Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Quick Update

Round 4 of chemo started mid-afternoon today. I managed to get a lot of work done at the hospital, and I feel OK so far.

But, after some whining in my last two posts, I got a good surprise in my workout last night.   We did Olympic lifting to start and my lifts went pretty well.

We started with 10x1 snatches. I did power snatches for shoulder mobility reasons. I started at only 63 pounds, but I worked up to 103 pounds. This is about 75% of my one rep max.

Next, I did 10 power cleans/push jerks. I worked from 83 pounds up to 143. That heaviest lift is 74% of my one rep max. The Oly lifts are more about technique than pure strength, and I was surprised to get that high of a percentage with these lifts.

On the power lifts, I'm currently maxing out in the 50%-55% range.

I looked at my training logs and the last time I did either of these lifts that heavy was 2/20/2015.  At that point in time, I felt fully healthy.

The second part of the workout was 10 ball slams, 10 sit-ups, and 10 burpees for max reps in 10 minutes. I struggled a bit on this, but I was happy enough with the Oly lifts that I'm not going to worry about it.

Time for bed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cumulative Effects

I'm not sure exactly what is going on, but I'm seeing some sort of cumulative effect from the chemo or my limited training schedule.

It might be that I simply can't work out enough days to maintain my fitness.  Or, it may be a true side effect of the chemo.

I skied over the weekend, but neither day was first chair to last chair.  To be honest, I was done by noon on Sunday - exhausted and ready for a nap.  My FitBit showed that when I got home from skiing on Sunday, I fell asleep pretty much immediately and napped for 2:15.

Despite that nap, I was still exhausted for CrossFit last night.  Just like last Monday, we started with back squats.  After being unable to walk due to heavy squats last week, I scaled the weights a bit and I still struggled.  I did sets of 8-6-6-6 for back squats and kept my max 20 pounds lower than last week.  I then did 4x5 front squats at 135# and struggled.  In March of last year, before I started to get sick, I took from front squat max from 275 to 305 and it felt almost easy.  I'm nowhere close to that after 9-10 months of sub-par training.

Next, the metabolic conditioning was 3 rounds of 30 kettlebell swings, 45 air squats and 90 jump rope reps.  I scaled this to 30-30-60 and still struggled.  This was a lung burner and I simply had no endurance.  Lots of people who did the full rep scheme beat me, despite my lower rep count.

Today, we have Olympic lifting, followed by 10 minutes to do as many ball slams, sit-ups and burpees (in sets of 10 each) as possible.  This will be another lung burner and I expect to struggle.

Is it the lack of training consistency since I've started chemo?  Or is the chemo's effects, gradually catching up with me.

I still hear words like "amazing" and "inspirational" from people at the gym.  I've heard similar comments from my doctors and nurses.  I don't think what I'm doing fits either of those descriptions.  I'm just trying to live my life as close as possible to how I normally live.  My doctors are amazed at how much fitness stuff I'm still doing.  When I start chemo tomorrow, I'll have 4 ski days, 4 CrossFit days, 2 walking days, and one rowing day in the 16 days since chemo ended.  And it's been a struggle.  It's also apparently a lot more than most people on my chemo regime are able to do.

So, I should probably just be happy, and then plan to use the 5 weeks between chemo and surgery to work as hard as I can.  But, if anyone read my last post, happy doesn't describe how I've been feeling recently.

I'm torn on starting the last round of chemo tomorrow.  Partly, I simply don't believe it will be my last round of chemo.  This insidious disease tends to recur frequently.  At some point, surgery won't be an option, and I'll probably be back on regular chemo treatments.  But, that is hopefully down the road a bit.

For now, I want to just get through this latest round and start getting ready for surgery next month.  I have 5+ weeks between chemo and surgery, and I'm hoping I can train hard enough to feel like I'm making some positive progress in those weeks.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A rough week

Out of every 21 day period right now, I can do CrossFit an absolute max of 8 days.

I check into the hospital on a Wednesday (day 1).  I'm there through Saturday or Sunday.  If I go home on Saturday, Sunday (day 5) is purely a rest day.  The same is true for Monday, because I can never sleep on Sunday nights.  By day 7, I can walk for up to an hour on a treadmill.  If I'm lucky, I'll do that 2-3 times through day 10.

On days 11 and 12, I can ski, but I have to take it easy.  On day 13, I can return to CrossFit.  I did that this week.  And, I wrecked myself for the entire week doing squats.  I managed to get through the workout on Tuesday, but on Wednesday, I could barely walk.  My hamstrings were so sore that bending over to pick something up would tweak the muscles.  If I was working out every week, this would never happen.  Yes, I would get sore from some workouts, but not so sore that I can barely walk for days.

