Yesterday my port was removed. I expected to feel different, as it had, after all been a physical part of my body now for more than a year. I have grown used to feeling the bump beneath my skin, of seeing the lump sticking out through my t-shirts like some enormously puffy third nipple on a particularly cold day, and now, it’s gone! Gone just like that. Well not quite so easily as the US health insurance industry threw in a couple of curved balls along the way . Having managed to negotiate all the obstacles placed along the way I have to say that the actual process went by really smoothly from my perspective. The nurses who worked with me at Memorial Outpatients in Hollywood, Marissa, Vivian and Sue were great and kept me amused, while in the OR Dr Eckstein and his team got on with things without me knowing anything about it until I came around. As I said I expected to feel different, this is, after all, a significant moment as the last part of my chemo treatment is removed. Strangely I don’t feel different, I don’t feel elated, I don’t really feel anything about the port going except somewhat sore and a little curious to see whether or not I have another interesting scar to match the one on my neck from my biopsy.
Category Archives: chemo
It’s now twelve months since I sat here writing about my concerns on the night before my first ever chemotherapy infusion. Purely coincidentally today I went to Dr Taché’s office for my port flushing. As usual the chemo room was busy and good-humoured. Purely coincidentally Lisa, my first oncology nurse was working today. I asked her if she remembered that this week was our first anniversary. The son of a patient asked if I had brought flowers for Lisa and I replied, “What, when she’s forgotten all about it? She doesn’t deserve them!” There was much laughter.
The past twelve months have seen things change a great deal. The chemotherapy literally brought me to my knees at times. At times it brought me even lower and I could do nothing other than crawl on my stomach like some squaddie undergoing basic training and being subjected to live-fire for the first time. These past few weeks I’ve really begun to feel my strength returning to something like normal and even my finger nails now seem to have disposed of the last remnants of the chemo and have stopped being brittle. My wife and I have even started on the Zumba classes offered as part of the Mayor of Davie’s Fitness Challenge, and, yes, I do ache slightly lol.
I’m applying for jobs on a daily basis and am now managing to concentrate pretty well throughout the whole day. One issue which has cropped up is whether or not I should mention the cancer, the chemo and the recovery as a way of explaining what I’ve been doing for the past twelve months, as some people I have spoken with are of the opinion that this will scare away an otherwise willing employer. If anyone has any thoughts on this I’d be interested to read them. Two days ago I had a phone call from Williams Zophin which doesn’t seem to have its own website but is on http://americanincomelife-williams-zophin.com/. Apparently my resume had been discovered on-line by one of the managers and could I go in the next day (yesterday) for an interview as Benefits Director: the job being described to me as, “going over union members’ benefits and making sure the paperwork is correct”. As always I tried to do some background research on the web. There is very little though there is a Facebook page. The Facebook page was a little worrying. The page contained several comments from people who were clearly and unashamedly current employees who thought Williams Zophin to be the best thing since sliced bread and were making great incomes by dint of hard work. Nothing wrong with any of that is there? No, I thought not as well, but there was another post from a lady (not visible on the page as I write) who had been approached in a manner similar to myself but had been successful in researching the company and had come to the conclusion that the company was a pyramid sales company selling life insurance. Despite this comment I thought I’d go and see what Mr Yemi of Williams Zophin had to say to me. My worst fears started to be confirmed when I walked through the door into their office. Every seat was taken by someone clearly there on interview. In fact there weren’t even enough chairs for the person ahead of me, myself, or the person who followed me, to have seats while filling out our questionnaires. A series of suited managers kept walking through the door and calling out the names of the interviewees. At this point I was very tempted just to leave but, having made at least this much effort, I thought I’d see it through, as, perhaps, they were interviewing for a series of posts – yeah right! Anyway my turn came and a thoroughly pleasant Mr Yemi asked me to tell him about myself which I did. Mr Yemi then explained the three stages of the interview process designed to ensure the right fit between applicant and company, and he then went on to say, “the job is about sales and managing sales”, to which I could only reply, “that’s not what I was told over the phone and I’m not interested in selling insurance”, at which point I terminated the interview. Why do companies do this? Why do they deliberately misrepresent what they want an applicant to do? Are they so desperate for new employees that they just trawl the web for recent resumes and get people in under what I can only call false pretences, accepting that they are going to wastefully invest their time in applicants who wouldn’t have gone had they known the true nature of the employment. Just to be clear on this, I didn’t do enough research to know whether or not the lady’s claim that Williams Zophin is a pyramid seller of insurance is true or not as I didn’t let my interview get that far. Neither do I know whether or not the products which Williams Zophin sell are any good or not as I found very little about them on the web. What I do know is that they misrepresented the job to me and I am very annoyed about that as I wasted a couple of hours which could have been better used trying to find a company which wouldn’t lie to me about why it wanted to interview me.
