Summertime (Part 1)— Livin’ Easy

Writer’s Note—This entry is the first of a three-part series entitled Summertime, based on the classic song from the musical Porgy and Bess. If you’ve never heard Ella Fitzgerald’s version of this song, you should.

Here are some of the lyrics:
One of these mornings
You gonna rise up singin’
Yes, you’ll spread your wings
And you’ll take to the sky
Mm, but ’til that morning
There is nothin’ can harm you

Summer 2021—After my last CT scan in mid-June, the summer had its share of ups and downs. While I won’t bore you with every detail, here are a few key events to help you catch-up.

Same old, same old

As I mentioned in my last post (Lucky Number 13), my former oncologist moved on from the West Cancer Center in July. My new oncologist is great, and we’ve made some changes (improvements?) in my treatment regimen. The first, and most significant, is moving me from a three week infusion schedule to a six week schedule. The goal is to reduce the number of visits and, hopefully, lessen some of the side effects.

I’ll have my first six-week infusion in August.

Frozen Frustration

I don’t believe I’ve discussed this previously, but for most of 2021 I’ve been dealing with two (2) related orthopedic conditions: a torn rotator cuff (left side) and a frozen (left) shoulder. Extensive physical therapy, analysis, and home exercise has only slightly improved these problems (which are related). Throw in constant fatigue and sore muscles, and it’s been more than a little frustrating.

More to come on this topic.

Father’s Day Reflection

Another Father’s Day (June 20th) came and, eventually, went. We celebrated, enjoyed another delicious homemade carrot cake, and opened a couple presents (see below). I love my family, I love my life, and I love still being here to experience more Father’s Days.

But I continue to worry about what the next chapter will bring. Where will my journey take me? Take us?

Part of me hates that melanoma (cancer) has taken over so much of our lives. It’s a constant reminder of all the things that could have been, should have been. Then I remember those lyrics and Ella’s sweet, beautiful voice…

Mm, but ’til that morning

There is nothin’ can harm you

As always, thanks for stopping by and listening.

Note: Dinstuhl’s cherry sours…absolutely delicious!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucky Number 13

June 11, 2021— For centuries, the number thirteen (13) has been considered unlucky, which developed an irrational fear of the number and anything associated with it. Some historians trace the stigma of “13” back to Judas Iscariot—think Last Supper—the biblical betrayer of Christ. Others note the fear may be attributed to October 13, 1307 when the Knights Templar were rounded up and imprisoned—or worse.

That date fell on a Friday, leading to the Friday the 13th superstition, along with a series of really terrible horror movies in the 1980s and 90s.

Lucky Number 13

On Thursday, June 10th, the date of my 13th infusion, we received some good news—some really good news: my tumors have shrunk anywhere from 10% (in my lungs) to 20% in and around my right adrenal gland.

Vicki and I were ecstatic. Now, after almost nine (9) months of treatment, Keytruda (my immunotherapy medicine) was beginning to turn-the-tide in the battle against my metastatic melanoma.

In addition, my oncologist told us that my lab work looked fantastic. The results, in his words, were like a “normal person’s.” I assumed he meant someone not undergoing cancer treatment. 

A Long Way to Go

While this is great news, we still have a long way to go. Thursday’s CT scan was the first one I’ve had since February (which showed no change), so, for now, we’ll continue immunotherapy treatments and monitor my blood work.

Bittersweet Morning

Even with all that good news, it was a bittersweet morning. My oncologist announced that he’d taken a new position—heading up a cancer center in Reno, Nevada—and would soon leave the West Cancer Center. While we’re sad to see him go, we know we’ll be in good hands with a new oncologist.

Sharing My Journey Story

In a weird coincidental twist, on Wednesday (June 9th), the West Center posted my melanoma journey story to their Facebook feed and on their website.

I received several FB comments of encouragement and support from strangers who are either West Center patients or their loved ones. As I wrote in a recent essay (see below), my goal with continuing to share my story is to provide hope and/or inspiration for others fighting cancer.

With Good Fortune Comes Greater Responsibility

So, after Thursday’s good news, my good fortune continues. I write that not with glee or contentment. I write it (repeatedly) to remind myself that there is so much more work to be done. So many goals I want to accomplish. So many people I want to help—directly and indirectly.

