Monday, September 21, 2009

In the chemo room, Chapter II

Getting out of bed to start another day becomes one of the more difficult chores of the patient under chemotherapy.

I say that not to garner sympathy, but merely to report a fact. I’ve felt like that, in fact, at other times in my life when I have not been under the influence of chemo, and I’m sure others have, too. It's like waking up with a hangover, or just facing another day of monotony in your job or even among your family.
(Photo credit: Cancer cell,

So, I think I can safely say just about anybody can identify with the experience even if you don’t have cancer (and I pray you never will).

But the right thing to do -- always -- is to get up and get started. Get going. Make a move. Take a risk and make some money!

You have to think hustlers for survival have made that decision endless numbers of times on endless numbers of mornings throughout history.

It’s a life-generating decision. Just deciding to get busy again makes you part of the world you live in. The Broncos have won! The Rockies, too! The heat’s coming on in the house even on the last day of summer. It’s Monday. Another miserable Monday, and yet you are glad to face it, glad to be alive another day.

Actually glad to have bills to pay, and a dog to feed. A lawn to cut, and a book to finish. A batch of pals to play poker with, or croquet!

Glad for the challenge to figure out your finances for the next two years, and yes, even glad to still be facing your taxes! Life isn’t always filled with beautiful sunsets and close companions near at hand.

Sometimes it’s only you facing the morning and another day of work.

But that’s okay. The Broncos have won! The Rockies, too! Life is good and getting better.

Friday, September 18, 2009

In the chemo room

I smell like chemotherapy now, having finished my first session of my second major round of chemo yesterday (Sept. 17) with about eight to a dozen other patients at Cypress Hematology & Oncology who, like I, it seems, are going mano a mano with death.

It was a good group, and two women who are fighting breast cancer (one of whom has already done battle with lung cancer as well) had a frank discussion with me about our treatments so far and how we cope with the prospect of not surviving. A fourth patient listened pretty intently during the five hours I was there at the Porter Cancer Care Center in South Denver since I think it was his first ever session in the chemo room.

I entered the building a little leery of what the day would hold.

The major side effect of both the chemicals they pumped into my body yesterday, Irinotecan and Erbitux, is diarrhea, and since the same symptom proved a problem for me during my first major round of chemo, I walked through the automatic sliding doors of the center with a sense of foreboding bordering on doom. The foreboding was for the reaction to the drugs; the doom because the chances of surviving my metastatic colo-rectal cancer for up to or more than five years are pretty slim -- five percent.

But my oncologist, Dr. Thomas Kenney, said the treatments might give me two to three years, and I told the two women in the room with me I wanted the time to finish a book I'm writing about a Denver oilman, Tim Marquez, as well as my own novel, which is up to five completed chapters so far.

As for the rest of the day, it wasn't so bad. I had a 90-minute interview with Kenney's nurse practitioner who went over the treatment, the symptoms of the side effects, and what current medicines and supplements I'm taking that she said I should curtail or continue. She wasn't at all surprised -- except by the little information about the topic in the materials she was giving me -- when I asked her the effects of the chemicals on my sexuality.

I think women, who have grown up with menstrual issues and the prospect of pregnancy, have a better handle on the sexual reactions of the body and its parts acting sexually than do men. We men usually do not like to talk about it. Unless it is with a woman.

The materials the nurse gave me mentioned that sexual intercourse should be performed with a condom since chemo chemicals can be transferred in bodily fluids, which also rules out oral sex while one party is in chemotherapy.

What the materials didn't talk about was passionate kissing, nor a man's arousal to erection and ejaculation, nor a woman's arousal. My nurse told me the chemicals I'm receiving shouldn't have much effect along the latter lines, and I didn't ask about the kissing but assume that should be limited to closed-mouth as well.

My nurse did admit she and her fellow nurses are not often asked those questions. Sex is still a dirty word in America.

Then came the five-hour infusion session, meeting and talking with my two new women friends, and the relief of leaving the center knowing the first chemo session was done, and I didn't have to take another for two weeks. Of course, then the steroid they give you to boost the effects of the chemicals, kicked in and kept me awake past three o'clock this morning. And by six, the diarrhea.

That's why I'm not getting to this blog until now to write and post what I actually wrote in longhand in my bedside journal between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. this morning.

I still smell like chemo, but at least I'm alive to write about it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Doing 'right' by the nation

"I think we misinterpreted what the markets wanted," [Federal Reserve Board Gov. Emmett] Rice said. "I thought they wanted us to stay tight. After the ease, I was concerned about how the financial markets would react. When they reacted positively, I was surprised."

Rice was a governor on the Fed when Ronald Reagan was president and the nation was suffering through the longest recession since the Great Depression until now. His words then, quoted by William Greider, in his 1987 book "Secrets of the Temple," sound a familiar ring for today.

Here's more of Greider's quote of Rice, along with a paragraph in Greider's own words about that time in 1981 and 1982:

"Market participants talk tough as individuals and they're hard-liners [Emmett Ricce said], but they wanted to see interest rates come down and they welcomed it. When they saw rates come down, they were very quick to jump on the bandwagon and benefit from it. If you talk to individuals in the market -- dealers, bond salesmen, investment bankers, commericial bankers -- they will say: 'Stay tight.' Yet they welcomed the lower interest rates. It was the same with the Federal Advisory Council, advising us to stay tight. Then we ease and the markets rally and the same advisory council says to us: 'You did the right thing.'"