Still on the job-search front, tomorrow I take a two to three hours skills assessment test being proctored by a local university on behalf of a company to whom I applied for a job. Now, this company’s recruitment procedures seem to be entirely the opposite of Willams Zophin. This company contacted me having discovered my resume on the web, asked me to complete an application form, subsequently gave me a 30 minute telephone interview before asking me to take an on-line IQ type test, then asking me to write a book review of my (fictitious) autobiography. How many more stages will there be to this selection process if we presume I pass this stage? I don’t know, but I have to say it is the most rigorous selection process I’ve ever been through!
So, back to waiting for that first chemo infusion. It occurs to me that all over the world tonight there will be people in the situation in which I found myself twelve months ago. If any one of those people is reading this I would like to say to them that they may as well know they are probably in for a rough ride, but it is one which is made more bearable by a good medical team and the love and support of family and friends. You will make many discoveries along the journey, finding support from people from whom you wouldn’t expect to receive it, but also discovering that some people you thought you could rely upon absolutely just seem to fade away. You will find people who ask inane questions and others who talk to you with empathy and knowledge. My advice would be to join the blogging community, it’s a wonderful source of support. Whether you are one of those people just starting out on the chemo-trail, or are already travelling the route I wish you well on your journey. To those whose blogs have helped to sustain me during my own journey along the chemo-trail, especially my long-suffering wife, I say a very appreciative thank you.
It’s now some five months since my last dose of chemotherapy and my body and brain are definitely starting to show signs of improvement. For the past couple of weeks my nails have been very fragile and have flaked off around the edges, something they didn’t do during chemo, so I’m convincing myself that this is a consequence of the chemo having worked its way through to my extremities. My hair is pretty much back to where it was before chemo, though, strangely, before chemo it was grey shading to white whereas now it is dark brown though my beard continues to be grey shading to white. Sadly it hasn’t come back any thicker than it was before the chemo. My concentration levels are definitely improving but concentrating hard for a lengthy period does take it out of me. Last week I went for an interview which required me to take computer tests of my abilities in Microsoft Word and Excel. Three years ago I was teaching exactly the kind of things I was being tested on, but during the tests I struggled with fatigue. I spent the week after that working my way through Microsoft’s on-line training and re-took the tests this week with much improved results. The next day I was quite tired and I do wonder how I will deal with a full day’s work when I do get a job. Early nights and weekend lie-ins might be the only way! In the meantime I’m going through the daily grind of job searching: searching emails that bring me literally hundreds of job openings, sorting through them as I try to spot the ones where I can angle my skills, experience and qualifications to make an impact from those where I don’t have a prayer, and then adapting my resume and completing on-line applications. After that it’s a case of doing more internet research to try and find something else and then going through the same process. It is a grind. Enthusiasm wanes. Energy wanes. The search goes on.
On my travels around the web reading about chemo, the consequences of chemo and alternatives to chemo I came across a lot of stuff which I thought might or might not be accurate. The general rule of thumb in these cases is to have a look at the source and if the source seems reputable then I usually concluded that the “science” behind the article might well be OK as well. I’m sure that most people reading this will have read similar articles at some point. Statements such as, “eat this fruit/vegetable as it kills cancer cells”, “eat lots of vegetables as they cure cancer”, “avoid stress as it causes cancer”, “alternative therapies cure cancer”, and so on, and so on, and so on. I was pleased therefore to read this blog from Cancer Research UK this week which puts these things into perspective. Dealing with cancer is tough enough, both for those who have it and their families and friends, without being fed crap by the press. As Cancer Research UK says in the article, it is important to eat a balanced diet which includes fruit and vegetables, but on their own they won’t kill the cancer cells.
