Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's been a year



I've let the actual date I'm calling my "fingerversary" fly by a couple weeks ago but it has now been over a year since I became 1 guy with 7 fingers and 2 thumbs. So far the cancer last described as "Sarcoma: Favor low-grade" has remained absent and I am very grateful.

Brea & I were actually at White Sands National Monument on the actual fingerversary and it was amazing. I overdosed on photography but what can you really expect at such a stunning venue?

The other fingers are doing just fine, thanks for asking! They still talk about the missing Mr Middle but have become rather adept at getting on with daily life since his untimely demise. Halloween had them on edge a little bit as a prime haunting time but the only ghost sighting was the white plaster cast of my hand from before the surgery. Plans to carve a carrot and dress it to where it looked like a dangling, mostly severed Mr Middle never panned out which is probably just as well as there were a number of small children that may have been permanently scarred as they trick-or-treated at our house. 


But today I'm blogging about something a little different. The month of my fingerversary also happens to be Movember and I've been participating. We (a team started by fellow cancer survivor Roger M.) shaved our faces clean on November 1st and have been growing a mustache to help raise money and awareness for men's health (With a concentration on cancer prevention and treatment). Several guys in our neighborhood are involved and besides Roger, Paul E. has been a boss in raising over $700 so far. Today Movember is officially over but you can still donate by visiting the website!

If nothing else, please visit this page and read up about men's health: http://us.movember.com/mens-health/
There are some crazy statistics in there to read about but it all boils down to owning your health as much as you can. Get a check-up, get to know your family history, and work towards living a healthy lifestyle in diet and activity.

I've been doing a push-up and pull-up routine lately that's helped me feel a lot better and has had some surprising results in slimming me down too. The best part is that (at least with push-ups) it doesn't require anything but yourself and a floor but it still works your core (if you do them correctly). So please, get to it brothers!

November 1st
November 23rd

So now it's December and I'm very tempted to make it Decembeard. We'll see if Brea's had enough of facial hair for a little while though. I suppose she should get a vote...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Misnomer: The Battle With Cancer

People often talk about the "battle with cancer" whether it be winning or a loss but I feel like that terminology is a bit misleading. The fight against cancer is war.

You do have battles within it of course, but it can come back and attack you in the same way or potentially come at you in a totally different location or category. The fight against cancer, for those that have just completed a "successful" battle is pretty much like the Korean War. There were sacrifices on both sides, what could be done was done, lines were drawn, and there is an uneasy ceasefire. You hope it stays that way and dissipates but every now and then you might get a skirmish (what's that mole?, what's causing those aches and pains?) that usually turns out to be nothing. Still, there's always that possibility one side might launch a full offensive.

And now that I've got that thought out of the way, here's something just a little different.

So what does a check-up look like for me? These days it looks a little something like this...

6:00am
Ugh. Getting ready to head out the door and it is still dark outside. You pretty much have to leave early just in case traffic is bad and this is Houston so it will be bad.

6:30am
Google Maps seems to think traffic is light, listing the route as green. Not yellow, orange, or red... green. They must have a relative scale because most cities would consider this "stop & go" traffic.

7:41am
I just got done (4 minutes before the scheduled appointment) with the standard chest and hand X-ray. It's cool that it's first come, first serve. That helps when appointments are scheduled so close together. I'm always curious if the jitters from holding my hand in the positions they need will degrade the quality of the image but at the same time I know it is probably neglible. It's funny how sometimes I can just wear my t-shirt, sometimes I have to put a scrubs top on. For that quick 10-15 minutes, when I get to put the scrubs on, I can just about see Turk, JD, or Elliot pop in.

8:05am
Now I'm just waiting for the ultrasound. On the way up to this section of the medical center I passed a baby grand piano and tried my hand (pun intended) at it again. I may have disappointed a lady that was sitting nearby as I am not actually a pianist. :D In any case, it wasn't chopsticks or Chopin.
Ultrasounds are kind of fun but you wind up with a bunch of oddly benign-smelling goo on you. I don't know how it manages to smell both neutral and  distinct at the same time but it does. One cool thing about it is that the gel they use here is typically warmed.

