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Living in hope.
July 5, 2015

In the US it is the 4th of July weekend. There are parades, barbecues, fireworks, and holiday sale.

We celebrated our holiday by watching fireworks with Ethan, our grandson. It was his first fireworks so it was an experience for him, and for us. We thought he will be scared of the loud “booms” since we were close to feel them, but he enjoyed.

This weekend also marks one week since I have completed the first cycle of my chemo trials: The chemo come in pill form. I started last June 13, completed the two week cycle, and then two weeks off. I start the second cycle on July 13.

So far the side-effects have been limited to nausea, constipation, and tiredness. To keep active, I am limited to walking. Can’t run because I get tired easily.

With summertime here, I miss running at the lakefront. I equate summer to marathon training and it is such a beautiful feeling. You get to enjoy the cool lake breeze, the sun, and seeing other runners. I hope someday I will be able to do it again. Hope is what keeps me going.

With one cycle complete, I need to do another cycle (July 13), then a scan. It is during that time when faith and hope is going to be tested again. In the meantime, I will enjoy my summer and continue to live in hope.

Happy 4th of July

Happy 4th of July

Cheers.

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More birthdays to come.

December 20, 2012

That is what we wish among cancer patients and survivors. I have attended and celebrated many birthdays in my life. It is always marked with joy, thanksgiving, gifts, parties, and sharing.

Among cancer patients and survivors, it is a more sobering moment, and it has special meaning beyond celebrating it the normal way. For me, it is a time when I look back to see how far you have gone (or survived), and hope I make it to my next birthday. I felt that way this morning. With a sigh, I said “I made it. I made it to another birthday. Thanks you!” I did not do this when I was cancer-free; I took it for granted. My birthdays are meaningful to me now. This is my fourth birthday struggling with cancer and I so grateful for each milestone.

You might say I am only four-years old but I have lost my hair from treatments. So far I have completed four of the twelve planned chemo treatments, but last week was a struggle. I almost ended up in the hospital again. This time around it was vomits; intense vomits. As in stomach squeezing, bad bile tasting, projecting liquids vomits. I could not keep anything down. None of my anti-nausea meds were working.

My wife had to cancel her scheduled night shift work to infuse liquids in me. It took her three tries before she found a good vein for the infusion. My veins would collapse because I was so dehydrated. Once I stabilized she infused an anti-nausea drug and I got a break. It was so easy to give up but I made it to my birthday.

Today was a simple day: mass early morning, beautiful spaghetti frutti di mare for lunch, and Life of Pi movie. Done.

Life is totally good.

Cheers.

P.S. Special thanks to my friends Vicky from Isle of Skye, Scotland who sent me soap and other things, and Carmela for the Lucky plant (I need this one…hehe).  Thank you to all who wished me happy birthday and the messages you sent from my wife’s FB account.

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Round one with Zaltrap

October 30, 2012

ast Thursday, I started my treatment with the new drug, Zaltrap. I was given the same routine of a six-hour infusion at the hospital, then 48-hour infusion at home. The only difference was the sequencing of the four chemo drug I was given; Zaltrap has to be administered first.

I am recovering from the treatment. The side-effects are pretty much the same, like those pesky hiccups, persistent nausea, and lack of energy. I got meds for nausea (thanks to Noreen) but the hiccups? I have tried everything but the one thing that seems to work for me is yoga breathing techniques. That said, it is always a struggle to recover. The lethargic feeling has a paralyzing effect that makes simple decisions hard. At times, I just don’t want to move and that is when I get depressed.

I think of the long road ahead, the uncertainty of this journey, and the big hope I am placing on this new drug. My options are limited and it did not help when three doctors from New York opined that Zalrap is not worth it (see my previous post ‘In Cancer Care, Cost Matters‘). In fairness, I received a response to my email dated October 18:

Dear Mr. Alvarez,

I am so sorry to hear about your situation and my heart goes out to you and your family. Thank you so much for writing. I will share your email with my two colleagues, and its important insights.

