Thursday, December 2, 2010


Thanksgiving has come and gone. As you'd imagine, I sort of have a lot to be thankful for this year. Chiefly, I'd like to thank the world Jimmy John's. It ain't for everybody, but it sure is for me. Oh, and thank God that I'm done with treatments. Man, did that get old, amiright?

Radiation was actually pretty reasonable comparatively. Yes, I only did it for about 3 weeks and some people go much, much longer (insert stamina/ prowess jokes), but the side effects were minimal and my energy didn't drop like it did for chemo. The worst of it was near the end where it hurt to swallow food, specifically bread. Think I'm kidding about Jimmy John's? Try giving it up for a few weeks. See that? No joke just dangles here.

The plan henceforth is thus: in about three weeks I'll visit my radiologists again for a check up. He's a roundish, bearded gentleman that kind of reminds me of that good scientist that helps you against that evil scientist (you know that guy, right?). He even has a mousy side-kick fellowship doctor to do his dirty work (not that I know what that is). I feel I'm in pretty good hands, even though I'll be out of them pretty soon. After all of that, I return to the taller, slender, Britisher doctor that is steering this ship for follow-ups and the Final Scans.

Then we're gonna party. More on that later.

So let's talk about my coif. Yes, I finally shaved my head about a month before chemo ended. I really didn't lose that much hair until more than half-way through, and by the time it was all coming to a close I was yanking out entire clumps when I would wake up in the morning. I'm not so in love with my hair, but this is a little bruising to the ego; I really thought that my particular cancer comic book would be subversive to the usual mass consumer trite. Turns out we all sell out sometime. Oh, well.

The plus side is that it is, in fact, coming in thicker than what it was before, but I'm resigned to keep it at a short, buzzed length from now on. Combine this with the copious stubble that I prefer to wear on my brick-like chin, I now resemble a more American Jason Statham (or Jason Statham resembles ME. Whatever flips your lid). But something much, much more mysterious has happened.

My immediate family is cursed, you see. Having a father and two older brothers, I can tell you this with downright scientific accuracy that the Learned men cannot reliably grow a mustache. My father, the reigning champion of the 'stached men of my family, had one when I was very young, but shaved it around tenish years ago. He finally let slip a year or two ago that it took him more than six months to grow it. To my brothers and I, whom have struggled since needing to shave in the first place to grow a flavor saver, this was like finding out that Santa existed, but he was just the foreman for the elves whom did all of the heavy lifting anyway.

Now don't get me wrong, I am in no way interested in being primarily be-stachioed. Nor am I interested in the current hipster-stache trend that follows pretentious college kids. But I likes me my beard. It's kind of punk rock lumberjack, after a fashion. But if it ain't right on the upper lip, I look more like emancipating rather than river-hogging.

Cancer, though, has somehow broken through my gene pool and mutated me in ways that nobody expected. Ladies and gentlemen, I leave you with this:

Magnum

Lee Van Cleef

Har Mar

The guy on the Pringles container

Learned

Halloween next year is going to really kick ass.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Three hours ago, I sat on a hospital bed and received my last radiation treatment.

I just fucking killed cancer.

That's right, no more treatments. No more VinBlastine. No more radiation. (Sadly) no more wacky radiologist stories. I really thought I would have deeper insight or maybe even more clever things to say, but I don't. Accept that. I just gave Hodkin's the body splash off the top fuggin' turnbuckle, Snuka style.



I will say that technically I can't say that it's all over because I have to wait about two months for final scans, but it feels like I just finished a P.Hd. today; or maybe the first time I finished Super Mario Bros. 3 without warping (have you ever F-ing tried that? 8 hours of your life gone).

I killed it. I win.

Talk to you soon

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Cancer,

Tomorrow at sun-up.

Yours,
The Guy That's Gonna Spin Kick You in the Face

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

...!

I'm so sorry I didn't post this on Halloween

A Conversation With My Radiologist (Paraphrased)


Ladies and gentlemen of the reading public, meet Rachel. At least, meet the cipher that is Rachel, because Rachel isn't her real name. Anyway...

Rachel: What are you up to this weekend?

Me: blah blah blah, probably nothing. You?

Rachel: Getting... ready to go on vacation... (insert strange awkward pauses that are telling for such a short sentence)

Me: Oh yeah? Going anywhere or staying home?

Rachel: Mexico...maybe

Me: Wait, you're going to Mexico 'maybe'?

Rachel: Yeah, my boyfriend and I are on the outs.

Me: Oh. Youch.

5 minutes later, after maximum radiation zappage...

Rachel: Ok, so my boyfriend and I are fighting kind of at the moment. Actually, we've been kind of fighting for, like, five weeks. And I'm the type of person that wants to finish conversations when they happen, he just gets up and leaves and gets wasted with his friends. Come on, a 31-year-old guy getting wasted with his friends?

Me: Um, I'm 30-

Rachel: No, I mean like every night; all the time. Now, granted, I'm 26 and there's a bit of an age difference, but I don't need anybody to take care of me; I'm super independent. He moved up here from Miami, and he was living there, but he had this crazy bitch ex-girlfriend. She had a kid, but she was all kinds of messed up: you know, probably drugs, money problems. She bought a car but he put his name on the title because of her bad money problems. Stuff like that. But this is the type of shit that just goes on all the time. He travels a lot for his job so we don't really see each other for months at a time, so I think we might still be just getting used to each other, but we've been living together since September and things are a little more testy than they should be. Both of our names are on the lease, and it's a 14 month lease because of how we dealt with the landlord, but now he's saying stuff like, "I don't know if this relationship will work the way it's going." And then I'm like, "great, I'm glad that we might go to another country and you could leave me there." And then I think, well, it is all-inclusive. If it sucks I guess I could just drink my way through it. But my brother just kind of says to me, "well, you really fucked up now." Which I guess I can agree with. He's about the same age as my boyfriend and he gives good advice. I dunno, should I go? I just need a vacation. I need a mental vacation from this place and all of that.