You may recall that a few weeks ago I was really pleased that I was able to do an hour or so’s exercise using the Wii Fit. Well, that stopped perhaps four weeks ago when I just seemed to run out of energy, to feel lethargic, and, to be honest, I really wasn’t motivated. I mean the Wii is OK but it’s essentially something you do on your own isn’t it – well that’s my excuse anyway! Maybe the fatigue is because I’ve been spending hours on-line searching for jobs. I find a lot that I think I can do and then comes the dreaded phrase, “x years experience”. Then it’s on to the next job. Usually I can get out an application for at least one job a day, often two and sometimes three, but they do take time. All the on-line applications seem to want every job and qualification listing and this can take a long time and requires a lot of post-chemo-brain concentration which is far more tiring than before I started the chemo. It is really frustrating doing job applications in this way. On Wednesday I started an application for a job with T-Mobile which took a while because of all the jobs/qualification data, but that’s fair enough if they want it they want it. Then came the “filter,” the on-line activity to see whether I understand enough not to shout at customers etc. So I started working my way through the screens and then up popped a message to tell me that the testing site was only configured to work with Internet Explorer 7. As I was using Chrome I was reasonably confident that it would be compatible but, hey, you don’t want to blow your one and only chance to complete the test by having the browser crash on you do you, and the instructions were very insistent that I shouldn’t exit the test part-way through, and neither should I close the browser part-way through, so it was a case of starting over again using Internet Explorer. That was where the problems started. I just couldn’t make any progress. I don’t mean I am so dense that I couldn’t answer the questions, but I just couldn’t get anything to happen on screen. Naturally, being a man, I wasn’t prepared to phone the tech help line until I’d failed to achieve success in every way I could think of – that took about 30 or 40 minutes I guess – you can imagine how far out of the way I could have driven had I been in a car and adopted that strategy! So, a quick call to tech support revealed that they were having a problem and they were also having a problem resolving the problem they were having; this meant come back tomorrow. I did. I went back on-line last night, remembering to use Internet Explorer, and worked my way steadily through all the scenarios that were presented to me. I even started to work my way through the pair-statement section (which I personally hate with an intensity which I cannot describe), and that was when I discovered that Windows had updated itself and was now closing my computer. OK, I admit I was so engrossed in playing T-Mobile’s “shall we employ him” game that I failed to see the Microsoft warning that this was about to happen, but knowing that really didn’t make me feel any better. Now, my computer was a better than average one when I bought it about five years ago, but since then I’ve loaded it with programs and, accordingly, it creaks a bit and runs quite slowly when powering down and re-booting so I watched the latest Big Bang Theory on t.v. and then went back and managed to complete the application form.
Today I’ve felt much healthier and have spent around one and a half hours walking to various places such as the Post Office. I’m not really sure why Americans send mail, and mail things to one another and yet use the US Postal Service and its network of Post Offices rather than using the US Mail Service and its network of Mail Offices. I find these word and phrase evolutions from British English to be really interesting. I know, I’m really sad aren’t I! After all today’s exercise I expect to feel the effects in my legs tomorrow as I could definitely feel the muscles getting to the point where they were seriously complaining about five minutes before I got home. I knew that recovery from chemo would take quite a long time but expected to be OK by now, but, still, I was poisoning my body with the ABVD for six months and it’s not quite four months since I stopped doing so. I suppose I should expect a correlation of at least 1 to 1. The progress is upwards and that’s the important thing. I’m even having to comb my hair these days! I might even need my first haircut in over a year within the next month!
Yesterday I also went to a jobs fair. It was horrendously busy and, for the first time since coming to Florida I had to park the car on the street as there just wasn’t enough parking off-road! My first attempt at parking left me pretty close to a fire hydrant and I was pretty sure there is some legislation saying I shouldn’t do that, so it was off to find a different spot and walk to the hotel where the fair was being held. I signed in and was given a flyer which included a plan of the exhibitors and a list to show who was where. Naturally it showed all the stands but not all the names. From my point of view it was beginning to look like a waste of time with only low-pay part-time work for the most part, or the staff simply gave out pieces of paper saying apply on-line at this web-site, but then I was approached by a man in a suit. He asked if I had a resume. Naturally I had one. I’d spent the previous evening printing out, squaring-off and stapling 20 of them. I passed one to him and he quickly saw that I was from England. He said he thought I ought to talk to his colleague as I was over-qualified for the jobs on offer at the trade-stand. The second man in a suit arrived and told me he had married into a British family, and then we began to talk about the possibility of employment: he was pretty enthusiastic while pointing out that I would need to obtain a license before I could do the job he thought I’d be appropriate for, and then gave me his contact details with instructions to phone, which I will do on Monday.
This is not really much more than an update about how I’m progressing, my developing social life and my job searches.
