My own cancer isn’t what causes me the most depression

Before I start, I want to say that I am not suffering from depression. But I do have a lot of depressing moments. These moments of depression, however, are not directly caused by my cancer. Instead, these moments of depression are caused by the cancer present in others, specifically in children. In this brief post, I will blog about knowing so many children that have cancer.

I know too many children with cancer

Over the last few years, I have followed the progress of two different friends with children that have cancer. Both of these cases have had a lot of ups and downs. And currently, both kids are fighting hard against what appears to be a huge uphill battle. These poor kids have endured many rounds and types of chemo, radiation, stem-cell transplants, Car-T Cell therapy, experimental drugs, and who knows what else. For both of these young men, there have been multiple times where things appear are looking better. And then wham…. Suddenly things are worse than they were before.

Additionally, due to this blog and other means, I have gotten to hear the stories of dozens of children fighting cancer. I have spent countless hours speaking to parents about their children. Most of this time I spend just listening. Some of these parents feel like they have nobody to talk to truly. I have no problem being an ear for such people. If anyone reading this needs someone to speak with, I will make my cell phone number available.

At the end of the day, I follow the progress of probably almost three dozen children fighting cancer. Three dozen might not sound like a lot to some people. But to me, that three dozen children seems like an unbelievably high number. I mean, these are children with cancer. I have a long life of making poor decisions and can look back at many possible ways I got my cancer. But these children might not even have a long life thanks to cancer. It can get overwhelming when I think about it.

What keeps me upbeat

Even though it can get overwhelming, I’ve learned not to let it overwhelm me. Last summer, when I was going through depression, I was able to speak with someone who helped me and continues to do so. I am generally back to being a pretty positive person. When I start to get overwhelmed by the pain and suffering of children with cancer, I begin to focus on what I can do to help them. Specifically, I focus on this blog and the upcoming podcast. I have found sharing my story has helped some of these parents get through their struggles. By reading what I go through, these parents sometimes feel they understand what their child is going through.

That’s me dressed as a Ghostbuster! Get ready to see a lot more of that plus other costumes in 2020!

The other thing I do to get through the onset of depression is to focus on what I now call my “geek charity initiative.” Last year I joined the South Dakota Ghostbusters (SDGB). The SDGB is a group that dresses as Ghostbusters and raises money for charity. There are other related groups I am hoping to join in the future. Specifically, there is a superhero and a Star Wars group I hope to join. I need to focus on getting costumers together. These groups do beautiful things for the community. Not only do they raise money for charities, usually relating children, they also visit sick kids in hospitals. Bringing some joy to a kid that is very sick is one way I feel that I can be of help. I hope to do as much of that in the future as I can.

My plans for this year

As I wrap up this post, I am feeling very optimistic. I have plans to keep this blog going. Additionally, I will be doing a podcast to accompany this post. Actually, a friend of mine is trying to talk me into doing a blog and podcast about my “geek charity initiative.” I might do that. There are at least a few charity events this year, which I hope to attend in full costume. I fully plan to find ways to help as many kids with cancer as I can this year.

Song of the day: When the Children Cry

This song from White Lion is more about what we adults are doing to mess up the world for future generations. But yet I can’t help but think something we adults have been doing is to blame for so many children (and adults) having cancer. For that reason this cheesy 80’s hairband ballad is today’s song:

Bonus Song: Ghostbusters

Yes, I am going to include the theme song from Ghostbusters by Ray Parker Jr. The movie Ghostbusters had a significant impact on me as a kid, and now as an adult, I pretend to be one. I ain’t afraid of no ghost!

Drinking alchohol while on chemo and maintenance

A loyal reader of the blog asked if I would do a post about whether I drank alcohol while I went through chemotherapy. The short answer for me is no. But this wouldn’t be much of a blog if I gave quick answers! In this post, I will explain why I didn’t drink during chemo and what I can drink now that I am on maintenance infusions. Further, I should note that most other chemo patients I’ve spoken to about this topic seem to have different answers about whether they do or don’t drink while going through treatment.

My alcohol use before chemo

I should probably briefly mention first that I did very little alcohol drinking in the year leading up to chemo. At the time I didn’t know I had cancer, but I knew there was something very wrong with me. I had problems breathing and was seeing doctors for what was suspected to be a pulmonary issue. At that time I could not drink beer at all. I would get an upset stomach with just one beer. If I had more than one beer my stomach would start to hurt badly. I could drink liquors such as my drink of choice whiskey. But even then I drank very little because of very low energy levels.

No alcohol use during chemo

While going through R-CHOP chemo, I did not even try any alcohol, whether it be beer or liquor. I don’t believe the oncologist said I couldn’t. Basically, I didn’t feel like drinking alcohol. The fatigue and other symptoms I generally felt didn’t leave me feeling like I could drink alcohol. 

Out of curiosity, I just looked in the “Guide to Chemotherapy” given to me by the oncology staff. In there it says:

Small amounts of alcohol can help you relax and increase your appetite. But alcohol may interact with some drugs so that they don’t work as well, or it may make the side effects worse. Be sure to ask your doctor if you can drink beer, wine, or any other alcoholic beverages.

A Guide to Chemotherapy by American Cancer Society

My advice to anyone wanting to drink alcohol while going through chemo is to speak to your oncologist beforehand.

Alcohol use now that I’m on maintenance infusions

I have been on maintenance therapy infusions of Rituximab for about a year now. After about two months of being on maintenance infusions, I did try drinking alcohol again. First, I tried a beer. Not only did it still impact my stomach, but it seemed worse than before. After drinking half a beer, my stomach started to hurt badly. I don’t know if it is a side-effect from chemo, a side-effect from maintenance, or a side-effect of something else I don’t know I have. No matter what the leading cause is, I’ve decided not to try beer again any time soon!

