Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Closing Shop

So! Some good news: My first three-month post-chemo checkup revealed further reduction of swelling in my one stubborn lymph node and normal blood tumor markers. In other words, I continue to recover from my little cancer adventure.

My next long-term checkup is three months from now, in January. Hopefully, everything will be good.

Which brings me to my next point. I don't imagine anyone is still checking this blog regularly -- a good and happy result of my being back in health. So I am shuttering it. I won't post here again unless I have some really unexpected good or bad news to report.

In other words, so long as there are no new posts here, assume I am doing well and getting on with life.


Friday, September 12, 2008

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Good stuff: Maria Bamford

Paula and I saw her open up the Out of Bounds Festival here in Austin. Awesome. I had seen her on the teevee before, but that doesn't really capture what a force she is in person. She owned the stage as well as any performer I've seen in any format -- creating and sustaining tension, providing release at just the right moment, etc. etc. And her current material is fucking hilarious. If you can see her, go.

On not telling people things sometimes

The cancer patient in recovery, I've quickly discovered, faces a recurring dilemma about subsequent check-ups and screenings. Do you let people know that you're going to get something looked at -- and spread the worry around -- or do you spare them the anxiety if and until there's something to report?

Just this Thursday, I went back to Dr. Baker (my urologist), a mere week and a half after my post-chemo assessment from him. I was feeling a bit of ache in my groin, and, though it was hard to place, it was close enough to my surviving right testicle that I figured, "Don't be stupid don't be stupid don't be stupid don't be stupid asshole just pick up the phone it's probably nothing but you have to go in to be sure don't be stupid you were just there right but go in anyway it's rare to have a recurrence in the second testicle especially after chemo yeah but it happens so don't be stupid asshole you have to go in."

So, yes. I set up an appointment for Thursday afternoon. This was about a week ago, so I had several intervening days in which to obsess about any momentary sensation beneath my waist.

Dr. Baker had the dubious privilege of feeling around my ballsack for the dozenth time. He said that the testicle itself felt fine, that (as I thought) it'd be incredibly unlikely for me to have a recurrent tumor so soon after completing chemo, that since the pain seemed to be in the back, it was almost certainly an inflammation of the epididymis from exercise. He said I was smart to come in, though, should always feel welcome, and should call him if the soreness lingers past a few weeks.

So here's the thing: I didn't tell anyone about this appointment beforehand. Not friends, not my girlfriend, not my family. I thought it would be emotionally wasteful to get anyone worked up over nothing, especially since I only needed to wait a week to confirm that it actually was nothing.

I think and I hope that's the right way to handle this sort of thing.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Good Stuff: Jack Kirby's Fourth World Omnibus

My friend Jeff from work has been letting me borrow these, a collection of Jack Kirby's bugfuck insane galaxy-spanning DC comics series from the early early '70s. They are full of the unflagging multiple-exclamation-point enthusiasm ("How's that for a chilling conclusion, dear readers!!!") that the funny papers used to have in more innocent times and thick as clay with borrowings from far out sci-fi, fantasy, and classic mythology. I don't think Jack Kirby ever did a drug in his life, but as I read these stories I picture him popping speed and slurping absinthe with Wagner on the hi-fi and a pile of William Blake, Robert Heinlein, Alduous Huxley, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Joseph Campbell by his side.

Anyhow, the comics are hilarious and badly dated and over-the-top and often quite brilliant. Present throughout is Kirby's palpable affection for the young kids with their crazy ideas and damn rock music, which, coming from a man who was 53 at the time, is oddly sweet and touching.

John "a PC" Hodgman has a nice review of the whole set here.

Good stuff: Swedish pop gals

You must admire a culture that gives the world August Strindberg and Ingmar Bergman with one hand and ABBA and Max Martin with the other. (You must. Says so in the manual.) In the spirit of the latter two, here are some of my favorite performers from one of my favorite genres: impeccable, off-beat girly pop.

Lykke Li



I testify from experience -- sticky awesome pop like this does serious damage to the chemo blues.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Good stuff: Toots & the Maytals doing Radiohead's "Let Down"

I like Toots; I like Radiohead. However, I would not have thought that these two flavors belonged in the same candy bar. (Indeed, when I heard about the album this comes from, I thought it sounded like the most inane and unnecessary cash-grab concept since the album that preceded it.)

Wrong. Here is Toots doing an awfully fine job on one of the better songs off OK Computer.

That voice! It's got authority, but such playful authority, if you know what I mean.

Bonus Toots:

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

So what's happening to me?

Eh! Not much.

And that's good, right?

We are keeping an eye on me. My next checkup is in early October, when we'll look at my lymph nodes again and make sure they're not misbehaving.

