Tuesday, October 14, 2003

More cancer in the movies! I went to go see the movie American Splendor. I've heard of Harvey Pekar before--I sought out his comic "Our Cancer Year" when I was first diagnosed. (I heard a woman talking about it while I was waiting for the radiatioactive stuff to filter through my veins for a PET scan and got the book)

The comic "Our Cancer Year" is very, well, chronological and lacks the point or poignancy or reason to read it (except of you have cancer yourself and are obsessively reading anything other than the facts about it) that his other works have. And the movie explains why. His wife got him to make it into a comic because that would be the easist way for him to deal with it--he'd be going through all these experiences, filtering it through the comic writer's lens, and this would help him get through it. Later, he could reflect and deal with it. I don't think he's done that, in comic form. Oh, and he has cancer (prostate, I believe) again.

Friday, October 10, 2003

My inability to remember trivial things has, I believe, helping and hurting my relationship with Kevin. It helps because I cannot remember any of the minor incidents that I would store up inside until they burst out into one of our rare arguments. If he had a topped-off list it sounded like a bad courtroom drama:

"You were half an hour late two Thursdays ago!"
"You forgot we were going to XYZ's house on the 15th!"
"You didn't ask me if I wanted tango lessons!"
"You never wear the sweater vest I bought you!"

Inevitably it degenerated (further?) into those polarizing always/never arguments. Now we rarely have those arguments because I can't remember any of those little things. Kevin probably can, and he can add to it the times (like this morning) I eye him suspiciously and ask where the green bath towels are. (As if he's squirreled them away somewhere for some nefarious reason.) And then get on a roll and ask why he didn't make copies of an article for me. He (very patiently) says he hasn't seen the green towels, but will keep an eye out for them, and also (very very patiently) explains he did make a copy of the article and gave it to me the very next day after I asked. No, you didn't, I refute, still wondering what the hell he's doing with the bath towels. Yes, I did, he says, pointing out how he put paper over the ads because they were distracting. Oh, I say, remembering that he did indeed make the copies, but I can't remember if he did it the very next day, but I probably shouldn't argue with him over that. Thanks! I say brightly.

The green towels were in the laundry basket.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Another fun fact about Hodgkin's is that despite the infrequency of Hodgkin's, most studies on survivors are on Hodgkin's patients because the survival rates are high. Turns out we're prone to PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

My favorite sentence is, "One problem health professionals have in determining if a cancer patient has PTSD is figuring out what exactly is the cause of trauma. "

Hey, I got a suggestion--it's HAVING CANCER! But then they go on to say, "Because the cancer experience involves so many upsetting events, it is much more difficult to single out one event as a cause of stress than it is for other traumas, such as natural disasters or rape. For cancer patients, the stressful incident may be the initial diagnosis, realizing that the disease may be fatal, a long period of pain, a symptom that indicates the cancer has returned, a feared treatment procedure, or an unexpected incident (for example, being present when a hospital roommate is resuscitated or dies)."

Until you think about it and realize that it just might be HAVING CANCER! I mean, what is the deal with figuring out what part of HAVING CANCER is the worst? So you can avoid having a hospital roommate die? Perhaps we humans are terrible at explaining what is so bad about horrible events, so we focus on one aspect of it. But it all falls under the heading of HAVING CANCER.

Later in the article they say, "In these studies, patients' symptoms were worse at the time of diagnosis and lessened during treatment, indicating that cancer is a series of traumas rather than a single traumatic event. " And lest you think it's just the patient, "Symptoms typical of PTSD have also been seen in family members of cancer patients and survivors....Mothers and fathers tend to report more serious PTSD than do their children who have cancer. These symptoms do not appear to lessen over time. Partners (such as wives) of cancer patients may also experience PTSD symptoms more often than patients."

Aha, so now we're getting somewhere. HAVING CANCER isn't just a matter of being the diagnosee, it's everyone on your 'cancer journey'. (More on that later.)

But there's hope, "People for whom more time has passed since diagnosis and treatment tended to show fewer symptoms. However, this effect has not been seen in patients with cancer that has returned recently, survivors of breast cancer, or survivors of childhood cancer. " I can't comment on the breast cancer or childhood cancer survivors--it's too difficult--but I thougth it was interesting. The part I will comment on is the fact that maybe the effect isn't seen in those with a recurrence, provided it's been adjusted for the end of subsequent treatment, is because, well, you got to double your HAVING CANCER! And most folks aren't like me--the second time is usually much, much worse, treatment-wise.

And where did I get this information? Someone mentioned it on a mailing list and I found it on a web site. Here's the article intended for the patient on PTSD, and here's the one intended for the health professional. There's quite a difference between the two. The health professional one is more interesting, especially with things like, "Studies examining adult and child survivors of cancer have described heightened psychologic distress[6,9,10] and disturbances in self-esteem, body image, intimacy, and sexuality and have also noted subsyndromal symptoms of anxiety and depression that are related to fears of recurrence and the confrontation with one's mortality."

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

More thoughts on the Cancer Club. Maybe I feel it a bit more because there aren't many in my demographic with cancer, and there are few (7000 per year) Hodgkin's cases. So few, as a matter of fact, that there are those that keep track of the famous (okay, the not-so-famous) that have had it. Richard Harris recently died from Hodgkin's treatment (notice how they don't count him as a Hodgkin's victim--maybe that's why the survival rates are so high?), Tracy Nelson (Ricky Nelson's daughter) had it and survived, as did the hockey player Mario Lemieux and Bruce Pearson, the baseball player featured in the movie *Bang the Drum Slowly*:

Bruce Pearson (Robert De Niro) is a dedicated baseball player who's hiding a secret: He has Hodgkin's disease. His only confidante is the team's star pitcher, Henry Wiggin (Michael Moriarty), who covers for him as he faces not only a waning season but a slowly fading life. Vincent Gardenia received an Academy Award nomination for his role as the team's coach in this tearjerker based on Mark Harris's 1950s novel.

