Posts Tagged ‘Cancer’

NEWSTALK 1010 – IN-DEPTH RADIO :: BREAKING NEWS: Cancer Forces Layton To Step Aside As NDP Leader.

I’ve just finished listening to Jack Layton’s press conference on the radio and at first I thought it was someone reading a prepared statement on his behalf. But no, it was Jack Layton, sounding incredibly unlike Jack Layton.

It turns out Jack’s battle with cancer is far from over. Though he seems to be winning the battle with prostate cancer, a new unspecified cancer has caused the NDP leader to take a leave of absense from the leadership of his party and the Official Opposition in Parliament. It should not be so!

I’ve never been a supporter of the NDP, and there have been times I’ve wondered what Jack was smoking; but, I would never want to see him taken down by anything other than a worthy political opponent or one of his own mis-steps. To be struck down by the most relentless disease on the planet is a fate that no one deserves. I will be praying for Jack’s healing in the days to come. I ask you to do the same if you are a person of prayer.

I will also ride for Jack in the 2012 Ride to Conquer Cancer in June of next year, as I do for everyone I know who has been struck by this disease.

I have been fortunate; blessed by God and the dedicated professionals in Ontario’s excellent health care system, I am cancer free and will fight to remain so. But for Jack Layton and millions of others the battle continues. Help me help them in the fight. Jack is receiving treatment at the Princess Margaret Hospital. To donate to continue funding for the PMH’s world leading research and treatment programs please click on the banner on the right and support me in the 2012 Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer.

Horns of a Dilemma

Posted: June 16, 2011 in Politics
Tags: , ,

As I listen to the rhetoric start to ramp up as we slowly careen toward the provincial election in October, I find myself once again torn on the subject of who to throw my vote away on.  Do I sound cynical? Well, that’s likely because more and more I find politics so generally reprehensible that elections are starting to resemble the process where the prisoner gets to choose their mode of execution; one way or the other, you’re still dead.

My dilemma largely starts with the fact that I can’t define myself neatly on either the left or the right politically. While I have a number of conservative tendencies, I also support many policies traditionally associated with the left. The result is I’m not allowed the luxury of being able to stamp my forehead with a party logo and lock myself mindlessly in step with whatever drivel drools out of the party leader’s mouth. I am forced to examine the evidence, consider all the ramifications and try to come to a rational decision as to which political entity is least likely to cause Canada, or in this case Ontario, to follow the same course as say, Greece.

Let’s take Dalton’s tax record for example. Tim Hudak and the PC Party of Ontario love to point out that Dalton promised not to raise taxes and then promptly introduced the Health Premium; essentially a tax to help pay for health care in Ontario. As a recent cancer survivor I find myself less upset about this lie than I used to be.

In the last nine months I have had 4 CT scans, 3 x-rays, 2 MRIs, 36 radiation treatments, 2 surgeries, 1 colonoscopy and 26 office appointments with a GP, an ear/nose and throat specialist, two surgeons, an oncologist, and a GI specialist and throughout it all the only cash I had to fork out personally was cab fare.  I have no idea how much all of that costs. I’m not even sure I’d like to know as I am sure it’s a frightening figure; but if you were to tell me that the reason none of that cost had to come out of my own pocket was Dalton’s Health Premium, I wouldn’t quibble with you for a second.  MRIs and CT scans and Radiation machines are expensive and the money has to come from somewhere and asking me to pony up my share is entirely reasonable.

But lying about it isn’t. According to the CQCO (Cancer Quality Council of Ontario) if you are diagnosed with cancer in Ontario you have “one of the best chances of survival anywhere in the world.” [ref] And the billions we spend on health care here is the reason why; not to mention the millions raised by events such as the Ride to Conquer Cancer.  This is something we should be proud of and celebrate, but our leaders still find it hard to just be open about it and say, “Look, it costs billions to make health care happen and taxes are the main source of that money.” Then make sure you taxation strategy is fair and balanced.

