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Monday
Nov012010

Chemo: Round Two

I've gotta say it, and most of you might think I'm crazy, but I had a feeling about this during my first round of chemo and it was only confirmed today.

Chemo days are some of my FAVORITE days.

I love chemo days for many reasons, but mainly because it's the day I get to actively take it to that cancer and, of course, the competition of the whole thing just pumps me up and energizes me all day. Even now, at 11pm, I'm wired -- and that's after getting up at 8:30am, being at USC Norris from 9:30am until about 5:45pm (and, ahem, getting chemotherapy drugs drip dripped into my body), running home to change clothes, hitting the gym at 6:45pm, and then going to a birthday dinner for my dear ol' dad's 50th at Nick & Stef's (Happy Birthday, Dad! Sorry I stole your thunder and had chemo on your 50th birthday. It was not intentional).

But how could I not be energized? Today was awesome. I got to hang out with Dr. Lenz and Taline and Roger (my Trojan team), I made the day very unpleasant for these foolish tumors, I pumped some iron, and I got to spend time with my trio of nurses, best friend Rhett (who flew home to NYC this afternoon), and my other best buds Timmy and Sabrina. What's not to love?

And something hilarious happened today, and you're all going to love it. 

During my first hour or so of chemo, I enjoyed a Benadryl-induced nap. When I woke up, my mom informed me that a woman in the chemo room -- a visitor for a very old man getting treatment -- had been staring at me while I slept. Not staring in a kind way, or even a sympathetic way, but staring in a very nosy, "I'm sizing you up/I'm trying to figure out how young you are"-type way. The minute my mom told me about this, I sprung into action. "Is she still here? Can I start some sh*t with her?" If this rude woman was going to stare at me, I was going to make it as PAINFUL AS POSSIBLE for her. Time to embarrass the hell out of this person who obviously has no common sense or courtesy, and a real sourpuss face to top it off. 

So I waited, very excited. The woman returned to the room to check on her old friend and, of course, she looked over at me. I waited a few seconds, until she was deep in her stare, and whipped my head over, looking her dead in the eye and smiling with all my teeth bared. You know what? Maybe I was even a little wide-eyed. I did it really quickly and looked away so the lady had just enough time to look away but look right back at me because you know she couldn't help herself. So I did the same thing again, all while saying in a sing-songy voice to my mom: "This is a confrontaaaationnnnnn! I'm confronting this laaady!! I'm going to keep smiiiiiling at her!!!" Then I whipped my head over again and gave her the scary happy smile. She immediately averted her eyes and TRIED SO HARD TO READ HER KINDLE AND STOP LOOKING OVER. 

This woman could not be helped, though. About an hour later, when the old man was getting ready to leave, this woman just HAD to feast her eyes on me again. I realized then that I was going to have to bring in the serious artillery. So I did.

I was in the middle of discussing something with my parents when she took one last look, so at the end of my sentence I said, "And to add insult to injury, I've gotta deal with THIS lady staring at me" and quickly looked over at the lady as if the statement and my crazy glance at her happened at the same time. God, she was embarrassed. I started laughing so hard and exclaiming, "I got her good this time!"that, by the time her old companion had wheeled himself out of the chemo room and she was long gone, I had tears in my eyes. I hope I taught her a lesson. This lady was in her mid-50s. Seriously, she should have known better than to be so rude and then to keep asking for my punishment after I'd given her that first menacingly funny smile. She had to have learned something today -- I was a brutal teacher, but I like to think I was an effective one, too.

So, yes: chemo days are the best. I mean, if killing cancer and getting buff and spending time with my favorite people isn't fun enough for one day, I get the gift of this total fool and laughed until I cried. That's what I call perfection.

Sunday
Oct312010

Week in Review/Week in Preview

After an exceptional week, it's time to review and look forward to the week I've got on deck. First, the highlights of the past week. There were quite a few.

