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WEDNESDAY READING: A crummy 2010, and a bad start to '11

Cancer is a bitch

The Weekly Volcano's in-house drummer, Geoff Reading, publishes his bi-weekly music column on every other Wednesday. It's called "Wednesday Reading." Get it?

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I was truly hoping 2011's arrival might be accompanied by at least a trace of lightness - lightness that seemed to be thanklessly missing throughout 2010. Taking stock, and looking back, 2010 was awful from the 72 hours that preceded its arrival, and spilling all the way into the first few days of 2011.

Some time in October I was hit up on Facebook chat by a friend who had just gone through a colonoscopy. He was worried. He told me the doctor said he had a tumor that was too big to operate on and that they would do a biopsy in a week or so to see what was going on.

I immediately picked up the phone and called him.

"OK, back up.  Tell me exactly what was said to you."

He conveyed that, after the procedure was finished, the doctor had told him that during the "probe" they had seen a polyp that was too big to remove without risking internal bleeding (the colonoscopy scope has a tiny little blade on the end of it. If they find a microscopic polyp, most times they can just flick it off using the blade).

"OK. You're cool. The doctor said ‘polyp'. That is not the same thing as a tumor."

Thus began our cancer correspondence. My friend went in for the biopsy, it came back cancerous. I told him what would come next. After they removed the polyps they did a CT scan and found very faint spots on his liver that were too small to biopsy.  No one on his yet to be assembled team of medical professionals was alarmed or even concerned about this. Cancer cells in their earliest stages are not (usually) aggressive.

But they found something else that was puzzling.

It seemed the microscopic cancer cells in his polyp had constructed a vein, a vehicle for travel if you will. All of this took weeks... and weeks. They had never seen anything like it before, but they were unconcerned. He was being cared for at Stanford by some of the finest minds in the field - the finest of which took another look at his initial CT scan and noticed previously undetected inflamed polyps further up his large intestine. This changed the game.

A second CT scan was ordered. Then meetings were scheduled. Then meetings were canceled until after the scan was complete. Then meetings took place.  My firiend was diagnosed with Col-Rectal cancer (cancer of the rectum), Stage 3, aggressive. It was go time.

As all of this was transpiring we were talking on the phone three or four times a week. Sometimes more. He was obviously concerned, and I had been (generally speaking) on the voyage he was about to depart on. So we talked a lot. We talked about REAL threats. REAL pain. REAL consequences. I told him how happy I was to be around to share my experiences with him, and how I wished I had had someone (anyone) around who'd possessed intimate knowledge when I was going through the same thing.

He kept asking about chemotherapy. He was very concerned with the nausea known to be a side effect. I kept telling him that the first round of chemo would only serve as a booster to the radiation treatments he'd be receiving. That radiation, short of death, would be the worst part of the whole experience. He heard me.

It seemed like months went by, mostly because... months did go by. He started his chemo and radiation on Dec. 15.  I had assured him that the effects of the treatments were cumulative, and that it wouldn't kick him in the dick the first day. Not even the first week. But that there certainly WOULD be some eventual and substantial dick kicking.

He started treatments while my son and I were vacationing in Mexico, so we took to skype-ing. He was really happy that there would be time before the really crappy side effects kicked in.

I didn't talk to him for a few days before we came home for Christmas on Dec. 23. Then it was Christmas. Then New Year's.  I kept meaning to check in and see how he was feeling.

Yesterday I get a call from a mutual friend saying, "Have you heard?"

A few days ago, sensing a severe reaction to his treatments, in the middle of the night, my friend asked to be taken to the hospital. In the car on the way he had complete organ failure.  He is now unconscious and hooked up to machines. He's fighting for his life.  Not the kind of fighting I did sitting in a room letting poison into me drip by drip for four hours and then waiting around to see if it had done any good.  My friend is now fighting for every day, every hour, every moment, every breath.

Turns out for some reason (most likely his job) his lungs are full of mold. FULL OF MOLD! His immune system was so shot that the chemo and radiation lit him up like the fourth of July. It's also likely to blame for the rarely before seen, microscopic aggressive and motivated cancer.

He is far passed my area of expertise. As I wrote this column, I got a call saying today - for the first time in four days - his body absorbed nutrients. For the time being the downward slide toward the abyss has begrudgingly ground to a halt.  

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