But when you lie about it and try to hide it and obfuscate the details so that people who disagree with you are more likely to vote for you it does not inspire any level of confidence even if the result is largely positive. Give the public some credit and simply tell us how much stuff costs and how you’re going to pay for stuff up front. So while I understand the need for the tax, lying about it does not increase my willingness to vote Liberal.

That said, I’m also sure there’s a big slice of those billions are being pissed away paying consultants and contractors and others way too much to do things that have been done before and accomplish very little that actually results in more people getting colonoscopies, surgeries, and visits to the doctor’s office.  I’m sure of this because I know from experience that’s the way far too many bureaucracies work (remember eHealth), and b) that’s the way far too many consultants manage to stay in business (again eHealth).

I am also fairly sure there are savings to be found on the front lines as well. I used to work security for one of the hospitals in Guelph and was curious as to why the guy mowing the lawn got paid as much as the orderlies did. One of the staff in the administration office told me it was because “of the extra training and skills required to do the job in a sterile hospital environment.” I will never forget that line.  Mow the Lawn? In a sterile hospital environment? Really?? 

And yet, while I’m sure cutting health care costs is on Hudak’s agenda, most of what he has said so far leaves me convinced that I can’t trust him to be selective enough in his cutting to do any real good. Rather than separate the wheat from the chaff, I can easily picture him just burning the whole field; leaving me unable to confidently vote PC either.

So you see my dilemma, no matter which option I choose I’m fairly certain the end result will be a horn up my butt. And not just with health care. A similar each-one-is-as-bad-as-the-other scenario can be demonstrated for just about every aspect of my existence.  My only hope seems to be that somewhere in the next hundred days one or the other of them will screw up so bad the decision will be made for me.

Until next time… Shalom

Seven Days to Go

Posted: June 4, 2011 in Cycling, Personal
Tags: , ,

That’s right, seven days from now I will be on the road riding my Trek 7100 bicycle from Toronto to Niagara Falls. Well, actually, from the C.N.E. grounds to Mohawk College the first day, then off to Table Rock Park in Niagara on Sunday. Nevertheless, there’s only a week to go and the excitement is starting to build.

It will be strange this year; having been through cancer this past winter has altered my perspective.  I have a small concern about my energy levels, but I know I’ll make it though it may take longer. But I’m wondering what it will be like riding as a survivor. There are people I’ve met in previous years who will remember me if they see me and it will be interesting to see how they respond when they see the yellow flag and socks sported by survivors on the ride.

On the other hand seeing the hundreds of yellow flags sticking up from the crowd of 5000 riders at the starting line is a testament to the success of cancer research over the years. More and more people are surviving this terrible disease, and it’s because of research being done with dollars raised through events like the Ride to Conquer Cancer.

There is a small development on the side effects front. I was told that the radiation would kill off a bunch of the hair follicles in my face rendering my beard history. However, last week I noticed when I was saving that most of them are actually functioning again! The only ones that seem to be affected are lower down in an area I usually shave anyway when I trim my beard back. So, much to Roberta’s relief, I’m growing the beard back. She never has liked me clean shaven.

Getting back to the Ride to Conquer Cancer, I’m at the 80% mark in my fundraising and have such a short way to go to reach my goal of $2500 in donations. If everyone who sees clicks on the banner at right and contributes just $10 I’ll reach and surpass that goal with plenty to spare. So much in fact that if you go to my personal page and find I have reached my goal, please support one of the other members of Team Kortright is has not on my behalf.

I know, I’m really pushing the donation thing, but it is only Seven Days and counting!

Thanks everyone!

Shalom.