On Thursday (day 16), I couldn't do the workout again.  I rowed 6000 meters, but it wasn't the same as a real CrossFit workout.  Today, day 17, I did the warm-up and started to warm up for deadlifts.  On my 4th rep at 135 pounds, a weight I use as my starting point in warm-ups, I tweaked my right hamstring.  I had to bail on the workout.  So, instead of 4-5 CrossFit workouts this week, I got about 2.5.  I'm guessing my skiing will be somewhat compromised this weekend.

If I'm lucky, I'll be able to do CF on Monday and Tuesday (days 20 and 21) before I re-start chemo on Wednesday.

As I sat there this morning, unable to do the workout, knowing that consistent training would have allowed me to do the workout, I was angry.  For the first time in the past 10 months, through this whole ordeal, I was just plain pissed off.

It's bad enough that my body wants to kill itself.  It sucks that I've lost so much fitness, endured a really painful surgery, and I have another on the way.  My quality of life (QOL) is so compromised that I'm just pissed off.

And, the way this stupid disease works, it may never get better.  I have an aggressive form of liposarcoma.  Even after chemo and surgery, I imagine the odds for a clean scan in June aren't that favorable.

So, I found myself daydreaming of walking away from it all.  No more chemo.  No more surgery.  No more scans.  No more doctors.  Yes, I know what the end result would be.  But, I'm really torn on the issue of quality of life vs. quantity of life.  I want to know what would happen if I refused any more treatment.  Is it that much worse than if I continue?

I know I'm venting.  But I'm pissed off, angry, frustrated, etc.

Why did I bother to spend the last 30 years working my butt off as an athlete only to have 2 cancer diagnoses in my early 50s?

I'll probably feel better in a few hours and then I'll want to delete this post.  But, right now, I'm just so filled with raw emotions that I needed to write them down.

I have time to change my mind on my future treatments.  I doubt that I'll do that.  But, if today was day 1, my wife and I would be arguing, most likely, as I tried to simply skip the next round of chemo.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Round 3 - A week later

My fatigue and nausea ended up being a bit worse after round 3 than after round 2.  But, it didn't take long after my Saturday discharge for things to start to improve.

I did my normal IV hydration visits on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week.  On Monday, my weight was low and I felt tired.  They gave me some extra fluid because of the low weight.  Tuesday morning, I felt a lot better and managed to walk 2.5 miles on the treadmill.

Then, more saline, and I walked 3.0 miles on Wednesday.  The nausea was dissipating quickly as well.  By Friday, other than some bone pain from the Neulasta, I was feeling pretty normal.

Saturday, I taught skiing, and for the first time all year, I skied all day.  I was tired at the end of the day, but I made it through just fine.  We even had some funky new wet snow that made the skiing challenging, and I felt good in those mixed conditions.  Certainly, the fact that I'm skiing 35 pounds lighter than last year helps, but I've been pretty happy with my skiing recently.

Sunday morning, I went out with a new instructor to help with an issue with one student.  Regretfully, that student didn't show up, but I still think I was able to help her out.  She is a very good skier with a great personality for the job, and I was just trying to offer some tips to overcome some obstacles she has faced so far this year.  I love teaching, whether I'm helping a ski school student or another coach, and this was a satisfying morning.  I was tired from the day before, so I only worked half a day and then headed home to take a nap.

When I woke up from my nap, the bone pain was pretty intense.  Luckily, I have pain medication for precisely that problem, and I used it yesterday, overnight and again this morning.  The pain was more intense than the last time around, but the pain medication did its job and I'm feeling OK.

At lunchtime today, I made a second trip the medical MJ dispensary.  After my first trip, I found that some of the products I'd purchased helped a lot, while other weren't as good.  I had two primary goals for the medical MJ.  The first was relief from the nausea and the second was relief from the never-ending anxiety that goes along with a diagnosis like I have.

I have found that when I'm in the hospital, getting the chemo, the medical weed doesn't really help with the nausea.  It's pretty bad, and the pharmaceuticals seem to do a better job.  After I'm out of the hospital, as the nausea lessens, the medical MJ works better for nausea.

It definitely helps with the anxiety though, and that is nice.  It's amazing to eat 1/4 of  a small brownie and have the anxiety simply disappear for a few hours.  At the dispensary today, I told the people there that one medication isn't my favorite because it doesn't seem strong enough.  They offered me a lollipop that has 4x the normal dose as an alternative.  I asked if I could just use what I have and try a double-dose first, rather than jumping straight to 4x.  They said that made sense.

