Total Pageviews

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Fringeville #165: Graduation

Adios, electrons!



Yes, I’ve been on another hiatus. My last post was in April, before I started radiation therapy for my stubbornly recurrent prostate cancer. My last session of EBRT (Electron Beam Radiation Therapy) was this past Wednesday, July 5. All told, there were 38 sessions of hoedowns with electrons. 35 were aimed at the pelvis. The remaining 3 targeted my boobs.


Why the boobs?


I am taking bicalutamide, commonly known as Casodex, for the foreseeable future. The drug is an ‘antiandrogen’ (which sounds like a vitamin Data might take on Star Trek). The drug blocks testosterone, which prostate cancer cells guzzle like frat boys downing beer at a Friday night jammy.

While my side effects from radiation have been few, other than increasing fatigue, the Casodex has at times muddled my thought processes, and seems to be jacking up my blood pressure. But one very common side effect is gynecomastia. Manboobs. Tender, growing, manboobs. To keep me out of the wife’s bra supply, I had radiation to the boobs. So far, it seems to be working. My boobs don’t look any bigger than those of t-shirted overweight ex-jocks carousing on Main Street, Pittston.


But I frequently find myself saying something most men never expect to say: “My f*****g boobs hurt!”


While the pelvic radiation focuses on the most likely home of the persistent cancer cells, near the bed where the prostate once rested, the drug inhibits any cells which may be living elsewhere in the body and are at present undetectable. When discussing the Casodex prescription with my oncologist, I asked a simple question: “What stage is my disease now?”


He looked at me, the patient who has done tons and tons of reading on this disease and thought he had a pretty good command of the subject, as if I had two heads and replied, “You’re cancer is recurrent. There is no staging.”


Long and short, I am still potentially curable assuming that the only prostate cancer cells in my body are living where the electrons spent the last seven weeks partying. But there are no guarantees, and I haven’t been particularly lucky so far. The recurrence came in less than three years, instead of five or ten years down the pike. For now I am back on having my PSA checked every 3 months. If it has gone down in October that means there’s a great likelihood the cancer was local and I’ll be around a while. If it doesn’t budge, or has nudged up, it increases the likelihood that a funeral director will be going through my pockets for loose change sooner than I would like.


* A word of warning * to anyone who might say: “Well, if you have to get cancer, you got the right one!” 

I will punch you in the face and smother you between my manboobs.


* * *


Why did I start this overdue post with the above? The recurrence led me to evaluate literally everything about my life. I might be around a decade or more, until I choke to death on a chicken wing. But there is a chance, however small, that I am on a shorter road. I had to choose what to let go, and I put significant thought into that. My logic was this: There are things that take me away from my family and from things I love to do. If I gamble that I am going to be around for a decade or more and lose that gamble, I have squandered precious time I could have spent with the people I love. If I let certain things go, and I do stick around a long time, the quality of that time goes up.


Framed that way, it wasn’t much of a decision in the end. So what did I walk away from?


Politics.


It was a painful decision, as I’ve been hip deep in politics since 2004. I have very few regrets, and incredible memories. There are a few people I will help behind the scenes, people I consider very great friends indeed, but other than that I’ve walked away. I resigned as a GOP district chair and as a committee person. It was a deeply personal decision, but I have no regrets. I think I made some small difference, and decided it was best to go out at the top of my game. I've been a very good and loyal soldier, one who believes you either belong to something or you don't, and I've acted accordingly. It's how I'd like to be remembered.


Facebook


I am taking an extended hiatus from Facebook. There are a lot of reasons, but I largely consider it toxic. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so if I wasn’t so immersed in politics, but it is, for me, a hostile environment. There’s a lot of shouting, tons of vile posts, and very little room for reasonable discussions. In addition, it is an enormous waste of time, and time is precious to me now. Will I resurrect my profile? Perhaps, but not for quite some time.


What did I keep?


I will return to writing. I am part of the writing team at Project Wednesday where the goal is positive human development. Making a difference. That’s something that’s important to me. I encourage you to look at Project Wednesday. There are some wonderful young voices there, and one old fart. You will feel better for the experience.


On that, I close the post. I will return soon.


Be good to each other.

