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Mark Arsenault
27 April 2010 @ 05:29 pm
It's been way too long since my last update. It took me three weeks to post my last update. This time it's been four months. Things are going well. Finished up my follow-up chemo treatments, been working full-time for a few months, and I just had my second surgery to take down my ileostomy. Read on for details.

Hut One, Hut Two...

Because I have several months to cover I'm going to end up posting several updates to get caught up. I don't want to blaze through all of the events of this year and I also don't want to post a new novel and expect people to trudge through it in a single sitting. Believe me, it's easier this way. I get to write about my journey and you get to digest smaller pieces while enjoying all of the chewy goodness.

That's One Hot Tamale!

The day after I posted my last update a friend of the family, Richard, who I've known since I was a chid, contacted me and said his family was making tamales. "Okay, great," I thought. Great, indeed. Not only do they make tamales but they invite friends and neighbors over for a big tamale-making event, and then they give some of those same tamales away.

Presumably they give them to people who help make them. Richard said they wanted to give some of the tamales to me. I thought about it for a microsecond and said "Yes! That would be great!" Over the course of the next few days, Richard and I talked a couple of times. I learned that he had cancer and he also had abdominal surgery. He knew exactly what I was going through, and then some.

The next afternoon Richard gave me a car when the tamales were ready. We loaded into the car and headed over to his daughter's house. We got there just in time to meet them out front, as they were on their way out. We brought them a small gift and exchanged it for a plate full of fresh tamales. On the way home we stopped in a couple neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights.

Over the next week we ate (okay, mostly I ate) reheated tamales that had been lovingly made by hand by Richard and is family. The firm but soft corn exterior belied the delicious, tender meaty interior. Those tamales were the best I had ever eaten. I enjoyed them all the more because I knew what into making them, to include love, and I knew personally those people who made them. I also had a new connection to Richard.

Corn, Meat, and Magic

There was something about those tamales. Believe it or not they have played a role in my recovery. Maybe moreso what they represent but they tasted so damned good I have to give them at least a little credit. I know one thing for sure, though. I'm better off having had them, and certainly better off for knowing Richard.

Friendships, like those tamales, can be invigorating, renewing, and energizing. Because of my friends and family I have had an easier time of all this. That much is certain. People show they care in a variety of ways. Some send little notes or virtual gifts on FaceBook, some call you, and some just sit in quietly contemplation and project positive enery your way.

There are times when I wished more people would come visit me or would bring me Taco Bell for lunch, but I know I am in their thoughts and prayers and that's ultimately more important than Taco Bell.

Bam! Pow! Zing!

Tueday (December 22, 2009) afternoon I was sitting in the recliner that we inheretied from my grandma, Mammy, when I looked over and saw one of our cats, Shadow. I leaned over to my right, with my right my knee pressing aginst my abdomen and lower ribcage. I bent a little more and picked up the cat when I heard "Pop!"

For a split second there was idle curiosity, which was suddenly replaced with that "Oh, shit" moment of pain. Intense pain. To this day I don't know exactly what I did but I know it felt like it did when I cracked a rib a few years ago moving our sofa. Inhaling slowly wasn't a problem but sudden inhalation (like when we gasp in surprise) caused significant pain.

I was still recovering from pretty serious abdominal surgery and getting to the point where the pain was routinely bearable, had began chmotherapy for a second time,and now was dealing with a new injury. Dumb, dumb, dumb...

It's a Twister, It's a Twister!

The following week was a whirlwind. Being busy both helped keep my mind of off the pain as I continued to recover and heal and made it difficult, at times. The whirlwind bilt up to Christmas Eve when we cleaned, shred papers, made brownies (for Santa, of course), put Rochelle to bed, wrapped presents, and generally prepared for Christmas morning.

I posted the following on my FaceBook page late that night (or rather early Christmas morning):

"It's been a long, at times difficult, year but we made it, literally. I thank God for all the blessings in my life, and I thank God for my life. This morning is going to be miraculous for Rochelle. I can hardly wait. Thanks to all of you who helped me get here. Merry Christmas and God bless each and every one of you."

