting worse (more on that later), so I go through a full blown test each time.  I actually wasn't meant to be - last time Mr Morrissey said as the last 3 had been basically identical there was no need, but that message didn't seem to filter down.  The audiologist did her normal check of my ears to start with and low and behold there was a large wax build-up in the right ear (left one was clear).  so instead of the hearing check, it was straight on for Mr Morrissey to address the wax issue and decide whether the hearing test was to be done.

As with these sorts of things, it required a period of waiting, but eventually Mr Morrissey called us in and the hearing test was crossed of the list.  After the obligatory feel and look down my throat (they are finding ways to get around my gag reflex these days and invariably get a look that satisfies them) it was on to the head tenderness.  Seems there was nothing sinister indicated, so it was just a case of letting things run their course - which they did over the next few days.

In case you were wondering, there was a significant amount of wax in the left ear that required removing.  Seems to be some weird side effect of everything that it only happens in that ear. Not sure if it is related to the radiotherapy or the hearing aids, but it is the 2nd time they've had to clear that ear out.  Hearing did improve instantly as a result though.

The great news to come from the appointment is I'm now on a six-monthly clinic cycle going forward.  Now I'm two years + on from the end of treatment, the chances of a recurrence continue to get lower, and this is reflected in the longer appointment cycle.  Next appointment isn't due until July.  Yippee!

Next challenge was the on-going issues with the hearing aids.  Despite the latest tune-up pre-Christmas, I still felt that there was no real benefit being offered from them.  So back for another visit we go (we're now over a year since I first got them and hadn't expected to be still trying to fine-tune them at this stage).  This time, the decision was made to replace the open cups with a medium semi-closed cup.  The cups are what actually goes into the ear, and the fully open ones allow my natural hearing to assist as much as possible.  Seems the issue was that this natural input was actually working against the hearing aids to some extent, and thereby negating some of the benefit.  The semi-closed ones restrict the amount of sound coming into the ear naturally, effectively shifting the responsibility to the hearing aids.  The benefit from the new cups was virtually instant and coupled with a change to the volume settings, I think we might finally have cracked it.

And that pretty much covers of through until mid-January.  Since then, things have been pretty normal.  I've managed to start shifting the Xmas weight gain (although still a work in progress) and that is probably a good thing because slowly but surely I think I'm getting more recovery on the saliva front.  Either that or I've just adjusted so much it isn't such an issue any more.  That said, eating a meal still requires a good 500-700 ml of water to assist the process, so maybe it is the latter, or a mixture of the both.

Proof of the change is evident with hot cross buns.  2011 I could manage 1/2 a bun (and Ruth inherited the other 5 in the pack), whereas now, with the aid of a reasonably substantial amount of spread, I can manage two whole ones.  Sure it does take some time, but I at least get there now.

So, there you are, almost up to date again.  They say time is a great healer, and I subscribe to that as with each passing day I think I am losing a small amount of that lingering awareness of what I've been through in so far as the limitations are concerned.  I have no desire to lose either the memories or subsequent changes to my life that came from the experience though.

Stay safe you all.