Me: Uh...

Rachel: It's cool. Poor Gina [another fake name for another radiologist] has been listening to this for, like, a month.

Gina: You should go.

Rachel: Yeah. I don't know.

What you should take away from this: Once you're a patient, you're family. They even save me the good coffee. I love you, Cleveland Clinic.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Look Out!


I hate long breaks.

For some reason, and this is partly my own fault for thinking this way, I was under the impression that radiation therapy would happen immediately after chemo was over. As you can probably imagine, I was dead wrong. After nearly an entire month from the Final Confrontation, conversations (yes, conversations) about my radiation treatment has begun with the promise that I will begin getting zapped come Monday.

Things to note about rads:
  1. It needs a better name than that. I'm leaning toward "Radical Throwdown," but it's a work in progress
  2. To prepare you for getting bombarded with power beams, not unlike a certain Dr. Banner, one must be aligned on a table. Sounds kind of anticlimactic, right? Well, it is, and it takes two separate hospital visits for to get it right. I'm not even joking.
  3. Supposedly, they can get you in and out of the office within 30 minutes during sessions. Except when one of their machines is down; in which case it's anybody's guess.
  4. You get tattoos. Don't be alarmed: they're simply freckle-sized dots for table alignment. Having no previous ink on my body to begin with, this also felt anticlimactic because no tequila was involved. Ho hum.

And thus, the next phase has begun. The really good news is that it's only going to be 2.5 weeks of treatment (5 days/week) instead of the originally projected 4-6, which is all kinds of gravy.

The downside? Well, the effects of chemo are starting to wear off (which is nice), but I finally had to suck it up and shave my noggin a few weeks ago because I was starting to pull clumps of hair out of my head (unsightly!). Combine this with the fact that my eyebrows are now almost completely gone and imagine walking down the street. Or through your office. Or in your larger place of work as a whole. Nobody will recognize you. Now, I'm kind of an outgoing cat but when half of the people that you walk up and say hi to basically give you the "who the fuck is this guy" look, it get's a little awkward for them and off-putting to you. Nobody's to blame, here, but it almost makes me feel like it's less worthwhile to speak to anybody. That's a little conflicting for a guy that more or less talks to people for a living.

I guess this is what they mean by the psychological effects of treatment. Be sure to bring your copy of the DSM IV for our next meeting so we're all on the same page.

Monday, September 27, 2010

And Then There Was One


Cancer keeps you from updating blogs. It also keeps you from beer, but not for long. That's right; in T minus 4 days I will be through with chemotherapy (assuming all goes according to plan, and like my dude Hannibal Smith, I love it when a plan comes together) and ready for the next phase- radiation.

This means one thing: in a few weeks when my body recovers and starts to agree with what I want it to do, I'm going to get turbodrunk. Why? Because that's how you kill cancer. Don't argue with me.

So the last chemo session was not a red letter day for manhood. As evident by my last couple of updates, I am so disconnected from reality that I may as well be an Erasure song. But sometimes timing the medication to coincide with getting drugs blasting through your veins just doesn't jibe, and things get a little sickly. Pukey, in fact; and that's exactly what happened for the first time thus far in my Cancer Odyssey. I took it like a man, though, even telling my nurse to just keep pushing that shit into my system in between vomitous hurks into a trash can. Let's hope Chemo: The Final Fight (which we may playfully call this Friday's last confrontation) goes a little better.

Anyway, hope things are well, suckas

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Worst Jokes Are The Ones You Have To Explain


So, it seems that in my incoherent state that I left out a crucial detail from last time. Here goes:

In Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan -by and large the Moby Dick of science fiction flicks- Latin Lothario Ricardo Montalban plays the eponymous Khan with a tube sticking out of his arm throughout the entire movie. Somehow, this speaks to me.

There.




And Kyle Massey, you're a champ. So let it be written.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Th Wrath

I have to do this fast because I'm sure how much time I left in coherence. Meaning, I took some meds that are making me feel a bit buzzed (something I've actually begun to miss) to keep me calm enough for the rest of today's battle with the Enemy. But the truth is that I'll be loopy pretty darn soon, so we have to make things clear:This is the arm of cancerous persecution. An image I had sworn I'd seen before. But where? Who would have gusto, the chutzpa, and most importantly the physical presence to have something like this protrude from your meat and veins? A formidable query for a lesser intellect, when it comes to asking questions like this, you should only have one answer. The only answer.

Khan Noonian Sing. Ricardo Montelbon. The Latin Lover. By our twin IVs we enjoy a magical connection that transcends space, time, and the fact that I only know him through works of fiction. I feel his smooth talking, yet Machiavellian methods of seeing old acquaintense flow through me as these amazing, yet nauseating drugs work to make sure I'm cancer free. This give me strength. Cancer, from hells heart, I stab at thee. And it's coming, buddy. Sleep wihe one eye open

So back at the chemo ward, we are the beginning of the last 3 chemotherapy session before I get RADIOACTIVE. We are watching the Price is Right, and someone just won a trip to Barbados. He seemed happy, and so did I for him, until realized that I'm still sitting in a hospital room in a bit of pain, so the Wrath kicks in and i feel disdain. This won't last, but it does feel a bit punk rock. Perhaps if this feeling continues past just chemo, I'll play some Street Fighter and show those turkeys what PAIN IS ALL ABOUT.

