Friday, June 14, 2013

Are You Still There?

And... We're back!

That was a lovely interlude in the Kingdom of No Internet.

Really! It was very cool to be in a place where literally no one was seen staring at a little screen in their hand!

Before we get rolling again let me say this: you guys are boooooooring! Not one single one of you has commented on any of the 30 posts so far. C'mon, Dear Reader! You must have questions! Snarky comments! Errors to point out! This is not meant to be purely one-way communication, here. I guess in the end it's fine with me if I'm just typing into the abyss but it's not my preference!

Another note: I'm typing this into the abyss at 2:30 AM. I get awakened in the night by something: being too warm; the cat walking over me; coughing - whatever. And if my brain reaches a certain level of consciousness then it's all over: I'm going to be awake for a while. Lately it's you keeping me awake. I start composing one or more blog posts and get so involved in it that I realize I'm not going to sleep until I get out of bed and write the goddam thing!

To tell you the truth I don't mind. I enjoy feeling that much drive to write.

OK. with the preliminaries out of the way...

A little weird Cancer Fun Time! psychological context for you: ever since I was initially diagnosed I've had this strange inclination to keep cancer separate from my "normal" life. When I first started telling friends about my cancer via email I insisted on keeping the cancer conversation separate from our normal email conversations. I also have kept a family blog for years (which has been sorely neglected this past month!) and I'm not sure how much I'll mention cancer there. Ditto for Facebook. I definitely don't envision that I'll announce having cancer on Facebook, and I may never mention it at all to my friends there.

That's why I've been mysterious about where I went on this recent hiatus: that's "real" life and according to the "rule" of the previous paragraph it doesn't belong here.

We'll see how that rule plays out. I.e. whether it survives. I find the rule fascinating because cancer is normal life. Probability says all of us will be touched by cancer multiple times during our lives, either when a loved one is diagnosed or we ourselves are.

So I'll make a little tear in the veil and tell you where I was: a Disney Cruise in the Bahamas.

Wonderful Wife and I have been saving for a couple of years toward a European trip with The Progeny so we had some vacation funds available. Our summers are normally packed with weekend adventures and camping as well as a two-week trip to our ancestral homeland and that will all be severely disrupted this particular summer. We saw a window between diagnosis and the start of treatment and seized it for a 4-night cruise.

We managed to keep it a surprise until Sunday morning at 5:45 AM when we woke up The Progeny and told them there was a surprise for them on the kitchen table: fake "cruise tickets" we had made that required immediate departure.

Doctor Rad (who I now wish I had named "Doctor Zap") and Doctor Chemo (who I now wish I had named "Doctor Tox") were onboard with the plan. In fact, Doctor Rad rearranged her normal schedule to accomodate us and still accomplish the radiation treatment planning in time to start treatment when planned. (Thank you Doctor Rad!).

Doctor Rad's main concern about me going on a cruise was choking, since Pappy the Papilloma is getting more obese all the time and being obstructionist in my throat. I assured her that I'm used to it and learned a month or so ago that I need to chew my food very carefully before swallowing. If you remember way back in The Beginning, it was partly an increase in minor choking events that sent me to the doctor in the first place.

Friend Britt's main concern was norovirus. A serious illness like that could delay cancer treatment. Friend Britt happens to spend part of her work time in a Travel Clinic advising world travelers how to stay healthy. She advised me to avoid using public toilets, to avoid eating uncooked foods unless I peeled them myself and to wash or sanitize my hands often. I thought of her every time I saw the preventive measures Disney Cruise Lines takes: all toilets designed to make them hard to flush without closing the lid (designed to minimise aerosolization of germs); lots of encouragement to wash hands often and especially before meals; a crew member handing out sanitizing hand wipes to every passenger entering every restaurant at every meal; a crew obviously cleaning the ship 24/7; and all cold or wet food kept in glass cases in individual servings that a server hands you upon request - no passengers pawing or sneezing on cold or raw food.