Warmest regards, Peter (Bach)

It still bother me when I am written off even before I get to the starting line. With the Zaltrap regiment started there is nothing left but to complete the 12 sessions; or the finish line. The major milestone will be after I complete four sessions, we re-stage or do a scan to see if I am responding. That should be an interesting moment. It will either be a happy Christmas or a sober one.

Cheers.

P.S. Happy halloween!

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Welcome to my world…again. (Round 1)

November 14, 2011

did not even feel the first drop of chemo toxins in my blood. The edge was taken off by the ‘happy cocktail’ that my nurse Edith—of three-years–always prepares for me. It is a combination of Zantac, to calm my stomach and avoid any sudden onset of vomits, and Benedryl to help me sleep.

That early morning there were two other patients hooked up to their chemo pumps.  It makes you wonder why people get up early to get their chemo. Their eyes are already glassy and hazy as mine would be soon.

You will be taking four chemo medicines today plus the CADD.” Edith said, as she busied herself.

My "iPod"

I am not really looking forward to this but I am there already so what’s the use. The CADD, or “Dad’s iPod” as my kids would call it, is a portable pump that discharges chemo 24-hours a day. Yes, round the clock of chemo infusion:it never stops. My chemo session starts at the hospital going through four bags of chemo toxin set to higher toxicity, then go home hooked up to my ‘iPod’ for the next three days.

I managed to get through the infusion at the hospital but as soon as I stood up I felt the burden weighing on me. My legs were unsteady, my mind was hazy, and I am sure my eyes were glassy. Most people would describe it as pain because of the unwanted burden that one has to carry. My body was erupting and rebelling from all the toxins circulating in my body. It is a cacophony of indescribable disturbance that manifest itself as chills, sweats, and coughs….and it is just the introduction.

At home, my wife has prepared my side of the bed. Clean sheets and pillow cases, jammies, sweater, anti-nausea meds, blood pressure pills, and the hospital bed pan for my vomits. Reality hits me. I am tethered to my pump, no appetite, nauseated, and it was just the start. I wondered which of the many side-effect would bother me on my first night.

Hiccups was the first. Persistent hiccups. Funny. I have tried everything: water, breathing, bag, more water, whatever. With the hiccups still there comes the cough or both, or a combination of cough and chills.  It is a constant beating on your confidence and there’s more.  I call these side-effects my demons.  They come mostly at night and keeps me company. It became a rough week when my other demons came on full assault alternating with vomits and diarrhea. Times like this you really want to give up.

Hold on babes.  I know it is hard.”  I heard my wife whisper as she clutches her rosary.

The discomfort is totally different from marathon discomfort. There are no endorphin highs.  There are only anti-nausea pills which cause constipation, pain medications, long sleepless nights, bile in your mouth, and stomach cramps.  It brings you to your knees. But I am up again and slowly getting back to normal.  I still get tired easily but I am ok. Now, I have to watch out for infection.  Chemo toxins not only kill cancer cells but good cells too like white blood cells for immunity. I was given an immunity booster shot to help maintain my blood count and fight any infection.  Got to stay healthy, am still here, and preparing for the next round.

Fell asleep with Frank's medal

Cheers.

P.S.  Have started running again.  Also, it is interesting to read my previous post when I restarted my ‘second’ treatment again see post ‘First day at school…chemo school‘.  It consistently rank the most viewed post.

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Our last dance…school’s out!

July 26, 2010

omorrow, July 27, is my last chemo treatment.

I have mixed feeling about tomorrow. I should be happy that my treatment which started January 12 (see related post ‘First day at school…chemo school‘) will soon be over. After 12 cycles of chemotherapy, a chemoembolization procedure (see related post ‘At the starting line with Dr. B‘), a right liver lobectomy, and many sorts of imaging scan and medical test, I am about to cross the finish line. The last mile.

Graduation day is almost here!