8:17am
Still waiting to get called in for that aforementioned ultrasound. It does seem to take longer mist times but I'm still running early.
One thing that I can't help but think about is a girl named Madeleine. I had gotten to photograph her back in March or April when a food fight was organized for her. She was diagnosed with multiple brain tumors years ago and had been beating the odds. Cancer took her yesterday. I suppose at least the fight is over and that provides some relief even in her friends and family's grief.


9:35am
Wound up starting the ultrasound a little late but it was a quick 10 minutes for the actual scan and another 15-20 for the tech and specialist to go over the images. The cool thing about the ultrasound is that the tech has always given a reassuring "everything looks good!" After checking with the doc. It's not a substitute for my primary doctor's pronouncement but it is a nice bonus!

9:45am
A quick brisk walk via the skybridge has me sitting in the Imaging Library and waiting to request a copy of the X-rays and ultrasound.

9:50am
Done until the appointment with my Dr Lewis! I need some breakfast!
This is actually Dr Lewis on a promo plaque on the first floor of the Main MD Anderson building. Hi Doc!

1:45pm
Checked into the sarcoma clinic... ok actually I got there at 1:52pm because I forgot how long it had taken to walk to Starbucks a few blocks away.... Paid co-pay. Whee!

2:00pm
Got weight, temperature, blood pressure and pulse taken. Bam! Multi-tasking!

2:45pm
Got called in to an examination room, possibly the same one that I'd come to to get my stitches taken out...

2:55pm
Visited and interviewed by a colleague of Dr Lewis, Dr Chaffey. Was told x-rays looked good and ultrasounds look great. I told him about intermittent aches and pains, got it confirmed that they were normal considering the types of activities I'm doing and what the surgery had affected. Was told Dr Lewis would be back to have a quick look herself and then we'd be all set.

3:05pm
Started playing Angry Birds app on Google Chrome to pass the time as the wireless network, while connected, wasn't delivering an internet connection. Boo...

3:10pm Noticed the wireless network finally connected with internet access and started updating this post again. :D

3:38pm
Drs Lewis & Chaffey, along with two guest doctors arrive, much to my wife's delight. She had started seriously second-guessing her choice to join me for the appointment. One of the guest doctors was a Chinese gentleman whom I'd met at my last appointment and somehow mis-communicated with as I tried to speak Mandarin and he apparently didn't understand that I was asking if he spoke Mandarin or Cantonese. The other doctor was new and from Japan. Anyhow, Dr Lewis checked out the hand, my underarm, and explained my situation to the doctors. The bottom line? I'm still left-middle-finger and cancer-free. Boo-ya.

3:43pm
Headed down on the elevator to the parking garage to get outa town. Wife, exasperated, exclaims that we just spent 2 hours waiting for the doctor to spend 5 minutes with us to tell us I'm okay. Another couple in elevator replies, "you've got our doctor?"

So there you go, that's what a  check-up day looks like for me. It's a mixed bag of fun, drama, and patience development. Thanks for tagging along!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I've been thinking.


Over the past couple months I've been thinking a bit about my cancer experience. Although I'm getting very comfortable with my new normal, to the point I almost feel like my 5 fingered right hand is the odd one out, there are times that I'm reminded that my left is not complete. It's kind of a joke at this point, a fun party trick of sorts. With that said, I'm starting to pull back from that mentality to some extent and it's for two main reasons.

First, there is always the chance that my battle isn't completely over. The same sort of thing could pop up again but for all I know a whole other kind of cancer could strike. It should be unlikely but of course I've considered the possibility of relapse. It's not something I like to dwell on of course, it's nice that recovery from the amputation is pretty much done and I really wouldn't mind not having to go through that again, survivable as it may be.

The second reason for pulling back a little on the more lighthearted approach is that I'm reminded often of people that had to go through much more severe treatments, lost more function, or lost their lives. It seems like I got off easy and in many ways I have. It seems like sometimes it's good to celebrate and enjoy that and other times a somber gratefulness is the way to go. Ultimately I'm able to be lighthearted about the topic because I've got hope that my life on earth is just a mist and that whatever physical ailments that arise aren't the end of the story. I hope that my outlook ultimately reveals that I really do trust that God knows what He's doing and I'm going to roll with it whether it looks good or bad to anyone here. I don't really know anything other than that, as much as I try to learn or understand. I am clay and am in the process of being used for something whether I realize what it is or not.

