Taking Stock

For many years I languished in the restaurant business as a Kitchen Manager, General Manager, Regional Kitchen Coordinator, and Corporate Weasel Scapegoat.  That last position was mostly ceremonial and simply a cynical statement about  the career I chose to work in for over 18 years.

One thing I did learn from restaurants is that you must take stock at least once a month.  Unlike general retail where taking stock or inventory is done annually, we did monthly inventories in the food biz.  I always say the only main difference between retail and restaurants is that alarms clocks and sweat pants can sit on the shelf forever and not go bad, whereas a head of lettuce or a cut of fresh fish last only a few days.  It’s much more immediate working with food.  So we had to keep track of our inventory, reconcile if you will, more often.  And I do believe that taking stock or inventory of one’s self on a regular basis is also a prudent thing, maybe not everyday, but certainly at least every month.  Doing it once a week is probably best.

So how do you take stock of yourself?  Simply put, you make a list, mental or physical, of your assets.  List the things “you got going for yourself”.

I try to make this list in the “positive” even though it may realistically refer to something negative.  For instance, I was listening to my iTunes music and doing my usual air guitar and air drums routine.  I said to myself, damn, I wish I could play guitar like that.  And it made me stop and think, “Wait a minute.  I can play the guitar.  I’ve played the guitar for almost fifty years at one level or another”.  The problem is, I don’t play the guitar, ever, right now.  In fact, I don’t own a guitar right now.  I sold them all in the last few years.  But it doesn’t negate the fact that I can indeed play the guitar.  I just can’t play very well now because I don’t practice.  How does one get to Carnegie Hall?  Remember that saying?  So, to put this bit of negativism in a positive sense for inventory list:  I know how to play the guitar.  Note to self: get a guitar again and play more often.  By the way, I used to sing (and play) a lot many years ago.  The same goes for the singing…practice.  Perhaps I will revive my ability to sing in falsetto again, which doesn’t seem to work any longer!

The other day I said to Loretta something I’ve said a dozen times before, “Damn, I used to be able to cook”.  This was immediately after finishing a dish, tasting it, then throwing in the trash.  It just didn’t taste like it should.  The worst part, I had made this particular item many times in past with success.  So why would I think I am not able to cook any longer?  Correct.  My skills in the kitchen belong on the inventory list, an asset I need to remind myself to take stock of more often.  After all, Gordon Ramsay said on one of his shows, “It took me over 100 times to get Beef Wellington right and now it’s one of my specialties”.  If I am lucky enough to get a recipe right the first time, so be it.  What right do I have to be scathing of myself if it doesn’t happen right away?

Taking stock.  I have a great support group of people in my life.  From a very forgiving and tolerant wife to a loyal (and forgiving) best friend to other friends and, of course, to relatives who care about me very much.  There are casual acquaintances on line and at work who know my name and are aware of what I am going through now.  Some who ask about my welfare I don’t even know their names.  How can something like this not be on my asset list?

One thing that stimulated me to write this particular entry tonight is that I read Roger Ebert’s blog for the first time.  I recently saw him interviewed on TV (CBS Sunday Morning?) and his story is quite interesting.  After years of writing for a newspaper and hosting a successful television show, he got cancer and lost his ability to speak or eat.  There’s more to the story than that but that’s it in a nutshell.  I’m also reading his book, Life Itself.  I just started reading it, it is a memoir of his life and career.  Despite his physical setbacks due to cancer, he still writes movie reviews, a newspaper column, and a daily blog.  And is was the blog someone suggested he write that kept him writing and kept him going.

Taking stock of your life is much more than playing the glad game, at least for me.  As I’ve said many times before, there is just too much left for me to do before checking out, including learning to play the guitar better.  Forging ahead and soldiering is not an option.  Too many other people are doing it who are physically and medically worse off than I am.

Jenifer just told me today that she will be here toward the end of October of for a couple days.  Her publishing job in Seattle is sending her to L.A. and she will go home by way of Modesto.  It will be a period of time between chemo treatments so I should be feeling O.K.  Needless to say I’m looking forward to it.  There is nothing whatsoever to do in Modesto, but that doesn’t matter.  We just enjoy each company doing nothing.  I will plan a visit to Seattle after the first of the year.  Rowan is almost three years old and I haven’t seen him since the first of this year.

Taking stock.  My chemo treatments will last until March and that is when we have been planning our move out of Modesto, probably to the Central Coast, Pismo Beach area.  Another one of the many things “we got going for ourselves”.

Then there’s the photography.  The confidence is there, I just haven’t been noticed yet!

Thanks, Roger Ebert, for rattling my cage about writing and soldiering on.

Is it wistful melancholy or just being a downer person?

It’s not often one can realize a single word that describes one’s self.  It’s probably not often most even think about such a thing.  Believe me, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about this myself, in fact, no time at all.  It just came to me this morning while reading a magazine article totally unrelated to self analysis.