So ya, the cruise was all great and happy and a lifetime of memories yada yada yada. Let's get back to the cancer we're all here for!

It so happened a cold had been making it's way around the family for a couple of weeks and I finally felt it coming on the day before we left. Fantastic! It actually fit a pattern for me: right after a stressful period, when the stress is finally relieved, that's when I get sick.

For everyone else it had been a very minor cold with just a day or two of minor discomfort. That's how mine started out. But then we flew to Florida and had a long active day and my cold didn't like that. It got worse.

The head cold portion went fairly quickly but then it moved into my chest and resulted in a persistent cough. And that was not A Good Thing since I already have a compromised throat.

Side note: when you are about to board the cruise ship you have to sign a declaration that you and your party are not sick at the moment and have not been sick for the past three days. I had no idea what the consequences of answering "yes" to those question would be but I was not about to find out! I lied! But of course I would take whatever precautions I could to avoid spreading my illness to other passengers. Besides, I knew I wasn't bringing a gastrointestinal illness aboard - just a cold.

The cough started cranking up my throat sensation from discomfort to actual pain. And when the cough turned productive, the phlegm I coughed up started containing moderate amounts of blood. Sometimes not so moderate.

Pappy the Papilloma was aggravated.

Fortunately he seems to heal fairly quickly. Remember how chemotherapy works by interfering most with the cells in the body that are dividing most rapidly, and that the GI side effects of chemo are due to that fact that the cells lining the GI tract are among those cells? It also means those linings recover quickly from insult.

So the last two days of the cruise I spent some of my time expectorating sanguine mucous. Mostly cleared now. But I'd better inform the doctors today.

Some closing notes on the cruise itself:

It was a blast! I highly recommend it. It's more expensive per day than any other vacation I've taken but it's also completely immersive and kids are on Cloud Nine the whole time. I'm fully aware of the profit-making corporate nature of the Disney empire but for family vacations they really do it right.

I noticed, and I overheard many other passengers remark to crew members, that the crew members seemed to never sleep. I would see the same servers, for example, working early breakfast and late dinner. On the last day we commented to one of our servers that we didn't want the experience to end. He said the boat sails again in just a few hours after we get off so we could go again. I asked if he sailed again then and he said yes. We learned that the crew works 14 hours days 7 days a week (the Dream, our ship, sails our 4-night cruise plus a 3-night cruise every week, repeatedly. Forever.) with no time off. They sign up for a six-month contract. Then they have two months off (our server remarked that it takes one of those months to recover). Then they do it again.

I can't imagine.

When we got back to the Land of Internet I looked up reviews by Disney cruise employees. You know what I found? Every review I read rated the job 4 or 5 stars. They all loved working with such a diverse crew (the Disney materials say the crew has members from 60 countries - each crew member has his or her country of origin on his or her name tag - great little geography lessons for The Progeny). They all remarked on how well the company is managed and how heard they felt as employees, how well they were trained and how empowered they felt to make customers happy and even how privileged they felt to be able to give families such great memories. They all said the work was grueling but that they wouldn't trade the experience for anything. Maybe Disney is somehow gaming the review sites, but I was impressed.

That's pretty far afield from cancer but I thought it was interesting.

Anyway, I'm back. And treatment starts in four days.


  1. OK so I went to the trouble to create my blogger account. I do want to post things as I go through the old posts, but each episode is a bit of a cliffhanger, and I'm drawn to the next chapter. Sort of like Game of Thrones. We never watch just one.

  2. Remember; if you're staring into the abyss, the abyss is looking into you!
    OK, here's feedback from the Abyss: what is the ancestral homeland?

    1. Hi marlang,

      "Ancestral homeland" was kind of a joke. Wonderful Wife and I are both from Washington State and all of our family is still there. In 2009 we moved to Boston for my job, 3000 miles away from them. We return to the Pacific Northwest every summer when we don't have cancer.