Yesterday I went down to the Juravinski Cancer Centre for the first check-up since the end of my radiation treatments. My radiation oncologist Dr. Wright and his resident poked, prodded, peered and perused every corner of my throat, inside and out. The tissues are healing nicely, slightly ahead of the average curve apparently, there’s no swelling anywhere there shouldn’t be, and everything is returning to a colour vaguely resembling the colour it was before it all began. The conclusion: he is willing to go out on the proverbial limb and declare me to be 100% cancer free – with 95% certainty.  The 5% is reserved until after I have a high-contrast CT scan performed in the next few weeks in case it reveals something completely unexpected. Failing that though, I’m done. To quote the good doctor, “Just keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll see you in six weeks”. In two weeks we’ll see if my surgeon is willing to make the same bold declaration.

If he does, it’s a declaration that has me facing some previously unexplored territory – the future.

Let me explain…

I was 14 in 1967 when my Dad decided to explore the family genealogy as part of the whole ‘Centennial Year’ thing. What we discovered was that the males in the Gray family are pretty short-lived. On average we tend to kick off in the mid-Fifties, with the overall average being a ripe old 56. In the dozen or so generations he was able to track down nobody survived past the age of 60. My father did not buck the trend, passing away from colon cancer at that very same Gray family average.

So over the next few years I thought about that from time to time and by the time I reached my twenties I had pretty much resigned myself to the idea that 55-60 years was the best I could hope for. Planning for retirement was pretty much set aside and I started living life with little more than your basic 5-year plan.

But now, it looks like I have to re-jig my thinking. It would seem that there is a new paradigm on the horizon; for the first time in my life I have to seriously consider the prospect of growing old!

I know, to you it sounds strange, but the reality is that I truly had fully resigned myself to dying of cancer sometime in my Fifties. In fact, in some respects I was actually looking forward to it; you know, seeing Jesus and all. When Dr. Wellman revealed that cancer had been found in my cyst back in November there was no shock, no dismay, no fear, because I had been expecting it all along. The diagnosis arrived exactly on schedule just as it did with my father. There were no surprises at all.

However, one thing has changed – medical science. Unlike all the preceding generations, when the inevitable struck me, no one was saying, “This is it I’m afraid. You have x months to live.”  No, instead, there was a very confident team of specialists saying, “Here’s how we’re going to get you out of this.” They laid out a very convincing plan of action and all that they planned has gone exactly as planned, maybe even a little bit better.

There was another difference as well. While my family has always been of the church going variety, faith in God to change the future was never a part of the religious dynamic. Faith was something that carried you through the hard times and gave you the strength to face certain doom with the traditional British stiff upper lip. Disease, misfortune and death were not things to pray your way out of, they were part of God’s mysterious ways and no one seriously expected anything to change.

I however, have been blessed to be part of a praying and more importantly believing faith community. Dozens of people have contacted me to tell me they are praying for my successful recovery; there have been dinners brought to the door, rides to treatment offered and a variety of other expressions of love and support that have, quite frankly, left Roberta and I feeling slightly over-whelmed. And it would seem that all that prayerful support have borne fruit. The cancer has come and gone and I’m still here. Praise God!

Now, before I get a minor flood of emails taking exception to my crediting God in this I will answer your objection right now. I have absolutely no idea why everyone who is prayed for as I was doesn’t get healed. I have no doctorate in theology, no inside track on the details of God’s plans for the Universe, and no pretensions for being anything other than the simple believer that I am. However, I am a believer, and I believe that the prayers of my friends at Kortright and elsewhere have had just as much a bearing on this outcome as the ministrations of the doctors, nurses and technicians at the Juravinski and St. Joseph’s in Hamilton.

And I am immensely grateful to each and every one of those who prayed, cooked, drove, hugged, filled in for, and gave of their time and resources to support Roberta and I over the last 5 months.  You people are amazing!  God bless each and every one of you!

However, that still leaves me facing a future I never thought I’d face.  And though the prospect is actually a little scary, I’m looking forward to it. I now have to actually ponder what I might do with my twilight years. Any suggestions?

Till next time… Shalom.

Once More with Feeling

Posted: February 11, 2011 in Personal, Writing
Tags: ,

Today I am headed down to the Juravinski Cancer Clinic in Hamilton for the LAST of my 35 radiation treatments.