Try this exercise sometime, ie, complete this sentence:  I am a ___________ person.  I’m sure any number of adjectives may come to mind, more than one in most cases.  But try to narrow it down to one word in that blank, not a paragraph or a sentence, but one singular word.

The word I would put in that blank is wistful.

I was reading an article in PDN (Photo District News) magazine this morning.  The writer of the article described someone’s photo book as follows, “The overwhelming mood the book leaves us with is wistful melancholy, kind of like that feeling you get after you spend a day shopping and still can’t find what you really want”.

I looked up wistful and found these definitions – Having or showing a feeling of vague longing or daydreaming, showing pensive sadness, full of wishful yearning.  Synonyms include: contemplative, desirous, disconsolate, dreaming, hopeless, meditative, melancholy, mournful, musing, nostalgic, pensive, plaintive, reflective, sad, thoughtful, and yearning.

I’ve written about myself many times as being a daydreamer, but that singular word was not sufficient enough to fill in the blank about me, myself, and I.  But that word, wistful, was not a word I’ve heard used that often.  Perhaps you would find it used in romance novels…”Her wistful glance betrayed her stoic expression as the man she loved rode off into the desert sunset…never to return again.”

As I jotted down all the synonyms and definitions of wistful, it occurred to me that I was indeed describing myself.  All those words pertained to me, and not just on occasion, but most of the time!  And at first, it was quite disturbing.  Am I that much of a “downer”, am I such a “neg-head” person?  Heaven knows I can be at times.  Maybe we all can be at times.  But to describe myself in one word as wistful?  That is my main personality trait?

But then I noticed something else in the definitions I Googled.  Another word, although not used to define wistful but instead another way to help people understand the meaning of words.  It listed the antonym, the opposite of wistful.  And that one opposite of wistful word was uncaring.

So, if uncaring is an antonym of wistful, ie, the opposite of wistful, then caring must be another synonym.  And with that, I accepted (at least for the time being) my one word definition of myself.  Or at least my own perception of myself.  What other people perceive me as at this point is irrelevant.  I’ve spent 61 years being pensive, plaintive, musive, and wistful about me…daydreaming about what others may be thinking about me or what others expect of me.  If one can put a statute of limitations on this kind of thought process, one should do it as early in life as possible.  For me, that statute is 61+ years.  I could wait until my 62nd birthday in January, but, there’s no time like the present.

My astrological sign is Aquarius, the water bearer and humanitarian.  “We” supposedly care about others.  Although I don’t live and breathe by my horoscope, it does provide a modicum of entertainment.  So if I am a wistful person, then, by opposite definition, I am a caring person.  I feel good about that.  I will accept that.

Now approaching the start of my 63rd year, what will I do to live up to or earn this so-called caring status?  With that question, I will have to get back to you.  I must muse on it for a while.  I will require more time in that wistful state in which I often find myself.  In other words, let me think about it!

PS  I must also mention that with my current physical state and recent medical experiences notwithstanding, I have always been this way.  Just ask my mother about her brooding, pensive three year old son.  It began very early on.  I think they used to call it pouting.  Like spending the entire day shopping and not finding what you want.  How appropriate!

But, with that being known…at least I still go shopping.

No breaking bad here, just bring it on.

I’ve been wondering lately whether or not I should sort of chronicle this whole cancer experience thing.  I know I’ve written a couple of blog entries, but maybe I should write more.  Maybe I should write more about how I am feeling each day, kind of a written legacy since I really don’t know how much time I have left.

I realize none of us know how much time is left in our lives, it just seems like now I’ve been given a time limit.  The surgeon who removed part of my colon had no hesitation in his voice when he called me with the news that my cancer was Stage 3B and that translates to a 50/50 chance of surviving five years based on known data.  On the other hand, my oncologist reminded me that if I am in that “lucky” 50%, then I have a 100% chance of living longer than five years.  Sort of a half empty versus half full way of thinking I suppose.  There really is no way of knowing which half I am in.

Not going to work these past few weeks has given me much time think about a lot of things.  Too much time for that really.  On one hand I think about the time I now have to work on some photo projects, albeit close to home projects.  Doesn’t appear I will be able to do any traveling any time soon for any exotic photos opps.  I have managed to work on editing and organizing some of the thousands of images I have scattered over several hard drives and a couple different computers.

Right now I am in a kind of limbo, ie, in between surgery and the beginning of chemotherapy.  I’ve pretty much recovered from the effects of the surgery, although my incision is not yet completely healed due to a slight infection at the wound site.  I have to pack it and unpack it every day for 4 to 6 weeks, it’s been two weeks.  The condition of this wound will determine when the chemo starts at the discretion of my oncologist.  I’m certainly not looking forward to six months of infusions and all the possible heinous side effects it brings, but I am anxious to get on with the process.  The longer I wait the more chance the cancer will grow or move somewhere else.

