Saturday, December 31, 2011

How do I feel about 2011

CNN's question today was how do you feel about 2011 ending? The two answers were "I'll miss it", and "Good riddance." I chose good riddance. 2011 began with me in a great deal of distress. My digestive tract was acting up and I was encountering rectal bleeding, pain, cramps and bloating. A day did not go by without me encountering all of the above symptoms. I was depressed and at my wit's end. My thinking was, "If this is going to be my quality of life going forward, I don't want it." I finally got my family Dr. to refer me to a GI guy, Dr. Hightower. The initial diagnosis was IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and the treatment was a muscle relaxant which did nothing and an anti-depressant called Lexapro. I was trying to watch what I ate, but everything upset my system. I was taking eight fiber pills daily to try and keep my stool soft so it would pass without irritation, however while a little better I still had a lot of pain, difficulty on going to the bathroom and bleeding.

Dr. Hightower recommended a colonoscopy, but we both agreed that since I had a colonoscopy a year earlier at the VA in Poplar Bluff and that report was everything was normal that it must just be IBS. It turns out IBS's greatest catalyst is stress, and I was under a great deal of stress because of how badly I felt. The Lexapro began to kick in after a month and I could actually feel the dark cloud lifting, however it still didn't do much for the pain and symptoms I was encountering.

Finally after four months of doctoring we did another colonoscopy. You can imagine how both of us felt when Dr. Hightower told me that there was a suspicious mass at the sight of my previous surgery and I would need surgery again. The son-of-bitch at VA missed it. It would not have made any difference in my needing surgery, but I would not have gone through such hell and have the problem taken care of a year earlier. The bastard.

So began a tough trip for Terry and I. The treatment consisted of concurrent radiation and chemo. After the radiation and chemo six weeks passed and I had a collectomy, which is a resection with a iliostomy to allow the surgically repaired area time to heal. So I spent ten weeks wearing a bag which proved to have its own problems. My skin became irritated and there was nothing I could do to heal it as there was the constant presence of fecal matter. I had accidents where the bag prematurely leaked, in public at times. However, I did not experience any bloating, cramping or bleeding so that was a plus and encouraging.

Finally on October 13 the reversal surgery was performed that reattached my small intestine to my large intestine and the plumbing system was back in action. Now came successive periods of diarrhea, an almost constant flow of fecal matter that irritate the skin around my anus and proved to be extremely painful, that lasted about two weeks. Then it evolved into more formed stools but a mess to keep one self clean. Finally after about a month of that things started to get normal. In the meantime I was feeling good. The pain, cramping, irritation and bloating were gone. Today, I feel absolutely great. I go to the bathroom quite frequently because my rectum is gone and what comes down the large intestine wants to get out. However, I am comfortable when I go, I eat pretty much everything I want. When I do eat rich foods I will have a BM episode that might last for an hour or two, but no pain, no discomfort, and I now say I have a teflon ass, nothing sticks to it.

So this is my 2011. I say good riddance, but that is also bittersweet. My wife put up with an enormous burden, ME! She hurt as I did and she cared for me completely. The Dr.s were superb and caring, I could not have received better treatment.

In addition, two of my employees succumbed to cancer. I worked with these people, I knew their families, and we like one another. So the emotional upheaval of my condition, the loss of two co-workers, and the devastating effect of ovarian cancer on another of my employees who is surviving quite well today, all took a physical and psychological toll. In addition, right at the end of the year a lady I've worked with for ten years announced she was leaving our organization for a better opportunity. I wish her will, she deserves it. However, she and I were a tight team for ten years and I will miss that relationship terribly.

So, good riddance 2011. I hope 2012 brings a measure of peace and stability. I sure could use it.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Past

Since chemo/radiation, surgery and reversal are now behind me I am feeling great. One of the things I have noticed is a revival of my spirit and ambition. I am not sitting as often as I have in the past several years. I am tackling some projects that I would've let stack up. I just feel my emotional well being has improved. Then I realized that a year ago when I went to the GI doctor about my bowel issues he said I exhibited classic irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. The main treatment for the problem is an anti-depressant, in this case a drug called Lexapro. I noticed a  year ago that after about thirty days my mood seemed to improve even though I was still experiencing severe bloating, gas and pain. Now the cause of those symptoms is gone, but I still take the drug and I think it generally has improved my outlook.

I say all this because I had an excellent Christmas. I had fun with my kids as best you can from the wide separation we have. I had a ball shopping for Terry and selecting gifts she can use and have fun with. I enjoyed the family "gathering" yesterday and was more of a host than I have been in the past. So I thank God for the health, the mental health, and the opportunity at a second chance.

