Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In the Chemo Room: Out with a tumor

I'm sitting at my computer on the day after a thoracic surgeon, John D. Mitchell, took out a relatively large colorectal tumor from my trachea, and I've been left wondering if all the muscle soreness in my body (as if at age 64 and totally out of shape I had just played in a two-hour pick-up, touch football game) is the result of not taking the heavy pain killers they usually give you after a major surgery?

Is that the pain they are trying to kill? Is it pain that results from full-body anesthesia? No matter where the surgery?

Because that's most of the pain I am feeling today on the day after. A mild sore throat, and little chest pain, but they pulled the tumor (literally) from the wall of the trachea and kept me overnight at the University of Colorado Cancer Center to make sure they didn't also pull out a hole in the trachea wall, which would have caused me further problems.

They did the work with a bronchoscope and had they accidentally pulled open a hole in the wall of the tube from my throat to my lungs, they would have had to split open my chest to go in and repair it. That's why I am home today; they did not open a hole, and I was released this morning as my over-all-aching increased by the minute.

But this has been the latest chapter in my fight from the Chemo Room against this four-and-a-half- year-old case of colorectal cancer.

The tumor grew in my throat while I was enrolled in a clinical trial testing a drug that had mild-to- moderate side effects and held most of the rest of the many tumors in my lungs and chest in check during the test. But then I started coughing badly, they ran a CT scan and looked closely, and ordered up the bronchoscopy.

So now I've been dropped from the trial because it was clear the drug I was receiving and have written about here before wasn't doing as good a job as we were thinking it was doing. But the trachea is a strange place for colorectal cancer to matastisize, so you can probably blame my individual cancer for the unexpected response to the drug.

The good thing is they found the tumor before it stopped my breathing altogether; they learned a little something about the drug; I'm breathing better now and no longer coughing as much. The bad thing is the tumor could grow back from the place where it was taken from, and the rest of the cancer mets (metastases) remain in my lungs and chest cavity (lymph nodes) and must be dealt with.

So you could call this chapter of In the Chemo Room, 'In, Out and Back Into the Chemo Room' because that's where I'm destined to return. As soon as all these aches and pains go away and my body heals from the surgery.

Dr. Wells Messersmith, my oncologist now, said he'd find a new way to treat me, which probably will involve a new clinical trial. But that's what the Cancer Center has come to be known for nationally in a very short time.

And that's why Mitchell, one of the nation's best thoracic surgeons I am told, is working there on patients like me. You can't say I'm not getting the best of care. And so are hundreds and hundreds of others who are passing through the center's gates.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Precision toolmaker wants to keep hiring

Patrick Stacy has hired five new employees, including an engineer, in the last three months. "I'm a toolmaker," he said. "My mentor used to say a toolmaker's job is never done."

Stacy Machine & Tooling in Broomfield has grown over 30 years from a  a one-man shop in Boulder to a $2 million, computer-aided-design and computer-aided-manufacturing shop with 21 employees and an owner who wants to make it bigger.

Stacy is one of those small-business owners defended by Republicans who argue against any increase in taxes by saying it will keep small businesses from hiring new people.

And yet Pat Stacy, who reached the ranks of the wealthy business owner only in 2011, his best year ever, still plans to expand and grow if only banks will help him finance the growth.

He says he has plenty of demand. "Global warming's been very good" to the instrument manufacturers that supply the research industries around Boulder, Stacy says. "Demand is coming from funding through the government," he added. "NASA contracts, Department of Energy contracts, Department of Defense contracts, all of these special research projects that are going on for the green stuff. We don't see a lot of green or solar; but we're just starting to see some of that."

Testimony, I guess, to the effectiveness of the stimulus spending that has been denigrated for three years of the Obama administration.

But Stacy's very success meeting that demand has now put him on President Obama's "hit list," he said. His income and profits this year will push through the $250,000 level that has long been considered a break point for increasing taxes on the wealthy.

"I'm finally getting to be where the politicians start taking aim," he said. But he said that's a problem 30 years in the making, and one most small business owners would welcome as a mark of achievement. It forces them to make decisions, however.

Most business owners struggle all their lives to get to a point where their business generates a little personal wealth -- "the time you're almost successful and actually get to be a player," Stacy said -- but then the "compromises" every business owner makes get a little more complicated.

Do you take a tax break that gains you the $60,000 you might plow back into your business for a new employee or a new piece of equipment? Or do you take it as a bonus or a raise, and bump up your tax liability.

"Growing a business, you're always making compromises," Stacy said. And growing his business, even after 30 years, is still Pat Stacy's primary goal for Stacy Manufacturing. His current plant at 2810 Industrial Lane in Broomfield is leased to buy, and the property has plenty of ground for expansion.

But banks for the past three years have not been willing to lend small business the money they need to to expand, he says. "These banks are all paralyzed. They will not loan money."

"Until they can get the banks to let go and finance people like me and people like a lot of other people who are highly leveraged in their business ...," Stacy says his voice trailing off.

"I'm up to here in debt," he said, "I've always been up to here in debt." But his business and others "still survive" and he believes "the rules have to change a little bit" to allow a real recovery to gain any momentum.

Pat Stacy got his degree in political science so he watches the way political winds blow, and he's not afraid to express his opinions.

"I love history, politics and all the other things of the world," he said, and it would seem some of those wider interests keep firing the childhood mechanical curiosity that lured him into the precision tooling business he has created. Hear the poetry in this description of one machine's operations:

"This eight-thousanths diameter copper wire, it cuts this underwater, deionized water.... you program it, you make a little fixture, you put it up there and you watch that little wire go cut it underneath the water with a beautiful blue flame, a blue arc."

Or in this position on Wall Street financiers vs. small business owners:

"If you're a stock broker and you're making deals and never get out of your seat and you make a quarter million dollars or a million dollars, should that be taxed a little different than maybe the money I make as a manufacturer, or as a farmer would make, or another kind of small business guy?"

Or: "Now you can put motives into the banking industry, whatever your want. You can put motives of: 'Hey, they're not lending money because they want to see Obama fail ... ' (but) the bottom line is the banks have money, somebody has money, and they're not lending it unless you're so rich you've got money coming out of your pockets."

There is a table in the front lobby of Pat Stacy's manufacturing plant; it's crowded with stainless steel and titanium parts he says he and his employees have made that now fly in space or rest in the joints of people who have had body parts replaced. On a wall nearby is his company's ISO certification, and you can tell Pat Stacy is pretty proud of the business he has made.

You can tell, too, that if he gets some financing he's going to make Stacy Manufacturing bigger by filling out his current second shift or by buying some newer machine to replace some of the "ancient" 1991 models his workers now use.

You can tell that because, even if he has made the politicians' "hit list" and his hard-earned "wealth" remains always at risk, Stacy believes what his mentor taught him long ago:

"A toolmaker's work is never done."