This is really nothing like those days many years ago in college, where the goal was to get as stoned as possible.  I'm looking for something that leaves me lucid, but reduces the other symptoms I'm having.  So far, it's been a mixed bag, but I'm slowly figuring out what works best.  Today's purchase was a couple new items plus more of the things that have worked in the past.  To be honest, I'm just glad that VT has this option.  I know that patients in many states don't have this option.  Overall, there have been no negatives, and some things have helped a lot.  It's not necessarily cheaper than the pharmaceuticals, but it's a good alternative at times.

Tonight, I'll be back at CrossFit, trying to get in as many workouts as possible between today and next Wednesday morning, when I start my final round of chemo.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Chemo Round 3

It's been a whirlwind of a week.  Monday, I had a blood draw for something completely unrelated to cancer, but it still required a quick trip to the hospital.  I did this on my way to work, right after my wife and I had done CrossFit.  We've been playing around with the 7:00 a.m. classes and liking them.  It gives us more time at home with the kids at night, and we don't have to get up all that much earlier.  So, we will see if this becomes a new habit.

But, Monday we did CF early because we had such a busy week. Oh yeah, my workout on Monday went great - best in a while - which is always a sign that I'm recovered from one round of chemo and it must be time for the next.

But, before the chemo, we had to make a trip to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (SK in the future for brevity) for a consult with a surgeon.  We drove to Saratoga on Monday night and stayed with college friends.  They were kind enough to feed us a late dinner and some nice wine despite our late arrival.  It's amazing how many good friends we have.  The help and thoughtfulness through all of this ordeal is something I can't even explain.  Things that might seem trivial in a normal day to day life just become huge gifts at a time when you really need them.

We were up by about 4:00 on Tuesday morning and we arrived at Rensselaer in plenty of time for our train to Manhattan.  We mostly dozed on the way in, although I watched the scenery more as it got light and we approached the city.

A quick cab ride from Penn Station had us to SK earlier than we needed to be there.  But, in NYC, you are never more than a block from a Starbucks, so we enjoyed a leisurely cup of coffee before the appointment.

At SK, things don't always go fast, but they are well organized.  We arrived half an hour early and we were immediately sent to Patient Financial Services.  I filled out a couple forms and they needed our new insurance cards, because the appointment had been made in 2015 with older cards.  But, most of this interaction was transcription - me just answering some questions and a PFS rep typing my answers at lightspeed.

Then it was back upstairs for some more waiting.  First, we met with a nurse.  Then, an oncology fellow, and then finally, the nurse, the fellow and the surgeon. He was very pleased with how chemo is progressing, and offered 3 options post-chemo.  The first was "watch and wait" or what some cancer patients call active surveillance.  You do nothing but monitor, and react when something changes for the worse. The second option was to participate in a drug trial, but it was a drug that would only halt progression of the cancer, at best, and not get rid of any remaining cells. The third option, and the real reason we were there, was to talk about surgery.

Given my age and level of health beyond the cancer, everyone seemed to think that this was the best idea.  We talked about some of the details of the procedure - how long will it last, how much of my colon will I lose, how will the liver resection part work, etc. In the end, I really liked the surgeon.  There were no bombastic promises.  No Rah Rah Go Team! type of stuff.  This is a serious diagnosis and the odds for a cure are slim.  The goal is to get as much out of there as possible and buy me some quality years.  Some more years of fly fishing, skiing, time with my beautiful wife, see my kids graduate from college.  I'll take that right now.

Then, I had to ask a silly question.  We need to wait some time after the 4th round of chemo for my immune function to return.  The question was about the ideal time to do the surgery.  I am done with chemo on 1/31, and figured he would want to do surgery the week of 1/21.  I have tickets to see one of my favorite bands ever, on 2/26 in Boston.  I wondered if we could wait a week so I could see the show.  The surgeon had a conference the next week, so that wouldn't work.  I asked if waiting another week would make any difference.  I told him that the concert was a "want" and the surgery a "need" and doing the surgery the correct way took precedence.  He told me to enjoy my concert and then we got down to details, setting up surgery timing.

I will return to NYC on 3/7, late at night.  SK has arranged a great price for a 3 night hostel stay for us.  On the 8th, I will have another CT scan, an EKG, blood work, and a meeting with the surgeon.  That night, my wife and I may actually be able to go out for a fancy dinner somewhere in Manhattan.  On the 9th, I'll work remotely while doing a bowel prep.  That is needed because they need to resect some of my colon.  Surgery will be on the 10th, and I should be out of the hospital by the 15th or so.