Week In Review

 

  • Went back to Educogym this week! My workouts are going great. Wayne (my trainer) has been working hard to tailor a perfect set of routines for me that do not engage my core (I need to keep resting that incision area) but work my other muscle groups. I am proud to report that my calves, hamstrings, and triceps were sore this week. Wayne needs to step up my game for my quads and biceps, but we're off to a great start. 
  • Met with the five-element acupuncturist and really enjoyed my session -- going to make those treatments a regular thing.
  • Spent quality time at OMM -- worked on the book and blog, spent time with some of my favorite people, soaked up that beautiful view of Downtown L.A.
  • Finished the book best friend Rhett bought me (Cancer: 50 Essential Things To Do) and started a new one (Anatomy of an Illness)
  • Rested, ate well, meditated, drank lots of water 
  • Gained a little more weight -- now up almost 6 pounds since I left the hospital which is only 2 pounds lighter than when I checked in at Good Sam (which means I've got about 2 more pounds to go before I can really feel like an eating champion)
  • Wrote my post about my beloved Duke Basketball inspiring me to beat cancer, which resulted in it being linked from major Duke fan sites including DukeBasketballReport and DukeBluePlanet -- also got a comment on my Duke post from someone named Nolan and I'm hoping that Nolan is my favorite Duke Basketball player Nolan Smith (but I'm trying not to get too excited about it because OMG, that would be exciting)
  • Went to a concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Sunday -- relaxed to some Mozart and Beethoven because it's not always all about 2Pac (although, most of the time, it is). Thanks to law school and OMM buddy Eric for the tickets.
  • Threw a Halloween party! I was Dr. Sugarbaker, Tim was Dr. Lenz, and my parents and Will were -- of course -- nurses. All of the costumes were INCREDIBLE (pictures in the picture gallery), and I loved hanging out with all my pals. My uncharacteristically late bedtime that night (4am) only proves what a great party it was. 

 

Week in Preview

 

  • Chemo Round Two starts tomorrow. New Rocky shirt is clean and ready to go. So excited to assault that idiotic cancer with some more magic juice. Also excited about faking side effects and not actually having any.
  • Meditate and visualize chemo shrinking tumors and preventing progression of aforementioned idiotic cancer
  • Check in with my five-element acupuncturist on Tuesday morning to make sure my energy is flowing well
  • Keep pumping iron at Educogym because it makes me buff and happy
  • Eat lots of nutritious food, take all my vitamins, and get all my nightly shots of Lovenox 
  • Finish, or at least make a major dent in, Anatomy of an Illness book
  • Follow up with oncological massage lady (I dropped the ball last week because I got caught up with the acupuncturist which is really a good thing but, darn, my shoulders are a little sore from working out and I could use a rubdown)
  • Buy new paints and a couple new brushes and start painting again 
  • Work on the book
  • Rest, relax, nap, snooze, cuddle with Winston
  • Keep the blog as up-to-date and as entertaining as humanly possible

 

 Have an awesome week, everyone! I hope, like me, you're packing a lot of living into your days.

Saturday
Oct302010

Happy Halloween Weekend!!

Feeling awesome, preparing for my party, and excited to see the incredible costumes that are going to walk through my door tonight. Tonight, I am Dr. Sugarbaker. Channeling brilliant surgeon vibes all day.

Happy Halloween Weekend from WunderGlo!

Thursday
Oct282010

In My Element

These days, as I'm getting a routine together and feeling stronger day after day, I'm starting to feel even more confident and happy about the way things are going.

It's a departure from my previous life, I know, but I think I'm actually doing a pretty good job of taking care of myself these days.

Back in the day (as in, when I had no idea I that there was cancer in the ol' body), I didn't rest. I barely slept (I considered 6 hours to be excellent and would often get less), I rushed around from obligation to obligation (actual work, work-related, community-related, fun-related), and I packed in as much of these obligations without rest as possible. By mentioning "fun," I'm not saying I actually built in time for long weekend or relaxing-type fun -- I'm talking about the kind of fun that exists in very small increments and is almost stressful in and of itself, given the fact it was jammed into my schedule like a fat foot in a small shoe. Despite this frantically busy life, I was happy as a clam.

I never actually believed that pushing myself as hard as I did would ever result in a reduced level of wellness, and certainly didn't believe it could contribute to out and out unhealthiness. I thought that ridiculously hard work (which I loved) was good for me, and figured that decently healthy eating, pretty regular exercise, and never using any drugs of any kind would make me a picture of health.

Cancer changed all of that for me.