Of course this doesn't mean I'm not still going to have fun with this whole thing but it needed to be said that it's not all fun and games and I realize that. The next checkup is coming up soon so hopefully I'll be able to report more good news in a few weeks!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A-ok B-fine with me. C you in three!

This was me at my last checkup and the diagnosis was clean. What's it going to be this time?
So I got my results from yesterday's tests and they called me a fatty... sort of.

The ultrasound revealed some "fatty lymph nodes" that are *not* metastatic. The chest and hand x-rays came back clean as well so... drum roll please... Eric without a C it remains!

Brea & I waiting for Dr Lewis to give me the once over and proclaim my status.
Same hand, just a different day.
Kinda looks like a record in the left side ther doesn't it? I got the music in me baby.
This kinda looks like an alien face winking at  me... creepy. ultrasound...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Testing... testing... 1 2 3... Am I still cancer free?

Welcome yet again to another episode of Do I Have Cancer!

Today we'll be testing to find out whether "Eric with a C " is actually still Eric without the C." On the docket are the standard hand and chest x-rays, blood work, and an ultrasound of my lymph nodes, exciting stuff! If guessed correctly, contestants win.... absolutely nothing but the satisfaction of having guessed correctly.

What a crappy game show.

Still, it's fun to be regularly scanned and studied although not as much as folks on dialysis or business travelers that fly wearing turbans. I do not envy them.

On a much happier note, some relatives of mine who were also affected with cancer got featured in an interview with the Anchorage Daily News up in Alaska. I didn't even know they were up there but Alaska is a pretty cool place from what I hear, no pun intended.

"From Virginia Garner's pay-it-forward perspective, clinical research saved her life, which made it her duty -- her honor, really -- to help fund further research in the quest to cure leukemia.""

They're up there for the 2011 Mayor's Marathon which raises money for cancer research and I know they've been promoting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation for some time now. I need to get off my butt and do a 5k or triathlon for the cause too but as of the moment, I'm yet to contribute much more than my time and experience.

The photos I've included in this post are actually of a WaterNow benefit concert I got to be a part of a few weeks back on the day before Memorial Day. Does that count for something even though it's not cancer related? I sure hope so! :)


Friday, May 20, 2011

Top Ten: The Cool Side of Cancer (for me)

I'm not sure why but I just got the inspiration to do this. Just call me David Eric Letterman.


#1 I got "The Cancer Card"
Having lost my man card on weekly basis, never having been given a race card, and having found normal decks of cards largely useless to me, the cancer card was a wonderful gift to keep in my pocket for emergency situations. 


#2 Chicks dig scars
Yup, thanks to cancer, I got a pretty wicked one right on my hand. I'm pretty sure my wife now loves me at least 238% more than she did before I got it so I count that as a win. A good portion of cancers seem to require some sort of surgery which means, to some extent, you're getting a sweet fleshy souvenir for your troubles.

#3 Association with fighting
Who doesn't like sounding tough? Cancer is a cruel mistress and you do have to fight it and makes you, yup, a fighter! How cool is that? Very.

#4 Association with surviving
Surviving is equally as cool because you freakin' survived. I'm not sure if you knew this but cancer kills so escaping that is kinda a big deal.

#5 You get incentive to get busy livin'
Granted, if you're a little shy and your extreme sports budget is low, or if you don't want to jump from the cancer train right onto the diabetes train with overindulgence you might get a slow start but still.... talk about a jolt of adrenaline! Who knows if that sneaky crap will come back or get ya? While you can you want to live and do it well. That's a plus in my book. Just watch out for procrastinitis...

#6 You can make up fun stories when people ask you about your scar
You can lead them down intricate fabrications that sound awesome and then when you break the truth to them at the end, the story is still awesome! Very fun with people you've just met or kids. :-D


#7 Getting to have regular checkup appointments makes you sound important
Sorry, I'm going to be out of town for an appointment... That's almost like having a private jet or helicopter to head out to investor meetings or project inspections. That's big league son!