Meanwhile, I am back at work. Living life. Doing stuff. Making all the right moves. Later this month, I'll be attending a weekend retreat put on by Planet Cancer, a locally based support organization for young adults being treated for or recovering from cancer. I shall report back from that.

Thanks for asking!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Who is this lean and fiery orator?

Now that's how you do it. I guess JK had himself an espresso shot sometime in these past four years.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Is it ...? Could it be ...? REMISSION??

If you're still here, hi. I'm still here, too. I've been getting back to normal things like going to work and walking around and being seen in public, which accounts for the radio silence on this blog. But I thought an update would be in order, so here goes:

Well, I have been out of the chemo for a few weeks now. In that time, I have had a couple of tests to gauge the effectiveness of my treatment. Let's run 'em down, shall we?

1) There was a CT scan to check on my lymph nodes. The size of your retroperitoneal lymph nodes after chemotherapy for TC is pretty crucial information, obviously. Nonseminomous testicular cancer (what I have) has a nasty habit of leaving behind a benign mass called teratoma. Teratoma is not itself dangerous but a) it can grow, putting pressure on your organs, and b) it can become cancerous later down the line, creating a recurrence of TC -- and cancer is always much more dangerous the second time around.

Before this CT scan, I had to drink one of those loathsome barium sulfate "smoothies" that coats your stomach a provides better image quality. Fortunately, I had been so fully briefed on how disgusting this stuff would be that the actual taste, while horrible, was miles better than I expected. (In fact, I think it's the mucus-y consistency as much as taste that really grosses people out.)

Anyhow, the scan revealed that my lymph nodes had shrunk significantly from the chemo, returning to their normal sizes. There is one node, however, that is still inflamed to about one centimeter. This poses a bit of a problem, as some oncologists would recommend surgery in my situation (in fact, would recommend it for any residual lymph node swelling whatsoever) while others would advocate surveillance. Dr. Hellerstedt is in the latter camp.

Post-chemotherapy RPLND surgery is a pretty intense and difficult procedure. Only a few surgeons in the country have done more than a handful of these procedures. Frequently, nothing more than scar tissue is found in the affected nodes. Nevertheless, the surgery does offer some peace of mind by (in all likelihood) revealing that there is definitely no active cancer in the nodes and removing any teratoma that is discovered.

On the other hand, it's certainly preferable not to get the surgery if you don't have to. And Dr. H seems confident that I don't have to right now. (The story will change if we see my one lymph node growing in a subsequent CT scan rather than shrinking back.)

I'm torn. I've done my homework, and I know that many TC specialists think the post-chemo RPLND should be done in any case of residual node inflammation for the the slight increase in statistical long-term survival that is possible. However, surgery carries risks, and these must be weighed against the slightly increased risk of recurrence that comes with not doing the surgery.

I hope I'm laying this stuff out clearly. It's pretty late as I write.

Given Dr. H's confidence, I am pretty comfortable in moving forward with surveillance for now. That'll be CT scans and blood tests every three months for the first year, with less frequent tests in subsequent years. If something happens during surveillance that makes us think surgery is necessary, then we will we move forward with that.

Just to put my mind at ease, though, I am going to ask Dr. H to put in a call with Dr. Lawrence Einhorn at Indiana University. Dr. Einhorn literally wrote the book on modern TC treatment and is famously helpful in answering calls to consult with oncologists around the world who are dealing with TC patients. If Dr. Einhorn concurs with our current plan, then I will move forward with surveillance and consider myself unreservedly in remission from testicular cancer. (Hoot, hoot.)

So! Keep your fingers crossed.

Oh yes. There was another test used to check out my lymph nodes.

2) A PET scan. (If you have any interest, click that link, because this scan actually works in a pretty interesting way that involves injection with radioactive material.) This was done to look for any "active cancer" in my inflamed lymph node -- cancer that the chemo just plain failed to kill. This scan is not really super useful for patients in my position; it is known to produce a significant number of false negatives, and it does not reveal the presence of teratoma. However, Dr. H thought we should go ahead with it because a) my insurance agreed to pay for it and b) if it was positive for activity in the node, we would definitely think about doing the surgery rather than surveillance. Fortunately, the scan was negative, as we expected.

OK. That is all for now, cats. I will continue to post as things develop ... and may even start posting about non-cancerous subjects as I return to normal life.

Thank you to everyone who has taken a moment to express concern and send good wishes. It was all very much appreciated, and I apologize to anyone who I failed to respond to individually. I am in much better energy now and have no excuses, so drop me another line if you like.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

George Carlin is Fucking Dead

Obviously, I am behind the curve on this one, but I thought I should throw a nod in the direction of George Carlin's passing, since the guy was a not-insignificant shaper of my thought and attitude back in my teenage years.