The drugs are working. I am spacing out now. But feel free to offer me you KHHAAAAAAAAN!! screams when I see you.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The State of Things in Casa de Cancer

First, I want to give a quick shout (or yelp, maybe) to everyone out there that's been as supportive as they have during my time of cruddymuffins (which is a term I was thinking of using in reference to cancer, but I'm already over it). It sucks that it takes a pretty nasty illness for people to come visit you and stuff, but it sure is nice to see people. Now, you can go ahead and pat yourself on the back for calling a little more often or dropping by here and there or mailing me a very sweet -but not too sweet- "get well" card, but you ain't shit compared to this guy:

video

Yes, he came to Cleveland to wish me well and help baby me after a chemo week, even going so far as to watch this with me, but he showed more mettle than anyone that claims to be helping me by attempting to eat a 4 lb. cheese sandwich. Say what you want; he did it for cancer.

Anyway, we have good news and bad news about that whole cancer thing. First, since I just watched The Expendables, I'm no longer spin kicking cancer in the face, I'm stepping on its friggin' neck. That's really violent, but it'll pass. If Van Damme was in the Expendables, we may be back to jumping spin kicks in the unsuspecting, doughy face of cancer. But since he held out for a meatier role that didn't exist (thanks, Wikipedia!), we're going with the Sly Stallone, HGH version of c-word kickassery, and that involves neck stepping. And testosterone. Lots of testosterone.

Second is the bad news, but it ain't that bad. It turns out that I'm going to have to go through radiation therapy after the chemo has ended. The odds of me actually skipping radiation was nearly infinitesimal to begin with, so I'm not exactly crushed, but still. I'm boutsta get zapped come October; hide your women and children.

The good news? It turns out that the chemo isn't just working, it's working. The largest lymph node that I had was around 4.5cm x 4.5cm (roughly the size of an ice cream truck driven by a werewolf) and is now down to around 1.5cm in diameter. My doctor -whom I'll go ahead and remind all of you is the kindliest Englishman this side of Hogwarts- is very impressed with the progress I have made up to this point, even though we're going to go ahead with the radioactive blasting of cancerous evil.

This is actually really good news. I've felt like dirt for the past few months, but not half as bad as it could have been, I guess, which made my lady and I think that this whole chemo thing didn't take. Turns out the opposite is true. There are now three more treatments to go, and I'm to the point where I'm counting down the days until I start radiation so I can be rid of my 6 hour hospital trips. Now that the thought of my own urine makes me nauseated (that is not a joke), I want to be good and done with chemotherapy, like, this afternoon.

So, I guess I'm kinda through with the whole "sick with cancer" thing. I mean, it was cool in the beginning and all...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Gimme Some'a That Old Time-

Religion. Let's talk about it.

In life-threatening situations -which mine only falls under the "kind of" category, really- personal and public discussions of faith and spirituality are par for the course. Even if you don't subscribe to it, people will do it for you. To prove this, you may ask my mother about the small battalion of priests and nuns along the eastern seaboard (none of whom I've met) that have me in their thoughts and prayers. Since I kinda like being a big deal, I dig that.

But religion in general is worth discussing, and I suppose now is as good a time as any. So here's my nickel version.

There is certainly a trend with people my age (or so) that find that what they grew up with spiritually to be some sort of hoax or vindictively evil wolf in sheep's clothing (a Biblical ref!). To be sure, a lot of those people have had some trouble in their lives reconciling who they are as an adult with what they were taught as children. It seems only natural to feel, well, disenfranchised at least with the notion of a belief system that it seems has turned their back on them. Others, however, simply grow older and realize that maybe God or Allah or whatever just wasn't for them. That's where the resentment starts, mostly because they were forced to swallow the bad medicine of faith for their entire upbringing. And we all know that the only cure for the illness of a strict youth is the the freedom that adulthood affords you to make your own decisions.

Most of that is bullshit. I am not an embittered. I'm a realist.

As my man Winston tells it, I dig Jesus' style, you know? However, do I have the piety that came with mass on Sunday, Catechism afterward, a family rosary later that night, prayer group on Wednesday, school mass during a weekday, and the wide variety of first Saturday rituals? Mmmmmmno. To be fair, my church-going antics are very minimal these days, but that doesn't mean that I finished college (and then The Worst Year of My LifeTM) angry and dismissive about it. Enlightened about the world around me and my place in it perhaps, but it was more so that my take on things changed, not its take on me.

Now if you aren't down with going to temple or something every week anymore, ok. I get it. Starting a theological fist fight about it is not really in my realm, and honestly, I don't give a fuck. But to be angry and dismissive about it can render you a callous butthole of a person for two reasons:

For one, you're not thinking pragmatically for what you already got out of it. Look, if you are a 2o-year old kid that's just read his first Don DeLillo novel and is telling me that God is bullshit, I'll first shake your hand at reading a Don DeLillo novel, then ask you why. If you tell me that it's because you feel like you were lied to you in your whole life, the point you missed flew over your head at the altitude of a Learjet.

Sure, maybe God really is bullshit. I mean, who can say, really? But even the act of taking part in it on a ceremonial level grants you, at least as a supplement, academic and social connections. Can you tell me the story of Moses? Maybe not everybody can, or even get all of the details right, but you can probably throw me the gist of it. First, that tells me that you're imaginative enough to retell something that you probably haven't really talked about since you were either 8 or the last time you watched a Charlton Heston movie. It also tells me, if you're clever enough to read between the lines, that you know the origin of Superman, because it's basically the same thing. Let's list what we've gotten already: either reading or oral comprehension because you can recall the tale, a use for mental imagery because you probably didn't think of the story as a page of text in your head, plot development if you get most of it right, and synthesis with modern culture if you pegged the connection to the Last Son of Krypton.