A guaranteed tear-jerker, Bang the Drum Slowly centers on professional baseball player Bruce Pearson (Robert DeNiro) and his team mate Henry Wiggen (Michael Moriarty), who supported Bruce to the bitter end after learning that the young catcher was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and would soon die.

I actually checked out the book "Bang the Drum Slowly" by Mark Harris. I couldn't get through it because it is 1.) definitely a guy's story, like Rudy or that movie where the football player died (of cancer, natch) that guys cry at and 2.) it had a very stylized prose form, a 1950's kind of hip lingo that grated on my nerves after a while. One reviewer calls it a 'hip patios'. A sample:

"Hello there, old pal," said Dutch.

"Hello there yourself," said Red. I could hear his voice but I could not hear the words. "It would all sound fine to me," said Red, "except I can not leave here. They can not find another man on such short notice."

Add the word 'horsefeathers' and you can see why I quit. But I did end up keeping it too long, and the library charged me $.90 and somehow that makes it okay to not read it.

Monday, October 06, 2003

There's a whole kind of cancer club out there. When you hear someone had cancer, it's interesting to know what kind. NPR did a story on childhood cancer, and mentioned "rigorus Hodgkin's treatment", and I was all over it. There's a woman in Kevin's Sports Illustrated , someone who wants to be a swimsuit model, whose quote is, "I didn't appreciate athletics until I was diagnosed with cancer. Now I'm in remission and playing tennis again." Now, I won't get started on what playing tennis (or any sport, for that matter) has to do with lolling around on a beach in a so-called swimsuit for the visual pleasure of millions of men. And it's actually a competition to be the model, and as much as I despise things like that, I'm rooting for her. It's like a club, akin to a high school reunion. Other cancers are different years, while finding someone in your year is like finding out they had Hodgkin's. I wonder what kind she had. And if she had chemo--I mean, I was emaciated and hairless once, too.

Friday, October 03, 2003

I should title this "Ethical Dilemnas and Full-Time Jobs". First of all, being sick is a full-time job. And finding a school for your child is a full-time job. And figuring out health care claims is also a full-time job. So is raising a child, goofing off, etc. I'm just happy I don't have an official full-time job anymore--I'm happy doing any one but the one I had. But I've been working on the health care claims job this week and I'm just ticked because most claims (and I think I'm lucky this way) have gone off without a hitch. Since I've changed insurance companies I really hope it wasn't due to them, but then again, my previous health care insurer was lauded by Fortune Magazine as one of the best. But if I'm in for more of this, my newly-found calm and collected phone demeanor is in for a true test. I won't go into details, but let's just say that there are so many notes on the claim that I spend more time listening to the phone reps read them than I do on hold in the first place. So here's the ethical dilemna. Due to the provider writing things off and mis-filing other things, and the insurance company sending the checks to me, I stand to make money on the deal. Can I keep it? According to Parade magazine, it seems I can. (I love how I can work supposedly-cancer-related things into my own soapbox.) Parade started running a column on ethics a while ago and I was just, well, flabbergasted at the responses. A parent wrote in that their sixteen year old had taken time off work to fund raise for school, and so she was going to skim some off the top to pay herself back. BOTH THE PARENT AND THE SO-CALLED ETHICS ADVISOR SAID THIS WAS OKAY. See, if she would have worked x hours at y rate, she can keep x*y. (I obviously don't agree.) So I know in my gut that I can't keep the extra money, although I'll probably have to spend hours on the phone with the half-wit at the provider's office explaining why they got more money than I owe. However, if I do the WWPEAD (What Would Parade's Ethics Advisor Do), I'd just say, well, I got z dollars, and I spent x hours on the phone, so I can keep it because my time works out to z/x. (I hope I'm worth a lot!)

Thursday, October 02, 2003

I found my earrings, and I'm very happy that I have them back. I am not happy, though, with my brain because it's gone and unlikely to return. See, my earrings were floating around in the bottom of my purse--somewhere I'd NEVER put them. But obviously I did, and that is bugging me. Why on earth would I do such a thing and have absolutely no recollection of it? Or am I being too hard on myself--is Kevin or Conor trying to make me think I'm losing my mind? Either way, I know the cat is in on it because I found my earrings when cleaning the cat pee out of my purse. Yes, my fifteen-year-old-otherwise-healthy cat peed in my purse. There are only a handful of other things that cause me to lose my mind like this one--I had to send Conor upstairs because I didn't want him to see me "giving Scooter a time-out". This is not the first time. I wonder if I can get Martha Stewart's advice on getting cat pee out of a leather wallet and mold out of another leather wallet he peed in last time that I washed but didn't dry properly. Yeah, right. She's probably got a pet cemetary at Turkey Hill just for those animals that don't behave. Scooter is so old my threats regarding an untimely demise and subsequent slipper-making have no weight with him.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

I was at yet another event for Conor's school, and another mom asked me if I was going to have more kids. "Yes", I responded. She asked when and I said maybe sometime soon. She pressed again, and I said that my oncologist wanted me to be cancer-free for two years. She then asked, "You had cancer? Was it serious?" I just stood there, having no idea what to say because I really wanted to reply, "Serious as a heart attack!". It still cracks me up.

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