My favorite Carlin was the one who strove to knock the human race off its high horse. We're nothing particularly special -- just clever mammals, though not nearly clever enough. Here he is deconstructing one of the (many, many) lazy and false pieties we humans propped together to elevate ourselves over the muck and tide of the universe, the "sanctity of life":

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

That's All, Folks (Sort Of)

Monday -- I received my final infusion of bleomycin. My final chemo treatment.

Tuesday -- As my hemoglobin was pretty low, I went into the hospital for a blood transfusion. I wasn't thrilled about the idea, but it seems to have paid off -- I am, at least for the moment, feeling like a million bucks, although I suspect the bleo will start to kick me around in the next day or so.

What's next -- Monday, I meet with Dr. Hellerstedt for what I imagine will be a brief assessment/review/discussion of my forthcoming surveillance schedule. Wednesday, July 9th, I have a CT scan, which will (hopefully) confirm that my lymph nodes have shrunk back down to their normal size. If so: I am officially in remission.

I can't even tell you how nice it feels to be done with this shit, and I am just waiting for my stomach to recover so that I can get fucking drunk.

And now, because I want to give back to everyone who has provided kind words/support/food/books/DVDs/etc. during this ordeal, here is a clip from the 2004 film Karate Dog. Yes, that is Jon Voight, formerly promising actor of the '60s and '70s, fighting the CGI karate dog. In 2004, Voight also appeared in Baby Geniuses 2: Super Babies.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Only one infusion left to go, kids, and then the road to recovery.

Yesterday I received my penultimate bleomycin infusion, and now I'm just lazing around waiting for it to whup my ass for a few days. My hemoglobin is down, which means my heart needs to work triple-time to get that good ol' oxygen to all my precious organs and extremities. Generally, I feel all right as long as I don't try to -- you know -- do anything. Moving, walking, picking stuff up -- stuff like that. Carrying a bag to the front door makes me feel like I spent a half-hour on a treadmill.

Don't get me wrong, I am exhilarated to be so close to done. But you have never seen such an exhilarated fellow so thoroughly immobile.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

All Hail The Swayz

As though playing Dalton in Roadhouse and Bodhi in Point Break didn't already eternally seal his place in the Badass Hall of Fame, Patrick Swayze has re-established his bona fides by delivering a roundhouse kick to cancer's stupid, ugly face.

Pancreatic cancer is as close to a guaranteed death sentence as you can get, and the fact that The Swayz has not only outlasted it for this long but now has his doctors' permission to get back to work is a huge deal.

I think we could all stand to take some words of wisdom from the man himself:

Be nice.

Until it's time to not be nice.

The Finish Line Comes Into Sight

Well, folks, let me first apologize for how sporadically I have updated this thing. The fact is that my life + chemo = boring, for the most part, and I don't really want to waste anyone's time with posts about how many hours I slept in a given day or how many episodes of Law & Order I watched while nailed to my couch.

This past week was the final week of cycle two, and it contained some of the crappiest days yet. My blood counts went waaay down, so I'd get dizzy while standing up and feel my pulse pounding after climbing a few steps. Not too much fun. But that was only for a few days, and now I am once again feeling something approaching normal.

Which is good news because tomorrow is the first day of my last chemo cycle! Meaning, knock on wood and cross your fingers, I could be three weeks away from getting back to regular life.

Once the chemo is over, I'll be CT-scanned once more to check whether my lymph nodes have shrunk back to their normal size. If they have, then booyah, it means remission and frequent surveillance. If not ... well, unfortunately, I'll have to have them out surgically (which was precisely the thing we were trying to avoid by doing chemo first, but you can't win them all), which is not a disaster, but a surefire pain in the ass.

Three more weeks! Mark it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Completely Bald White Guys Musical Addendum

Michael Stipe

(Special nod to my homeboy from back home, Scott, for pointing out this omission. R.E.M. has always been one of my favorite bands and the exclusion of Stipe from the initial list was my bad.)

CBWG Pros: Tons of good songs. An increasingly snappy dresser. Friend to Mario Batali, whose food looks tasty. Has Mike Mills on harmony.
CBWG Cons: Weak-tea political content. "Elliptical" lyrics frequently mush. Long flirtation with questionable makeup choices.

Billy Corgan

CBWG Pros: Siamese Dream still mostly stands up! Of course, he had hair when he recorded that one.
CBWG Cons: Creepy little megolomaniacal troll. "Poetic" lyrics about as awful as awful gets. Zwan?