#8 Everything that people say might give you cancer scares you a little less
Pfff, been there done that. What's that? coffee might give me cancer? Sun? Sunscreen lotion? Cell phones? Water bottles? Smiling babies? The cure for cancer might give me cancer? Whatever, just throw it in the corner with my other cancer. Pansies...  I know this crap.
Ok, in reality you might be more aware and take some precaution, but the mystique is pretty diminished.

#9 Veterans and war stories
Ever seen Saving Private Ryan or Band of Brothers? Have a relative that has war buddies? That's a pretty cool bond and you get something in the same family when it comes to the battle with cancer. You get a whole community that better understands the nutty medical terminology, knows why margins are so important, and is also largely numbed to the sticker shock of medical bills. Shoot, we even share similar injuries with actual soldiers and the main difference is that the people that took our body parts were probably not actually trying to kill us.
By the way, thank you service men and women for the very difficult tasks you do for us everyday!

#10 You get to see who has mushy feelings for you
Yeah, this could go both ways. Eww, gross, emotions and junk... But still, beyond the embarrassment of being cared for it is pretty amazing to see people come out of the woodwork to support you or let you know they at least empathize with a difficult situation. It's actually pretty huge to get good support so if you know someone who's been diagnoses, give 'em some love!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Cancer gave me a metronome.

...or at least heavily subsidized it.



Don't get me wrong, I still think cancer is still a heck of a jerk, but at least it seems to be trying to make amends. A week or so ago, my friend/neighbor/fellow cancer survivor and thrive-er Roger and I went to a Live Strong focus group that was aimed at finding out what the needs of the young adult cancer community are. As a thank-you for our time, we got a gift card. Now, thanks to that thank-you, I'm the proud owner of a combination tuner/metronome which will help out especially with all the non-free-jazz I'm playing these days.

Upon second thought, it wasn't actually cancer that gave me that tool it was the nice folks at the University of Texas and LiveStrong. Stupid cancer...

I suppose if I wanted to get philosophical about this it would be possible...
Getting cancer acted as a sort of indicator of mortality and set an updated rhythm for my life. It hurried up the pace of things in it's own way. I now have scheduled checkups in regular intervals, much like a beat, it can tell me to hurry up or slow down depending on what happens, and it is sort of always beeping in my head any time I look at my hand or feel something odd there. Yes, cancer and this metronome thing do go hand in hand, pun intended (although seriously, I don't need any more hand cancer).

The scar is looking really good and depending on how light hits it and how I'm holding it, you might not even see it. The only thing that is curious to me at the moment is when and whether the surgical clips are going to make their exit. There are 5 in there still and I wonder if they're contributing to the pains that occasionally present themselves. We'll see what happens but for now I'm just rubbing in some SPF15 moisturizer to both protect the scarred skin and perhaps grease up these clip's exit.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Operative Report

This is definitely coming a bit late in the game but I just found and read my operative report. Basically it is what it sounds like. It describes the patient, the reason for the operation, how they did the surgery, and what the results of it were. I have Roger to thank (yet again) for letting me know about that reports probable existence and I just found and read it. It's pretty cool to get the details of my procedure, even though my understanding of the terminology is not quite there. It really does get quite dense, and I'm not implying stupidity. Here's an excerpt...

Dissection now revealed the remaining attachments between the volar plate, the deep intervolar plate, the transverse metacarpal ligament and perosseous bands of the palmar fascia and proximal portion of the flexor tendon sheath. These attachments were then divided sharply and the amputated specimen was removed.

Ok, maybe it's just the terminology that make's it fly a little over my head but still, wow.  


Anyhow, among other things it did list the before and after diagnosis officially as "UNCLASSIFIED MESENCHYMAL NEOPLASM, FAVOR LOW GRADE SARCOMA", they also showed that I had minimal blood loss and no complications. Yay!