First of all, let me clear something up. I still see myself as a picture of health. That's all part of this awesome visualization stuff I'm working on that is just one prong in my multi-pronged approach for the cancer beatdown (plus, I feel pretty incredible so the visualization stuff isn't much of a leap for me). If you don't believe I'm the picture of health, join me at the gym any day of the week. I mean that literally -- I train five days a week. :)

But back to the point. I've always known and believed in that old adage, "my body is a temple," and I never polluted my body with drugs (booze doesn't count) and always tried to be fit (despite struggling with weight here and there throughout my adult life). Little did I realize, though, that listening to your body and giving it rest is essential. Actual, deep, rejuvenating rest. 

Now...finally...I'm resting. At least 8 hours of sleep a night, not stuffing too many tasks or errands in a given day, and taking time to reflect, relax, and enjoy every moment. The old me would say that my body had better not get used to this but, you know what? Go ahead and get used to it, body. You've earned it. I know it took cancer for me to treat you nicely, but I'm being good to you now, so work with me here. I know you will.

Today I met with an acupuncturist, who is now my acupuncturist (the appointment went well). She does five-element acupuncture, which is a specific type of acupuncture that addresses the body's overall wellness as opposed to an ache or pain in a particular area. The goal of the practice is to promote balance of the body's energy, which correlates to a balance of the body's functions. Pretty cool stuff. I really enjoyed my session, and didn't have any problems with the tiny needles that were placed all along my back, toward the side of my chest, and even a couple in the feet (although those felt sort of weird). And what about bleeding, you might ask? Especially now that I'm on that Lovenox medication that thins my blood? Not a speck of blood. Good times.

After my session, I felt like I had taken a fantastic four-hour nap (no, I didn't snooze with a bunch of needles sticking out of my back). So relaxed and invigorated. Even now, my breathing seems deeper and more cleansing. It's hard to describe, but I feel better. And I didn't think I could feel any better than I did when I walked into that appointment. Five-element acupuncture just made itself a new fan today. 

These days, and for the first time in a pretty long time, my focus is on me. Taking care of myself, giving myself the rest that my body has been asking for for God knows how long, and nurturing myself (and writing about myself, which you all seem to enjoy which is beyond awesome to me). Don't get me wrong, I'm still very devoted to everyone in my life, but I think I'm now actually and consistently putting my needs in front of others. It felt strange at first, and it's weird to admit, but I know it's important to keeping my engine going as it chugs down that track to fighting and beating The Big C. Let the healing -- and the beatdown -- continue.

Wednesday
Oct272010

How Duke Basketball Has Helped Me Fight Cancer

To all my readers who love to hate Duke, you're going to have to put your misguided beliefs aside and open your minds and hearts. I thank you in advance. Alright, I'll begin. 

Simply put, Duke Basketball has helped me fight cancer, and will help me fully annihilate it in the coming months. Allow me to explain.

Duke Basketball -- specifically, the men's basketball program with brilliant coach and leader, Coach K, at the helm --  is founded on a few key principles: hard work, tenacity, heart, trusting your team, and being a leader. If you re-read those key principles, you'll quickly see why those very things are exactly what I need to be armed with during this battle I'm waging with cancer. Let's review.

Hard work

Beating cancer ain't just about great doctors and a good attitude and letting the chips fall where they may. Recuperating from surgery quickly by forcing myself to walk down those hospital hallways and eat when I didn't feel like it, building my body back up after surgery with good food and careful exercise, drinking tons of water all the time, reading books and educating myself about the new ways in which I'll need to live going forward...achieving these goals takes hard work.

So does winning four National Championships, too many ACC Tournament Championships to count, etc.  But Duke Basketball achieves more than just those tangible accolades. Year after year, Duke Basketball manages to be a force: a team that excels, but excels more than as a mere collection of great players and coaches, but as a functional unit, a well-oiled machine. The level of greatness that Duke Basketball has managed to maintain for decades is not dumb luck: it requires massive amounts of hard work by each player and coach.

Tenacity

Tenacity: otherwise known as mental toughness. We all know why this is important for a team -- especially a team that deals with as many jeers as the Duke Blue Devils -- but it's also essential in a cancer beatdown. Back to Duke for a second, though. Every basketball team relishes the opportunity to "Beat Duke" and to be able to brag, all season long (and maybe for multiple seasons), that one day back in such and such month and in such and such year, they "Beat Duke." Students storm the court when their team beats Duke, no matter what...even if the game has no bearing on either team's ultimate chances at a division or National Championship. Knocking off Duke is an achievement. As a result, the Blue Devils need to be mentally tough, prepared to take any team's best shot, and to stay focused on their own game regardless of how fired up their nemesis may be.