That guy from Midnight Oil

CBWG Pros: Midnight Oil was apparently a pretty big deal in their native Australia. I do like the one song I know about everyone's beds burning. Also, this guy is apparently now the Australian Minister for Environment, Heritage and Arts!
CBWG Cons: Can't think of any. This guy looks like a contender!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


So that's me with a bald dome and rockin' a couple of cancer accessories on my wrist. The one in yellow is your classic Lance Armstrong LiveStrong bracelet. But what, you may wonder, is its fellow in orange?

That's right, baby! My beloved pal Jared created and ordered these for me. And they're quickly becoming a sensation, I tell you!

Well, I won't say "sensation" (though I just did), but some have asked me how they can get their hands on one of these hot, hot bracelets. Here's the deal: Jared and I can order a re-supply, scaled to how much demand there is out there.

$3 will get you your very own "Luciani Strong" bracelet. That three bucks covers production, shipping, and a modest donation to the Testicular Cancer Resource Center.

How to pay? Well, you can pay through PayPal. Or you can just shoot me an email stating your interest and your intent to pay with cash next time you see me.

As soon as the bracelets come in, I will try to distribute them as effectively as possible. "As effectively as possible" will probably be still somewhat haphazard.

I ain't winning no bike races. If "Luciani Strong" means anything, it means muddling through in a pleasantly average way. Celebrate your own commitment to the pleasantly average by ordering your bracelet today!

Holy Moly, I Miss Alcohol -- Not in An Alcoholic Way, You Understand, But Just An Epicurean Way


So, one of the classic things about chemo (so I was told and so I am discovering) is that you temporarily lose your taste for certain things, including foods and beverages you once considered a dear, dear part of your regular diet. For me, the most distinct loss has been my taste for things alcoholic.

I've tried a beer or two since the chemo began. They didn't upset my stomach ... they didn't taste bad ... but that warm, contented feeling that usually accompanies a quality beer during its passage down my throat and belly -- gone, at least for now.

Mixed drinks, too.


Monday, May 19, 2008

Completely Bald White Guys Addendum I

NB: Patrick Stewart/Jean-Luc Picard does not qualify for the list. Although almost completely bald, Stewart has a visually prominent C-shaped tuft:

It's a judgment call and a little arbitrary. But I vividly remember Stewart's ear-to-ear ring o' hair from watching TNG. It was like a visual counterpoint to Geordi LaForge's sweet wraparound eye thingie.

Professor X

(Stewart shaved his tuft in order to play Prof. X. -- thus, the character qualifies, but Stewart does not.)

CBWG Pros: Psychic powers to the extreme. Provides a way for nerds to understand why Martin Luther King, Jr. was important.
CBWG Cons: A bit of a scold? Also: can't walk.


CBWG Pros: Interestingly, Play is actually a pretty great album to listen to while you're getting chemo.
CBWG Cons: Weenie.


Well, I am strapped in for another long week: Monday through Friday, 5-6 hours per day. Once I get done with this long week, there is only one more!

The Neulastia shot did its job (relatively painlessly in my case, I should add), knocking my white blood cell count back into a healthy range.

I dropped a few pounds, probably due to the stretch when it hurt to eat (when I, thereforetherefore, didn't). But I've been eating much more lately.


Completely Bald White Guys

I am now completely bald (it looks pretty good) and, somewhat predictably, many people have told me that I resemble Lex Luthor. Not an unflattering comparison -- after all, he is brilliant and fabulously wealthy, not to mention a natty dresser, albeit megolomaniacal -- but the frequency of its invocation reminded me that there are very few pop-cultural touchstones for Completely Bald White Guys (CBWGs).

So, journey with me as I try to select my own personal CBWG icon. Please help me out with anyone that I might have missed!


CBWG Pros: Rich! Ambitious. Seems to be competent in whatever disciplines a given plotline requires him to be competent in.
CBWG Cons: Frequently foiled. Rendered as bumbling, vain, and ineffectual in silver screen adaptations.


CBWG Pros: Rich! (Richer than Luthor, even, according to the Forbes Fictional 15.) A benefactor to humankind.
CBWG Cons: Emotionally dominated by irrepressible moppet. Expensive research or philanthropic projects often fall prey to sabotage. No pupils.


CBWG Pros: Rad name. Anticipated both Vin Diesel's baldness and hard-to-pin-down ethnicity.
CBWG Cons: Fabricated exotic biography. Also, died of cancer (lung), which is inauspicious.


CBWG Pros: Was apparently awesome at blackjack. Those Player's Club International ads made him seem pretty slick. Kojak was good at solving crimes.
CBWG Cons: Died of cancer, goddammit!!


Let's move on.


CBWG Pros: Rebounds, mid-range shooting.
CBWG Cons: Personal fouls. Can't get it done on the road.