Interestingly enough, my receding hairline somehow got a mention in another report but otherwise they seem happy that I'm an alert and apparently healthy adult male. My wife is pretty happy about that too. :)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Back in the Saddle

Progress!

When you're riding a bike using no hands, missing a finger doesn't matter.
The newest conquest in the world of amputation recovery is actually riding a mountain bike on an actual mountain bike trail! Sure I'd jumped on a bike or two within the past couple months but it was only for little test rides and only on pavement. This of course excludes the incident that occurred after I'd changed the inner tubes on Brea's bike, forgot to re-engage the brakes, took it for a quick sprint down my street, realized I couldn't brake, and then wove back and forth up hill and on some grass to slow down and stop. We're excluding that. No, this time my neighbor, friend, and biking enthusiast Joe let me join him and some other friends at a trail I'd never been to before. After realizing after the fact that my tires needed inflation and my chain desperately needed some lube and stretching, the bike was set, but was I?

Heading out on the trail one sensation struck me as odd. While navigating down a rocky portion on a slight curve, the bike was needing to be controlled pretty heavily to stay on course. As my grip tightened, one of the rubber nubs dug into the bundle of nerve terminations where my finger used to be, causing a rush of feeling that conjured the muscle memory of my finger for few moments. It just felt like the finger was there and tingling in a strong, but not painful way. That may have also primed me for another realization. Apparently I used to use the middle finger to rest on the brake lever in terrain like that so that I'd be able to maintain maximum grip on the handlebars while still having a method to ease on the brake as needed. In order to achieve that now, I'm relying more on just my little and ring finger with the pointer reaching for the stopping device. When your bike is wanting to jerk around, grabbing the brakes accidentally (and full force) has a high likelihood of flipping you over the handlebars, and you are relying on some digits not used to the responsibility, it can make a fellow nervous. Thankfully, no actual disaster occurred and those obstacles were navigated without incident.

It was about a 5 mile course and that was about all my legs could handle at the pace I was attempting. Even though I'd been able to swim a bit, my cardio wasn't quite there and probably more importantly, my legs had been on vacation from that sort of activity for too long. That said, it was a great start!

That ride led to discussion of other opportunities and Joe mentioned a place just north of our neighborhood that we could actually just ride to. I checked it out and headed out there Monday and was very pleasantly surprised. It wasn't anywhere near as technical as trails we have been used to but it is a good place to just ride and it's close which is a huge plus. Since it was a scouting ride, I had my camera and took a few pictures along the way. I think I found a few places that will be great for portraits when the opportunity presents itself.

So I am back in the saddle, however unfit, and ready to ride! It had been too long...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Cancer free for another 3 months!

Hey all! So far it seems like the treatment of removing the finger entirely did the trick! The most recent battery of tests came back clear so needless to say, that's good news! My problem of saying things that should go without saying, however, continues. I suppose you can't win 'em all.

Anyhow, things are going well with the recuperation. Strength is still returning to the hand and it's not quite as much a struggle to hold things like drum sticks tightly and securely. I have, in returning to and diving more deeply into normal activities, had a bevy of new phantom sensations that make life interesting from time to time. The odd sensation of heat, itching, and sometimes some minor pain have made debuts to a lukewarm reception, much like 65% of movie releases these days. My personal favorite was the burning sensation that came up while holding a hot plate with a potholder. My hand was totally protected but somehow the phantom finger got the idea it may have been burned while gripping the plate. Go figure. I always did have a pretty good imagination though.

I got to speak to a guy who'd had his lower arm amputated after a car accident and he mentioned the phantom sensations don't really go away in his experience of 10-15 years. It's funny the new connections you can make just by missing a visible body part. In any case, it was good to talk to someone who was also pressing on despite that nasty little setback.

This blog was started to help chronicle my experience with having cancer but the cancer seems to be gone and I'm quite grateful for that. Now I'm finding myself on the sidelines as friends like my neighbor Roger battle it. He recently had his recurrent brain tumor removed and is doing remarkably well, now just trying to re-train his brain to get his foot moving again. We got to go to a Round Rock Express baseball game just a couple weeks after his surgery which was great fun if not slightly dangerous as we were sitting in foul ball range. No need to knock that noggin' any more.

