Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chemo and Christmas, Part 1

My last infusion of Round 1 of the latest attempt at chemotherapy, this time with Avastin, was on the 4th of December. Just prior to that, on the 1st, I had an office visit with Dr. Amatruda. I was almost set to throw in the towel on this latest bit of chemo, but before I got to it, he had talked me into continuing at least a second round and then seeing what a scan might show us. I did my best to schedule this second round to straddle Christmas in hopes of making the best of the time. My first trip to the Chair of Lengthy Naps was on Dec. 21.

Brooke, now 15, has issues. Lots and lots of issues. But something made her decide that she hates Coon Rapids High School and the only solution was to give up on it. Her behavior around here has been, to put it nicely, not all that stress-free for either Angie or me. So her choice to try school back in Mandan and return to living with her dad was agreed upon. But we had one last chaotic weekend before loading her up for our journey to Bismarck for Christmas.

My nephew Michael chose to fly round-trip from Seattle to Minneapolis, and to join us when we went to Bismarck. At first we weren't sure how to go about this, as 5 people and all the stuff in just Angie's Trailblazer would have been a tight pack. But since the summer Angie had wanted me to take my pickup to Bismarck so we could return a day bed back to Angie's folks (another story involving Brooke, wouldn't you know). So the idea hit me that perhaps Michael could drive the Silverado with the bed and other things now that Brooke would be taking back.

Michael got in on Friday the 18th and spent the weekend with us here. On Monday he took me to and picked me up from my chemo appointment. And then things got a little rough for me. We needed to pack up the truck to head out on Tuesday. I'm generally worn out and try to rest after chemo, but this wasn't really an option this time. We got the bed loaded on my truck and started packing the Trailblazer. I thought Brooke had brought all of her bags downstairs, and it didn't look too bad. We all needed rest, and tried to hit the hay at a reasonable hour to start the next day.

And then Tuesday came. Brooke had more and more and more things in her room; it was like a clown car when final loading time came. So packing everything in took a lot more time than expected and more work than I was physically ready to handle. And when we were finally packed up, at a late-starting time of about 10am -- nearly guaranteeing that we would not get to Bismarck in daylight -- Angie couldn't start her Trailblazer. The battery was dead.

We managed to get if jump-started, but Angie was about ready to go through the roof. She wanted a new battery on the spot. I really couldn't argue given what had happened, and that her "car" (as I still call it) is now over 5 years old and has a lot of accessories inside. Plus I was in no shape to argue with Angie; standing was almost becoming an issue.

We went to Pep Boys and got a new battery installed. And I think we were finally able to head out of town about noon. I went with Michael in my truck and we followed Angie and the girls. There was a bit of soap opera drama going on in all of this as well, but this post is looking like it will be long enough already.

We made it to Bismarck fine but a bit late in the evening. I was very worn out, though.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Quite the Eventful Day

Thursday the 9th of December started out a fairly normal day. Angie had to open at the Zimmerman store, Brooke went to school, and I started my day getting Heather ready for school. Heather had had a bit of a cough for several days, but never had a fever and seemed fine otherwise. It was cold that day, and I couldn't find Heather's backpack, so I dropped her off closer to school and walked her in so I could tell her teacher she was missing anything that she might need in the backpack.

I had a bit of an appetite, and I wasn't going to pass on this increasingly rare condition, so I had some lunch about 12:30. I was surprised to hear Angie come in a few minutes later. To me it is a given not to call or in any way assume anything other than the fact that Angie is very busy during lunch hour when she is working. So I was not expecting her until closer to 2:00.

She had gone to work at the new Zimmerman, MN Hardee's greatly in part to the fact that she wanted to work with Barb. Barb was the manager of the Elk River store that Angie had most recently worked at. I was never very keen about Zimmerman because it was almost twice as far as Elk River that I already thought was a bit far.