CBWG Pros: Authoritative presence in courtroom. Sweet man-child nature.
CBWG Cons: Target of John Larroquette's barbs.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Hair's Starting to Go

Yup! In the shower today, I noticed that my hands were covered with sheddings. At the current rate, I'd give it another five days or so.

I am starting to move into the phase I was warned about, where chemo starts to feel like the world's most prolonged hangover. My stomach and throat are inflamed, so it kind of hurts to swallow. I've had a headache for about three days. And Monday's bleomycin shot wiped me the fuck out and sent me to bed for what must have been a good 14 hours.

Unfortunately, the blood test yesterday also revealed that my white blood cell count has gone in the turlet, so today I went back to the clinic for a shot of neulastia. Neulastia makes your bone marrow go apeshit and produce white blood cells like crazy ... which has the unfortunate side effect of making your bones throb painfully. It hasn't started happening to me yet, so we'll see.

Ain't we got fun?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I Have Not Seen the New David Mamet Martial Arts Movie "Redbelt," but I Imagine It Contains Memorable Scenes Like the Following

MAIN GUY: "I don't fight for money."
SOME KIND OF SHADY GUY, PROBABLY RICKY JAY: "Fight, fuck. You hit. People. In the face. In the balls. You think your ungreased palm hurts less a mother slamming on some poor fucker's nose?"

MAIN GUY: "I told him I don't fight for money."
MAIN GUY'S WIFE OR GIRLFRIEND OR WHATEVER: "$30,000 isn't money, it's money. Money isn't money if it's $30,000. It's $30,000, it's -- fuck!"
MAIN GUY: "We don't need it."
MAIN GUY'S WIFE OR GIRLFRIEND OR WHATEVER: "We don't need $3,000. Everyone needs $30,000."

TIM ALLEN, WHO I THINK PLAYS A BIG FIGHT FAN OR SOMETHING: "All I have is 'wow' -- I mean, the things you did in there, the way you picked them apart. That kind of speed, how you read them."
MAIN GUY, WHO JUST BEAT UP SOME GUYS: "Don't fight anyone who can fight himself."
TIM ALLEN: "You gotta -- look, you have to show me just one thing, just ... when he was coming up behind you --"
MAIN GUY: "The fist never strikes the body. The body strikes the fist. The body strikes the fist."

In any case, I hope it's as good as The Edge:

One day everyone will get over Glengarry Glen Ross and realize that that was Mamet's true masterpiece.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

On Testicular Implants

So, this is old news, but when I had my left nard removed, I opted (in keeping with my longstanding interest in symmetry and balance) for the implantation of a saline-filled prosthetic to take its place.

Unfortunately, the only way to test-drive a prosthetic testicle is to actually have one implanted, and once it's in there, getting it out is a serious bother. I've now spent three weeks with the new guy and have begun to form some opinions.

POINT FOR: It's doing a fine job in terms of "passing." It looks quite credible, and I seriously doubt anyone could tell the difference from five paces. (It helps that very few people of any sexual orientation -- except for, I imagine, a limited set of anatomical connoisseurs -- really choose to spend sustained time in contemplation of the ballsack.)

POINT AGAINST: I am only guessing, but I think this implant weighs at least twice as much as the all-natural testicle it replaced. Now, testicles not weighing very much to begin with, you'd think the difference would be negligible. However, when crucial parts of your body, after more than a dozen years of persisting comfortably in a certain arrangement, have to stretch to a new one ... well, use your imagination.

IN CONCLUSION: I am happy I opted for the fake ball, but please consider all the possible factors when you make your own decision.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Week 2 of 9

Weeks 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, and 9 aren't bad ones ... just a Bleomycin shot on Monday, along with some lab work to check on my blood count. Then my body gets the rest of the time to build itself back up for the tiresome five-day weeks.

My blood counts today were looking pretty good: white blood cells in the south side of normal range, red blood cells only slightly below average.

Side effects? I'd say the most pronounced one at the moment is the weird feeling of my skin stretched too tight over my skull. That and a general fuzziness. My thoughts are kind of sloughing around like syrup. It's a bit like being drunk, but without the euphoric rise in energy.

I wish I had something more interesting to add at the moment but -- ahhh, you know what? I'm pretty glad I don't have anything more interesting to add at the moment, as "interesting" at this point would tend more toward the ill than the good. I am blessed to be boring.

Perhaps when the bleo fog lifts from my brain ... tomorrow, mayhap? ... I will say something amusing.


In the meantime, I find that Hercules and Love Affair is very agreeable to my spirits. Yours too, perhaps?


Friday, May 2, 2008

One Week Down!

One week down.

Acid reflux in check.

Minor fatigue ... a few aches and pains.

Only 8 weeks to go, and only two of them all-dayers.