My wife can stay with me in my room at the hospital.

After the appointment, we went to a nice whiskey bar that a friend had recommended for a late lunch.  The bartender was young but knew his whiskey, and the food was solid.  Our train was delayed, but it wasn't a big deal to just switch to another train.  We got home about 11:00, got some sleep, and I headed to the hospital for round 3 of  chemo the next morning.

It's never going to be fun doing this inpatient  chemo thing.  Just being on an oncology wing of a hospital, where death is all around you, can be depressing.  I feel terrible for the families I see here, knowing that they are congregating and suffering as they lose a loved one. I am determined that this is not how I want my end to happen, but also hopeful that I don't have to worry about that for a long time.

Today is discharge day.  The nausea hasn't been too bad.  I have used some medical MJ to combat anxiety and nausea, but it's worked  better for the anxiety than the nausea.  It's nice to have that option for both of those issues.  The doctors think that the anti-nausea lozenges will work better when I'm at home, and no longer getting IV Zofran.

I declared round 1 of chemo a "tie".  My nausea was worse.  I felt sick and not up to walking around.  The second and third rounds, with more of an idea of what to expect, I'm declaring myself the winner.

The surgeon in NYC was amazed I was skiing and doing CF between  chemo rounds.  I asked him if there was anything special I should do after the 4th round and before surgery.  His response was to "get as fit as I can", which I'd planned to do anyway.

So, exciting news with my chemo working and the big surgery date is set.  My company is still in business, although they haven't paid us in a month.  Hopefully, that will change this coming week.  We just keep marching forward, hoping this is all worth the effort.

Time to go do some laps in the hallway.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A very good week

I made it to CrossFit 3 times last week.  I had hoped to get there 4 times, but it was a short work week with some medical appointments, so I was happy with 3.  On Thursday, I had a CT scan.  There were multiple reasons for a scan just halfway through chemo.

First, I'm taking one fairly toxic chemo, and the federal government doesn't allow any patient to have it more than 6 times.  If I'm going to use up 4 of those 6 now, we'd like to know that it's working before we continue to the 3rd and 4th doses.

Secondly, I'm seeing a surgeon at Sloan Kettering in NYC this week, and we needed a new CT so he could compare the previous scans to this one.  This will help him plan both the timing and the techniques he will use for surgery.

The scan was on Thursday, and I expected to hear the results from the surgeon in NYC.  But, my oncologist got the results early on New Year's Day, and immediately sent me an e-mail.  There are three main "nodules" or "lesions" of concern right now.  Of those 3, 2 pose fairly significant risks long term.  One is a metastasis on the tip of the liver.  The second is near where my right kidney was removed, and it's resting against the colon.  This is likely to force the surgeon to resect my colon and large intestine.  Essentially, I'm looking at 3 surgeries in one - liver resection, bowel resection, and then removal of the third lesion.

The CT scan showed that the liver metastasis has responded very well to the chemo.  The lesion against my colon has also responded, although not quite as well, but it has shrunk by over 20%.  The third lesion appears to be unchanged.  Even that could be good news if that lesion turns out to be made up of well-differentiated cells rather than dedifferentiated cells.  Well-differentiated cells don't respond to chemo as well as dedifferentiated, but they are also not nearly as aggressive.

So, nothing has grown or advanced, and the two most risky nodules are improved.  However, improved is far different than "cured" or "gone".  But, it does mean that after 2 more rounds of chemo, we will hopefully have a simpler surgery than what it would have been if we'd gone straight to surgery.

Later this week, I should get a potential surgery date.  My last scheduled round of chemo should end on 1/31, unless I have any immune system issues.  I assume they will need to wait some time for that last round to do its work and for my immune system to recover before surgery.  So, I'm guessing surgery will be in late February or early March.  I'll know more after talking to the surgeon.

My wife and I spent the weekend with college friends.  We enjoyed some nice wines and foods, and just hanging out.  We stayed up too late listening to records and playing cribbage.  Just like we did 30+ years ago in school.  It was nice to spend the weekend having fun and not worrying about cancer.

This morning, my wife and I made it to CrossFit before work.  I had my best workout in weeks.  But, if I'm feeling fit again, it must mean it's just about time for the next round of chemo.

But, with the good news that the chemo is working, I say bring it on.  I can endure 2 more rounds knowing that good things are happening from the medication.