* * *

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Fringeville #164: …Hold My Beer





In what can only be described as a catastrophic failure in customer service, United Airlines had a man pulled from his seat, dragged up the aisle stunned and bleeding and removed from the plane.


Turns out the airline needed four seats. For their employees.


This wasn’t bumping; this was a beat-down. People were already on the plane and in their seats. Rather than doing something intelligent, like chartering a plane for the employees or dramatically upping the compensation for giving up seats, they chose four seats to empty, and empty them they did, even if it required brute force.


As horrific as the airline’s treatment of this poor man was, their response to the outrage was a public relations fiasco. The CEO referred to the beat-down as a “re-accommodation.” 

Worst. Apology. Ever.


The New York Post later ran a story calling the CEO "tone deaf" after he issued a memo to employees in defense of the beat-down.


You can’t make this stuff up.


You decide. I think it’s cut and dried, but look for yourselves and remember this the next time you’re choosing an airline. If you want unfriendly skies, then United is your huckleberry.




Passenger Statement


Oh, and perhaps that United Airlines CEO should be re-accommodated as well. To the unemployment line.





* * *

Monday, April 10, 2017

Fringeville #163: Nuts, bolts and Failed Elections



2016: The Election that was hers to lose. And she did. Spectacularly.

I don’t like to talk much about national politics these days because it is a sucking, black hole that damages relationships all the way down to family and friends. I’m going to stick my toe in ever so slightly here, and I will probably pay a price for it.


Hillary Clinton didn’t lose because of: Russian hacking, FBI director Comey, misogyny, etc.

She lost because, for the second time, she ran a national race and proved herself a poor candidate.


At the end of the day, it was not paying attention to the nuts and bolts of plain old campaigning that caused her to fall short in places she should have won. The warning bells were there in the primary for those who take the time to look.

In my corner of Pennsylvania I saw something amazing on Primary Election day. I’ve worked the same poll for years, but I saw people I’ve never seen before in my life showing up to vote. I talked to them outside the polling place. They’d either recently registered to vote or hadn’t voted in years. They weren’t there because they planned to vote for Hillary in November. I’m not talking a person here or there, I am talking a bunch of folks. They probably weren’t in anyone’s data pool. I’ve been told “data is data” but in my IT job years ago I learned another maxim: “Garbage in, garbage out.”


In the six weeks or so before the General Election, while working in Scranton, I took long rides home through the heart of Hillary country. Until a couple of weeks out, there were very few Hillary signs in yards. In the 10-14 days a few more appeared, but far short of what I expected to see.


I’ve been told signs don’t vote. That is 100% correct. But signs in someone’s yard, versus signs cluttering roads or intersections, tell you where a vote lives. Trump signs were everywhere, despite being often in short supply. Some of those signs are still up in yards across NEPA.


I’m including a link here to a nice read from Politico that dissected how Hillary lost Michigan. Many of the things her campaign failed to do there were also apparent to me on the ground here in NEPA. GOP volunteers and committee people put a lot of time into the ground game here in NEPA. We did a LOT of voter outreach. We talked to people at their doors, and in some cases we were told things that allowed us to help our GOP candidates down-ballot.


Not once when I was out did I see anyone on the ground for Hillary. I’m sure they were out there somewhere at some point, but I never came across any. The Politico article explains some of that. The Clinton campaign had a model. They worked it to perfection. But the model was wrong and they refused to heed the warnings that they received.


Contrast Clinton’s ground game with Obama’s in 2012, when I saw people knocking on doors for the President on many occasions, including in neighborhoods where he was probably a lock. His people were there, working the ground. They seemed to take nothing for granted.


Looking for a scapegoat for what the MSM constantly calls the “shocking loss” (which was anything but shocking to folks like me on the ground in NEPA)?

Point the blame where it belongs: Hillary’s Campaign. Time and again they made errors that in retrospect were just plain dumb. One example cited in the Politico article: Bernie wins Michigan in the primary, runs strongly elsewhere, yet Clinton’s campaign never picked the brains of Bernie’s folks.


When I hear the endless stream of conspiracy theories on why Trump won, I can’t help but think of the many times over the years I’ve watched a football game where a team doesn’t execute well, but blames the loss on penalty flags. The long and short of it is, the losing team just needed to score more points.


Hillary Clinton and her team didn’t execute, and for the second time it cost Hillary a national election.