First of all then, my progress. I think this is going quite well. I’m currently sporting a fairly unique post-chemo hairstyle the like of which has possibly only ever been seen previously on either a fashion week cat walk or at a punk concert. It’s a kind of post-punk trying to meet hippy sort of thing lol It’s definitely coming back darker than it was before it went. My stamina is also increasing though I still need more sleep and rest than I used to do, but at least, now, I can usually manage without an afternoon nap.
My social life also seems to be on the up, I’m glad to say. Last weekend saw my wife and myself attend a thank you party given by Bill Penzer for those involved in his most recent book “How to Cope Better When You Have Cancer“. It was a very pleasant party and the people there were interesting for many reasons. Bill was kind enough to give those of us who are mentioned in the book our own copy. I haven’t started on the book yet as I’ve been finishing off the one I was reading, but, tonight seems like it will see me open the covers and go for it. In actual fact I did have a bit of a dip into the book as Bill had marked the pages on which I got a mention. I’d already seen those parts as he’d submitted them to me for approval, but it was still something of a shock to read them again and discover just where I had been only those short months ago – an emotional experience. One thing which did strike me at the party was being referred to, along with several others, as a “survivor”. As I said to Bill, I hadn’t really thought of myself in that way. To me a survivor is someone who comes through something such as a train wreck. Bill was quick to point out that he sees cancer pretty much as a train wreck, but my point was that I expected to be cured, that I, personally, wasn’t suffering from a life threatening disease as some of you are, that I was told I would be cured and I have been. On that basis although my life has been significantly impacted by the cancer, and I really wouldn’t wish to downplay that impact, for me it was never life-threatening and so I don’t really see how I am entitled to call myself as “a survivor”. There’s emotional stuff in there somewhere I think and, yes, it is quite possible that I’m unknowingly choosing to create a perspective which allows me to avoid that emotional impact.
My wife I are still going along to Davie Police’s Civilian Police Academy and thoroughly enjoying it. This week we were taken through a homicide investigation by the investigating officer Detective John Stokes. The investigation was fascinating and made all the more so by the, shall we say, especially unique, style of the presentation. Looking ahead to Sunday I get to join one of Davie’s finest for his shift from 2 p.m. until midnight. Some people on the course have already had their shift in the car and were tremendously enthusiastic about the experience and what they had learned from it. Hopefully I will have a similarly interesting experience without anyone deciding to take a shot at us!
As a measure of my increasing stamina my wife and myself have been able to commit to going to a bonfire party this weekend, with friends Melvyn and Lisa, to mark the failure of The Gunpowder Plot and which is often called Guy Fawke’s Night as effigies of Guy are traditionally burned on the bonfire. I always associate Bonfire Night with frost, cold winds and a smoke bedraggled landscape on the next morning; with wrapping up in woolly hat, scarf, gloves, two pairs of socks and a duffle coat (doubt there will be many dressed like that despite being in autumnal Florida!) while eating roast potatoes made by Jackie’s mum, Mrs. Taylor, wrapped up in serviettes so that they wouldn’t burn our fingers while melted butter would dribble down each chin. By today’s standards I suppose the fireworks were relatively weedy affairs but I still remember the excitement as either my dad or Jackie’s dad would fasten a spinning wheel to the outside of the toilet door – I ought to point out that back then no-one in our street had an indoor toilet – and we all waited with almost bated breath to see whether it had benn affixed too tightly in which case it wouldn’t spin, too loosely in which case it would fly off and gyrate around the area, or whether it had been fastened just right and would spin away happily. Sadly out of the two families who got together for the fires only two of us are now alive and if I’d had my cancer a few years earlier there might only have been one.