On June 4th, StoryBoard Memphis published my latest personal essay, Happy Birthday, Spiderman.  While the initial focus of the essay was about my birthday and the joy I feel celebrating another trip around the sun with my family and friends, it was also much more about the burden I carry—like many other cancer survivors—to never forget those who were less fortunate. Here’s a quote:

Sharing my journey story is both cathartic and purposeful. Those of us who are still in this fight remember all those who were less fortunate. Our grief and frustration are channeled into meaningful causes and activities. Ultimately, we want to change current behaviors, raise awareness, and stem the tide of suffering and pain.

I use my good fortune to help others whom, like me, have been saddled with this dreadful diagnosis. An advocate for skin cancer prevention and melanoma research, I volunteer with non-profit organizations by fundraising, lending my voice through personal testimonials and op-ed columns, mentoring other late-stage melanoma patients, engaging congressional staffers on the merits of upcoming appropriation bills (to fund more research), and, finally, by analyzing research proposals as a patient member of scientific review panels.

In my own words? With good fortune comes greater responsibility.

When you get the opportunity, go back and the read my story—either on Facebook or on StoryBoard Memphis. Thanks.

And, as always, thanks for listening.

Note:  If you want to leave a comment, just choose “Anonymous” from the Profile Selection drop down bar right below the Comment box. (It’s the very last choice.) Sorry for any confusion.

Also, please make sure you leave your name or sign-in somewhere in your comment. Thanks.

Writer’s Note – I’ll continue to update my blog on a periodic basis. No set schedule. So, I want to thank everyone who continues to stop by and check out my blog. Please leave a comment or message; I’d love to hear from you. 

And The Beat Goes On…

February 4, 2021 – Before I get started, I want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone for your thoughts, prayers, support, and kind words. It means the world to me—and to my family.

Today’s message is The Beat Goes On, which, you might recall, is the title of a famous song (1967!) by Sonny & Cher. (You gotta love those haircuts and the furry vests in the song’s video.)

Waiting and Wondering

As I posted on Facebook, today’s scan results showed no changes—either positive or negative—and no new or questionable tumors. So, overall, it was a good day. I’ll certainly take “stable disease” over anything negative. Frankly, I was hoping to see some significant reduction in my right adrenal gland tumor, but immunotherapy treatments can be a long and exhausting fight.

So, the beat goes on.

Round 7

Today’s visit to the West Cancer Center was long but seemed to go by quickly. A lot of waiting and wondering. It was an afternoon filled with lab work, IV insertion, contrast dye, CT scan, office consultation, and, of course, my seventh infusion of Keytruda.

According to the nurse practitioner, my lab results (blood work, etc.) looked great, so my body continues to tolerate the Keytruda. As I’ve written previously, how your body processes the medicine is almost as important as whether or not the medicine is working. And, yes, I suffer from side effects—a lot of them—but they could be worse, much worse.

So, the beat goes on.

And The Beat Goes On…

So, the beat goes on…in my melanoma journey and in the world. As our lives get back to normal—or, what passes for normal nowadays—I sincerely hope that everyone remains healthy, happy, and safe. We all need to take a deep breath, slowly let it out, and look forward to enjoying the things that really matter.

Anyway, thanks for listening, and in the immortal words of Sony Bono…La de da de de, la de da de da.

And the beat goes on, yes, the beat goes on

And the beat goes on, and the beat goes on
The beat goes on, and the beat goes on

Note: My apologies if you end up with this song stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

Note:  If you want to leave a comment, just choose “Anonymous” from the Profile Selection drop down bar right below the Comment box. (It’s the very last choice.) Sorry for any confusion.

Also, please make sure you leave your name or sign-in somewhere in your comment. Thanks.

Writer’s Note – I’ll continue to update my blog on a periodic basis. No set schedule. So, I want to thank everyone who continues to stop by and check out my blog. Please leave a comment or message; I’d love to hear from you. 

‘Some Pretty Good News’

December 3, 2020 – My oncologist walked into the examination room and, as he sat down, proclaimed, “Well…we have some pretty good news.”

Yes, I’m smiling.

The good news? Today’s CT scan showed that one of the tumors in my lungs had a 30 to 40 percent reduction. The other key lung tumor remained just about the same, and the tumor/blood mass around my right adrenal gland stayed pretty much the same. Yes, pretty good news indeed.

A Systematic Boost

Immunotherapy medicines, such as Keytruda, are meant to boost the body’s natural immune system in order to fight cancer–melanoma, in my case. These medicines, however, can have some serious side effects. My blood work showed that I am tolerating this new drug fairly well. That is another bit of good news!

Another Round on Me

A grumpy old man.

