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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THE ENCHANTED FOREST:

After three days, while on our late afternoon walk, we discovered the mysterious orb still there. Now, however, with a sign affixed to its surface announcing “Fountain. Free. Take it away.” Mystery solved, perhaps.

It is now three and one-half months since the growth on my neck first appeared and I went to my oncologist for the first time for a diagnosis. Since then, I have had a PET scan, two CT scans, four sonograms, three visits for biopsies, a stress test, two blood tests and at least 8 meetings with five separate doctors and I still have no treatment plan. Today, I am awaiting insurance company approval for a second opinion on the feasibility of surgery. During all that time, the swelling tumor on my neck has grown from an insignificant bulge to a goiter like bump and my diagnosis has gone from, “It is nothing to worry about” to “You’re probably going to die.” I am no longer amused.

Groucho Marx had a cousin from Argentina named Gaucho.

Days pass, I read a lot, watch the news on television, see the Niners lose again, spend too much time on Facebook — It is now Wednesday, I finally have an appointment scheduled in San Francisco at UCSF for my second opinion. Sometimes bitching and shouting works.

Thursday was a good day although the air quality made it better to stay indoors. San Francisco was reported to have the worst air quality in the world today because the smoke from the many fires in Northern California hung over the city like a dirty shower curtain. Sacramento was not too far behind. Nevertheless, I felt good today. Whether it was from the valium I had taken last night to help me sleep or something else I do not know. In the afternoon, I felt good enough to brave the hazardous air and drive into the Golden Hills to pick up Hayden and Jake. The Skate Park was closed because of the hazardous air-quality, so we went to the house where we discussed the possibility of the three of us driving to a Mountain Bike track somewhere in the mountains this weekend. After doing some research about the various trails, I left them to ruminate on the alternatives and returned to the Enchanted Forest.

Back at the house, I busied myself posting various articles on Facebook from two of my blogs, “Trenz Pruca’s Journal,” and “Papa Joe’s Tales, Fables, and Parables.” I was doing this because I wanted to increase the number of views this year to more than any of the Blogs’ prior years. At first, I was afraid to mention here in T&T how I spend several hours a day (at least four) because it might reveal me to be an insecure recluse desperately seeking recognition for what I feared were my inept and odd scratchings. Eventually, I convinced myself that it was no more than an obsession to “beat my record.” So instead of revealing my pitiful insecurities, I exposed one of my more idiotic neuroses which I somehow believed was less embarrassing. Anyway, for “Papa Joe’s” I passed my best year in early November. For “Trenz Pruca”s Journal,” it will be close to the end of the year before I know if I will succeed or not.

In any bureaucracy, all the work is done low on the food chain. Everyone else just holds meetings.

Last night, I dreamed a movie, actually two, one complete and one half-way through. This is not unusual. I have dreamt movies before. Usually, in my dreams, I enter one of the movie theaters I remember that existed on Fordham Rd. in the Bronx way back when I was going to college at the end of the 1950s. They were grand old Egyptian-Baroque buildings. In my dreams (and probably in real life) the theaters had deteriorated to become purveyors of soft porn and old movies. Strangely, in my dream, I had to go downstairs to get to the theater. The movie was an old one I had never seen before — a melodrama about two families going through various domestic crises. I woke up briefly half-way through the second feature but fell back to sleep almost immediately. The movie was still running but had now become a porn flick and I was an actor in it. This was notable, not because of the nature of my involvement and the vigor of my participation, but because I have not experienced such dreams for years now.

I awoke that morning with Naida caressing my arm as it lay across her body. It made me both happy and sad. Happy because it is so nice to wake up in the morning with someone who loves you and sad because I fear those mornings are going to end far too soon.

Those who observe well, dream well.
Friday was a non-event and then came the weekend.

At five o’clock in the morning, Naida woke up and said that she had to go downstairs to write something in her memoir — something about her approach to math as a child, a complex method that included fingers, beacons and musical rhythms ( the left hand did the rhythm and the right counted the repetitions). I went back to sleep and fell into a marvelous dream. I was somewhere in the Mediterranean, in a colorful small town by the sea. I was younger, a drifter and con man. My friend Blackie had engineered a scam that had gone bad. I was accused even though I had no part in it. A younger Isabella Rossellini, who was a princess of some sort, rescued me somehow. We laughed a lot and got naked. Then Naida woke me up to go to the Saturday coffee at the Nepenthe Club House.