One other thing that happened recently (that is cancer related) is that I got to photograph an event for a young girl who's battling an aggressive brain cancer. I was invited by a friend who is with Young Professionals for the Cure who organized the whole thing. What was the event? A food fight. Yep, a food fight, and it was rockin'! You can check out her story and more at her website at http://www.madeleinesgift.org/

My coverage of the event can be found here.

So yeah, good times in the midst of some crazy stuff! It's great that people are fighting, supporting, and having fun in the midst of the trial that is cancer. I will say that in these listed experiences the positive has come out of groups & individuals that are focused on things beyond this life. Hope is something that you can't buy and thankfully it's been generously gifted to a lot of us.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

My two cents










My two cents are on the ground at McDonalds; the one at Austin's infamous "Y."

Why?

Because there's a gap in between my fingers on my left hand that just doesn't close tightly. While this is the first actual incident of this sort, it was anticipated. It will probably happen again too. It's the sort of thing that just does and unless I move back to a country where the driver is on the right side of the car, my left hand will, more often than not, be what is reaching out of the car at drive-through windows for change, ketchup, sugar, etc. Coins are sure to be falling for years to come, I just hope it doesn't exceed two cents an occurrence.

Those two cents are still lying on the ground at that drive through as far as I know. I used to collect pennies because they were usually what a kid could find on the ground and unclaimed. Now they apparently cost more to make than they're actually worth as currency. Don't get any ideas about selling the monies for material, I'm pretty sure that's still a federal offense...

That reminds me of an article I read recently about how it would save the US government tons of money to switch to dollar coins entirely, but that's something that would better be discussed on my other blog, News/Reviews/Opinion.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Swim Swam Swum

Interesting factoid, for those who are curious, one can swim straight with two disproportionately sized hands. I'm not sure about the physics of the matter, perhaps I was able to auto-correct like an airplane down one engine, but I was able to swim freestyle yesterday afternoon and even stay in my half of the lane.

Yesterday marked the first major attempt at proper normal exercise since the whirlwind of the surgery and recovery. Sure I'd been able to play the drum kit and hand percussion, help move and carry things, and hike in to a campsite with loads of firewood and equipment, but nothing like trying to swim straight laps. It's a good thing to be sure since I was feeling pretty out of shape by my standards. It doesn't help to be out of sync with normal athletic activities and turn 30 all in the same period. But this is promising, I was actually concerned about my ability to swim and it now appears my primary hindrance is stamina and cardiovascular conditioning as opposed to the more tempting scapegoat of a missing finger. Darn.

The phantom lives on by the way. I even tried to work it into a campfire ghost story but it was not a well thought out story and some of the younger audience weren't following at all. Really it's probably for the best. The actual phantom activity is mainly presenting in tingles and mental lockups whereby I momentarily feel like the other fingers can't move because the missing one is stuck. It is still quickly resolved with a thought but I'm going to need to make sure it doesn't slip out of control. There is also still sensitivity in the area the nerves were severed. Distributed force in the palm isn't a problem but if I clap incorrectly and hit that spot it can become quickly sore or at least undesirable. I think I need to keep up with some of the stretching exercises I'd been given in OT too, there is a little tightness in the hand.

Much of the recent discomfort seems attributable to all the activities and strains the new version of this left hand is experiencing for the first time. Hopefully they're growing pains and it's muscle and tendon growing and healing further. Good times.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Discharged

Well that was fun...
Thursday turned out to be my last day of occupational therapy. Macy said I was looking great and set me loose to continue the recovery without her professional services. I suppose it was time.

It's been fun getting challenged in that environment so I'll actually miss it but it does take a chunk of time and money to go, even with insurance. Instead, it's time to further explore my new normal on my own. Speaking of that... This Sunday, which is fast approaching, will see another first in this post amputation world. I get to play hand percussion on a cajon (wooden box with a snare inside that you sit on and play). Practice went well and it feels pretty good although I have some soreness in that left wrist at the moment. That could be due to any number of things but I suppose slamming it repeatedly onto a wooden box would be a smart first suspect. As with many musical instruments though, you have to develop or re-develop callouses or tolerance. It is very fun to play... :)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Finally, something I can't do. It's about time.

