Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Prostate cancer is no big deal??

So Charley has CANCER.  What else can go wrong?

I should probably explain that this has all happened very fast.  

Charley got hepatitis in boot camp almost 40 years ago.  We've always been grateful that was ALL he got since they housed them in a barracks where several men died of meningitis and one of his friends subsequently died of that, too!  But hepatitis is managable.  It apparently lives on forever in the system and we get his liver checked every so often and his doctor worries about him.  We're not sure exactly WHY his doctor worries about him so much.  Once he came into the exam room and announced cheerfully to Charley that his brain tumor was benign!  When Charley told him that he wasn't aware that he HAD a tumor, the doctor looked embarrassed and left the room.  Only to return with a different chart!

But the hepatitis is real.  So the worried doc sent him to a liver specialist and a urologist this year.  Charley procrastinated because he doesn't take this doc very seriously (who would?).  But the urologist felt a lump in his prostate and wanted it checked out.  "It's probably nothing".  The urologist is a very cheerful chap.

So last week, Tuesday I think, we went together to get the biopsy and see the liver guy.  I went along partly because I was scared and partly because I didn't know if Charley would be able to drive home after a prostate biopsy!  The urologist said everything "looked great" but he would call by the end of the week with the lab results.  I thought that was kind of funny.  I think Charley's butt looks great, too.  But I've never has as close a look at it as the urologist...  So it's nice to have my opinion confirmed.  

The liver doc said that he couldn't figure out why we were in his office.  Charley's hepatitis has been dormant for around 40 years and it looks like all that is needed is a blood test every year and possibly an ultra sound to be sure that it is still dormant.  His regular doc can do that.  It doesn't look like his regular doc DID do that, so they took some blood and told us to go home and not worry.  The only caution is that he shouldn't take immuno-suppressants or cortisone or steroids because those would stimulate the hepatitis.  "So," he said several times, "You're okay unless you get cancer or something."  (Ominous music in the background)

So we went home feeling pretty good.  Then the cheerful urologist called us back Wednesday evening and said, "It's cancer.  But don't worry.  We'll take care of it.  Everything will be ok.  Can you come in tomorrow at 4?"
So the cancer, like the hepatitis, is fairly benign.  We could just go another 20 years or so before it really becomes a problem.  In fact, if he were 80 or so, they'd recommend just watching it.  They could leave it where it is and he'd most likely die of something else before the cancer grew enough to be a problem.  However, he is quite young to have this develop and it is still very localized - only about 10% of the tissue samples were cancerous.  So they recommend just removing the prostate and having that be the end of it.  He likes that idea.  I think having dormant cancer on top of dormant hepatitis is just one too many swords of Damocles hanging, you know?

So he's going to have the surgery sometime in mid-December.  That way he can stay home three weeks (Christmas vacation) without inconveniencing the school too much.  They are being audited again this year and the pressure on his department is pretty brutal.

He's seriously considering how the cancer impacts his retirement plans so, after the audit and after the surgery, he's going to look into that.  We're both eager to retire and move to Portland to be near our niece Heidi and hubby Noah.  Oh yeah! and our son Ben and DIL Cher and grandkids Tasha and Tahreq and Zora.  Not to mention other relatives in Seattle, WA and Santa Clara and Salinas, CA.  Portland is even closer to Denver, I think.  But we are not sure how soon we can afford it. 

They told him that the best way to prepare for and recover from surgery is playing his sax and clarinet.  So he's looking forward to that.

What I'm considering is how recovery from surgery is going to impact ME!  I get to spend my Christmas this year making soft foods and changing diapers for the two men in my life! 

Time to recovery so the he can go back to work: 3 - 6 weeks.  Full recovery of urinary functions (not to mention other intimate concerns) can take as long as 3 years!  There's even a remote chance he won't recover fully.  But he's having this robot surgery and the recovery rates are much better with that.  

Everyone says "Oh prostate cancer. No bid deal."  I'm thinking that it's no big deal to those who haven't HAD it!

On the Sam front, we have mostly given up on taking him to school.  The lung doctor has said that it is important for him to sleep when he feels like it and he has felt like sleeping from 4 am to 11 am his entire life.  So I've stopped trying to get him on a normal human schedule.  This means that we are going to another church now, it has a Saturday 5 pm mass and a Spred group.  And it means he mostly doesn't make it to school.  Maybe one day a month or so.  But even then it's mostly for about 2 hours.  On the other hand, his blood levels have remained fairly stable for the last 18 months.  This is due, according to the doctor, entirely to our care and letting him sleep is a major factor in that.