Christmas came and we had a wonderful time. Rochelle was old enough to appreciate the richness and wonder that is diving in to a pile of presents and ripping off the paper to reveal the gifts beneath. My mom came over and I prepared a cheese & fruit platter, glazed ham w/Morel & white mushrooms, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, coffee with eggnog creamer, and two pies (apple and pumpkin). That afternoon Marge drove me to work and I delivered some brownies and said hello to co-workers whom I hadn't seen for weeks.

It was another day for which to be thankful, full of joy and love and all of the things that make me grateful to be alive.

Seasons Change

Something in my mind and heart bagan to change. This whole process of dealin with cancer, undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, the healing... all of it was giving me a renewed sense of purpose. Where I used to deny myself simple pleasures because I didn't feel as though I "deserved" them, I was now treatign myself, and my family, to special things.

I began buying different flavors and kinds of cheeses and crackers, chocolate Milano cookies, tickets to concerts, entering drawing for free passes to advanced movie screenings... Whatever it was that looked fun. I wasn't going crazy spending money willy nilly on things. But I no longer passed certain things by unless we really couldn't (or shouldn't) get them.

I simply wanted to enjoy life. To have fun. I was alive and I wanted to enjoy life, not just coast through it.

Dry Run

On Sunday, December 27th, I went to Kaiser to have my blood drawn for the chemo doctor. I showed up before 5 p.m., which is when I was told they closed. The lab actually closed at 3 p.m. Surprise! Marge and I made our way around, trying to find someone who might help us. I believed I had to have the blood drawn today else chemo treatment #2 the following day would be called off.

We found one sympathetic soul who took us to E.R. in the hopes that they could draw my blood there with a doctor's permission. No luck. The lady at the check-in counter was "bitch" personified and she gave not one iota of shit that the lady helping us was a Registered Nurse. I doubt she would have care if President Obama himself came in and asked her to make an exception for me.

There was a slight aura of empathy in the E.R. waiting room as we left. We did find out that they could draw the blood in the morning, however, and I would be fine. So we made our way back home and ended up taking Rochelle to see the new Chipmunks movie.

Chemo Continues

I continued my chemotherapy treatments diligently. My second one was Monday, December 28th. My mom came with me for support. As a breast cancer survivor she has a lot of insights into the process and has been a comforting force for me. While at the treatment she took video of them accessing my port (the venous access port or "VAP"), which I posted for any curious folk to see.

I sat for the two hours as the Oxaliplatin was dripped via the IV into my bloodstream. It is given prior to and in combination with 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) "for adjuvant treatment of people with stage III colon cancer who have had their ... tumors surgically removed." In clinical studies this combo drug treatment has been shown to increase overall survival rates and reduce the risk of colon cancer coming back.

As mentioned in an earlier update, Dr. Mandell mentioned to me that having the 8 cycle chemo treatment would decrease my chance of cancer recurrence from 30% to 15%.

What's Crackin'?

Speaking of Dr. Mandell, when I saw him Monday morning, for our biweekly, pre-chemo consultation, we talked about my returning to work. He told me if I was feeling okay there was no reason I couldn't return.

He wrote me a clearance to return to work, with restrictions. Little things, like no heavy lifting, wearing civilian clothes, etc. You see, when my surgeon, Dr. Roe, placed my ileostomy he paced the stoma right where the waistband of pants would be. I was unable to wear uniform pants and belt, because it would be pressing on the stoma and cause backpressure when my body was, well, creating output.

To make a long story sort, to prevent discomfort and a potential mess, I needed to wear a modified uniform. I found that wearing pants with slightly largeer waistband, coupled with suspenders, gave me the room I need while allowing me to wear clothing other than comfy lounge pants and pajama bottoms. To complete the image I simply wore a t-shirt, over which I wore the suspenders, and then wore another shirt -- usually a polo shirt -- to cover the suspenders and complete the look.

That Wednesday I went to work. Being at work allowed me a sense of normalcy. It was nice to see co-workers again, to feel like I was making progress toward wellness and a life I knew before cancer. I brought in pumpkin muffins for my partners. I had the chemo hookup until mid-day, when I went in to Kaiser to have the chemo removed and my port flushed. By day's end I was a bit run down but I was getting back into the flow of things.

Mark Arsenault
23 August 2007 @ 10:13 am

I'm just getting this blog started, so please bear with me as I add items and get this thing rolling.

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