Well it's been weeks since I posted because life has been getting back to normal and I suppose that is a good thing. I've been drumming, been painting, been photographing... Shoot, I've even been washing dishes and doing laundry again. I was getting tired of having to take Axe (body spray) baths to keep my clothes from making it seem like I was also not showering. Yes, that was a joke... :)


Amidst the healing and rehabilitation, which I'll get back to in just a minute, I've been able to explore more thoroughly this new reality I'm living. In that process some things have presented themselves as goals to strive towards, like building grip strength, and other things that might be the first real disability I've been able to identify.

It was probably first a blip on the radar while in the shower getting ready to shampoo my ever-more-sparsely-populated hair. It really became noticeable when brushing my teeth. It relates to a question you may remember I'd asked some time back before the surgery about the effect on surface area the finger removal would have. I'd been concerned that it would detrimentally affect my ability to swim in a straight line. The answer was that aside from the finger itself, the palm surface area should only shrink about a centimeter which turned out to be correct. The caveat to that is in the spacing of fingers, in part due to the lack of change in width of my palm. While my pinkie and ring/new-middle finger come together about as well as they ever have (as far as I can remember), my index and new-middle don't and that creates a bit of a gap to allow things to fall through. I felt shampoo slipping through my fingers in the shower and while attempting to cup water to rinse after brushing, I found it an exercise in futility when using only my left hand. To a lesser extent, taking change from drive-through windows also left me less than confident in being able to ensure I don't drop any coins. And there you have it.

All told, not a huge deal at all but it is what it is. Truth be told, after staring at my hands for what amounts to hours on end (collectively), the five fingered hand looks overpopulated and abnormal. Crazy I know but it may also have to do with the excessive amount of animated entertainment I've watched. It has been noted by a few friends that Simpsons, characters, among others typically have 4 fingers and as such I'm arguably in good company, or just company at the least. :D

The issue with gloves has been much of a non-issue for the most part so far. The solution has either been to simply load the sleeves with the appropriate fingers and leave the middle un-inhabited or to tuck it into the glove. Both options are largely acceptable for all purposes so far.

With regards to occupational therapy, I've been going for a while now and am actually probably nearing the end of my sessions. I'd been going twice a week and a couple weeks ago that was cut to once a week. On a visit this last Thursday that got cut to every two weeks. All areas of the incision are fully closed and the scar is smoothed out pretty nicely. While typing this up I'm yet to take updated shots of this hand showing the significant progress that has been made but I'll get that fixed up before posting.

The next round of routine tests to make sure the cancer is gone have already been scheduled and it looks like they have me on a rotation of the most expensive and intrusive tests. I'd had an MRI right before surgery, the first post-op appointments had a CT scan, and this next appointment I'll be getting an ultrasound in addition to the routine bloodwork and x-rays. My health insurance is grateful they're not doing MRI, CT, and ultrasound every time I'm sure. Heck, I'm glad.

The phantom finger has become a largely controllable phenomenon for me which makes me a blessed guy judging from some of the horror stories I've heard about phantom pains of others. The recent cold weather seemed to cause it to flair up a bit more but each time I feel it coming on, concentrating on the present fingers and moving them seems to dissipate that feeling quite quickly. It's somewhat fun to be able to turn it on and feel that sensation of pressure and tingles when I try to engage the missing digit although it seems somewhat risky to entertain it too much. Might the sensation stick and I lose the ability to turn it off? Will I lose that sensation altogether in time? It's hard to tell what would be the desirable outcome. Holding on to something that is gone has such a bittersweet and at times vastly deep impact on a person's psyche. That seems to be true of my finger but also, according to my observation, in death, lost opportunities, and even just not seeing friends for long periods of time.

The more I've thought about this experience, the more it seems I've been prepared for it. The observations mentioned above have come from personal and second-hand experiences. Moving around and not seeing close friends for long periods of time emulates death to a degree, having some opportunities come and go, some in very distressing fashion also emulate the same emotions and similar repercussions. Having faced a number of these types of situations, a degree of numbness that formed due to the previous experiences helped buffer the blow of what could have been something that would have stung sharply. It's good to know that in the middle of the hurricane of seemingly nonsensical pain and change that God has ways to weave a silver lining that actually overcomes the cloud itself. It seems like that's always the plan.