The weekly Saturday coffee was usually attended by the older members of the community. Women outnumbered men more than two to one. Although each person sported a name tag, I never could recall names even after staring at the tags so, as usual, I gave them nicknames — the football coach, the two spies (one a man who was a senior executive in the State Department, the other a woman with coiffed white hair whose job prior to retirement was shrouded in mystery), the leader, the cute lady, the model (an eighty-year-old ex-model), the model’s husband the architect ( a 90+ year old architect of some renown) and others. There was also a mother-daughter duo that one could not discern who was the mother and who the daughter. They whispered and laughed together in the corner. Also, there is always a woman there, usually without a name tag, that attended to the refreshments. I do not know if she is a resident or an employee of the HOA.

The Leader, a large woman, selflessly devotes herself to the task. She feels quite distressed and obviously hurt if anyone challenges or disagrees with her, so we don’t. She opened a small roll-on piece of luggage that accompanies her everywhere, pulled out some papers and a small bell that she rings to call us to order. Then, she announces the events scheduled, calls for volunteers for the myriad of charitable activities planned to be undertaken and so on. After that, we clean up the clubhouse and leave.

Naida and I then went shopping and had lunch at Ettore’s where I choked on a piece of turkey breast and threw-up all over my plate.

The mysterious orb remains, in the gutter by the house. No one has claimed it yet.

B. A SHORT TRIP INTO THE SIERRAS:

On Sunday, we decided to escape the fire-caused air pollution and drove into the Sierra foothills. We drove to Jackson. There is a bookstore that sells Naida’s books. The bookstore has a Sherlock Holmes museum on its second floor with a room made to look like the great detective’s Baker Street residence. While Naida went into the store to discuss book things, I took the dog for a walk around the time. The little fellow got into a snarling match with a large pit bull. I admired his courage, not his common sense.

After that, we went for lunch a Teresa’s one of the better restaurants in the town. It always saddens me that so many Italian restaurants here and even in Italy have passed from the families whose food came from the techniques and recipes that their mothers develop to please the taste of their families who ate the food every day, to others whose recipes and techniques are often designed to lower costs and aspire only to being merely acceptable. If you are ever in Jackson you should stop for a meal at Teresa’s.

While there, I learned the story of how Naida got her name. It was not an uplifting story. It was as remarkable and as disturbing as the rest of her life.

We drove back by way of Ione. While passing through the town Naida told me about a friend of hers, an Indian woman, who was Dave Brubeck’s piano teacher when he was growing up there.

C. OFF TO THE CITY — THE BIG ENDIVE:

On Monday, we set off for San Francisco. Before leaving we drove to the kennel to board Boo-boo for the night. It took a little time because the person typing the required forms was blind. He had to lay one eye on the computer screen in order to read the form. Then, after saying a teary farewell to the dog, we left.

By the time we had reached Vacaville, the smog from the Forrest fires was so thick our lungs began to ache. We had coffee and a brioche there and then drove on into The City. Noe Valley where Peter and Barrie live was only slightly less occluded with the smog. They gave us some masks and we walked down to 24th street for lunch. After lunch, Peter and I went to Bernie’s for coffee. The air was too unbreathable to sit at the “Geezer’s Bench” so we sat at a table by the window drinking coffee and complaining about the pains and burdens of growing old.

The next morning, we went to UCSF for my appointment. On the way, as we passed the Ferry Building, Naida told me that at one time she worked with the State Department of Corrections on a massive study on the effectiveness of various parole alternatives on the recidivism rates of violent criminals. The results showed that nothing works.

I met with a Dr. Ryan for a second opinion on the possibility of surgery on my neck. The surgeon’s office was located on the fourth floor of a hospital in Mission Bay. Many years ago I had some involvement in the approvals for the development of Mission Bay. Precisely what, I do not remember. It now has become a hub or medical treatment technology. The cancer department impressed me. It is set up so that most of the diagnostic and treatment needs of the patient can occur in one place without the usual delays.

