The Truth Can Be Hard To Face

The Truth Can Be Hard To Face

Another day, another contemplation of an upcoming surgery.

That’s the funny thing about our health, isn’t it? You think you’ve got a handle on it, at long last. After all, my weight is down at the lowest point in decades. I no longer require a CPAP or blood pressure medications. I’ve survived my most recent bout with kidney stones. (Though that is a story in and of itself that I might revisit here at some point.)

And then you drop into the dermatologist’s office and are informed that the mole you wanted to talk about removing is actually a tumor.

Yup. Cancer on the face. How about them apples?

Darkness At The Edge

It started off pretty innocuously – a discoloration on my right cheek, right below my eye. It had been there for years, just another spot on a body covered with them.

Then, two years ago, it started to grow. Eventually, it stood out far enough from my face that I started seeing it in my peripheral vision.

It’s a mole, I thought. No big deal.

Finally, Lor had waited long enough and told me to go get it checked. I misunderstood her concern and assumed (wrongly) that its appearance was kinda grossing her out. I made an appointment with my physician. She took one look at it and told me I needed to see a dermatologist. I grumbled at the delay, took the referral, and made an appointment.

And, once at the dermatologist’s office, the whole tenor of the conversation changed. They needed to take a biopsy. It would take about 2 weeks to get results. After my procedure I would have to come back in to get checked over head to toe.

I left the office in a daze. I remember leaving the parking lot and looking over at Lor, and saying “Wait…so I have cancer?”

Covering Up

The next day wasn’t a good one. I spent some time feeling sorry for myself. I spent a LOT of time staring in the mirror. My face may not be much, but it is the only one I have. And the idea that some surgeon was going to be working on it with a scalpel and an ice cream scoop filled me with fear. I’ve seen the anti-smoking ads featuring survivors of mouth cancer, with half their faces missing. Was I going to go through the rest of my life with a gigantic hole in my face? Covering up the offending wound with a black cloth like a smallpox victim in the 1600s?

As it turns out, probably not. The tumor itself is supposedly not a “bad” one, as tumors go. It is referred to as a Basal Cell Carcinoma. They tend to grow slowly and not spread to other parts of the body. The technique they will be using for my procedure (Mohs surgery) removes thin layers of skin at a time. Those layers are placed under a microscope to look for viable cancer cells. If more are found, they do it again. And again. And again. Until they find nothing but healthy skin tissue.

Of course, they are also looking for non-basal cells at the same time. If they find any cancer cells of the two more serious varieties (squamous or melanoma), then my course of treatment will not be done with the surgical procedure alone. So, you know, a little extra tension to add some spice to the whole process.

At the end of the procedure, they stitch me up, leaving a small linear scar on my cheek. Which, if you’ve met me, you know will probably not even be visible or remarkable given the current condition of my facial topography.

Perpetual Preparation

While speaking with the nurse in charge of pre-op in preparation for my procedure next week, she commented on how calmly I was taking the whole thing.

I joked that the tumor removal was just another item on my “bucket list” of surgeries I wanted to complete in my lifetime. We both laughed. It was a grand jest.

But, seriously now – something ELSE wrong with me? Requiring yet another surgical procedure? Its as if the gods of medical oddsmaking are very unhappy with my stated intention to make it to 50 years old and are just starting to make shit up to throw at me at this point.

On the one hand, basal cell carcinoma is not that bad, as cancers go.

On the other hand, how many times am I going to refer to my latest medical condition as “not as bad as it could be?” How many “not so bads” does it take to add up to one life-altering crisis?

Well, apparently at least one more than I have contracted so far.

Piling On

So, between epilepsy, bariatric surgery, depression, and now cancer, I certainly have a surfeit of maladies to wrap my head around.

I keep asking Lor where I go to trade this body in for a new one. She keeps pointing out that the upgrade process would have to include my broken brain as well, which would just make me a different person anyway. True words, but not terribly encouraging.

So, instead of trading in, I am just going to have to do the best I can with the one I’ve got.