Today was also my fourth round of treatment (infusion). The immunotherapy infusion process is fairly quick and easy. As I stated in Science, Real Science, the preparation process takes longer than the infusion. Today, however, the West Cancer Center was on-the-ball, so we were in and out in less than four hours. 

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

While my lab work showed good tolerance of Keytruda, my body’s response has been all over the place. I have really good days – lots of energy with little pain – and I have some really bad days when I’m unable to do much without a lot of effort. Fortunately, I’ve only had a couple of “ugly” episodes. My hope is that those episodes are few and far between.

I’ll trade the fatigue, lethargy, minor pain, and everything else if it means my cancer is under-control.

On wings of hope.

New Year…New Hope?

Finally, 2020 has been a helluva year – to say the least. My hope is that everything gets better, or back to ‘normal’ or something. It’s got to be better than what we have right now.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a Happy New Year. I plan to. And I plan to celebrate many more New Years to come.

Thanks, as always, for listening.



Note:  If you want to leave a comment, just choose “Anonymous” from the Profile Selection drop down bar right below the Comment box. (It’s the very last choice.) Sorry for any confusion.

Also, please make sure you leave your name or sign-in somewhere in your comment. Thanks.

Writer’s Note – I’ll continue to update my blog on a periodic basis. No set schedule. So, I want to thank everyone who continues to stop by and check out my blog. Please leave a comment or message; I’d love to hear from you. 


The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

September 5, 2020 – Much of our August was spent at the West Cancer Center: blood tests, CT scans, an ultrasound, another CT scan, and, finally, a wonderful needle biopsy. Throw in a couple visits with my oncologist, further lab tests, along with a PET scan, and August was a month I’d like to do without.

Why all the visits? You may recall from my last health update on July 6th (Doctor, Doctor…) that – since early June – my doctors were monitoring a blood mass in and around my right adrenal gland. 

September 3rd sunset: a reminder
to enjoy the beautiful things
life has to offer.

Here’s an excerpt:

Now For Something Completely Different

There was, however, something completely unexpected on the scan results. A fairly large mass – about 2 1/2 inches – on or around my right adrenal gland. The adrenal gland sits on top of each kidney. The radiology oncologist called it a heterogeneous mainly low density mass. Basically, it looks like I had some internal bleeding either in or around my adrenal gland.

Testing, testing…1, 2, 3…testing…

On August 7th I had an ultrasound to determine if there was any tissue with the blood mass surrounding my adrenal gland. The ultrasound did show tiny tissue fragments, so I immediately underwent a needle biopsy utilizing CT scan technology.

A needle biopsy is exactly what it sounds like. An area of skin is deadened and a (somewhat) long needle inserted into your body at the spot to be biopsied. Unfortunately, you remain awake during the entire procedure. It’s painful and weird – the only way to describe it.

Note: The biopsied tissue samples were sent off for detailed genetic evaluation (biomarkers).

A little over a week later, on August 18, 2020, I had a PET scan. Doctors use a PET scan to determine if any cancer – metastatic melanoma, in my case – has spread to other parts of your body, including your lymph nodes.

PET scans utilize a radioactive tracer that is injected into your bloodstream. To be effective, your body must be completely at rest for an hour or more.

Glowing in the Dark

Here’s a brief description of what a PET scan is like:

I shuffled into a cold room with a hard terrazzo floor. In the room’s middle sits a large scanning machine. Plastic. Metal. Intimidating. At this point, I was exhausted. Ready to go home. I hadn’t eaten in over 8 hours, and I’d had no caffeine today. None! It was almost three in the afternoon.

Plus, I had just spent the past hour sitting in a small dark room doing nothing. Nothing. Just sitting, trying to relax, while radioactive isotopes coursed through my body…I think I slept for 15 or 20 minutes while in that little room.

After being strapped down to the hard plastic “bed” of the scanner, I was inserted into the metal and plastic donut hole several times. Many people refer to CT and PET scanners as donut fillers. Another 25 minutes went by before we finished.

Now the hard part

The waiting game began a few weeks ago and will be over soon. At that point, we’ll know the biomarker testing results and the results of my PET scan. Then we’ll know the next direction in my journey.

Thanks, as always, for listening.

Note:  If you want to leave a comment, just choose “Anonymous” from the Profile Selection drop down bar right below the Comment box. (It’s the very last choice.) Sorry for any confusion.


Also, please make sure you leave your name or sign-in somewhere in your comment. Thanks.

Writer’s Note – I’ll continue to update my blog on a periodic basis. No set schedule. So, I want to thank everyone who continues to stop by and check out my blog. Please leave a comment or message; I’d love to hear from you.