God Bless us All, Everyone!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Passing of a Friend

I stopped by the hospice yesterday to see a man I have worked with for several years and count as friend. Ten months ago he was healthy, looking forward to a new semester of teaching and interested in life. He had come through many months of clinical depression that was treated using shock therapy and was well on the road to being productive. He started to put on large amounts of weight rapidly, like two pounds a day.

He was diagnosed with and inoperable tumor in the region of his heart involving a kidney and liver. Within weeks of diagnosis he ended up in the hospice last May where he has languished since.

When I was there yesterday it is obvious he is entering the final stages of the illness. He looks wasted to some degree, pale, weak and is disoriented. His speech is slurred and difficult to understand and his thought process is confused and not easy to follow. He is an engineer, a musician, and intellectual. He is well read, fascinated with the Civil War and those times in society. Yet here he is, his light is winking out. How helpless I feel and how frustrated it makes one to see this slow degradation of a fine person. Why him, how did nature pick him, what did he deserve to have this terrible disease visited upon him. I don't know, these are questions without answer, but the plague me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Death Squads

I was schedule to begin a maintenance chemo plan yesterday, Monday, Nov. 14, 2011. It was postponed because the insurance company wanted to review the plan to see if they would pay for it. Today, the lady who is the case manager for the insurance administrator called and said my maintenance chemo plan was turned down for payment. She said I should wait until the Dr. reviews the decision and let him either appeal the decision or come up with a new plan that will meet with approval.

A year ago or so when the democrats pushed through a huge health plan a number of conservative leaders said if the administration of healthcare were turned over to the government we would have "death squads" who would be deciding who lived or died. Well guess what, they are in effect already in place in the private sector.

If I were in desperate straits health-wise I would be extremely upset. However, my prognosis for my condition is very good. There is a 95% chance of full recovery. However, because I had a recurrence of cancer I am also at increased risk for further recurrences. This maintenance program is aimed at reducing that risk.

I have a coworker and friend lying in a hospice in Jonesboro. Ten months ago he was the paragon of health until he started putting on about 2 lbs of weight per day. Within a two week period he went from healthy to deathly ill. They found a tumor had invaded his right kidney, was invading his liver and was in the venus cava area of his heart. It was judged to be inoperable and he was immediately sent home with a horrible diagnosis and no idea of any palliative  care that could be provided. He came home and immediately went to a hospice where he has lain since last May. The family Dr. was so upset with his condition that he contacted M.D. Anderson in Houston to see if they would take him and render a second opinion. The insurance company flat refused to pay. Could he have been saved? Who knows, in the meantime he lies in a bed in a comfortable setting waiting to die.

Seems like we owe ourselves more than just a one time shot. In my case, I'm not too upset. Something will probably be done because the insurance company also recommends maintenance therapy. However, we are betting my life on this. Suppose five years from now my cancer comes back and we find out that had I had this "gold standard" treatment it would not have come back. Then the death squad becomes that for real.


It was recently announced the Supreme Court will hear the case concerning the new healthcare bill next February or March. A decision will be rendered in June, just in time for the election. One of the main sticking points is the mandated insurance coverage where most Americans will have to have insurance or suffer some financial penalty.

The argument against the provision is we should not force people to have to carry insurance and impose a financial burden on those who do not want insurance. A good argument. 

However, when these people who opt out of insurance have an accident or are hit with a sudden illness they go to the emergency room and may not be refused treatment. So the cost of that treatment then falls on the rest of us in terms of increased premiums, or taxpayer involvement.

So what are out options? We could refuse medical treatment to those who do not have health insurance. Think about the enormous moral burden we would place on our healthcare providers. Plus we don't refuse people help in the country. This country was founded on independence, but people still came together to render aid when people were in times of crisis or need.

We could bill the person's receiving treatment. However collecting can be a problem prolonged by litigation, abandonment, bankruptcy, or other means of dodging one's responsibility.

Or we can share in the premium cost with everyone participating thus reducing the over all cost for everyone and people would then have assurance of care in times or need or injury. 

I opt for mandated participation. This is one area where I think people's self-serving decisions would hurt the common good of the people.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Odd results

Several years ago I started a family newsletter called Notes from a Little Log Cabin in the Arkansas woods. It began two summers ago when I attended a Dean Family memorial which was my Mother's family, so it was my Mom and aunts and uncles related by blood to her. I had not seen several of my cousins in over 40 years and had lost contact with many. I thought we cousins shared our early years up into our teens in some cases and it would be a shame to lose contact and knowledge of how their lives unfolded. So I started the newsletter to try and keep in contact.