Let's think more holistically then. Say you're a Shintoist 12-year-old living in downtown Tokyo. If I asked you to drop your DS (even though I know you're playing Dragon Quest IX. Me too!), pick up the nearest mechanical pencil, and jam it in the neck of the cook at the ramen shop that you're in, you would not only scream in terror at the notion (and me), but also run as far as possible from the entire situation as you could. The lesson here: Judaeo-Christian beliefs don't have the market cornered on being cool with people. It doesn't take the Ten Commandments to tell you that you probably shouldn't embezzle by means of salami slicing (another Superman reference! (albeit a shitty one)) or sleep with another man's wife to tell you that you probably shouldn't. That, friends, is a cultural thing. We have laws in place for a reason (yes, I know infidelity isn't exactly illegal, but still), and they are built on a fundamental set of rights and wrongs that had to start with something. Religion just seems like a good focal point, if anything.

If a god being(s) doesn't exist, then fine. I figure we're all gonna figure it out eventually. To disregard the uses of it on a utilitarian level, though, is asinine. You can rag on how it was planted there, but these things got in there somehow.

The second way of being a callous butthole is to realize that there are people out there, quite a lot, actually, that really need this stuff. I'm sure that all of you out there have ways to either disprove X faith's existence or to put somebody in a state of catatonic shock if provoked enough with your evidence that Jesus was probably black (or at least Mediterranean) or whatever. I have a couple of doozies myself that I hold on to for just such occasions with overly zealous bible-thumping assholes, so I get that, too. I know that this is a lot less quantitative than the first reason to not be a jerk, but people have to realize that not all deeply spiritual people are the ones that hit you over the head with it. Yes, there are folks out there that tell you in normal conversation to have a blessed day, or that, through the guidance or whatever deity, they were able to accomplish whatever mundane daily feet, but that doesn't mean they're going to sit down with you and pressure you to have some sort of spiritual revelation on the spot and change your viewpoint.

I have known people, emphasis on "known," that would begin a verbal confrontation with someone because of something as minor as the mention of Christ outside of an expletive context. I ask you, who's the real dick here? Some people have hard lives and others don't, to be sure. But some people have just gone their whole lives just believing. Believing in something bigger than themselves. Believing in something to hold on to for comfort when they get old. Or, shit, believing because they've just believed for so long. To take that away from them by pointing out holes in the dogma doesn't make you a jerk, or an awful person, or even a butthole. It makes you the guy that tried to take away something that certain people hold on to more than life itself. I can't live with that.

If anything, I almost envy many of them. They believe in something so deeply and passionately that they say "fuck the problems, this is meaningful for me." The older I get, and the more detached I become to material possessions (as people should when they get older), the more I find that I just don't hold anything outside of the people I love in such high regard. I appreciate that kind of devotion. Christianity, and obviously Catholicism specifically, has had a lot of its faithful shaken by recent scandal, and for good reason. But the real believers, the ones that are quietly built on this stuff, those are the people I feel sorry for, and that I respect that much more. The cornerstone of what defines them is constantly getting hit with a jackhammer these days, but they stay strong for a greater good. You gotta give them that.

I don't really go to church that much anymore. I don't pray as often as I used to. But God and I, we're kinda like me & Mrs. Jones: we got a thing goin' on (please don't analyze the lyrics, it just fit). I get that there are problems. I hate that your faiths hate people. I got some questions about Satan. But you better believe that I'll ask before I go to sleep tonight, right before I thank you for keeping my friends and family healthy.

So believe if you want. Or not. Even with a lack of organized religion you can still find something to live for; friends, loved-ones, whatever. I'm just a little done with trendy bashing of belief, so let's just move and agree that it ain't for everybody.

But I make it work.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Insert Stupid Bon Jovi Reference

On the road trip that is spin kicking cancer in the face, I find that I am just about halfway there. This means that there's gonna be a rest stop in there someplace. Now, I'm a pretty well-traveled cat, and I like me some rest stops, especially ones with clean bathrooms and decent coffee. But that deviates from the subject. Pack your bags, Cancer, you're halfway killed.

To clarify, my chemo treatments are set for a bi-weekly four month period. The fourth treatment of that was yesterday. Though I'm starting to feel more effects of each treatment as they happen, I'm pretty pumped to know that I'm two months down with two months to go. It makes me want to have a beer, but this being a treatment weekend, I think I'd just end up wearing it. You can thank me for that image later.

Have a good weekend, peoples.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Who Loves You


Yesterday was another typical shower before Holy Coffee. Things went as you'd expect: there was soap and water and a towel and delusions that it may actually be Saturday, and I'm up for no reason. When I snapped out of it, I found them. They were sitting on my shoulder haphazardly, like I rolled over in bed and they just stuck to me. Then I looked over at the other shoulder and reality steamrolled me like the Bull Charge to Little Mac: I'm finally going chemobald.

Now I've been pretty lucky with this whole cancer thing so far, but there are times when you just can't escape what's really going on here, and that's the fact that the C Note (another great title for a cancer blog, BUT NOT THIS ONE, FOOL) is really the master plan of the Hair Club for Men gone horribly awry. Oh, you scoff, but see it as I do: businessmen with newly regrown flaxen locks chide their woes in a board room when one of them says, "hey, fellas, I think I figured it out. First, we make people kinda sick. Not too sick, but it'll suck monkey nuts all the same. During the treatment process, we invent a drug called VinBLASTine [editor's note, actually the way it's labeled] that will also kill your hair follicles! Hand over fist, I tell ya! Hand over fist!" Stupid fake hair people.