The surgeon was a youngish man in his mid-forties, dressed in a dark blue suit (He did not have a bow tie). Following the usual prodding, he confirmed the opinion of the previous surgeon that an attempt to operate would probably be fatal. The tumor had entwined itself around the muscle like a lover and pressing up against the artery. If he operated he would have to cut a flap of chest muscles to fold over the wound. He did indicate that all the tests done so far do not show that cancer had spread any farther and those other treatments may work. I then told him I was also looking into various trials including with one of his office colleagues that Terry recommended. He then arranged for an appointment with the doctor in a trial that focuses directly on my problem.

Although this was a somewhat more positive result and made me feel much better, I realized that I am effectively dead in the very near future should these treatments not work.

We drove home that afternoon, picked up the dog, watched some movies and prepared for Thanksgiving.

And on Wednesday the rains came.


Have a Happy National Welcome New Immigrant’s Day.

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It is autumn in the Enchanted Forest — Time to change from Hawaiian shirts to flannel; for hearing the fallen leaves crackle beneath our feet as we walk by; for golden sunlight in the afternoons and early sunsets; for the yellow pollen from the Deodar Cedar trees coating the cars and the sidewalks; and a time for sleeping late in the morning and for reflection.

On Tuesday, I went for my appointment at the office of the surgeon selected to operate on my neck. A very young doctor followed by a female medical student entered the examination room where I had been placed. He appeared to be of South Asian heritage. He examined me briefly and answered my questions. He was thin with limpid sympathetic eyes. He then left with the student trailing in his wake.

After a while, the surgeon himself entered with the young doctor and medical student in tow. He was a small man in a grey-brown suit and sporting a bright blue bow tie. For some reason, his appearance made me recall that I had read somewhere that surgeons have the highest percentage of psychopaths of any profession. Also, again for some unknown reason, I tended to associate bow-ties with psychopathology.

.

He felt around my neck, had the young doctor stick a camera down my nose and into my neck and watched whatever it was he saw on the monitor behind me. He then announced that the proposed operation was dangerous and I would probably die. He followed-up that good news with the observation that almost two months have elapsed since my last PET scan and his examination showed that during that time the tumor had grown substantially and now pressed too close to my carteroid artery to be safely removed by surgery. He then railed about the unwillingness of my health-care group to allow his health-care group to use their follow up organizations thereby limiting his activities only to the surgery. He ordered his assistant to schedule another CT scan. If it confirms his diagnosis, I may be in deep trouble.

A few days before that my oncologist told me that if surgery were unavailable then we may try immunotherapy. At best, immunotherapy, he said, slows the growth and spread of cancer cells. If it does not work, then it is goodbye time for Joey.

I had woken up that morning in reasonably good spirits. By 3PM I may have become a dead man walking. Life is funny sometimes.

For the next day or two, I was very depressed. That little voice in my head, the one that talks all the time and tells you how good you are or how bad you are matters as though your goodness or badness is the most significant goodness or badness of anyone in the world, was worried.

“What does it mean to me for you to die?” it said in that same youthful voice it always had? “I mean, it’s not like sleep,” it added. “When you sleep you anticipate you will wake up in the morning. Isn’t that consciousness? You anticipate something is going to happen next even if you cannot know what.”

I was getting annoyed, even depressed with its musings. “That’s it,” it continued. “You close your eyes like you’re are going to sleep and you never wake .”

“That’s very profound, you idiot,” I said.

“No, you Don’t understand,” it went on. “Without anticipation, there is no life, no consciousness.”

“And this insight is supposed to help me how?” I enquired. It was silent. Perhaps for the first time in my life, I could not hear It. I was afraid, very afraid.

By Thursday I felt a little better — a good dose of valium and a nights sleep allowed me to begin to get things in order. First, I thought, “Write a will” — a wasted gesture. I always wanted to die with nothing. I am pretty close to that — both dying and money. I probably need someone to take my collection of Hawaiian shirts, however. I would rather not send them to Goodwill. Pookies last will and testament: “I leave to______ my Hawaiian shirts. End.”

So here I am typing at my computer, watching MSNBC and CNN and reading Tana French’s latest novel. It is a mystery novel, but so far I am not sure about the mystery. I have read about 1/3 of the book and all that’s happened so far is that the narrator gets beat up and spends a long long time in the hospital worrying about everything except who beat him up and why.