Let's go, team!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I Am Humbled

Day 3 of chemo.

Well, this is no surprise, really, but any dim fantasy I entertained about breezing through this process has been quickly dispelled. Nothing too bad in the side effects department: just a general feeling of malaise and a sense that my insides are in a delicate balance that could go screwy any minute.

The major nastiness so far was a demoralizing and extended bout of acid reflux last night. I started taking some Prilosec (per my nurse's instruction), which seems to have knocked it down.

I am feeling pretty good just at the moment, so let's hope that that holds up through the evening.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Wipe that smile off your face, you prick.

So, I came into the clinic today and heard some good news: all my tests from last week (bone scan, brain MRI, CT scan) came up negative -- although the brain MRI revealed a ball of snot in my sinuses. It may be time for a rinse.

It isn't pretty, but it works.

So what's it like to get chemo? Well, it depends on what mixture of drugs you're receiving and what supplemental infusions those drugs call for. In my case, chemo (at least during the first week of a cycle) is like 6 hours in a clinic -- a nice enough clinic, but a clinic nevertheless, with the attendant sterile sights, smells, and sounds of a clinic.

I sit in a recliner with an IV hooked into my port. The IV drips stuff fluid into my bloodstream slooooooooowly (not just chemo drugs, but saline and anti-nausea medications). It's important to keep track of my kidney function, so -- fie on this new wrinkle -- I have to piss into a plastic jug and note the volume before pouring it out into the turlet.

The nurses are very nice, though.

Here is some video of me at a fancy dress party last night. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ported and Ready to 'Mo

The port is in. I have been testing it at home, injecting and extracting fluids into and from my body all day.

INJECTIONS: Olive oil, mustard, dish soap, baking soda, bacon grease, angel dust.

RESULTS: Feelin' great!

EXTRACTIONS: Blood, mostly.

RESULTS: A little light-headed.

There's only today and tomorrow standing between me and chemotherapy. While I'm not looking forward to feeling like I have a nine-week hangover, I am eager to kick this fucking cancer right in the balls. (Tit for tat!) There's wireless internet in the infusion room, so I pledge to report diligently on how I'm feeling.

In the meantime, you should spend twenty minutes laughing your ass off at this superb and hilarious effort.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

In Praise of My Copious Seed

I called the cryobank this morning to inquire into their analysis of my "sample" from yesterday. (The bank analyzes your sample and, depending on your count and your motility, divides it into separate vials. Each vial represents on "shot" of viable sperm that you can withdraw later.)

Sometimes people need to make multiple deposits in order to get a sufficient number of vials, which is why I needed to check in. No worries, as from my sample they were able to successfully extract FIFTEEN VIALS OF MAN-SEED. That's with one (1) testicle. The guy said that my overall count and motility were "significantly above average."

I am the mighty Nile River, drenching the soil with my floods. Eat that, you daffy motherfuckers.

That is the best news of the day. In other news: I got several tests today, including an MRI of my brain. All I could think about in the MRI machine as it clicked and thudded away was Einsturzende Neubauten:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I'll Be More Machine Than Man, Twisted and Evil

Yesterday, I met with the surgeon who will be installing my port on Friday afternoon.

This is a nifty little device -- a catheter that runs into a major vein near your heart plus a little dome connected to the catheter. The dome is implanted under the taut skin around your collarbone. This allows easy access to your circulatory system for both injections and blood draws; the nurse sticks the needle right into the port and you don't feel a thing. Or you shouldn't, anyway. It's a must for chemotherapy, as I'm told you get needled approximately 12,309 times per cycle.

The port will technically make me a cyborg, or "robo-cop."

Scheduling the 20-minute surgery to get the port installed has been proven the most bureaucratically infuriating ordeal of my cancer experience thus far, involving multiple calls back and forth between different extensions at Seton Medical Center, the surgeon's office, etc. But it seems that we're on for Friday at noon.

Also! This morning I deposited some man-seed at the cryobank as insurance against the chemotherapy (maybe, potentially, possibly) leaving me infertile.

The best thing about sperm banks (in my one-time experience) is how delicately the staff tap-dances around the essential fact that you are there to jerk off into a cup. The two euphemisms used repeatedly were "produce the sample" and "take you to the back room." The former sounds like all work and no fun; the latter sounds like detention, interrogation, or torture.

I must add: though this was a very nice facility with a very helpful staff, their collection of wank material was unsatisfactory. Listen up, fertility labs/cryobanks! You cannot bring the same lackadaisical approach to your spank mags as you do to the junk in the waiting room! Stroke books are not an afterthought; they're an essential tool of your trade. A half-dozen tattered Penthouses will not do. Variety, please! Different guys, different tastes! (Also, whatever it once was, Penthouse is now a hardcore Maxim where every pictorial is cut short for a comparative review of rancid body sprays.)