...and it's pretty damned boring.

* * *

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Fringeville #162: Leprechauns and Bone Scans





After some fairly regular posts by my standards, I took a little break. It is generally safe to assume that if I am not posting it is for one of two reasons: I am hyper-busy or I am fighting the Universe. It has been a bit of both lately, but much more the latter than the former.

On the busy side, I had some campaign finance and political fundraising stuff to do for some folks. I am one of those odd humans that enjoys that stuff.

On my fighting match with the Universe, I suspect the Universe is winning. It always does, you know. You can’t beat it. It is the struggle that counts. You can lie there and let the Universe kick you while you’re down, or you can tie its shoelaces together so it trips on the next kick and maybe you escape for a bit. (If the Universe is wearing loafers, don’t fret. Have a cat leave a hairball in them. Even the Universe isn’t fond of squishy matter between its toes.)

Bad writing aside, in the end we are defined by how we fight our challenges between the day we’re born and our inevitable dirt nap. The Universe wins in the end, but there’s no reason we can’t kick it in the tenders a few times before the wrestling match ends.

Let’s move on:

* * *

To my vast audience (both of you) there will be a toasted chef post this weekend.  I am leaning towards the one featuring my kitchen apprentice, who had his tonsils out this week and handled it like a champ.

* * *



Because I read a fair amount of Obamacare stuff on my last job, I remembered something that saved me a chunk of money on my taxes, turning a modest refund into one that will cover a mortgage payment.

I did not have health care in January, 2016. I was in the COBRA window from my previous employer, and because of the cost I decided not to exercise that option. My new health care kicked in on February 1, but I retained the option to take COBRA retroactively well past that date. If something happened prior to the new health care kicking in, I would shell out for a month of COBRA. Nothing happened, and I saved money I didn’t need to spend.

Enter the ACA “shared contribution penalty” (i.e. extortion) which is levied on the months you don’t have coverage. At first, it looked like I’d be hit with a nearly $1400 penalty. This is not a year for me to bear that particular burden. My household income is gutted, and I am facing some potentially major, perhaps spectacular headwinds.

Fortunately, a light bulb went off in my head. I remembered reading about the Health Coverage Exemptions (Form 8965 from our pals at the Infernal Revenue Service). For 2016, the penalty can be exempted for up to two months (which must be consecutive) before the extortion begins. I had one month without coverage, and the exemption means that I will have a mortgage payment covered when the refund gets here. It’s a huge break as the Federal government already gets a lot of my income right now. I am still paying down 2015 taxes, paying off a Plus Loan, and then there is the usual paycheck bite. An Obamacare penalty was the very last thing I needed, and I’m glad what I read at some point in 2016 was in the long-term storage bin in my noggin.

* * *



I remember things like the Health Coverage Exemptions because as scatterbrained as I have become, strange little bits of data get lodged in that tiny piece of brain in my skull. When I worked for a major food distribution company, one of my dear friends (hello, Linda) labeled me the “God of Useless Technology.” I remembered all kinds of odd, seemingly useless bits of information about old tech platforms that came in handy at just the right moment.

My talent for remembering bits and pieces of things I've read has served me quite well in my cancer fight. I have been told I am very well read regarding my disease. Which can be good, and bad.

On Tuesday, March 28, I met my new Radiation Oncologist at Geisinger. First off, a nice young lady in blue offered me coffee for the visit. That’s a big frigging deal to me because it is my one remaining vice and right off the bat they were promising to feed it. A guy’s gotta have something.

First came a lengthy discussion with the Physician’s Assistant (PA) and then another detailed conversation with my new doctor. I was extremely well-prepared (a benefit of waking up several times a night and researching until my eyes closed again). The word ‘curable’ was kicked around several times, but now with no guarantees. Being ‘curable’ depends on whether the cancer has remained in the prostate bed and perhaps nearby parts of the pelvis. There would be a bone scan and eventually a CAT scan. We would meet again at the end of April for a planning session. The most probable course: about seven weeks of Monday-Friday radiation plus possibly a course of the antiandrogen agent bicalutamide.