At first the newsletter were simply stories about my life, Terry and I in our log cabin in Arkansas and our rustic life style. However on occasion I would get a brief email about some cousin or family member which I would include in the news letter and send on its way. It appears as time has gone on that there is more and more involvement in the newsletter and so far every family member has commented in a positive fashion that it is nice to know what is going on with the family.

Recently my brother-in-law, Chap Smathers passed away and that was a significant loss for many of our family as he was well known in the family and well loved. My mailing list was humming with news of his health decline and eventual passing. In fact, several family members relied on the newsletter or distribution list for news of what was happening.

Since that time I have had more and more contact with family members and now have a backlog of news items to pass along. So my endeavor to keep contact among the immediate family members seems to be paying off. I have also been pleasantly surprised to have two of my nephews asked to be added to the family distribution list. They are a generation or two younger and I thought there would not be much interest, but apparently I was wrong. So on I shall type and we'll see what the next few years bring.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sometimes Reality Sucks!

This is tough. Here I am facing my own health issues of colon cancer, chemo/radiation treatments, two surgeries and just the stress of the health issues. Added to that is my Brother Chap Smathers who appears to be in the final stages of congestive heart failure. He is now in a nursing home where they are attempting some rehab programs, but there is no doubt this is the late stages of that disease. It just breaks my heart, I've known the man for over 60 years. He is truly like a brother to me and I love him dearly. Chap is one of those truly good hearted people you have the privilege of being close to.

On top of that, I have an organization I direct that has taken some direct hits this year. I lost my information techie to cancer two months ago. I watched him go through a truly agonizing two year treatment program that left him sick and in pain for much of the time. We would talk and discuss outcomes and I visited him in the hospital the day he passed. He was 37 and left a wife and two kids ages 1 and 6.

Ninety days ago the man who has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Old Miss and is our mechanical and hydraulic instructor was seeming healthy and looking forward to the challenge of this new school year. Then bang, he starts putting on two pounds of weight a day and they run tests. The scans found a tumor that had taken one kidney, was intruding on his heart and liver and was deemed inoperable. He now is resting in a hospice in Jonesboro, AR. This guy is also a good hearted man and perhaps the most intellectual of our group. In addition he plays violin, was active in Civil War reenactments and period presentations, played all over NE Arkansas and was known by many. Now we shall lose him.

Finally a computer instructor who had her female check up in January started experiencing some abdominal pain in March and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Surgery removed most of the cancer and chemotherapy seems to have taken care of the rest. She still has four treatments to go and is up and around, teaching some classes and looks good. But ovarian cancer doesn't usually have a good outcome. I pray this one does.

Thats a lot of death and pain surrounding me all of a sudden. I do not know if I have accepted the inevitable or I have detached from the reality. I don't seem to feel anything but a strong obligation to reach out to these people and talk to them and wish them well and try to do what I can for them. But I also have my own issues to handle. In some way this distraction takes away from my own recovery and that seems to be progressing quite well. Regardless, this period of my life is unique in my experience and I hope once it is passed that it doesn't occur again with this intensity.

I still look out the window and see a beautiful sky, or scene. I still marvel at the love and care our dogs extend to my wife and I. I have come to appreciate my children in new and expanded ways and still want to live many years to experience all the joy life has to provide. Right now however, it is just tough, a day to day, put one foot in front of the other and plod along existence.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Some thoughts

My daughter Jenny and I get into some long discussions, last night, May 13, 2011 was no exception. I enjoy our talks, we don't always have the same point of view, in fact, I would hope we don't. However our talks are lively and cover a wide range of subjects. As we were talking last night I told her that even though I consider myself a Republican, this is not the Republican party I signed up for. On the one hand the conservatives argue that mandatory participation in health care is not constitutional and abridges ones individual rights. On the other hand they champion banning abortion and say that a woman has no right to choice, thereby ignoring her individual rights. They speak out of both sides of their mouths.

One commentator I heard, and I agree with his point is the every person in America will make use of our health care system at some time and therefore it is only fair that all should participate. I think that is a telling argument. I'm willing to pay my way, but I'll be damned if I feel I should pay for someone's health needs when their choice to refuse insurance is they are young and won't make use of it now.

Anyway, Jenny and I have some special talks. I treasure them. It is so nice to have two daughters that we just openly talk about all issues and respect our rights to hold our own beliefs. It is one of my most enjoyable times, I love to discuss issues, it is how I expand my knowledge.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A new blog

I have started a new blog. It is titled Bowel Resection Home Recovery. I have decided not to mess up this blog with medical issues that can become kind of disgusting and may have more relevance to folks going through bowel resection. I have received a number of comments ranging from Scotland to Australia concerning my Goggle of Bowel Resection Home Recovery and obviously it has meant something to somebody. So I thought I just have a dedicated blog and see if that picks up some folks how may need some help.