To be fair, my hairline is on the same trajectory as Caine from Kung Fu; it is slowly wandering from one end of the globe to the other. It's been this way since my late teens. Knowing that hair loss was a possibility with my treatment, I was mentally prepared for my dome to be exposed for all the world to see after I first heard the happy news. Not to beat that dead horse, though, but it's different for everybody. My nurse, Julie (a lieutenant in the war), even warned me not to do anything drastic like shaving my head because I may thin out, I may go totally bald, or I may just be the hairy bastard I've always been.

Here's another wacky thing about going chemobald: it's gonna grow back, and chances are, it's gonna be totally different. There are not-too-uncommon reports of people gaining natural curls and even different colors post-treatment, so let's dare to dream and speculate together, just you and me...


You may not know how metal I am. Well, I'm fucking metal. So metal, in fact, that I don't need any face paint to let you know how serious I am about my metalocity. Never mind the smirk; it's just there to throw you from the trail. Fun Fact: I am wailing on a flying-V in this same picture, some idiot intern just cropped it a little too much. That kid's fired.




So you thought I'd make a Kung Fu reference and just leave it, didn't you? Silly reader, Kung Fu is like a high five: you can't just let it hang. In a past life, my Wing Kong brothers and I freed David Lo Pan from the Hell of 1000 Upside Down Sinners. Know what the key ingredient was in that martial arts pie? ME, TURKEYS. Now I'm going to put cancer in the same kind of Shaolin-style grip. Just wait.






This requires no explanation. I want it to happen. Badly.

Fingers crossed, everybody!

Friday, July 23, 2010

PSA: The Funky Cancer Train May Be Coming To Your Town


...if your town happens to be Toledo, OH. Yes, it's that time again; time for me to leave my spicy wife, my comfy couch, and my gi-fucking-gantinc television to bring the Cleveland gospel to the rest of Ohio's youth.

For those of you that don't know what I'm talking about, I'm surprised you're reading this blog (but not too surprised. Cancer is hilarious). I'll sum it up for you: I don't recruit students, I sell dreams. Period.

OK, let me start over. I work for a large state school located in Northeast Ohio. I'll let your acute powers of deductive reasoning guide you to which one. Anyway, as an admissions cat, I travel in the fall months from Monday afternoon to Friday evening hitting high schools, college fairs, and other special events planned for kids, parents, and high school guidance staff. It's a strange sort of working vacation. Meaning, I get to leave my desk for about a month and a half for some new sights (and bad restaurant food) at the expense of being away from my home for most of the week. It's really great for a week or two, then gets a little old, but that's what keeps The Man paid and off my back.

Anyway, since contracting the 'itus, I have to start avoiding large crowds because my immune system is kind of kaput. That means ixnay on the college fairs, which is a problem for a guy like me. True, it's best to meet with students face to face in high schools to properly give them the time they need to hear my pitch and comprehend it, but missing college fairs means missing lots of kids. Plus, I start radiation therapy at the beginning of October, and that shit's everyday, man. I can't get zapped and then drive to Toledo right after.

So the solution is thus: I'll be carrying a limited engagement in the Northwestern Ohio area between September 1(ish)-September 30. Most exhibitions will be one night only, but check your upcoming listings and invitations for show times and feets of skill and strength.

Come say hi, too.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Behold...


This was my last beer. Gaze upon its size, bottle volume, and angry gargoyle. That, friends, was a tasty beverage. It was also the last stop on the bus tour of tubby guts before my forced cancer diet. I look back at it fondly, mostly because I'm proud to know that I was coherent enough to take this photo, but I don't exactly miss it.

The thing with The Drugs(TM) is that there are things that you are no longer aloud to do and things that you no longer remotely want to do. Case in point: hooch. Yes, I do miss coming home from work, cracking one open, and playing Street Fighter until my main squeeze gets home. But after a few rounds of chemo, the thought of ingesting something that not only has a hopped flavor but also potentially makes me vomit (but that's a stretch, my tolerance is that of a rhino) (sorry, not to brag) sounds about as enticing as a bowl of Cheetos swimming in vinegar and grape jelly.

Yes, there are certain restrictions that I have had to adjust to after beginning The War on Cancer. Sobriety is one of them. As well as limited amounts of caffeine and lunch meat that must be toasted before serving. You'd think for as much as I tended to drink on weekends and the vast amount of coffee that I drink that it would be tough. Actually, my next point makes it easy. And by that, I mean that most food looks vile and disgusting now.

I eat a lot of peanut butter. Tons, even. In fact, I have a jar of reduced fat Jif and a loaf of bread in my office at work at all times. My coworkers used to poke fun at me because of this (they now come begging for food). I'm also a big pretzel guy, though there isn't anything more to say about that. Now, take my two favorite foods and fuse them together. Three months ago, it was the perfect storm. Just looking at them now makes my stomach turn. So it goes in Chemoville; what's up is down and what's yummy is putrid.

The plus side: Hamburger Helper is still really, really good.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Things I Shouldn't Be Doing But I Am, OR: Everything is Irradiated

And now, a wall of text.

Early Monday morning, Cleveland Heights native Harvey Pekar passed away. Though no cause has been made clear so far, Pekar had struggled from lymphoma 15ish years ago, and reports on the internet tell me that he also had prostate cancer late in life. He was 70. You might know him from his appearance, and Paul Giamatti's portrayal of him, in the 2003 American Splendor film based on his life and his work in underground comics.