Well, Angie had a story to tell about her day, but the short version is that Barb to "promoted" to a position in which she would not be managing the Zimmerman store. Needless to say, Angie was pretty upset. She has had issues with some of the other people, and at 3am I imagine the drive suddenly did not seem as short as it once might have. Really the only thing that was keeping her tolerant of working in Zimmerman was Barb. She told the new manager that she was going home and said she didn't care to work there anymore. It was sort of an ultimatum: she'd work in the Anoka store, but not Elk River nor Zimmerman; if that didn't work, she would be quitting.

After listening to the tale, I went back upstairs to continue working from home. Angie left the house about 3:40 to pick up Heather. About 3:55, I got a call from the school: they said Heather was puking and we'd need to pick her up from the nurse's office. I called Angie to let her know. And in the meantime, I scheduled an appointment for after-hours care, which wouldn't be until 7:00.

When Heather got home, she looked like heck. We took her temperature, but she wasn't above 100. But not even an hour later, I checked again and she was over 102. So the two of them packed up and went to the ER. I am not really supposed to be around sick people during chemo, so a hospital isn't the best place -- well, the waiting room at least. Besides, I needed to wait until Brooke got home from wherever. She had skipped coming home right after school like she is supposed to, and I had little idea where she was or how to find her (she has a way of making this the case).

As I waited, I tried calling Angie a couple of times. I knew that her phone needed to be off in the ER, but it's tough just waiting. Angie was able to sneak a quick call and gave me an update. I could even hear in the background that Heather sounded better after they were able to get her fever down. But she had pneumonia and they would be admitting her to the hospital.

Angie called several more times with updates, from the ER, from the room they were admitted to, and kept me up to date. During this time, I was still waiting for Brooke. And I was deciding that if we had flu?/pneumonia in the house, with me on chemo, and having just few out-of-the-ordinary (for me) coughs and a tightness in my chest, I figured I'd probably want to get myself checked as well.

And I waited and I waited and I waited for Brooke to get home. She was supposed to be home by 9:00, but I hadn't seen her by then. It was finally about 9:30 that she was making something in the kitchen that she made her presence known. She insisted she was home by 9:00 but went right downstairs. Sneaking out, skeaking in, she is never easy. Loud all the rest of the time, but not when I need it.

Well, I grabbed a bag with some things for Angie and quickly headed out the door. I stopped at McDonald's and grabbed Angie something to eat on the way. I came up to visit Heather fairly briefly and drop things off. She looked like she was doing a lot better. But apparently she was still having a hard time keeping food down.

Then I went to the ER. There wasn't a line, so things went somewhat quickly. But it was still a lot of waiting for test results. Blood draw and wait for the result. Chest Xray and wait for the result. They didn't find any pneumonia or flu, so that was good. But something in the results made them look for a possible blood clot in the lungs. I think one of the chemicals in my chemo has some clotting behavior to it. So they also got me in for a CT. Eventually, they ruled me pretty much okay, maybe with some bronchitis.

I visited Heather and Angie again briefly before leaving, but it was already 1am. They still looked pretty good, although trying to rest and not all that comfortable. I stopped at Walgreen's on the way home to fill my prescription, and in my wait time went for a quick look for something to eat. The only place open at that hour was White Castle. Not what I'd hoped for, since I hadn't eaten since lunch, I was damn hungry.

I got home a bit after 1:30. And I was disappointed with Brooke for being up downstairs and later discovering that one of the first things she did after I left was go into our room and grab Angie's laptop (which she is suppposed to ask permission for before every time she uses it). She has a way with taking these little opportunities to impress us with her maturity and failing rather miserably.

Friday morning I was scheduled to go to the clinic for lab work (meaning a blood draw). I didn't sleep well, and I was up by 7am, even though after trying to unwind I hadn't gone to sleep until after 3am. Well, I needed to let work know that I'd be doing my best to work from home. And I tried to call the clinic and see if I could skip out on the blood work -- if they could use last night's results from the ER.

I did skip it, my callback didn't come until 9:20, and I was scheduled to be there at 9:20. But Dr. Amatruda's nurse let me know that I didn't need to come in and that they could use the ER results. Or if anything, for me just to stay home and rest and if they need a different test that they'd call me back for Monday.