Here’s hoping that my next surgical procedure, my sixth in the last few years, goes as smoothly as the previous five.

We will keep everyone posted via FB and Twitter, as always. And then we will hope for a break between procedures. Is a year between surgeries really too much to hope for?

What’s One More Surgical Scar Between Friends?

  • Jeremy

The Expertise of Experience

I finally made time to get my hair cut yesterday, something I do every 2 – 3 months and really should do every 4 weeks. At my local hair salon, my normal hairdresser was off for the day, so I got placed in the care of someone new – a friendly, chatty mother of four who wanted to know what the inkpot-and-quill tattoo on my forearm represented.
“Oh, I am a writer,” I said as modestly as possible.
“Really? What do you write about?” was her interested query.
“Health issues, mainly.”
And, with that, we were off to the races. She wanted to know about high-protein diets. (Yes, with appropriate nutritional supplementation.) About avoiding kidney and liver damage. (Drink more water, and try to cut out soft drinks.) About which was the truth: fish is good for you because of fish oil, or fish is bad for you because of mercury. (Both, really, but if you really want just the oil and not the taste of fish, just take a fish oil supplement.) I talked more during that half an hour than I probably had in the 8 hours preceding it. (Sorry, Lor!)
It was very interesting to discover how much confusing information is out there in the general public pertaining to dietary health. This intelligent woman, trying to look out for the health of her family, had so much conflicting data that her dietary planning was at a standstill. All of the hard-won experience Lor and I have earned in the past few months, involving radical surgery, major lifestyle changes, and thousands of dollars in medical bills should be available to normal people without having to suffer through the costs of morbid obesity, right? So, how do we go about getting this info into the hands of our friends and neighbors?
Talking about it seems to be a good starting point. Most people, when they hear about my surgery, want to focus on the procedure. But most people I talk to don’t need bariatric surgery. They could get positive results from making a few of the changes that Lor and I have made, without having to go through all of the “other” stuff that went along with our treatments for morbid obesity and diabetes. It is entirely possible that I need to begin shifting my focus when interacting with people on the subject. Like, “Yes, I had to have surgery, but you can have positive results by exercising, avoiding processed foods, and focusing on hydration.” It is an interesting focus shift that I hadn’t really considered previously.
As my haircut wrapped up, my hairdresser commented that, instead of being a writer, I really ought to be a nutritionist or dietitian. I laughed and thanked her, then mentioned that I had a dietitian, and that it was a very technical position requiring many years of education and training.
My hair artist looked me over, and said: “You? What do you need a dietitian for?”
If I Wasn’t Married, I Would’ve Kissed Her,
– Hawkwind

Auditory Setbacks

Hawkwind, ca. 1998, when he still had his hearing (and his hair.)
It hasn’t been the best of weeks so far, in a “health and wellness” sense.
My weight has stopped dropping (still stuck at 224), my knee has flared back up after a few weeks of glorious pain-free exercise, and, tomorrow, I get to go have my hearing checked.
Wait, what does that last one have to do with weight loss?
Nothing, really. But it is the physical symptom that is bothering me the most right now.
Decades of playing rock and roll on very small stages in front of very loud amplifiers (and drummers) have left me with not-so-great hearing. While hanging around the house, this is no big deal – I just turn up the volume or make sure I am watching Lor’s lips move while she speaks to me, and waiting for information to arrive via context.
However, out in the world, this has begun to be a problem. While out walking the dog, for example, Lor is invariably a few feet in front of me. While huffing and puffing and trying to keep up with her and Vixen, I will hear something that seems to indicate that she is speaking, but the words come through as something like the background noise at a really loud party. As I can’t see her lips, I have no idea what is being said. I tend to say “Mmm-hmm” in a positive inflection a lot. I have no idea what I am agreeing to. Could be that I agree the dog is unusually cute today, could be I just signed off on tearing out all our flooring and replacing it with marble. Who knows?
So, at my latest doctor visit, I mentioned this problem to my physician. My doctor recommended that I go so see an audiologist. My appointment is tomorrow, and I am not looking forward to the results.
The idea of wearing hearing aids is just not appealing to me, I must admit. I have loved ones who rely on them, and it certainly has improved their quality of life. But, they just seem like something for people…older than me.
You know, like slowing metabolic rates are a function of age. And advanced arthritis in the joints is a function of age. Everywhere I turn, my body is gleefully pointing out to me that I am not in my twenties anymore. Not to mention the fact that I am reaping the rewards of a lifetime of abuse that I have heaped on my body. I wish I had enjoyed my thirties more, because I am paying for them now. Sort of like student loans or high-interest credit cards – the consequences last far after the initial purchase.
And, no matter how well I finally do in weight loss, exercise and nutrition from here on out, the fact remains – I am going to keep getting older. My body will keep slowing down. I will have to work harder tomorrow to achieve the results I got yesterday. Things are just going to keep ceasing to function properly. Because no one escapes the ravages of time. 
And, soon, I may have the hearing aids to show for it.
Damn it.
Wishing I Had Played Mozart Instead Of Skynyrd,
– Hawkwind