As for as my attitude is concerned, it depends on the day.  The last couple of days I’ve been somewhat down, not feeling particularly positive.  I can’t believe that beginning chemotherapy will improve on that, so I must pull up my bootstraps before that begins.  It’s been suggested I request an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety prescription from my primary doctor.  I haven’t decided if that’s a route I wish to take.

I have been getting a lot of advice from well-meaning friends and acquaintances, mostly passed on to Loretta from work.  I get it all and I appreciate most of it.  I’ve even gotten several invitations to attend some churches where they want to “lay hands on me”.  One person as gone so far as to say, “I guarantee that this will heal him completely…rid him of the cancer”.  I won’t be accepting that invitation and I’ve gone so far as to suggest that statements like that are not only outrageous, they are dangerous.  I’ll take my chances with the medical route and the chemicals designed to inhibit growth and kill the cancer, thank you.  Dancing with poisonous snakes and speaking in tongues won’t happen around me either!

I appreciate the prayers, to whatever deity they are presented.  It couldn’t hurt.

I am serious about various de-tox methods.  My oncologist does suggest eating natural, fresh foods could aid in this process.  I believe that one doesn’t require a de-tox if one is always following this sort of regime.  Bring on the fresh fruit and veggies, with one caveat…make sure they are washed thoroughly as there is a bigger chance of infection from bacteria while undergoing chemo.

As of today, I am scheduled to start chemotherapy on Monday, October 3rd.  Let’s get this train moving.

Regarding my demeanor on this day…I’ve had better days.  The past few days watching Breaking Bad (for the first time) from the first season may not be helping matters at this point.  However, my insurance seems to be adequate without any fringe financial enhancements…so far.  Great show, though!  I’m halfway through season two.

A courtesy call from Kaiser…

I got the latest news in a phone conversation with my surgeon, the one who removed part of my colon and my gall bladder a couple of weeks ago.  It wasn’t what I would call a comprehensive conversation, it lasted all of 30 seconds or so.  It was more of a courtesy call, ie, “Hello, this is Kaiser calling to let you know that you have Stage 3B cancer”.  That was pretty much the extent of it.  I did manage to inject a question or two, but I can’t even remember exactly what I asked him.  There was just too much to digest in that small amount of time.

Kaiser hasn’t officially notified me yet (it’s usually a phone call and an email) that I have an appointment with the oncologist this Friday at 2pm.  I can only assume that she will fill in some of the blanks.  I will be undergoing chemotherapy, that’s a given.  How often and for how long, I don’t know yet.

I can tell you that the hour or so following the call from my surgeon was a bit surrealistic, almost dreamlike.  I said to myself, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure he said it was Stage 3.  And I’m pretty sure I asked him what that means in terms of survival.  And I’m pretty sure he said something like ‘50%'”  During that hour or so after the conversation my thoughts of getting through this relatively unscathed digressed to simple head shaking fatalism.  I was dumbfounded.

Loretta was at work so I really didn’t have anyone to talk to about it considering it should be her and her alone I break the news to first.  Calling her at work was out of the question.  So I waited until she came home.

She took the news like the trooper she has been through all of this mess – very pragmatic, upbeat, and positive that it will all turn out O.K.

The CT scan I had before the surgery did not detect any other tumors in my mid-section.  It did not guarantee that the cancer had not spread elsewhere via the blood stream or the lymph nodes, something that was not explained to me at all.  In fact, I got the CT results in an email on my Kaiser page saying it was “clear”.  I was kind of thinking up until yesterday that everything had been nipped in the bud early, but that is not the case now.  There is more to do.

The information found on the internet can be a blessing and a curse.  In either case, I seem to get much more insight from Google than I do from the doctors treating me.  For instance, when a percentage for survival after five years is mentioned the caveat is that it may not pertain to you at all.  In other words, survival depends on the individual and a few other factors over which they have no control.  It’s all a guessing game once you been diagnosed with cancer and the chemo begins.  Roll the dice…let the infusions begin!

The bright side of this is that I am in the system.  I know I have cancer and am doing something about it.  Sure, it could have been found earlier, perhaps not.  Not something to stew over any longer…I’ve already done that.  Now, I will continue to do whatever it takes, whatever the docs think is necessary.

I had a major heart attack 25 years ago and I’m still here.  I’ve managed to dodge a few bullets in my life.  Somehow I feel I can dodge this one as well.  Today I feel better than yesterday.  Let’s wait and see what the oncologist says Friday.

Where is my ascending colon now and how do I treat what’s left in there?

Anyone who knows me in the slightest is aware of my sometimes morbid, off the wall humor.  And what I am about to say should confirm that.  Where is my ascending colon today?  I know where it’s not, it’s not with me any longer.  But where is it?

