Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A State of Health

Last week Wonderful Wife and I visited Dana-Farber for my bimonthly surveillance checkup.

The punch line? All clear.

I'm still cancer-free.

It has now been more than eight months since treatment ended. I'm one third of the way through the two-year period in which my type of cancer recurs if it is going to.

Dr. Chemo did a thorough exam of my neck and tongue and then put the scope in my nose to look directly at the base of my tongue on video. All good.

She told me my neck feels "exquisite".

Wonderful Wife likes to touch my neck. The skin is still hairless and baby soft.

Before the exam I had blood work for the first time since the fall. Dr. Chemo told me I am hypothyroid - my thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormones. I have to start taking thyroid supplements, which I am likely to take for the rest of my life.

Strangely, the main symptoms of hypothyroidism in adults are fatigue/lethargy and mental fogginess. I feel the opposite of that. Over the past few weeks I'm really feeling like my old self - energetic and in "getting shit done" mode, both at work and at home. I feel energized both mentally and physically.

The main remaining side effects are pretty much the same: lack of taste and saliva. I think taste is coming back a little. I'd still put it somewhere around 30% of normal (if that) but once in a while something tastes kind of good for a change. I'm still well inside the normal window for those issues to improve.

In other news: I've started riding my bike to work again. Before cancer I had commuted to work by bike for eight years. The last time I had ridden was the day before my first chemo treatment last June. I worried that with significant weight and muscle loss I would feel very weak when I got back on my bike. I was pleased to find otherwise. I'm definitely not as strong, obviously, but I'm not nearly as far down the fitness ladder as I thought I would be.

Perhaps some of that is do to walking. I walk a mile each way from the train station to my office. I have a Fitbit that I obtained as part of a research project at work three years ago and I carry it everywhere in my pocket. I've been averaging about 15,000 steps per day for the past several months. I guess that counts for something.

As I wrote in the last post, I'm feeling quite happy. This morning I was especially happy on my way to work even though I was walking in a light rain.

We got a puppy at the end of February after years of consideration and months of careful thinking about breed and the responsibility. Rhodie is an English Springer Spaniel. I've been wondering today how much she is contributing to this happiness I'm feeling. I was the most reluctant family member when it came to getting a dog, but I think Rhodie is turning me into a dog person. She is so happy to see me in the morning and when I get home from work, and so sweet when we put her in her crate at our bedtime. I suppose that has to be contributing at least a little.

Regardless of the reason, I'm enjoying life today.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


That is what I am these days.


I've written before that back around the new year I was feeling pretty depressed. About as depressed as I've ever been, in fact. Which is probably not too depressed by clinical standards. I'm normally a pretty happy guy.

Part of that was normal post-cancer depression. As I've mentioned before, lots of patients experience it. One is so focused on the cancer battle while it is going on that "normal" life afterward can feel aimless.

For me, it was combined with feelings about work. I've been working in the same field for more than 30 years. During that time I've had several periods of burnout. That's probably pretty normal.

It so happened I was deep in my most recent period of burnout when I was diagnosed with cancer. Those concerns got put on hold during the adventure, but I still had those residual feelings when I returned to work.

Fortunately, my absence from work provided an opportunity to shake things up a bit. There were some organizational changes while I was gone. I started working for a different boss at the end of the year (I like both my old and new bosses very much, but still it was another bit of change that turned out to be beneficial). Some of the older projects that had been weighing me down started wrapping up, and I found opportunities to shift my focus to work activities that inspire me more.

Another aspect is concern about my age and employability. I've done a pretty good job at staying technically relevant into my mid-50s. But my field (software development) is constantly changing and to some extent is a young person's game. Also, in a technical field most people eventually switch over to the management ladder in order to maintain an upward salary trend but I don't get nearly as much satisfaction from management work as I do from technical work.

I need to work at least another 15 years (unless I win the lottery, which I don't play!). So, I worry that if this job went away I might have difficulty finding a comparable one that would maintain our current standard of living and keep our retirement savings on track.

About a month ago, though, I decided I don't need to stress about these things: I chose to enjoy the fact that life is returning to normal and I'm feeling good and I'm able to be a functional dad and husband again.

I decided to be happy!

I have lived a pretty charmed life. Now that we're over that little speed bump, I can enjoy the enchantment again.

Hopefully my bimonthly surveillance checkup at Dana-Farber tomorrow won't alter that. We're pretty confident it won't. I'll keep you posted.