The Times, They Are A Changin’

The Times Are Chaning

Here it is, already Wednesday, and I am only now putting up my first post for the week. There has been some household stuff to deal with, but mainly I have been running around town dealing with various medical appointments. Let me fill you in.

A little over 10 years ago I was happy with my physical condition. I practiced 2 to 3 hours a day (you better believe that being a musician is aerobic exercise), lifted weights 3 or 4 times a week, and was constantly on the go. Sure, I was overweight thanks to a rich diet and ingesting a couple of cases of beer a week. But I could still load out all our gear, play a 4-hour gig, load everything back in, and still make it to work a few hours later. My 240-pound frame was solid – I looked very much like a fire hydrant. I used to tell people that I was the strongest fat man they knew.

Then, Epilepsy happened. Depression, lack of physical activity, and weight enhancing medications like Depakote ballooned me up to 280 pounds within 6 months of my diagnosis. Over the years I have fought my weight with med changes, failed diets, and attempts at various physical activities that always wound up with me injuring myself, having seizures, or both. Now, at only 45, I have high blood pressure, arthritis in both knees and one hand, and serious respiratory problems.

My “Come to Jesus” moment occurred about a month ago, when I stepped on a scale and weighed in at 302 pounds. I had never been over 300 before. 296, sure, but somehow 300 seemed so much more significant and real. I had to do something. I went in to talk to my regular doc, and she suggested that my BMI of 48.8 (“normal” is 18 – 24) indicated that I look into bariatric surgery. There was one catch, though. As someone with intractable seizures, I was going to also have to get my neurologist to sign off on the idea of bariatric surgery as well before I even consulted with the surgeon.

The appointment with my Neuro is today, a few hours from now. I am incredibly nervous about the whole thing. What if he says yes, and I have to have a big section of my stomach removed? What if he says no, and I am stuck here in Jumbo-size Land? The thoughts chase each other through my head like a demented carousel. I haven’t slept more than 5 hours a night in quite a while.

But, the truth is, I can no longer be passive about this. After Lor had me watch “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” a couple weeks ago I at least have a backup plan if surgery is a no-go. I have to have something that will get enough weight off my frame so that I can actually start exercising again without injuring myself. If it takes surgery to do that, fine. If it takes a short term 100% juice diet, fine. I am just going to have to grit my teeth and push myself through the eruption of seizure activity that occurs whenever I start losing weight. It is a very different mindset for me, as I have spent twelve years trying to avoid seizures. But I do not want the moment to arrive when I step on a scale and see “350”, and am going to have to make avoidance of that my focus.

So, fair warning to everyone, there will be some health and weight loss posts scattered amongst the gaming articles from here on out. If I do end up going through with surgery, I will also start video blogging about that as well, since several video blogs have been so helpful to me in educating myself about this whole process. I am a big believer in “paying it forward” these days. I can’t afford not to be.

Feeling Really Large And Frightened,

– Hawkwind