In recognition of this momentous event, I present to you dear Reader a poem I have been working on for ahile now. I feel it only right to recognize the person responsible for my experience of the last 7 weeks.

Of course this will not be my last trip to Juravinski. I’ll be back for a check up in 4-5 weeks, and then a CT scan 4-5 weeks after that. But, as they say, the worst is over. Now I can start to heal.

Until next time, enjoy the poem… or not.

Shalom.

On Madame Marie Curie (by Dennis Gray)

Madame Marie Curie
It’s all her fault you know,
The pain I’m feeling now.
The constant scratching in my throat,
The taste buds that no longer work,
Spit glands producing at under 10%,
Energy levels of a man twice my age,
Leathery skin that flakes so easily.
It’s all part of her legacy.

She started it you know, she and her radium, polonium.
It didn’t take long for the crackpots to follow;
Radium water, The Cosmos Bag, Radithur
Fiesta Ware, eat your meals from uranium dishes
That will cure your ills.
All because of her and those Nobel prizes.
Cures worse than the disease.

But “time marches on” as the newsreels say
And soon the quackery falls by the wayside,
And Marie’s science remains still.
Isotopes collide, neoplasms fall,
30, 40, 60 Gy (gray) and counting,
The tumours can only take so much.
The Cancer succumbs to the onslaught.
Pain is temporary, moisture will return,
The colours in the CT scan will realign,
The “South” will rise again,
And there is new hope for tomorrow.

Yes, it’s her fault alright!
Marie Curie and her little glowing saucers.

Merci Madame. Merci.


Addendum: For those of you who may not know; Marie Curie and her husband were the first to experiment with radium and other radioactive materials (a term she coined).  Among those experiments was the use of radio isotopes to destroy neoplasms, that is, cancers.  She won Nobel prizes in both physics and chemistry for her ground breaking work.

Image courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Marie Curie - wkipedia commons

Marie Skłodowska–Curie

What’s Up Doc?

Posted: January 11, 2011 in Faith, Personal
Tags: , ,

Monday was the first of 5 Review Clinic sessions I’ll have with Dr. James Wright, my radiation oncologist. Every Monday for the next 5 weeks (the last 5 weeks of my treatment cycle) I’ll meet with the good doctor and one of the nurses in the Review Clinic to take a look at how my regimen is progressing.

We started off yesterday with a look the CT pictures they took as part of the planing session. They are a series of cross sections of my head inside the mask used in the linear accelerator. Imposed on this in a number of colours, are bands that define which areas of my head will receive what levels of radiation exposure.

The hot zone, not surprisingly, is the location of my former right tonsil, where they found the tumour. They did cut the tumour out when they took my tonsil, but there are an unknown number of microscopic “roots” that are left behind and need to be destroyed by the radiation. This area of my anatomy is a bright yellow colour in all the various scans.

In the red and blue zones are the various lymph nodes located in and around my throat; down each side of the neck, along the upper edge of the clavicle. Since the cyst that disclosed the presence of P16 was in a lymph node, radiating the lymph system makes sense and gets the next highest does based on distance from “ground zero.”

There’s a green line (I think – I have colour blindness issues) that delineates the outer most reach of the treatment. No radiation above the level of my nostrils. Don’t want to irradiate the grey cells at this point. But then in my case, every cell is a Gray cell! lol… (All right. I’ll be good.)

The clavicle forms the lower border. No radiation below that level. Everything in the middle will receive one of about 11 varying degrees of exposure that were detailed on the CT scans.  I was impressed that they could discern all the exposure levels in such detail. Gives you a real feeling that they truly knew what they were doing. That is, until Dr. James Robert Wright made this encouraging, and inspirational statement.

“Yeah…    So…  there it is.  We’ll keep fartin’ around like this for the next five weeks and when it’s all over hopefully we’ll get the results we were looking for.”

Excuse me! You describe this supposedly high-tech, targeted procedure on which I am betting my continued future existence as “farting around” ?? Nice choice of vernacular Doc!