So now you know the news from what Dad used to call "The Hell Hole", Chicago.

Monday, October 25, 2010


On the front page of the Trib recently there was an article on how many children with disabilities have died in state homes because of poor oversight, understaffing and neglect.  Complete with pictures of the deceased.  They were adorable.

On the SAME PAGE they had an announcement that the Trib is endorsing Brady for governor.  This is the same guy that will CUT funding to these institutions.

I'm just saying...

PTSD Observed

It hasn't been the best fall ever.  Due to an extraordinary amount of stressful events, I've been in adrenaline overload and very jumpy.  (I call it a PTSD "Flare Up")  So when we discovered that the furnace needed to be replaced, I immediately was CERTAIN that the Sears installation guys were really murderers.  (Remember my Dad was murdered by roofers)

And when we discovered mice in the pantry, it seemed like every bit as dangerous and life threatening as murderers installing a high energy efficient furnace.

And then my world was put into perspective by the discovery that Charley has cancer.

Okay here's what happened:

First of all, when the day for the furnace to arrive came, I realized that no matter how hard I tried to be rational, I just wasn't going to make it.  I am "not entirely sane" but I can see sane on the horizon.  So I looked through my phone book and at every name I asked myself, "Am I okay with this person knowing I have PTSD?" If the answer was, "Yes." I called them and asked them to call me during the day on my HOUSE phone instead of my cell phone. So the murderers installing the furnace would know that, although I am home alone with my disabled son, people are checking up on me.  My friend Eileen actually came over, which was completely awesome.  Having another person in the house was so great.  And the phone never stopped ringing!  Which made me very grateful for good friends.

It was especially terrifying when the Sears Furnace Installers (Otherwise known in my mind as "The murderers") arrived.  They had that lean, nervous look that reminded me of not only the 4 crackhead roofers who murdered my dad, but also Ralph the serial killer.  Eileen hadn't arrived yet, but I called both my brother and my friend who both know first hand what this feels like.  They didn't think I was stupid for being completely freaked out and they really helped me calm down.

So lesson one: ASK FOR HELP

The furnace is great, by the way.

For the next week or so I was only able to sleep if I turned the burglar alarm was on at night.  This is something my husband really doesn't feel comfortable about, but went along with since it was clearly necessary. (Thank you, Charley)


Then we found evidence of mice in the pantry.  This paleontologist's daughter completely freaked out again.  Even with the burglar alarm on, we are not safe from invaders!  It felt like a massive emergency and I spent way too much money at Home Depot buying things to iron clad the pantry from further incursion from these plague carrying tiny monstrosities.  Fossil mouse jaws: OK.  Mice, scorpions, rattlesnakes, etc. in the desert while camping: OK.  Live mice pooping in my linen drawer: apparently NOT ok.  Not by a loooong shot.

This might have been an over-reaction.

I mean, most people live their lives with the illusion that they are safe and in control.  They get a lot more accomplished than I do because they don't waste as much time as I do worrying.  I have no such illusions.  No one is really completely in control or entirely safe.  That's true.

But during a PTSD flare up, I also have no sense of relative danger.  Mice in the pantry, furnace installers, putting Sam in the car in the Jewel parking lot, all seem like life-threatening emergencies.  I live with the illusion that I am in constant danger and that I have absolutely no control over my circumstances.  I have trouble thinking of a good reason to leave the house.  And then I worry about invaders.

It seems possible that reality is somewhere in between the common illusion and my personal illusion.  What is needed is perspective.  Which brings me to Charley's recent trip to the hospital.  He's 58 years old and he has prostate cancer.  Wait.  What?  That's just not fair!!!!

But the thing I'm noticing is that HE is less worried about this than I am!  He is listening to the doctors and doing what is required without procrastinating.  He's a little nervous, but he's okay.  He just might be responding appropriately.

Lesson Three: LEARN FROM THE REACTIONS OF OTHERS.  They might be more sane that me.

But here's the thing I'm pondering now.  I'm really upset about this cancer thing, of course.  But I'm LESS upset about it than I was about the mice (or the furnace installers).  Does this mean that the current flare up is dying down?  OR is this just a deeper PTSD reaction?  Here's something I know how to do.  I can deal with hospital crises.  I know how to nurse.  I know how to take care of medically challenged family members.  I can and will take care of Charley.  No One is going to die on MY watch.  Christmas this year will be me taking care of Charley and Sam, both of whom will require full time, round the clock care and I'll be doing it all by myself.

Isn't that the way life is supposed to be?  No wonder I'm calm!  It's PTSD Nirvana.