A final note: last night I made a very stupid pledge that on the first evening of every chemo cycle I will watch National Treasure to boost my spirits. I say "stupid" because I'm not sure that even my all-consuming affection for the movie will survive an eternal association with chemotherapy.

So, while my love for it is still strong, let me (for the 27th time) explain why National Treasure is awesome:

1) The word "treasure." The word is used an average of once per minute in the movie. By grown men. And it's one of those magic words that takes on its own comic force the more it's repeated. TRAY-ZURE.

2) The treasure itself. The treasure they are looking for in National Treasure is a storehouse of every lost and valuable artifact of every human civilization ever. It is the treasure, a maximization of the very concept of treasure.

3) Nicolas Cage. Seriously, who the fuck is this guy? I once knew the answer to that question: an off-beat actor who fit nicely into quirky movies like Raising Arizona. Now I guess he's the leading man you call on to sleepwalk through your movie when no one else will do it.

But how the hell did a guy who looks like a wax dummy with a bad toupee become leading-man material in the first place? Isn't the basic guideline for a leading man "men want to be him, women want to be with him," not "neither men and women would be shocked to see him rummaging through a dumpster"?

I mean, Jesus Christ, look at this ghoul!

4) Watching Nicolas Cage act and narrate "thought." There is immense pleasure in watching Hollywood's laziest furrow his brow and mumble his way through the solution to one inane puzzle after another. "'Seeing twice' ... 'seeing twice' ... to see ... focus ... focusing twice ... look again? ... no no ... twice ... BI ... bi ... focus ... bi-focals ... Ben Frankl -- IT'S IN THE LIBERTY TOWER!"

5) Him:

I have no idea who this actor is. To my knowledge, I have never seen him in another movie. But he is the sidekick in National Treasure. And his anti-triumph is that he is the lamest sidekick ever. He is so bland that he could be an art-terrorist exploding the notion of Comic Sidekick. He responds to every situation with sarcasm so canned that it wouldn't pass muster in an old Head and Shoulders commercial. He is the human Alf.

6) The movie re-contextualizes every important event in American history as an attempt to either conceal or find treasure.

I could go on. Jesus, could I go on.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Course Becomes Clear

Let it be known: I meant no serious disrespect of Mr. Bon Jovi in my last post. It would be rank hypocrisy from me to dismiss JBJ entirely, as I have been known to throw the fuck down on the dancefloor when "You Give Love a Bad Name" makes its always-predictable-and-always-welcome appearance on someone's nostalgic mix CD. BUT. JBJ is associated with the creation of precisely 2.5 good songs, all of which appear on one album. ("Wanted Dead or Alive" is fun, but only counts as half-good because rock and roll was technically not illegal in 1986. The song is misleading.) On the other hand, Bruce Springsteen, no matter what you think of his music, is a Big Deal.

A middling late-career effort.

Also, JBJ's first professional appearance on a record was on Christmas in The Stars: A Star Wars Christmas Album. And that album actually wasn't good!

OK, on to the cancer stuff.

Met with my oncologist today (Dr. Beth Hellerstedt of Texas Oncology -- she's awesome), and the news is mostly pretty good. Not great, but good. The CT scan showed some swelling in a few lymph nodes ... the biggest one swollen to 3 cm. That means that my cancer can be staged as clinical Stage II B testicular cancer. (There's some nice info on TC staging here, if you've a mind to peruse it.)

So Dr. H laid out the options: surgery or chemotherapy. Neither of these are particularly pleasant, so the thing to do is see if you can't avoid one or the other. If I got the lymph node dissection surgery, there would be a 30-35% chance I'd need chemo afterward (2 cycles). If I got the chemo (3 cycles), there would be a 10-15% chance I'd need surgery afterward. On that basis, Dr. H said she'd be more inclined to recommend the latter option. Considering that I can take the chemo as an outpatient right here in Austin, that I am young and can probably get through three cycles without being hit too hard, and that I am more wary about getting cut open and spending 3-5 days in a hospital with tubes up my nose and my dick, I have decided to move forward with chemotherapy. BOO YAH.

And that means I will be a busy boy this week:

TUESDAY -- Meet with the surgeon that will be installing my nifty port so that I don't have to have my limbs poked all to hell over the next 9 weeks. (We'll have to figure out when to schedule the surgery itself; it's a fifteen-minute-or-so procedure but they still have to put you out for it.)

WEDNESDAY -- Drop by the cryobank to deposit my manseed. A lot of guys regain their fertility after chemo; a lot of guys don't. This is my insurance policy in case I decide one day to bless a new life with my prone-to-testicular-cancer DNA.