Flatulence references aside however, the good doctor is mostly correct in his assessment. The fact remains that as far as we have come and as much as survival rates have increased, cancer therapy still remains, to varying degrees, something of a crap shoot.

They can take a guy like me, mid-fifties, slightly over-weight, average health, clean removal of the tumour, a ‘species’ of cancer that has the best response rate there is to radiation therapy, and 8 or 9 times everything will work well and you get the results you were hoping for. Then there’s the 10 or 11th guy in the list; all the same parameters, all the same drugs and treatments, and for reasons you and your $100 million cancer clinic have yet to work out, it all goes to hell, the cancer remains firmly entrenched, and the guy dies.

I don’t know if Jim Wright had one of those days last week or not (I was his first appointment on Monday), but I can imagine that after a man like him, who has invested his life in this work, has a case go sour on him it can feel like all he’s doing is “farting around.” We are all prone to feeling ‘useless’ when we do everything right and it still doesn’t work.

However, focusing on the 10th or 11th guy isn’t going to help any unless you’re a research pathologist. For the rest of us we… I need to focus on the other 8 or 9 guys who make it. It’s like Paul says in Philippians:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

So we continue on. Supported by Dr. Wright (whom I still have complete confidence in) and his amazing medical staff and volunteers at the Juravinski Centre, and by the many of you who are out there praying for Roberta and I. If you are inclined to do so add Dr. James  Robert Wright and his staff to your prayers; they work hard, care much, and need all the support they can get. Besides, he gave me these lovely lorazepam tables that make sleeping through this a hundred times easier.

I know, but before all you amateur pharmacists (and professionals for that matter – Joan) start emailing me the Wikipedia entries, telling me how highly addictive a drug it is, and regale me with all the side effects associated with benzodiazepines (I can Google it too), I am taking it under my doctor’s care and I’m real good at following instructions. So Chill!

But pondering the doctor’s choice of words aside, I seem to be in good shape; tat is, the treatments seem to be progressing as expected. The sore throat, treated with liquid pain killers, the sleeping aids, the general lack of energy and loss of appetite are all textbook symptoms and appear to be right on schedule. So I am hopeful.

Actually today, I am more concerned for my friend Darby than for me. At 10am today (Wed. Dec. 12) she goes in for a hysterectomy to remove a large fibroid she’s been carrying around for some time now. If you’re praying for me, pray for her too, please!

Till next time … Shalom.

Well, it’s started; the radiation regimen that is.

Today I went down for the first in a series of 35 radiation treatments and, as advertised, it was a very simple and, at this point anyway, painless process.  Well, not entirely painless. The bed they have you lie down on is pretty hard but that’s because a softer surface would allow too much movement and when they are trying to aim a beam of radiation (high energy x-rays I believe) as accurately as possible-movement results in more serious consequences than just a blurry picture.

The drive down was actually rather nice and not just because of the sunny weather.  The Canadian Cancer Society volunteer, Dave (not his real name) is a retired gentleman who has been doing this sort of thing for 8 years. Three times a week (occasionally four if he feels up to it) he drives people with one cancer or another to a variety of medical appointments in Southern Ontario. So far the furthest he has gone is London in one direction and Mississauga in the other.  He refuses to go to Toronto; the traffic there is more than he can handle.  He got started when he mentioned to a friend that he found retirement extremely boring and needed something to do. His friend was already a volunteer and suggested Dave join him.  As I mentioned, that was eight years ago. The friend can no longer drive, but Dave is still going strong.

The depth of Dave’s experience showed best when we hit downtown Hamilton.  Rather than taking the expressway up, for lack of a better term, the back side of the mountain, Dave sped along one back street after another, winding his way through a maze of tree-lined, one way streets miraculously avoiding heavy traffic and arrived at the Juravinski Cancer Centre in a mere 40 minutes.  This was the best time in which I have ever made the trip and it does go to show that if you do something often enough you get very good at it.