Considering I am still waiting for the pathologist report from the surgery, I suspect my colon is still being kept in a secure, possibly frozen, environment.  Perhaps they must store things like that for a certain amount of time like important HR paperwork and financial documents.  Maybe they simply took tissue samples of the tumor and surrounding area then unceremoniously chucked the remainder of the naughty organ into some sort of medical grade incinerator…poof!  Gone!

Is my colon being probed and dissected even further by medical students?  I would welcome that probability, at least it was going to some good use…medical research?

Where ever my errant colon is located right now, I am sure of one thing.  I’m happy and fortunate that it is NOT still inside of me!  It is much better existing somewhere else for obvious reasons.  It served me well for many years despite my culinary debauchery.  However, as my surgeon put it the day before I got out of the hospital, “Look, what I took out of you…you don’t need.  You will be fine and you will be able to eat whatever you want.  Just try to avoid fatty foods because your lack of a gall bladder will require some dietetic attention more than your lack of an ascending colon”.   Cool, I can accept that, doc!  Bring on the fat free nachos and guacamole!

As for my missing gall bladder, I don’t really care where that ended up.  It was a source of discomfort and concern for many months, was full of stones and sludge, and I didn’t need that either.  Good riddance.

I feel obligated now to pledge to the remainder of colon left in me to try to take better care of it.  Should I avoid red meat all together?  Do I need to stay away from processed, fatty foods?  Chicken and fish only?  More vegetables and fruit?  What about the other white meat?  I don’t know the answers yet.  Funny thing, I never got a visit from a dietician while I was still in the hospital.  Not that he or she would have any revelatory information for me, it just would have been nice to make fun of the colorful little cartoonish pamphlets they hawk at your bedside.

What’s left inside of me, in medical speak: my transverse colon, descending colon, sigmoid colon, secum, and lest we forget, the anus.  It’s less than what I had two weeks ago, but far more than some folks less fortunate than I.  I’ll say it again, “I feel very fortunate to be in the position I am in right now – on the mend from successful colon cancer surgery”  Period.  And as I have mentioned before, if not for my screwed up gall bladder causing most of the pain, I might never have gone through the diagnostics that found the cancer.  I will always ponder this.

At this point in time we are still waiting for the pathologist’s report on the cancer they removed, ie, what stage it was in, etc.  This will determine whether or not I need chemo.  A consult with the oncologist will precede that.  Just don’t know yet.


Done deal!

I thought a lot about writing this first blog out of the hospital.  But as the hours and days dragged on I really couldn’t decide how to write it.

I could write volumes of the level of nursing care and how varied it is from one nurse to the other.  It’s just not something I choose to get into at this point in time.  I’m just glad to be home.

Over all the surgery went well, as expected.  My doc told me over and over again how well I did and how I was recovering quickly.  This despite my concerns right up to my discharge that I still felt so much pain and general discomfort.  He reassured me that it was completely normal considering what he did inside me and despite the fact it was done laparoscopically.  Throw in the gall bladder removal at the same time and you have the potential for discomfort for a few weeks.  Since it’s only been a few days, I should stop whining for now!  Buck up.  Soldier on.  Pop the vicodin “when needed” and get through it.  Speaking of painkillers…when you are discharged you are taken off of on-demand morphine and moved to vicodin/tylenol at the swipe of a pen…Javier will wheel you down to the lobby…have a nice day.  I didn’t realize how nice it was having that morphine button close at hand…until they pried it out of my hand!

So for now, I have a few weeks to get my act together about many things.  My biggest challenge is getting my head screwed on straight.  My attitude is pretty good for the most part, depending on my level of pain at any given moment.  As I write this, life is good.  I went into the hospital a grumpy old man!

All things such as surgery and medical issues are relative.  On one hand, I feel like crap and question “why me?”  On the other hand, I feel silly for having any feelings of self pity considering the incredibly heinous things other people have to endure beyond what I have been subjected to.  The short story is that I had my ascending colon removed (where the colon cancer was located), then reattached to my the bowel.  Check out this link if you are interested. Removal of my gall bladder was an unrelated issue but requested by me in light of other recent tests.

Regarding long term cancer treatment, we’re still waiting for the pathologist’s report.  This will determine at what level the colon cancer was and if I will need chemotherapy.  Yes, the CT Scan prior to the surgery showed no other tumors.  But the pathologist report will tell more.

Regarding all the well-meaning advice I have gotten over the weeks leading up to the surgery…let me put it this way.  I didn’t even see a dietician before my discharge.  However, I did get some useful and sage advice from the surgeon, “Look, you don’t need what I took out of you (ascending colon).  Eat whatever you want.  Concerning the gall bladder removal, be careful for a while with fatty foods.  Without your gall bladder you can get fat again quicker”.  Moderation is the mother of proper recovery.