The weekend trundled by. I arranged for the CT scan on Monday that will indicate whether an operation is feasible. On Tuesday, I will watch the election returns. If the Democrats do not retake at least one house of Congress with a substantial majority, then — then what? I am too close to the end for it to make much of a difference to my welfare, but I may be sad for everyone else.

Perhaps, this is where it all may begin to end — in some ways, life has always been, little more than a scramble for scarce resources (money and sex — ok, not so scarce) ending in death.

A computer simulation by Jeremy England and colleagues at MIT showed that a system of particles confined inside a viscous fluid in which the particles are driven by an oscillating force, over time, triggers the formation of more bonds among the particles. In other words, shine enough light and apply enough heat long enough you eventually get life. In general, the function of life is to more efficiently convert matter (resources) to energy (movement). Humans have gotten very good at converting resources to energy and leaving waste and destruction behind — perhaps too good. Maybe the answer to Marconi’s query, “Where are they?” regarding alien civilizations of 40 billion planets in the Milky Way capable of sustaining life, is simply that advanced life-forms a become so efficient in converting resources to waste they destroy the planet before ever making an effective foray into space searching for others.

On Saturday, we had a barbecue and fresh oysters at Naida’s daughter’s home nearby. Sarah’s husband is a nurse. One of his colleagues, another male nurse, was there also. I asked them why they became nurses. Besides liking to help people, they agreed that employment opportunities were a major draw. One said, “I could be fired at my current job and before arriving home I would have a new one.”

Between medical appointments and various episodes of depression, I have not seen HRM all week. That makes me sad. On the other hand, autumn is a pleasant time to walk the dog and stand on the levee watching the river flow by.

The second third of the Tana French book focused on Hugo, the narrator’s beloved uncle, who is dying from inoperable cancer. Hugo surprisingly confesses to the murder and promptly dies the next morning while in police custody. In fact, the murder had been committed by others.

On Sunday Terry, the Cannabis King of the Siskiyou’s dropped by. It was good to see him. He had been looking into some alternative therapies for me. It is good to have friends. I have had some very good friends along the way. When I was very young, in grammar school, I had no friends so I used to pretend that I was sick so I could stay home in bed and read the encyclopedia. That is where I get my fondness for melodrama —pretending I am sick almost to death. Once I recall, I successfully persuaded my parents I was as sick as I had ever been in my life, so they let me stay home. After they both left for work and I was alone, I began to persuade myself that I was, in fact, very sick. I was sure I was going to need help or I was a goner. I slipped out of bed and crawled because I was too weak walk through the apartment to the door where, if I were able to open it, I could call for help and one of my neighbors would undoubtedly save me. I reached for the doorknob but I was too weak to grasp it and I fell motionless to the floor.

After an appropriate amount of time. I got up off the floor and walked back to the bedroom, climbed back into bed and resumed my reading.


On Monday I had my CT scan. More needles stuck into my body and radioactive substances injected into my bloodstream. After that, I drove up to the Golden Hills, ate lunch and walked a bit around the CCD park.

I finished the Tana French book today. Despite everything I found out previously and the resolution, more or less, of the murder that occupied most of the book, it ends with a twist as surprising as any I have read in detective fiction.

Today I have my appointment with the surgeon to review the results of the CT scan and determine if I am dead or not.

Well, the surgeon informed me today that if they operate there is a 90% chance I would die on the operating table. I do not know if that was an evaluation of his abilities or the complexity of my tumor’s location. He followed up that news with the opinion that, absent successful alternative therapies, my remaining lifespan would be somewhere between three and six months. Unfortunately, the only alternative therapy available to me appears to be immunotherapy which the surgeon explained to me would have about a 20% chance of success.

If the situation is as dire as he indicates, I intend to fully indulge myself of whatever unorthodox alternative treatment approach that I may enjoy — mushrooms, cannabis, of course, acupuncture, mood-altering drugs and the like. One of the good things about knowing your days are limited but you are otherwise in good health is that you have few restrictions on pandering to yourself.

In the evening, my sister joined us for dinner. She is down from Mendocino to attend an economic development conference. After dinner we watched the returns come in. I had hoped for better.

That night, I was afraid I would not be able to sleep. I tried all of my little tricks to help me fall asleep including counting my breaths backward from 99 and contemplating the SF 49’s starting lineup all to no avail. So I turned to Naida and said, “I can’t sleep. I am going downstairs so that my twisting and turning will not keep you awake.” She responded, “What are you talking about? It is 5:30 in the morning. You’ve been sleeping peacefully all night.”