But in the process of discussing blood and test results, she let me know that the tumor on the 2nd thorasic had grown. And that a new one was spotted on the 12th. And, as a later call from the radiologists also mentioned, that there might be some cancer in my lung, but that they thought it was most likely mucus.

Later, Angie had called to let me know how Heather was doing. She also let me know that the school called and said the Brooke had some injury to her hand and that Angie needed to come pick her up. Angie was not happy about that, and looking at Brooke's hand later we had no idea why she needed to be taken out of school.

I was having a bit of a time trying to work, and had fallen asleep around noon or so. I missed my Friday call with my manager and felt pretty bad about it. Later I did call a co-worker about the software we're working with, but he pretty much tabled things until Monday.

Heather was released from the hospital in the afternoon. Brooke was of course grounded for not coming home after school the day before. So of course when Angie went to pick up some prescriptions, Brooke left and left a note saying she'd be back about 9. I had been upstairs and Heather was watching TV downstairs when Angie left (apparently followed by Brooke). It sounded "too quiet" downstairs, so I went to check it out and learned this situation. Again we were more than a bit unimpressed with Brooke.

But Heather seemed to be doing all right, and she kept herself fairly well entertained. I did my best to keep a sharp ear for her from the upstairs as I tried to simultaneously "kept an eye" on her while trying to keep my distance because of the chemo and the reduced immunity.

All in all, it was quite the eventful 24-hour period. Frankly, I prefer a less exciting routine.

Thanksgiving 2009

I was able to enjoy a very nice Thanksgiving dinner here, and my stomach was nice enough to cooperate. Angie had to do pretty much all the work, but she did a wonderful job. I think I only helped near the end with taking the turkey out of the roaster and carving it.

And the day after Thanksgiving I had my next bit of chemo. While I was doing that, Heather visited Santa. She enjoyed it a lot.

Heather wanted to get the Christmas tree up right away, and I wanted to as well, but I didn't have it in me yet on Thanksgiving weekend. Later in the week, I was finally able to summon some energy. But I only got the tree together before I was pooped. Heather and Mandy put decorations on in the meantime. I told Heather I'd need to take them off to put on the lights and the garland, but the didn't bother Heather at all. She just got to decorate the tree twice!

I went for the last injection of this round on Friday the 4th. Angie had to work that morning, so Noel gave me a ride to the clinic and back. I had an issue with my sink in the upstairs bathroom, and I imposed on him for a little help with it. We took a quick look and then ran to Menard's and back. I bought the part, but Noel did the install and I owe him much thanks for that.

During the time I was keeping him, he had mentioned that he was going to lunch at a nearby Chinese buffet. Now I'm normally not one to get my money's worth at a buffet, even before any of this chemo stuff, so he knew I wasn't interested. But I felt hungry, and I hadn't done much outside the house, so although it probably sounds like something quite inconsequential, I asked if I could come with.

I'll be darned if I couldn't put back my money's worth at the buffet. Really! Ask Noel. I thought I'd sneak in front and pay for Noel's lunch for all he had helped me with that day. I whipped out the card ... and was told "cash or check" only. I felt about three inches tall. Tony, who we were lunching with, picked up the whole tab. So another thank-you to Tony.

The New Round of Chemo

Let's see, when we last left off, I had just had a wonderful time dealing with the nausea from my latest start of chemo. I think it was about the Monday or Tuesday after this first bit of chemo that I noticed my temperature being a little bit high. I tried my usual methods to see if it was of any concern -- usually having a smoke in the garage cools me down from a warm upstairs and I get a more accurate reading. But I was still above my 100.5: during chemo, this is the temperature at which they tell me to call in. Well, if I call in, I know they're just going to tell me to go to the ER, so I second guessed it for a while and tried to shed some clothes and what-not.

It didn't work. When I'd read 102.something I knew it was going to be another trip to the ER. Angie got the girls fed and then we all went to get me checked out. Of course it takes a while, a wait I'm sort of getting used to. After triage (I had already taken some ibuprofen or tylenol and beaten them to that part) I got a room. And they came for blood. It must have been flu season because I gave a little extra for some flu cultures. Yada yada, I forget, temperature down, prescription for Tamiflu or something and I was released. Your typical 3-4 hour ER visit when things are pretty much okay.