My job hunting continues apace and I have to admit that I find it quite tiring. I’m applying for a wide range of jobs so each application needs to have it’s own resume and to produce a good customised one takes quite a considerable time. Then there’s the time taken to fill in the online applications. Usually this goes well but then there are instances such as today with the Comcast site where having completed each field on the form I pressed submit and got a message telling me that I couldn’t submit the application until I had filled in two additional fields. The only problem is that those two fields aren’t on that form. Yes, I’m absolutely certain they aren’t. I looked. I looked again, and again. I did a search with CTRL + F and the only time the relevant words came up were in the error messages. Is there a help function. You betcha, of course there is. Does it work? You betcha, of course it doesn’t there’s a Java error. Is there a contact us either on the job ad or on the job form. Of course not. So it occurs to me that maybe the problem is because I’m using Chrome and I decide to try the same thing with Internet Explorer. The problem (well you knew there was going to be a problem didn’t you?) was that going into the site again I needed to log in. Now, I don’t know about you but my log ins are pretty much variations on a theme so, even though I couldn’t remember what they were for this particular site, actually I couldn’t even remember them for this particular site, I was happy to give it a go and guess what they probably were. My guesses were futile but I wasn’t going to be outdone. “I’ll do it again for a different email account”, I thought to myself, so I did but I wasn’t required to log in, or create a password before starting the application so I was no better off than before. This is a major company and there is no direct way of contacting them about this. Other than that I applied, amongst others to citi a while ago and today had my telephone interview. I may, or may not, hear from their “local recruiter” in the next seven to ten days to take my application to the next level. So far since starting my job hunt I’ve usually applied for two or three jobs most days and I’m hoping that some of them are now sufficiently far advanced to be looked at by a real person.
It’s now three and a bit months since I finished chemo, my hair is growing back pretty well and my stamina has been on the increase so it seemed like it was time to start looking for employment – my first employment since moving to the US.
Despite the woe-sayers on t.v. there are lots of jobs out there, many of them are part-time, many are temporary and many are poorly paid. After some seven years of sustaining a long-distance relationship do I really want to take a contract to work on the other side of America when the contract is for only six months? I don’t think that idea would go down very well with my wife even if I were to consider it. Anyway I have been applying for jobs but I’m finding it to be a very tiring process. After all over the past 10 months I’ve rarely concentrated on anything for more than, say, 15 to 20 minutes and here I am now wading through, literally, hundreds of job adverts each day, checking some out and discounting the overwhelming majority. I even apply for some: in the past week I think I have put in about ten applications, but it is tiring. I also find it frustrating at times. For instance yesterday I completed an application to work at a bank. I started filling out the on-line form which informed me that I would be expected to upload my resume as part of the application, so, naturally, I overhauled my somewhat complicated resume to angle it towards this particular post and I guess that probably took something over an hour. Having done the overhaul and uploaded the resume I continued with the on-line application only to discover that they wanted all the information which I’d already included in my resume! Anyway, I overcame my frustrations and continued with the application to discover at the end of the application that there was an on-line test I would need to take which would probably take between 45 and 60 minutes. Lovely! I reckon that this one job application probably took something over 3 hours to complete in total and it’s not even for a well-paid job. Despite spreading out the process I was left very drained simply from having to concentrate and I do wonder how I will perform in a job situation. On the plus side the more of these applications I do the more I develop my levels of concentration so the better I should be when push comes to shove and even if I do get called for an interview for one of the jobs it’s unlikely to happen for at least another couple of weeks and by then I should be further down the road to recovery shouldn’t I?
There’s clearly a lot more to getting over cancer and chemo than simply stopping the chemo and regenerating hair!
This weekend Bill Penzer is hosting a party for those of us referred to in his book which I mentioned a while ago and which I understand is now available in shops and via Amazon. I’m really looking forward to meeting Bill having spoken to him several times by phone. I wonder whether he’s as excited at the prospect of meeting me!
I saw my oncologist, Dr Taché, on Friday, it’s the first time I’ve seen him since my scan gave me the all clear. He wants me to have a colonoscopy. I’d thought that my last scan revealing no cancer in my body after six months of chemotherapy would have meant there was no need for a colonoscopy, but, no, it seems I still ought to have one: I will leave you to imagine the sense of delight I experienced on being given this information!
Dr Taché also thought he detected a “click” from my heart and so he wants me to see a cardiologist to get a specialists opinion. Now, I don’t know about you, but, until Friday I’d never heard of a “heart click”. There’s not an awful lot about it on the web but it seems that the “click” is the sound of the heart’s valves as they open and close. So, far as I know this “click” has never been detected before and so, presumably, it’s a relatively new development post-dating the chemotherapy and therefore, I presume, possibly being a response to the poisons pumped into my body during the six months of treatment. Am I concerned? No, not especially, as, from what I could discover, this is by no means an unusual thing, and, as I’ve experienced no cardio discomfort when exercising or going about my daily business, I doubt it is anything significant at the present time. To the extent that I am concerned it is that I’m now getting to an age where the body functions nowhere near so well as it used to do (if I’m honest I hit that age a while ago!), so my concern is that this “click” may be the harbinger of more medical problems. Hopefully the cardiologists advice will be to lose weight and exercise steadily.