There is a sweetness to suffering, not that I know it all that well. The stuff I have gone through provided enough of a glimpse that I think I've got a decent idea of it though. There are great times and there are tough times, there's room for it all.


All that about troubles and ups and downs reminds me of something...

In a recent conversation the concept of karma came up from an individual who was expressing his diminishing belief in it. The whole concept of things coming back to reward or condemn deeds is attractive because of it's proximity to the truth. However, at the same time, its distance is noticeable and reveals itself in time through experience. My personal belief as a subscriber to biblical doctrine leads me to belief in reciprocation of deeds to an extent but via the hands of God and not necessarily in my lifetime. While good or bad deeds may or may not be judged and acted on within the course of any affected party's lifetime, the consequences of actions are always dealt with. The difference between what I believe and karma is that it doesn't matter whether I experience the effects of it. I simply trust God will judge and enact justice and mercy as He sees fit. Given that He's far more capable of handling things than I, it's a good and comforting thing to be able to rely on that and just work on our relationship.  Of course this is a tough thing to get into with someone who doesn't share the same beliefs but it rings true to me.

I don't know why that came up but it did. Oh, lookie there, it's 2am... that explains it.
Not to negate those preceding thoughts but I think late night blogging is similar to dreaming which is often acts like one of those warehouses that wreckage is dumped in to be sifted, sorted, and re-assembled to make sense of it all. Blogging tends to be more coherent as it is done with all cognitive functions while dreaming trends to the more bizarre. Nonetheless, with both you wind up with piles of thought that are sometimes related and sometimes not all in the same arena. So there you have it, goodnight. :D

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

51 Days of progress

Two things happened this morning, the 51st day since the surgery: #1 was that I set up my drum kit and played it for the first 9-fingered time. #2 was I was able to clip my fingernails normally without having to resort to wedging the clippers between my knee and left wrist to get the needed torque. So yeah, it's been a pretty good day. It really is the little things...

YouTube video of this session.

My ring finger is still the one that needs the most work to recover it's mobility and really it might very well need to exceed it's former benchmarks given it's former neighbor finger is no longer with us. the surface is healing up nicely but the internals are still probably about three-fifths healed. Gripping the drum stick with that hand, while possible, didn't feel completely natural although I can hardly complain. It was the 1st time to try playing and the 2nd time I tried holding drumsticks post-op. It is a start and that's what I was shooting for.

Macy, my occupational therapist, actually did assign me that project (drumming, or trying to at least) as part of my therapy as we try and figure out what I am having trouble doing that I'd normally but up to. That will give us things to focus on and work towards. At the moment I'm working on scar-management and range of motion through everything from massage to squeezing and working thera-putty. Good times.

I'm trying to get back to normal except that normal isn't normal. At the beginning of all this I was just setting out as a self-employed artist/photographer and a lot was still needing to be learned and set up. I'm still trying to get my financial records in order and still trying to figure out my primary concentration. Business has been steadier than it's ever been though it will constantly need to being growing to actually make it to a point where I have a proper salary. But that has nothing to do with cancer and little to do with the recovery process so I'm shutting up about that now. :D
X-ray of the hand from an angle. The little lines are surgical clips that hold tissue together.

The next period of "Eric with a C" is going to be monitoring to hopefully confirm that the surgery was successful in cutting off the cancer before it got anywhere else. Aside from the quarterly checkups I'll need to go in for, we're also taking advantage of the MDA resource to get checked for any skin cancer since it's just smart to do so. There's no reason to think I have it but whenever you get one type, it just seems like it would make sense to make sure there's not some other lurking around the corner. If there was hopefully this would help nip it in the bud.

So there you have it, that's what's going on. It's a brand new year, the year of the 9 for me, it's kind of like a new type of birthday without all the cake and presents. Here's to new challenges and new opportunities to keep us busy and out of trouble!