WORLD CANCER DAY: Dispelling the Myths

Today marks another World Cancer Day, where we, the world, attempt to focus our attention on the deadly disease. There are many misunderstandings, misconceptions, and myths about cancer that could be eradicated rather easily with only a little effort on all our parts. It is hoped that by educating ourselves about the disease, and then, educating others we can increase awareness, ease minds, and most importantly, save lives.

Knowledge is contagious. Please spread the facts.

www.worldcancerday.org

A Bone Marrow Biopsy

If you’re like me, you’ve probably never witnessed a bone marrow biopsy procedure before. That’s right, even though I’ve had more procedures done to me than I care to remember, I have never actually seen the procedure being performed on me. This is because, 1. I always have to lie on my stomach, and 2. I’ve always been too scared to try and look.

But during today’s procedure, I mustered up the courage and asked my herculean wife to take pictures of it so I could finally see what it was all about. I call my wife herculean because she’s been exceptionally strong and courageous for me throughout my entire cancer experience; and after I saw the pictures, it amazes me even more how strong and courageous she really is. I know for certain that if the roles were reversed and I had to be there to support her during one of these procedures, especially during the first time, I would pass out. For real.

I also asked my wife to take the pictures so I could share them with others who may be interested in learning and seeing what a bone marrow biopsy is all about. But please be warned, these pictures may be disturbing for some people. If you’re still interested, please click the more link. Continue reading “A Bone Marrow Biopsy”

Hair

Warning: This is potentially a TMI post. Read at your own risk!

Kurt with hair
Kurt with hair
Before my cancer and all the chemo, I saw myself similar to how Ricky Bobby saw himself in the movie Talladega Nights: I’m just a big hairy American winning machine, you know. That was me. I was confident, happy, had a wonderful family, a great job, felt strong and in okay shape, and I had a thick mane of hair on my head and a decent coat of fur all over my body. I was no back shaver, mind you (not that there is anything wrong with those of my friends who feel the need to shave the back…you gotta do what you gotta do) but I definitely had some hair to be proud of. But all of that, especially the confidence, the being in shape, and the hair, changed after the chemo.

Now I know some of you are wondering—I know I was before I started getting the chemo, so I asked my nurse—does one lose ALL their hair from the chemo treatments? The answer I got was that it depends. It depends on the person, the type of chemo, and the amount of chemo received. I would just have to wait and see.

It turned out that during the first phase, things moved slowly hair loss-wise. It took several weeks before any hair on my head started falling out and a couple more weeks before my beard began thinning out. I never noticed the loss of any body hair. I will say, it was very unsettling when the hair on my head began falling out in earnest and I would wake up in the morning to see big piles of it all over my pillow and bed. Once that started happening, I went directly to the barber and had my head shaved.

Shaved head
Shaved head
It’s not as easy as you think to get your head shaved. When I went, my regular barber was crowded so, not wanting to have to sit around and explain to the regulars about my cancer, I went to another barber that I had only been to once before. It was empty so I went in. The barber was a female and after I sat down and explained that I wanted my head shaved, she almost seemed offended, but in a cheesy, middle-aged flirty kind of way. She gave me the third degree and wanted to know why I wanted my head shaved. Still in no mood to discuss my cancer, I just said something rather curt about me being sick of having such thick hair to mess with. She reluctantly began shaving it off, but as she did, she went on the whole time about how a guy should never shave off such a nice head of hair. (I have another story about my hair and my youngest son’s ill-fated attempt at trying to shave if off…but that’s for another time.)

I had a couple of weeks off between phase one and phase two treatments. During the time off, the hair on my head and face started growing back in rather quickly. But again, after a few weeks of the phase two chemo treatments, both head and facial hair began thinning out. Again, I did not notice the loss of any body hair. This time, because the hair on my head was so short, I was able to shave it off myself.

Before the transplant
Before the transplant
During the first two phases, while I did lose a lot of hair, I never lost all of it on either my head or face. But all that changed after I received the large doses of chemo in preparation for my bone marrow transplant. About two weeks after the treatment, hair everywhere began falling out. And by everywhere, I mean everywhere. After about a month, the only hair I had left on my body was my eyebrows and my eyelashes. My body was smooth as a newborn baby. I won’t go too much into details, but I will say, things feel a lot different without hair in the places where you’ve been used to having it. I was left feeling very incomplete and somewhat insecure. I didn’t like it at all.

But now, finally, it’s all coming back and I’m beginning to feel much more like my old self. And by old, I mean much older. As you can see, even though I looked older than my age before, this whole cancer ordeal has aged me even more. And even though I’ll still be completely gray on top, I’ll be glad to have it back and I promise not to complain when it once again gets too long and too thick and too hot on my head. And I won’t, in frustration, ask my son to shave it off (again, we’ll leave that story for another day).

Coming back!
Coming back!

Chemo

Chemotherapy Nurse
Kurt's nurse suited up and prepared to administer his chemotherapy

It seems to me that the word “chemotherapy” is one of those rare words that can instantly conjure up fear and images of pain and suffering, similar to words like “Holocaust” and “September Eleventh.” Perhaps those comparisons are not exactly appropriate (and bordering on bad taste), but my point is, just hearing the word chemotherapy tends to scares us.

And for good reason, too. Chances are, we know someone close to us, maybe a loved one or a friend, who got cancer and who had to receive rounds of chemotherapy. And from them, we heard firsthand how tough it was on the body. We heard about the nausea and vomiting, we heard about how it attacks the intestinal tracks and causes mucositis, we heard about their inability to eat and the loss of weight, we heard about the lightheadedness and dizzy spells, and we heard about the hair loss.

But chances also are, even though we know the word and are familiar with all of the effects associated with it, we really don’t know what it is. Now, I’m not about to try to cover the many different forms of chemotherapy treatments that are available, you can do a quick search and find out all about them if you’re really interested, but I do think it’s interesting that one word can have such an impact on our collective psyche without us really knowing much about it.

One thing I can tell you about chemotherapy, the stuff is toxic. Take a look at the picture of my nurse at the top of this post. She has to take special precautions to ensure that she doesn’t come in contact with the chemotherapy. She has to wear a mask, a disposable suit that wraps around and completely covers her clothing, and special gloves that go over the standard gloves she wears. What you don’t see in the picture is that the nurses also have a special hat that has a clear guard to protect their neck and face. It looks similar to what a spot welder would wear. And then, after she is completely protected, she pumps that toxic junk right into me.

From my experience, it seems that whenever chemotherapy is discussed, we tend to focus on all the negativity associated with it–just like I’ve been doing in this post–and barely focus at all on its most important quality: CHEMOTHERAPY SAVES LIVES! It saved my life. And, like a miracle, it’s saving countless of other lives every single day. We all should give thanks to God for it.