And things stayed okay. I was able to enjoy a very nice Thanksgiving dinner here, and my stomach was nice enough to cooperate. Angie had to do pretty much all the work, but she did a wonderful job. I think I only helped near the end with taking the turkey out of the roaster and carving it.

And the day after Thanksgiving I had my next bit of chemo. This one was a quicker push, and it seemed like I barely started by Benadryl nap and it was all over. I haven't had the greatest experience this time around. I've been visited by the nausea that I didn't have with the chemo this spring. And I seem to have been more tired and had more body aches. I was considering throwing in the towel on this latest attempt. I asked Angie what she thought, and she felt much the same.

But I brought all the info/feedback I had, good and mostly bad, and went to see Dr. Amatruda on Tuesday, Dec. 1. We discussed the many things we have to talk about. But even before I'd said I was thinking of taking a pass -- maybe he could sense it -- he explained that they prefer to go two rounds and then scan to see the results. A "round" in this case being the series of three injections. I decided to try my best to see it through. I figure I've always got a trump card that I can just say "enough" at any given time things get to be too much.

We scheduled up the next round, and I managed to straddle Christmas a bit. I'll have chemo on the 21st and 28th, and cross my fingers that in between I'm good enough for the trip to Bismarck and back for Christmas at Mom's.

And so I went for the last injection of this round on that Friday the 4th. I don't feel great. I spend a lot of time in bed and surfing the net. I am able to get some work done, too, and have been spending more time working from home. My new work PC connects with my home wireless whereas my old PC didn't, so it's been a bit easier.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Funeral Preparations

I just want to post this to make this available to those it may eventually concern. I had some of it on paper, but I wanted the online version for the links, and easier access to everybody, and easier editing, and so I'd remember where it's at, and such like that.

I would like to use the same funeral home as Dad, which would be Eastgate and Parkway Funeral Service (contact info, Eastgate: 701-223-7322, Parkway: 701-223-1100). In particular, it was the Parkway location that was used for Dad. That would be fine by me, but the Eastgate location would work just as well if not possibly better.

View Larger Map

I haven't worked out details with Eastgate at this time. But I did inquire about what might need to be done if I die in Minnesota. I was told that my remains would need to be handled locally first, but that they could do the service and such much like what we saw with Dad.

I contacted a local place, Gearheart Anoka Funeral Home, (763) 421-4347, and asked a few questions.

View Larger Map

I think the minimum of what would need to be done here is the following.
  • Removal of remains, $395
  • Embalming, $995
This is not everything, but a basic start. We wouldn't need to have a casket for my transportation, but I may look into caskets here. Then again, I don't know if I'll die here, so there would be a delivery issue perhaps.

The 'removal of remains' is the handling of my body after I'm dead. That is, retrieving it from wherever it lies and taking it back for embalming and what-not. I would need to be embalmed before being transported to Bismarck, but that need not involve a casket (there is a 'funeral cot' or something).

There is also a mileage charge for moving my remains to Bismarck from the Anoka funeral home. And then there are many things, it would seem, that would be charged for the rest of the funceral handling at Parkway/Eastgate in Bismarck. This could include the casket if I haven't gotten one by then. And the funeral service, whatever extras, transporting me to the cemetery.

If there is to be any church involvement, I would choose Corpus Christi. Father Becker, I guess, we would need to contact: 255-4600 (ext. 203). Also, possibly Sister Ivo Schoch, 255-3104 (ext. 208).

One last item of mention is a potential list of pall bearers: Michael Truong, James Truong, Dan Johnson, Noel Wareham, Harley Schwind, Marv Olson.

We already have the burial plot at Fairview Cemetery, (701) 223-1947, but I don't know what might need to be done for digging or whatever. It might be something that is coordinated out of the funeral home, so we'd need to call either Fairview or Eastgate/Parkway. Our location is Plat No. 12, Lot 31, Grave Nos. 15A & 15B; I believe I go in the 'B'.