I'm not going to go into detail about the guy because it would be more fun for you to at least rent the movie and find out for yourself. He seemed like a cool guy to me, and this is the measuring stick I often use to judge most people in the public eye (George Clooney seems to make a career out of it, as did Paul Newman), but it seems that I'll never really have a chance to find out. I will say, though, that I've actually had multiple opportunities to meet him personally that I've always passed on. Not for a lack of wanting, I just always seemed to have something better to do. Plus, I never actually read any of the comics that he wrote, so I think I would have just come off as some sycophantic schlub. I'd like to think I saved him the trouble of giving one more person the old stink eye by waiting until I had first hand knowledge of his work.

Funny, then, that my hip-chick wife reserves Our Cancer Year, a graphic novel about Pekar's struggle with illness prophetically just before his death. She did it based on interest alone, not the irony that he had lymphoma and so do I. I'm sure it wasn't completely lost on her, but when we were having a conversation about it Monday evening, the look of realization on her face that maybe this is or isn't the right book to have at the moment was kind of priceless. I appreciate the thought, but she didn't need to be sensitive about it; I'll read it anyway and probably enjoy it.

It will also fit into a current trend that I must have subconsciously started right when I found out that I had the Big C. I really don't know if it's questionable practice or just fate's wacky sense of irony, but here's a list of stuff I probably should be avoiding, but have decided not to...

Fallout 3
A friend of mine pointed out that I play video games like you read books or watch TV; meaning very often. A few months ago, I bought an Xbox 360 and basically opened a vein and began mainlining games that were either exclusive to the console or that friends of mine have been meaning to force me to play. One of these was last year's superb post-apocalyptic Fallout 3 where you play the role of a man born and raised in massive nuclear fallout shelter hundreds of years after the world goes to shit only to be forced to leave it and forge a new life for yourself in the wasteland that was Washington DC. In this vast expanse of dilapidated buildings and rusted, mangled cars, one of the things that you have to be keenly aware of for survival (outside of mutated dogs and Mad Max-esque gangs) is your ever-increasing radiation levels. Drink some water, get irradiated. Take a potty break, get irradiated.

So, when my surgeon called me to confirm that I, in fact, had Hodgkin's, it was at that moment when my ex-vault-dwelling hero -we'll call him Marvin- relieved himself and received a small spike on his ersatz Geiger counter. I found this weirdly fitting that very soon from this moment, I would also be doused with these invisible rays to try to keep me alive. You may think that this had me scared shitless, but I am not a weaker man. No sir. Think of the benefits: Spiderman was bitten by a radioactive spider, The Incredible Hulk was bombarded with gamma rays, all four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles swam through radioactive ooze to get where they are. I could go on, but you get the point. I'm going to breed an army of super soldiers, and I'll be their Professor X. And when the world needs saving and injustice is crushed, you can thank Fallout 3 for getting us there. Then you can thank me.

Dante's Inferno
No, no, not the epic poem. The other video game that I should have stayed away from. In it, Dante Alighieri is reimagined as a soldier from the first Crusade that returns home after a brief scuffle with Death himself to found his wife, Beatrice, murdered and her soul taken to Hell. Dante takes it upon himself to descend into the underworld to bring her back. Yes, this really is the plot of the game.

Dante's trek through the Nine Circles is as graphic as it is dark, but you'll have that when you take a trip through Hell. During the game, we find that our hero wasn't exactly the nicest guy: not only did he cheat on his wife, he killed countless innocent prisoners during his time in the Middle East and threw his brother-in-law under the bus for it. Dude was kind of a dirt bag. But we get that he's sorry for it, and he makes no bones about staying in the netherworld after springing his main squeeze from the clutches of, you know, Lucifer.

Now, I have a pretty good attitude about the whole cancer thing, but times like this make you think about the afterlife a little more often than usual. When your super angry protagonist is going through each individual realm of the dead, it's hard not to reflect on your own life and wonder if you might end up a moaning corpse that some ex-crusader is going to use as a ladder. I'll go ahead and spoil it for you in that Dante makes it out of Hell, and (hopefully) so will I, but the mind wanders even if what you're playing is ultimately mindless.

Breaking Bad
This same friend that observed my video game playing habits and I were talking about TV shows that we like one day. He's a pretty big Breaking Bad fan, a series on A&E about a high school chemistry teacher that finds out that he has terminal lung cancer so he reasons that his life kinda stinks, so he'll start a meth lab to bank some money for his family before he kicks the bucket. "Maybe you shouldn't watch it right now," he says.

But he's wrong! So wrong! The whole show reminds me of a quote from singer/songwriter/cool guy Warren Zevon, who also died of mesothelioma. When his doctors told him that he only had so much time to live, they encouraged him to quit smoking and begin treatment that would confine him physically. He basically told them to fuck off and recorded The Wind, a collaborative album with a variety of other artists (like Bruce Springsteen, but we'll get to him in a second) that became the crowning achievement of his musical career. Zevon knew he was going to die but he wasn't going to let him get in the way of ensuring his legacy, and I think that's something we can all appreciate.

If I found that I was also terminal, would I start a meth lab? Probably not. I would, however, make damn sure that the people that I have loved are taken care of in some way, even if I have to call every artistic friend that I know to create something to let them know that I'll miss them when I'm gone and that I'll be there when they need me. Maybe Springsteen will play on the soundtrack, too.

The Gaslight Anthem's American Slang
Like a lot of people, I've always had a love/hate relationship with age. Everybody wants all of the benefits of it (i.e. drinking, voting, respect of small children, the knowledge that if you want a twinkie you can just go get one) but without any of the consequences (i.e. wrinkles, mortgages, cancer, the fat that comes with twinkies). Age has been a recurring theme in a lot of the creative work that I've done in my life from photography projects in college to the writing I occasionally do for video game websites every now and then. I even started a novel about it about 10 years ago that I'll probably never finish. That's age's other big problem, stuff just gets in the way.