The next day, my radiology physician confirmed the surgeon’s diagnosis and opined that under these circumstances immunotherapy was the best alternative — “Sometimes it works,” he added. I said, “It is odd feeling as well as I do but knowing I’m as good as dead.” “Yes,” he responded. “It is like that for cancer patients.” That got me wondering how many people I pass each day with similar problems to mine, that go about their days without complaint. Almost every day I meet someone who asks me how I am doing. As is my want, I tell them. They often tell me that they had gone through similar treatments two or three times already. It always makes me feel worse when I am unable to wallow in the uniqueness of my imagined misery.

I left his office with him promising to think about the possibility of additional radiation therapy should the immunotherapy treatment falter and traveled into the Golden Hills to pick up the Scooter Gang. I dropped them off at Dick’s house. They promised not to get in trouble (follow my rules — don’t hurt yourselves, don’t spill anything on the floor and don’t break anything) while in the house but begged to be able to get into a little trouble when they traveled to Town Center later. While I was leaving, Hayden walked up to the window of the car and said, “Remember Pookie you have got to believe.”

I guess there are no more adventures for Pookie — unless dying itself is an adventure — Pookies last adventure. Dylan Thomas wrote, “Do not go quietly into that dark night.” Well, I am pretty sure I will not go quietly. But instead of “railing against the darkening of the light,” it will be more like bitching and complaining (see my screed on bitching: https://trenzpruca.wordpress.com/2018/02/12/petrillos-commentary-on-bitching/). My mother always said I screamed constantly from shortly after birth until I began to talk and then I complained of everything until I became a teenager and then thankfully I only sulked.

My sister came by again yesterday evening. We laughed a lot. Planned for Thanksgiving and reminisced.

The leaf-fall of autumn has increased since the air has cooled and the Fall breezes grown stronger. They are falling too fast for the ground-keepers with their leaf-blowers to keep up so the Enchanted Forest’s paths and lawns are covered with yellow and brown leaves that in the sunlight look like spilled paint. While walking the dog I like stomping through the leaves, kicking them into the air and watching them fall back again like a 79-year-old child.

Today, we visited my chemotherapist expecting to set the schedule for my immunotherapy. We were surprised. Apparently, he spoke last night with the various doctors involved in my case. He said the radiologist changed his mind and now thought radiation might be possible. Also, my regular oncologist told him he was setting up an appointment for a second opinion at UCSF. He then laid out my treatment schedule. First, I get the second opinion. If that supports the first surgeon’s judgment, then we will begin a new round of radiation therapy, followed by Chemo and if necessary immunotherapy. Although this might appear to be more positive than the other recent medical opinions I have received, it actually seems to me to be simply a change in a treatment plan and not in prognosis. I think they are just trying to make me feel better. Despite their attempts to humor me I intend to continue bitching and wailing, “The end is nigh. Woe is me.” I do so like melodrama.

Yesterday evening, I picked up HRM from his mountain bike team practice. On the way home, after asking me how I felt, he mentioned that at the church youth meeting he attends every Wednesday all the eighth-grade boys, many of whom I know, prayed for Pookie. I may not be someone particularly optimistic about the power of prayer, but I cried nevertheless at the thought of the Scooter Gang praying for me.

On Friday, before returning to Mendocino, my sister came by to take us to a Japanese grocery store to hunt for mushrooms for my new diet. Later we had lunch at the Freeport Inn in the Delta. Following my sister’s departure back to Mendocino, Naida sautéed some of the mushrooms for dinner. They were delicious.

Saturday, we attended the weekly coffee at the Nepenthe clubhouse. It is the season when everyone there was involved in the various charity drives and party planning undertaken by the community. On the way back home while I was busy kicking the leaves about, Naida noticed a sign for a meeting at the small clubhouse of something called “Conscious Community.” We decided to find out what it was all about. We discovered they considered themselves a consciousness-raising group like those of the late ’60s except without the dope.

During the walk, we noticed a mysterious cement ball had appeared in the street in front of our house. It remains there today. Nothing like it exists anywhere else in the neighborhood. What can it be? A portent of something? Alien scat? A hairball from a giant cat?

Pookie with the mysterious orb.

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