Now liquor I’ve found doesn’t impact my stomach. I don’t appear to have any adverse side-effects from drinking whiskey, rum, or vodka. Actually, I seem to have some pretty good tolerance for drinking liquor, probably due to the weight gain I experienced during chemo. Generally, I don’t drink more than a couple of mixed drinks. But I have found I can drink quite a lot without adverse effects.

If in doubt I would ask a doctor

For anyone reading this wondering if they can or can’t drink alcohol while going through chemo or maintenance, I would say to ask your doctor. Speaking for myself, I haven’t read anything that authoritatively says alcohol use should be avoided. But I know many of the drugs we take are hard on the liver and kidney; therefore, they may interact poorly with alcohol. At the same time, however, life is short! It seems even shorter when you have a cancer diagnosis.

Song of the Day: Mas Tequila

When thinking of liquor, the first thing that came to mind is this excellent party song from Sammy Hagar. Personally, I’m not a fan of Tequila, but I love the heck out of this song.

Bonus Song: Whiskey in the Jar

The Thin Lizzy version of this classic Irish drinking song is one of my favorite songs to listen to at the bar. Actually, I tend to sing along as well when I’ve had a whiskey or two. I also happen to love the Metallica version of this song, but the Thin Lizzy version is still the best, in my opinion.

Bonus Bonus Song: Friends in Low Places

This Garth Brooks song is probably one of the greatest songs to sing with a group at the bar. A drinking bingo night the wife and I went to was basically shut down for almost ten minutes while the bar sang this song. That was a good night…

The MRI went OK but seemed long

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about speaking with my MRI results with a neurologist. Since that post, I’ve had a few followers of the blog ask if I could document how the actual MRI of my head went. I can understand why they are requesting it. Going into a new type of scan can cause scanxiety. In this post, I will document what happened on the day of the MRI.

No prescan requirements

It seems a lot of procedures we cancer patients go through have conditions to meet. Most typically, we might be required to fast or refrain from eating sugary foods. For the MRI, there were no dietary restrictions given. The only restriction given to me was to refrain from wearing any clothing with metal in it. That was simple enough of a requirement to meet.

Filling out the paperwork

After being brought back to the scan area, I had to fill out a piece of paper. From what I remember, this was confirming my history with scans, medications, and anything metal in my body. At the time, I still had the port in my chest, so I think that was the only thing I had to note on that paperwork. 

Removing all metal

I was then put in a changing room with lockers and asked to remove any metal. That day I wore sweats, a hoodie, and flip flops (which I wear year-round). None of these items had metal in them. Those who do wear clothing with metal would have to take them off and wear a hospital gown. I didn’t want to wear a hospital gown, hence why I made sure I wore no metal. In my case, the only metal I had to take off was my glasses and the dental flipper device in my mouth.

Prescan conversation with tech

Before getting into the MRI, the tech let me know how the procedure would go. She said I would have to lay perfectly still the whole time for them to get a sharp image. About halfway through the process, she said I would get an injection of contrast via a needle. I was thrilled to hear a needle would be used to administer the contrast. I remember a previous scan (I believe it was a CT) where the contrast had to be taken orally, and I didn’t enjoy that at all!

She also said the machine would be very loud. This noise, she said, is caused by the magnets inside the machine. I was given a pair of earbuds and asked what kind of music I wanted to listen to (classic rock). Then she laid me back, and I was brought into the machine.

The first half of the scan

Actually, there isn’t much to report about the scan itself. I am not claustrophobic, so being inside a small tube didn’t bother me. I could, however, definitely see where someone afraid of small spaces would hate having an MRI done.

Even though the tech had warned me about the loud noises made by the MRI, I wasn’t adequately prepared for just how loud it would be. The MRI creates a large variety of sounds as it goes through its cycles. Some of the noises are so loud I could almost feel my eardrums being pounded. It is a wonder I didn’t come out of the MRI with a massive headache.

I believe the first part of the scan took about twenty minutes. Other than the loud noises, there isn’t much to report. It’s just a matter of laying still. Once in a while, the tech would say something through the headphones, I don’t remember much of what she said.

The second half of the scan

Upon completion of the first half of the scan, I heard the tech tell me I would be brought out of the machine for the contrast. She still wanted me to stay still during this process, or at least keep my head still. After injecting me with the contrast, she stuck me right back in the machine.

I think the second half of the scan took about the same amount of time as the first half. Part of me remembers hearing the tech say this part was shorter. But it didn’t seem shorter to me. By this time, my joints were starting to get sore from not being moved. I’m a person that has restless leg, and honestly, it takes a lot for me to keep still for twenty minutes at a time.

But I got through the second half of the scan OK. After the tech moved the bed out of the machine, she helped me slowly sit up. After a minute or two, she then helped me to stand. She explained this had to be done slowly because people will often fall after getting done with these scans. Falling is especially frequent if people try to stand right away.

I had to wait around for just a few minutes while someone verified the images were adequate. After getting the word, I was released and went off to the waiting room to let my wife know we could get out of there.

It was just a scan

A lot of people going into various types of scans often get scanxiety. Of course, a lot of that scanxiety is caused by worrying about the scan results. But after speaking with enough people, I’ve found many people (including myself at various times in the past) get a fair amount of anxiety about the scan itself. Hopefully, by sharing how my MRI experience went, it will help others relieve any scanxiety they have about getting an MRI.

Song of the day: Basket Case

I believe I have featured this song before as song of the day. I just can’t help but think of this song when talking about scanxiety. I was never a huge Green Day fan, but this is a good track.

Bonus Song: Everlong

Since I’m in a 90’s alt rock mood I might as well bring out this great track from the Foo Fighters. The scan seemed to take forever in the second half, which brought this great track to mind.