The Gaslight Anthem is a band that seems to understand this. On American Slang, their third album, singer Brian Fallon's imagery shifted from big cars/need for fame/lost love Springsteen homage that their last album, the fantastic The '59 Sound, dove so deeply into. Instead, the Jersey quartet found a liking to other frequent motifs that The Boss developed over time: fear of getting old, reflection once you get there, the regrets that come with it, and what to do next. Clearly, if The '59 Sound was their Born to Run, then American Slang is The River.

Frequent allusions to past youth creep in early in the album and are laced subtly throughout. The second track, "Stay Lucky," speaks of moving on past moments that never arrive and how you're "never gonna find it/ when your knees, they got so weak/ but it's right here/ when you need it/ like when you were young/ and everybody used to call you lucky." Noticeably less punk and more mid tempo than their previous work (especially the decidedly raw Sink or Swim), songs like "Bring It On" and the somber closing track, "We Did It When We Were Young" both accept this age with aplomb and look back with sad eyes on times gone by.

Spingsteen was 26 when Born to Run was released in 1975. The album was a turning point in his career by breaking his "next Dylan" image that his labels tried to sell and moving to a large, arena filling sound that was done with heavily layered guitar work and a huge rhythm section. He also did it with songs about leaving his "romanticized teenage street life" (a quote from allmusic.com's review of it) and embracing the fame that was dangling just outside of his grasp at the time. I turned 30 in December and if you ask me, 26 is pretty young to give up on your youth and move on. On the flip side, 26 is also a bit past the age where you realize that you're gonna have to be a man sometime. But just for the sake of argument, maybe 26 is that perfect age when the two thoughts become one. My 26 was probably the worst year of my life, and I sure as shit became a man because of it. Maybe it was for him, too, and he has a rock 'n roll masterpiece to show for it (and something that I will ritualistically pass to my future son. Candles will be involved).

I am terrified of growing old. When I was a kid, I remember a conversation my father and I had on the swings in the back yard of my house. I told him that I didn't want to grow up. He said that he didn't either when he was my age, but it wasn't so bad. I think about the last ten years of my life and how I drifted through it with a huge amount of ambition and very little drive. When I was 23, I wanted to have comics published by now. When I was 26, I wanted to have a career that challenged me creatively as well as pleasing me professionally. In 6 months I'll be 31 and the laundry list of things I wanted to show for it is barely 1/10 finished, no Born to Run in sight. To me, the duality of perspective on American Slang offers a sort of solace for that. Plus, the title track is a great single.

This week I'm on something of a sabbatical from playing video games, so I might just finish up Breaking Bad. Anything else you can think of that I should probably avoid (but won't)?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

CheMotown

Perhaps appropriate because tomorrow is my second session with The Drugs(TM), let's talk about chemotherapy.

Cancer, for what it is, is a different beast for everybody that's lucky enough to get it. Some people are sick for months (if not longer) before realizing that they should get it checked out while others have no idea that something's wrong until they get a routine physical; and these two people could have the exact same type of problem. So, too, is it with chemo. There are folks out there that are sick for the entirety of their treatment, and then cats that feel like the dirt under a New York taxi cab for about three or four days and then are totally fine. I'm guessing that the former in the previous example are the ones that have to go through chemo once a week (or more, God bless 'em). I'm very lucky in that I get Frankensteined to those machines every other week and not more.

But the treatment itself is probably the furthest from a happy ending that a person could possibly expect. For a lot of people, it's not even a means to an end, just a crap shoot that they'll make it out on the other side feeling better than when they started. After getting my body blasted once with the juice that persecutes my bad cells, I can tell you that any sympathy people have had for guys like me that are 90-100% curable is completely wasted. Two weeks ago I saw an elderly man in a room by himself, so infused with tubes that he may as well be that stupid surfer from The Matrix, just staring at the wall waiting for his machine to beep so someone will either change his IV bag or let him go home, where I assume that he may just continue staring.

My treatment lasts roughly 3-4 hours. This, as you can probably guess, is basically a big chunk of your day that's used for reflection. Or Gameboy. Mostly reflection, though, even with the Gameboy. For me, the first time through it was one of the times that I couldn't escape what's really going on, even if I actively try to pay as little attention to it as I can. There's a tube in my wrist that's pumping me full of medicine. I'll pee red for a day or two. My immune system will begin to take a shit. I'll wake up feeling like I'm hungover, but without having to piece together how I got there. For the next few days, and even though I'll have a house guest for some of them (we'll buy video games. You'll see), a general feeling of malaise will occupy my person. That's chemo for you.

This sounds like shit, and it is. But it's not. Be with me here for a second. People get worse before they get better and all of that, but that's not what I'm getting at. Sitting in a hospital ward and staring at the wall while bags of liquid slowly deplete your white blood count is a cruel way to let the world finish you. But it won't happen to me, this much is certain (at least in disposition). Tomorrow I have to go talk to someone.

Or at least bring him some juice, I think. Maybe see if he likes Motown.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Power Fist of Remission


No, I'm not in remission. But I'm gonna be! It's gonna rock your socks off!

So just a recap:
Cancer showed up at the door one day.
"Your boy, lymph node, said I could move in. So I'm movin' in."
To which I replied, "F-you, squatter!"
This is about the eviction process.