Because of all the bits of research data lodged in my tiny bit of brain, I expressed some concern over hormone therapy side effects. I was assured the side effects I worried most about (possible bone weakening/fractures that some some therapies cause) were not an issue. I have osteogenesis imperfecta, so my bones are already substandard. I don’t need fractures. I was told I have a pretty good chance of developing man-boobs (though there are some pre-treatments that minimize that possibility).

Man-boobs? No biggie. I just figure I’ll wear my wife’s bras and finally convince her to let her own puppies swing free since I’ll be tying up her wardrobe. (NOTE: If she reads this, I want wings served at my funeral brunch.)

Then I asked a question about the likelihood of anything showing up in the bone scan. I was assured that was extremely unlikely, given how my disease was presenting itself. I was told that no one my doctor has treated in a case similar to mine had ever shown evidence of metastasis present on a bone scan this early in the game. It might be hiding somewhere in my bones, but at an undetectable microscopic level. It would be growing so slowly it might never cause me a problem.

For me the bone scan is a big deal, even though it is unlikely to show anything. Why? If there is no detectable spread of my cancer I remain in the curable bucket. I’ll be looking at radiation, antiandrogens, some cute man-boobs and a high probability of dying with prostate cancer, not from it. I will likely choke to death on a chicken wing or chunk of bleu cheese 10, 15 or more years down the road.

But here’s the thing: I am Irish. We are uniquely vulnerable to Murphy’s Law, which accurately predicts catastrophe, generally at the worst possible time. I am also given to premonitions (I’ll save those for some other post) so as soon as I heard how unlikely it was I would have anything of note show up on a bone scan, a thousand bastard leprechauns began hitting their pots of gold with sledgehammers in alarm.

The bone scan was scheduled for the next day, March 29.

I hadn’t heard a thing about the results by the next week so being the impatient little bugger I am, I got on the horn with the doctor. The conversation started just fine. He noted I had arthritis, which I sort of figured, and I started to relax.

“There was some uptake with a vertebrae. I’d like an X-ray of that.”

F**king bastard leprechauns, I hate you.

So, what is “uptake?”

When you have a bone scan, first you get an injection of radioactive tracer. About three hours later you come back for the scan. You lie on a table while the camera moves slowly over your body. If a part of your body doesn’t absorb tracer, that’s a “cold spot” and if a lot of tracer is absorbed (uptake) in an area that’s a “hot spot.” Either flags a potential issue.

I had a hot spot.

Lots of things can cause bone to “uptake” the radioactive tracer. Recent injuries might cause the body to build new bone at the “hot spot.” Perhaps there is a stress fracture or some other benign cause.

The hot spot is in a vertebrae in the thoracic spine. The thoracic spine is one of the more likely areas that prostate cancer moves to when it leaves home to explore the rest of the body.

As of this writing, I don’t have the Xray results. I am considerably nervous. Why? If there is no cancer in my spine, I can dream of remaining in the curable bucket. If it has spread to a distant site in my spine, I have an expiration date and the strategy moves from curing to treating the disease.

I am not frightened. I recognize and accept, as should we all, that no one gets out of life alive. If we all lived forever, where would we ever find a parking space at Walmart?

No, I am anxious. I hate uncertainty. How I conduct my life going forward will be directly influenced by whether I am curable and around a while, or treatable and maybe around not quite so long. Every aspect of my life gets prioritized depending on which way this goes. I already know what I will keep and what I will put aside if the news isn’t good. It is being frozen in uncertainty that drives me nuts.

Wait …do you hear that horrible, gong-like sound? F**king leprechauns.

* * *

Among the things up in the air is my future in politics.

I am on the ballot for Commissioner in Plains, a two-year term. I already know that my love of door-to-door is not going to be a factor. I am going to simply offer a few things for voters to consider: I will not lie to them. If I don’t know the answer to something, I will find out and get back to them. I will work my tuckus off. And I oppose the Penn-East pipeline, something for which Plains and my county take all the risks and reap no rewards. That’s it. No schmoozing, spending money on signs, hosting events, etc.

I know I am going to be around for a 2-year term (unless that chicken wing or piece of bleu cheese gets me), so if that platform is appealing hopefully they’ll vote for me. In any case, this is my last run for office, even if I get good news on the health front.

I have a million other things to write, but this post is already overlong and I apologize for that. Just do me a favor and remember to kick the Universe in the tenders at every opportunity.

Fight hard, friends.



* * *