At the Centre things went very smoothly.  After a brief wait a charming woman named Kristy led me to a small comfortable room and made sure, first of all, that I was actually Dennis Gray.  When I was there for my orientation they took my picture; she had a copy of it with her and took the time to compare it to me.  Since five days growth of beard hadn’t changed me enough to make me unrecognizable she moved on to the next step.

She  made sure I fully understood what was about to happen, what the side effects of the treatments would be, the recommended ways to deal with them, and what I was going to do with each return trip.  All questions were answered in a pleasant, unhurried manner and repeated in the same manner when needed. It was a very comfortable experience. (See last few Paragraphs of previous post.)

Then after she showed me around a little I changed into a traditional hospital gown (only needed to strip from the waist up which was nice). Then there followed but a brief wait until it was time for me to go in to Machine 10B for my treatment. I had arrived a little early, thanks to Dave so I had time to get in a little reading. Love my Sony eReader.

When the time came Kristy escorted me to Machine 10b and introduced me to the other two treatment technologists. Since I didn’t see much of them (my glasses were off by this point) I can’t seem to remember their names; at least that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.  But they were all very nice and made me as comfortable as they could on the aforementioned hard bed designed more to keep me immobile than comfortable.  Two quick low-energy x-rays to make sure I was lined up right and then it began.

From the patient’s point of view nothing could be simpler, or more uneventful.  For the next 20 minutes I laid flat on my back, staring straight up at the lights on the ceiling while servo-motors rotated the linear accelerator around me and made slight positional adjustments to the bed I was lying on until I was properly positioned for each of the 9 individual firings. Each firing lasts 20 seconds and is noticeable only by means of a very low volume buzz coming from the direction of the large circular head of the machine.

When the procedure was over (painless this time as I mentioned) I changed back into my shirt and jacket and rejoined Dave in the main lobby. After a quick stop at Tim’s for a double-double we were on our way back to Guelph.

I thanked Dave for his efforts on my behalf when I got home around 5:30, but somehow it hardly seemed adequate. I’ve been thinking about him and his ilk, volunteering the way they do. He picked me up at work, drove me down, waited for me for over an hour, drove me back to the work shop-because in my slight anxiety I forgot my keys, and then drove me home. In all about a three hour slice out of his day.  And this he has done 3 three times a week for the last eight years. They say Guelph is the volunteer capital of Canada. People like Dave are the reason why.  Thanks again Dave.

Speaking of driving; a number of you out there have expressed a willingness, dare I say even a desire, to drive me down for one of my appointments. Well, though it looks like the Cancer Society may have things well in hand, I too would greatly enjoy a chance to spend some time driving with you and getting to know you a little better in the process.  With that end in mind the link below will take you to an online version of my schedule of appointments.

Follow the link and let me know which one (1) appointment for which you positively know you are available to drive me down and drive me home. Keep in mind that each Wednesday they will be giving me an update of my schedule and when they do it’s possible some changes may take place. With new patients coming in all the time occasionally some juggling must take place, so please check back once a week or so.

https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0ApI5vq3YTQfNdFgtSVZaZmV3MTZnckoxMC12eVNvdnc&hl=en&authkey=CO73uqYB

Trinty Prayer Shawl

The Prayer Shawl knitted for me by the ladies of Trinity United Church in Guelph

Well, that’s it for this time around. Oh! Except to say thanks once again to my good friend and theatre pal Beth Freeth, her mother, and the folks at Trinity United Church in Guelph, who knitted and prayed over the lovely prayer shawl in the picture at left.  They do this for people who are brought to their attention. They knit the shawls and then pray over them so that the folks who receive them will have a continuing reminder of the warmth of God’s love and the prayers that are going up on their behalf. It’s a marvelous gesture and I will treasure it always.

Gratitude as well to all of you who are praying for me and offering help in other tangible ways. (Great pot roast Margaret!)  I love you all and think of you often.

Till next time.

Shalom.