Greider continues in his book:

"For months, the Federal Reserve had held tight, insisting that this was what the financial markets demanded. The politicians from Congress and the White House, pleading for lower interest rates, were dismissed as mere politicians. Governor Nancy Teeters was ignored, too. The economy was driven deeper and deeper into contraction. In effect, the national government's management of the economy was being guided by the self-interested commentaries from a few hundred thousand financial experts in Wall Street. The Fed was steering -- or was being steered -- by the opinions of bondholders and their representatives and what they alone thought would be good for the nation. Only, in this case, the investors and investment experts from Wall Street were mistaken. Because they were wrong, the Federal Reserve was wrong, too."

Ben Bernanke, current chairman of the Federal Reserve, and Timothy Geithner, secretary of the Treasury, were determined not to get it wrong again in 2008 and 2009, and that's why anyone who wants to understand how the 2009-2010 economic recovery is occurring should consult Greider's book as a blue print.

Their mentor, and one of the chief architects of this slow recovery, is Paul Volcker, who was the Fed chairman during the early Reagan years, and who joined in making the mistakes Rice was quoted as admitting. Volcker, like Bernanke and Geithner, also doesn't want to see the same mistakes made now that were made then.

And to ensure that, the 21st century architects of recovery are following a precept intimated in Rice's comments from "Secrets of the Temple." He admits the Federal Reserve Board was trying to do back in 1981 what it thought Wall Street wanted it to do.

The Fed was not trying to "do the right thing" for the nation.

The Obama administration has made it quite clear to Wall Street this time around that it will being doing the right thing by the nation, rather than cater to the financial industry's traditional beliefs.

And if it steps on some peoples' toes, Obama is a guy with big feet and so far has shown he doesn't mind appearing politically awkward in public. Lets hope the same goes for his health-care reform.

In the meantime, Greider's book remains an outline for financial-industry reform. It's long and I'm still reading it, but I plan to write more about about it here in the future.

You can order it for $16.38 on Amazon here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Getting old too fast

Do you think someone is right now launching a website to instruct people who have abducted children in the "best practices" for keeping kids hidden inside the house or in the backyard?

Sunday's newspaper story of a seven-year-old who was abducted from the custody of his father by his mother two years ago, and apparently hidden since then in a specially built room at his grandma's house, suggests a website could be a hit.

The seven-year-old's rescue by Illinois state troopers on Friday follows last month's rescue of Jaycee Dugard, allegedly abducted 20 years ago by Phillip Garrido in California and hidden in his backyard while she grew up and bore him two children, who also were kept in the yard.

Seems like abductors need a little online help in how to successfully hide their prey more effectively.

Grandmas, in the meantime, are also getting a bad name. Maybe to the point that "death panels" embedded in the propsosed health-care reform bills can finally serve a proper purpose.

The seven-year-old's grandma hid him in her modified house. On the same day the missing kid was discovered there, another grandma in San Antonio was reported to have called in a bomb threat on an elementary school, just so she could see her grandkids when the school population fled the building.

All these abductors and bomb-callers happen to be baby-boomers, you'll notice. It's tough getting old and keeping your sense about you, but then it's been tough for most of us baby-boomers to keep much sense about us even when we were young.

Unfortunately, it's our children who know that best about us.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ritter campaigns on too many fronts

Gov. Bill Ritter campaigned all over the Denver Post on Thursday, from a piece he and Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien planted on the op-ed page defending their proposed cuts to public school funding, to a news story at the top of the Denver & The West cover reporting Ritter backed down from taking drunk-driving crackdown funds away from local police departments.

Campaigns were waged against the governor, too. His name was mentioned on the front page of the newspaper as the villain of budget cutbacks to state-funded health clinics, and on page 4B for being the architect of the $260 million batch of cuts overall in order to backfill a $320 million shortfall of revenues in the current fiscal year.

He was praised by the Post's editorial page for both regulating (read: limiting) and promoting the natural-gas industry in the state, and in Susan Greene's column he was the wizard behind the curtain drawn over tragic cost cutting at the state's Fort Logan mental health facility.

One thing you have to say about the governor in all those situations is that he has chosen to govern the people of his state, making tough decisions required of him by state law.

The move to restore funds to pay for drunk-driving arrests was something you might have expected from a former prosecutor once people complained that it would leave more drunks on the road and more victims of drunks in hospitals.

But the Ritter also has stayed firm on cuts that go against his law-and-order grain by releasing some convicts early in order to save prison money, and allowing other convicts shortened parole supervision, also to reduce state spending.

The general impression of Ritter I got after writing a piece in the current ColoradoBiz magazine was that he is doing his job. The report focused on the governor's political prospects for keeping votes in the Colorado business community during his 2010 re-election campaign, specifically by promoting the growth of clean/green industry in the state.

When I briefly interviewed Ritter for the article last July, I asked him if he was already campaigning for re-election given harsh reactions to some of his decisions among his natural supporters. He unabashedly responded that he has been campaigning for re-election ever since his inauguration.

That's the nature of politics today. Campaigns are always on, 24-7.

It's also the nature of being a governor in a state that is divided somewhat evenly between liberal and conservative voters, although large margins of those voting concentrations hone to the moderate center of their groups rather than the outer fringes.

Ritter campaigned as a somewhat undefined moderate and won the day in 2006, but the intervening three years have been hard on his continued efforts not to be pinned down.

He doesn't seem to be brave enough to decide against conservative factions in the state, and yet not liberal enough to provoke them and take his chances. Under that cover, he can claim to be serving the largest number of Colorado citizens, and he's basically right.

But serving a crowd often creates new enemies.

Voters will be making hard decisions for and against him in polling places across Colorado come November 2010. And while pissing off both sides of an argument might be appreciated in a news reporter, it usually doesn't work for an elected official.