But how come I am not feeling elated?  I have this lingering feeling that after all I have gone through my cancer may comeback.  Nobody can tell me that I am cured or it will not be back. I try not to think about it and stay positive. I just need to focus on what is given to me and make the most of it.

I will not be wearing a graduation toga like before, instead I will make it an ordinary day. You see, cancer has taught me that ordinary days are special days.  It is what you make of it.  I may not be wearing my toga tomorrow but I know the importance of tomorrow. Tomorrow is a gift of life.

Let’s do our last dance tomorrow. Bring on the nausea, the chills, and the sweats. Let’s remember our moment together my demon-friends. Let’s make it special. Let’s do it for those who are no longer with us and for those who continue to hope for a cure.

I will run before our dance, go to the hospital, and I will be there waiting for you. After we are done, I will enjoy my special day.

Hit it Alice…let’s rock!

“Out for summer out till fall

we might not come back at all

school’s out forever….” – Alice Cooper

Cheers.

PS: My wife and I did 12 miles over the weekend (2:55:19@14:23 average pace).  Man, that was painful but sweet.  This weekend is 13 miles but may have to skip it until fully recovered from chemo.

To support me in my running for ACS, please follow the link below;

http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR/DetermiNation/DNFY10Illinois?px=10708728&pg=personal&fr_id=27163

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Chemo brain.

June 23, 2010

his is the first time I heard about the side-effect called “chemo brain” or mental cloudiness experienced during or after chemotherapy. I suppose there is no pill or medicine to counteract this side-effect, unlike nausea, diarrhea, or constipation. It makes me look back at my forgetfulness and clouding of my mind.

Hmm…. How do I remedy this thing?

So far, I don’t think I have severe episodes of chemo brain or maybe I just don’t remember them…dooh!  I think I don’t experience them because of yoga.  Omm…. namaste. Speaking of severe episodes, my last treatment (June 15), I had a severe case of nausea and vomits. It happened right after I finished my treatment.  As I was leaving the hospital, and while waiting for the car, I vomited. I barely made it to the nearest trash can.

Excuse me, but you might like to call housekeeping or cleaners to clean that trash can, I vomited there. Sorry.” I said to the reception desk.  He said it is ok, no problem.

Man, I was loaded with anti-nausea meds during my treatment and I still managed to puke right after.  Looking ahead, I thought it was going to a long week but I managed to minimize the vomits. Funny, how an episode or an experience reminds you of other similar experiences. Some dishes when eaten brings you back to your childhood (like in the 2007 movie Ratatouille) or it reminds you of a person. I have similar experiences when it comes to vomits.

Vomits to me equals the French/Italian alps, D’Aosta valley, and its winding roads on our way to Charmonix-Mont Blanc (summer of 2004). I got car sick going through the winding roads of the alps with a couple of friends, SharonR, MartinM, CK, and BrentT.  It did not help that my that my friend, Martin, was driving like a crazy Italian rally driver, and he is a Brit.

From left: CK, Brent, Sharon, and "Rally" Martin

Stop the car, Martin!” I said as I opened the car window.  Too late.

Vomit marks in the car. Yuck.

I wish they had taken a picture of me doubled over on the side of the road and marking the pristine snow of the Italian alps.  I don’t remember what I ate but I left it there.  I forget.  Must the chemo brain side-effect. Scusi.

Ciao.

PS:  Over the weekend was Father’s Day.  I received a bread making machine as a gift.  It was waiting for me when I got back from my run.  Excellent for making pizza dough.  Love it.

My breadman gift.

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About last night…


About last night…

January 14, 2010

Last night was rough.  Chills and nausea kept me up most of the time but am able to contain my vomits. I got to find the balance with my anti-nausea pills, Zofran and Emend.

I am getting irritated with my portable pump constantly buzzing.  It will over soon.  Omm… Except for bouts of hiccup attack courtesy of The Grinch, I should not complaint.

It is going to be a beautiful day.

Cheers.

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