It was kind of a process getting the ball rolling. After doctor visits, surgery, and various tests, it was up to me to find an oncologist that fit my abnormally high standards. Honestly, I didn't think they were going to be, nor did I think I needed them to be. See, most of the time when something goes awry in you personal temple, your doctor points you in the direction of the person that takes care of it. From surgeons to radiology, your doctor generally has an opinion of where you should take care of Ailment X. Not so with oncologists. The thing is, you could be with this guy for six months to a year, and if he has the personality of a cabbage or makes you as comfortable as the one guy that sits next to you in an empty movie theater then this isn't the doc for you. That means the onus was on me to find mine.

Alright, my doctor (whom is a pretty cool lady) gave me a hand sifting through the list of the ones that Medical Mutual said was on the up and up. But like finding a DJ for your wedding, there had to be an interview process. Thankfully, the first guy that we decided on was a good fit. I think mostly because he's British, but the mountain of published work and awards the he has also kind of helps. Seriously, if someone were to tell you that you had the Big C tomorrow, you would want it from a very reserved, soft-spoken, tallish gentleman that calmly laid out his plans for your recovery in the King's English. He could have also told me that I had sweat stains and that I shouldn't drool so much and I'd have been pretty cool with it.

And so it goes with a Dr. J. Sweetenham: a very kindly and brilliant man that surrounds himself with other kindly, brilliant people. His fellowship doctor (not that I can remember his name. Sorry, man) and nurse were very helpful folks that have no beef cracking inappropriate jokes with me to ease the tension (of course you can find a vein, Julie, the heroin helps as much as it hurts). But getting back to the original point, Dr. J. (as we'll call him. Next week I'll ask how his sky hook is) took a look at my medical history, checked out my previous tests, confronted me in a freestyle hip hop battle, and basically told me that it's go time. Get your shit together because we're starting chemo next week, fool (paraphrased). After all of the back and forth and hurry-up-and-wait, this was like hearing that Christmas was tomorrow, and it just sort of crept up on you.

Last Thursday is when the magic actually began. It was a long day. The Cleveland Clinic, though, is seriously the cancer killing capital of the midwest; and just as much for medicine as it is for comfort. Again I'll remind you that I hate being sick, a disposition that extends to stints in hospitals. The air is stale, the nurses are rude, and the food is bad. The Clinic somehow found the right alchemy to subvert all of that, though (except, perhaps, the food, though it was still pretty healthy). Most rooms in the chemo ward, or section, or whatever it's called are private. I have my own bathroom, a television, and a kitchen stocked with complimentary juice and caffeine-free beverages (because I can't really have much anymore). A social worker met with me to discuss various support groups that are available to me and financial aid for helping to pay for medical bills and such. It's worth pointing out that the TV is equipped with the cutting edge technology of yesteryear known as a video cassette recorder (or videus analogus in captivity), but I actually see this as a benefit because I finally get to watch all of those VHS tapes I've been hording for the last ten years. All in all, it ain't my own home, but it ain't too shabby.

At the risk of this going longer than it already has, I'll leave you wanting more knowing that this is all the good stuff. In our next episode, we'll take the time to talk about how much it kinda sucks monkey ass to go through chemo (spoiler: it's shitty), and possible ways you can deal with it to get the skip back in your step.

I hope everybody had a great 4th of July, too. Be cool, fools.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Ahoy

So I was having an everyday shower before a cup of coffee. From what I remember, it wasn't even the good stuff; just some leftovers before walking the one miraculous block to the Dunken Donuts to buy more (they have a "buy two for $12.99" thing going. All the time, too). Then again, I look at coffee like most pious people look at religion: it's all just inherently good. Sure, there could be some bitter parts, and if overused it sure can get you in the ass, but there's just something about it on a Sunday morning.

This is about the time I figured out that I have cancer.

Alright, there was probably a little bit of a leap there. Back to the shower, then. It turns out that in my peerless physical makeup, I had a few small lumps protruding from the right side of my neck, right at the base next to the collar bone. This, as you may think, was not exactly what I wanted before my holy coffee. Or Holy Coffee (which, when typed, seems more appropriate). A quick trip to the doctor later had me convinced that they were lymph nodes. Over sized lymph nodes, sure, but simple bulges that can occur for a variety of common illnesses. I knew better, though. It's funny now that I think about it, but for a guy that has shown, as of yet, no symptoms of any kind or signs of anything slowly eating at my cells I knew for a fact that something was up, much like when strange happenings are afoot at Circle K.

Tests were run. Weeks were waited. Life, as it is, does its thing. I found out that I have Hodgkin's Disease, which is not as rad as it sounds. They tell you to be tough through the hard stuff, to be strong during treatment and all of that. But I know what I am and what I'm capable of, and I know that this is the way things tend to go. Pessimistic, you say? Well, you missed the point. I'll be fine. It's just that things get in the way when all you wanted to do was take a walk, or buy a car, or just get a cup of fucking coffee. It hasn't been very long, but so far, I'm guessing that's what cancer's like.

I haven't met any other cancer patients yet, but I will. In fact, I want to meet them all because I bet you more bagels than one man can eat that they all have something to say. I think I'd like to hear it. I think other people would, too. But maybe we're getting ahead of ourselves. What I will say, though, is that time and again people have suggested that I find some sort of artistic outlet for whatever it is that I'm doing, so here you sit reading That Wacky Cancer Blog (which wasn't even a working title. Sorry, Mom). I probably won't be very nice about it, and if you've already read the title you probably have a good idea about certain choices of tone. I have a good sense of humor about things, and I think you will, too.

And if not, then your loss. But even more than I hate sentences that begin with "and," I hate being sick, and this is a front row seat for the cancer show. I'm not just gonna knock it out, I'm gonna kick it in the face. Spin kick it in the face, even. It's gonna be as ridiculous as a Van Damme movie, my heel in cancer's unsuspecting jumping-spin-kicked face.

Come back soon. There's going to be pictures!