03 January 2008



Short hair againHere's what I wrote, hurriedly, on Facebook and Twitter earlier today:

CT scan good: lung tumours either stable or "noticeably smaller." Alas, small blood clot in lungs, must take blood thinner needle daily now.

Let me explain that. This morning, I talked to a social worker in the patient counselling department at the B.C. Cancer Agency, as I do about once a month, just to get things off my chest. I was having a CT scan later in the day, which would be the first test in several months to see whether my current chemotherapy round is actually killing my cancer. I felt mixed about that, not knowing what path my life would take in the next few months, even more so as I prepared to give a speech at my friend Martin's memorial service on Sunday.

The scan itself was uneventful, and I didn't expect to hear any results until Tuesday, when I next see my oncologist Dr. Kennecke. So my wife and I drove back to Burnaby. The chemotherapy has started to thin my hair, which isn't falling out in clumps, but is shedding some in the shower, so I decided to get a short haircut again in case that gets any more pronounced. After that, my wife went to find some shoes and I had a snack at the food court.

While I sat at the table, my phone rang. I expected my wife, but it was Dr. Gill, another oncologist from the Cancer Agency.

"The CT scan found an incidental blood clot in your lung," she said.

Oh shit, I thought.

"Are you having any trouble breathing, or chest pain?"

I wasn't.

"That's good. We'd still like you to come back to the Agency this afternoon, so we can start you on some blood thinners. How soon can you be here?"

It was 3:45. I said around 4:30.

"I'll see you as soon as you arrive."

I called my wife. She freaked out a little. I called my dad, who was watching the kids. He sounded calm, but I knew he'd also be freaking out a little. Back into the car, through traffic, at the Cancer Agency by 4:30.

A nurse immediately took us aside. "Take this form up to the lab for some blood tests right now. You can also take this prescription to the pharmacy down the street and get it filled immediately. Then come back here to Station C and Dr. Gill will see you." In a flash we were back at the elevator, blinking and stunned, my wife to go the pharmacy and me for my blood tests. We were both back within 20 minutes, when Dr. Gill met us and explained what was going on.

Some of the chemotherapy agents I'm taking, particularly Avastin, can lead to bleeding and blood clotting. I've noticed that in places like my nose. Turns out it's happening in my right lung too.

So now we have a new drug in our cupboard, a series of syringes of anticoagulant (blood thinner), which I must inject subcutaneously, the same as I have done with insulin for the past 17 years. I'll do that once each day for the next six months or so. The drug will help prevent the clot I have from growing, and should help keep new ones from forming. I will also bleed and bruise more easily as a consequence.

The good news is that Dr. Gill also told us about the main result of the CT scan, which is that the metastatic tumours in my lungs have not grown. Indeed, some are stable, while others are "noticeably smaller." So the chemo is doing something, which is the whole damn point. While obscured by our alarm about the blood clot, that is the kind of news I've been waiting to get for a whole year.

The nurse who came to show me how to administer the blood thinner (it's so similar to insulin injections that I was very comfortable with the procedure right away) also listed off some of the possible side effects, but said, "These probably won't be a worry for you, because you're young and healthy."

I laughed. People like me with stage 4 metastatic colorectal cancer don't apply the word "healthy" to ourselves too often. But that was also good to hear.

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26 May 2007


Memories of Cannon Beach via art therapy

My pre-surgery schedule is coalescing quickly. Next Friday, June 1, I meet with medical internists at St. Paul's Hospital to go over the medications I'm taking and see what adjustments I might need to make. June 15 I have a rectal ultrasound, and June 19 another CT Scan. June 26 I meet with Dr. Kennecke, my medical oncologist, to review pre-surgery plans. There will be other meetings in between and afterwards, with surgeons, anaesthesiologists, ostomy nurses, and so on. Barring a bed shortage, I will have surgery to remove my tumours and radically rebuild how my bowels work on Thursday, July 26—exactly two months from today.

Today my wife and I took to the kids to the Cancer Agency for a regular kids' art therapy group. The girls loved it (my oldest said, "It's a bad reason to go, but it was so much fun!"). One thing we did there is paint this banner together:

Miller Summary Holiday, Cannon Beach, Oregon

We won't get to Cannon Beach this year, but we will go back as soon as we can. It's one of my favourite places, along with Crater Lake (also in Oregon) and Schooner Cove on Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park (here in B.C.).

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