This is exactly what it's like to take on cancer. At Stage IV, you know this cancer has given me its best shot. And I'm looking it dead in the eye, unphased, focused on my game, and ready to trounce it. Like Jason Williams slapping the floor, relishing the opportunity to defend his basket despite playing all-out for 38 minutes straight, I, too, slap the floor, excited and ready for whatever comes my way, knowing that I've got the mental toughness to stick to my plan and emerge victorious. 

Heart

Related to tenacity, heart is the more personal of the two strains of mental toughness, the part of you that says "I can do this because I believe in myself and I know I've got it in me to succeed." My two favorite Duke Basketball players of all time: Bobby Hurley and Nolan Smith, have tons of heart. These guards are not the biggest or the strongest guys on the court, but are incredibly talented and demonstrate a ton of heart. They have heart because, regardless of the bumps and bruises they've had to endure (Nolan's collision that resulted in a concussion during the Maryland game a couple of years ago still makes me cringe), they are fighters. When you watch them, you can see the fire in their eyes. They are out to win and they believe in themselves and their team, regardless of the circumstances. Not shockingly, both led their teams to National Championships.

Like my favorite Duke players, I've got heart, too. I believe that, no matter the odds and regardless of the pain I might have to endure, I will fight and I will win this battle. It's hard to describe the confidence I feel in the simple fact that I will win, but it's a calm confidence, an inner strength that has been there from the moment I learned of my diagnosis. 

Trusting Your Team

There are times, during any basketball game, that you have to pass the ball and trust your teammate to do the right thing. Always, on defense, you have to trust your teammates to focus on their defensive tasks so you can focus on your own. Imagine a point guard trying to half-defend a power forward and run around the court following the point guard he's actually supposed to defend. Not a pretty sight. Trust is essential in the game of basketball. In order for a team to play together, each player needs to trust the other.

My fight against cancer is fought on many fronts, and one of them is the medical front. My teammates are my first surgeon (Dr. Ramos), my oncologist (Dr. Lenz), and my next surgeon (Dr. Sugarbaker). Funnily enough, when Dr. Ramos asked me what my decision was regarding my first surgery (as in, if I wanted to go with him or if I was considering another hospital), I responded: "I'm Team Ramos." (I wanted him to believe that it was his team back then since he was about to operate on me with some very sharp objects, but we all know it was Team WunderGlo from the start.) He was, actually, my first teammate on the medical front, and did an awesome job. With all my doctors/teammates, I believe in them and trust them entirely. I know that they will do their part to win, so I can just focus on doing my part. This inspires a lot of confidence, and also makes my job easier. It also scares the hell out of cancer.

Being a Leader

Everybody knows that Coach K runs his teams well, but being a leader isn't all about him. He cultivates leadership in every player on the team. Every player needs to be ready to step up, make a big play, say something that will inspire his teammates, and never give up. A leader is fearless and always believes in the team's ability to achieve. Plenty of Dukies come to mind, but none more than Shane Battier, who rallied his team to a National Championship in 2001 despite the injury of the team's center (the awesome Carlos Boozer) and some seriously steep competition.

Beating cancer is all about leadership. As the actual individual battling cancer itself -- not a family member showing support or a doctor treating the disease -- you MUST be a leader and own the challenge ahead of you. There is no room for passivity when you're trying to beat this thing. Thankfully, I've had a lot of time and opportunities to hone my leadership skills, so this part of the cancer beatdown has been the easiest for me. 

 

 

Winning a National Championship and beating Stage IV cancer isn't easy. It's actually pretty difficult. Admittedly, many people never achieve either goal. In the face of adversity or pain, it might be hard for someone to remember these key principles and even harder to live them. This does not worry me, though, because I know that if and when the going gets rough, I just need to remember my Blue Devils and I'll be back on the right track.

So thank you, Duke Basketball, for helping me fight (and beat) cancer. I'm sure the victory will be just as sweet as trouncing Carolina by 40 points.