THURSDAY -- Tests galore! All to make sure that the cancer is, in fact, confined to my lymphs for the moment. CT scan of my chest, MRI of my brain, and a "bone scan." And then, at 4:00 PM -- Chemo Class! I can only hope this will involve an instructional videotape with an anthropomorphic narrator, like Carl the Chemo Crab.

FRIDAY -- Another meeting with my Urologist, the estimable Dr. Brett Baker, just to make sure I am on the right course.

And then the following MONDAY -- Chemo begins at 8:30 in the morning.

So you may be curious ... how does this thing they call chemo work?

Well, chemo is, as my friend and cancer-boy-in-remission Tom W. (well-known to some of you) puts it, "straight-up poison." It's toxic stuff they put into you that just happens to be much better at killing rapidly dividing cells (like cancer, but also innocent victims like hair and stomach lining) than it is at killing normal cells. I.e., taking chemo is badass and makes you like the kid in elementary school who drank Formula 409 to prove himself king of the playground. (I do not know that this kid actually exists, but let us posit his existence.)

The chemo regimen for testicular cancer is pretty light, comparatively speaking. 3 cycles of BEP (Bleomycin, Etoposide, and Cisplatin). Here's how a cycle works:

In the first week, you receive chemo for about 6 hours a day, Monday through Friday.

In the second week, you go in two days a week (as I recall) for a one-hour infusion. The second week tends to be the one when you feel the crappiest.

In the third week, you rest up for the next cycle.

So so so. That's enough cancer talk for now.

Now, watch this video:

My thesis was on Beckett. This video is better than my thesis.

Also: Forgetting Sarah Marhall? Really good!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Inaugural Post, In Which Our Hero Receives a CT Scan, Contemplates the Near Future, and Turns to The Boss for Comfort

Yesterday was my CT scan, the first concrete thing to happen to me since receiving the results of my pathology report. No big deal. "Iodine-based contrast" now goes on the list of things I have taken through an IV, a list that was pretty short two weeks ago and is rapidly expanding.

The results of the CT scan are the last piece of the puzzle necessary for me to meet with an oncologist (I already have an appointment scheduled for Monday) and settle on a course of action.

Let me back up for a second. The pathology report on my cancerous left testicle revealed several things, some of them good and some of them not-great.

(I like to say "not-great" signs rather than "bad" signs, because it's important to keep in mind that even in its more dire forms, testicular cancer is extremely curable. These "not-great" signs don't mean I'm screwed, not by a long shot; they just mean I may not be one of the lucky bastards that need no further treatment after the testicle is removed.)

To wit:

The tumor was confined to my testicle; it had not begun to spread up the spermatic cord. GOOD SIGN.

There was lymphovascular invasion; i.e. the tumor had access to my bloodstream and, thus, a way of accessing the rest of my body. NOT-GREAT SIGN.

The tumor was pretty small. GOOD SIGN.

Part of the tumor was embryonal carcinoma, a cancer that tends to spread pretty aggressively. NOT-GREAT SIGN.

... but only 40% of the tumor was embryonal carcinoma. Not too bad. GOOD SIGN.

(Not technically part of my pathology report, but relevant:) The tumor markers in my blood were not elevated before the removal of the testicle. GOOD SIGN.

So: I'll be meeting with an oncologist on Monday. I know that it's going to come down to three options:

1) If the results of the CT scan are good, I could go on surveillance. This means that for a year, I get a cancer screening every month to see if anything is recurring. Screenings can become less frequent as the years go by. However, the oncologist may decide that, given the specific types and proportions of cancer cells located in my testicle, more aggressive treatment is needed.

2) RPLND surgery. This is a common but pretty intense procedure (it puts you in the hospital for a few days) where your "retroperitoneal" lymph nodes are removed. This allows the doctor to more accurately gauge the progress of the cancer and is, in itself, frequently sufficient to cure it.

3) If the cancer is deemed (or suspected of being) sufficiently advanced, chemotherapy.

For now, it's just more waiting.

Last Sunday in Dallas, I saw Bruce Springsteen, a show I had had tickets for well in advance of any of this nonsense. Energetic! As ever, I was struck by his ability to push (so, so far) toward the precipice of schlock and then charge back and wallop you with moments that make you lose your breath. Ultimately, that's what I love about the guy: he understands people's need to have epically oversized emotion in their lives and sets about satisfying it as honorably as he can.

Ain't no sin to be glad you're alive!

Oh yes. Jon Bon Jovi showed up for some damn reason:

(Well, he was playing a gig in Dallas the next day ... still, Bon Jovi? Jersey camaraderie must supersede all other considerations.)