Monthly Archives: August 2014

Becoming fit

I did some research and found articles where researchers report better outcomes for people that work out and those who have higher levels of vitamin D. My gastro already put me on vitamin D. A pill a day. I asked for iron and he let me take it, so I am on iron too, building the hemoglobin level that the evil and treacherous colon dropped along those years. I already saw improvements after the colectomy, and I wasn’t taking extra iron yet. Now, I am pretty curious about my next blood test. Be careful nurses, your needles will bend and break! Please keep your magnets away from me! I think I will be pretty close to normal levels already!

I am curious about those studies dealing with vitamin D. What did they mean? Did they mean that bringing up levels of vitamin D is directly related to a better outcome? Or did they mean that those patients that had higher levels before treatment had a better chance to become healthy? I believe it was the second case, but I take my pills every day, because I think our researchers have not fully studied the situation. It may just be that I don’t know.

As for workouts, I believe that being fit is always a benefit (and it sounds pretty cool being phrased like this!) running or jogging improve the way lungs perform, and being in hospitals, better oxygen use is always an advantage when the body is having a difficult time. It is my belief, because I haven’t proved it, that recovery is a lot better the fitter we are.

After surgery I started walking in the hospital and after I went home, I started working out every Sunday. I first went walking and I did 2 km, stopping in the middle to rest and drink water. Next week I walked the same without stopping. I kept asking my surgeon if I could run, and the last time he allowed me to jog.
I started going to a local trail/track. It’s not a track because it’s hilly and irregular, and it’s not a trail because it was built. It’s full of people because it’s the city, and in this poor country facilities are not awesome, but I live very close to the spot and I don’t want to sink in the traffic to go somewhere else.
I have been slowly building distance and speed (from snail to turtle is how I would best describe my improvements, just in case you wanted to be impressed and become a fan!), and my last run this past Sunday was 5 km in 38 minutes on the hilly course, and I did take a bigger hill during the last lap.
I used to run very often when I was in the sprint kayaking team in my late teens. I used to think anybody should be able to run 5 km any day of their life, and we used to tease a girl that ran the 5 km in 35 minutes. These days I have found out that 5 km can be beyond my possibilities and that those slow runs, while my goal is to improve them, are making me very proud.
I run with a bottle of electrolytes that I don’t touch until I finish my run, my iPhone recording time, distance and elevation (logging the data is very important!), my car key tucked in a small pocket and my big awestomy bag, hopefully pretty much empty. Sometimes the awestomy behaves, sometimes it’s in a bad mood. Last Sunday my belly was disturbed, let’s say. It didn’t feel nice, it wasn’t in pain. Disturbed is the right term. But it’s nothing to worry about. It’s just the way it is sometimes. I really believe I will start treatment next week, so this weekend is my last weekend running “normal”. I will soon start radiation and chemotherapy. I am pretty sure I will become a superhero. Everybody knows they get their super powers while subjected to extreme conditions and radiation plus toxic chemicals make a very promising mixture for the transformation.
My plan is to keep working out through chemo, even if it’s only walking, I will do what I can. The body must be as strong as possible to improve my recovery.

I wrote this a few weeks ago, before a blocked intestine landed me in the ER for a painful and boring weekend. It’s been two weeks since I left the hospital. I have gone running twice. Last week I ran only 3 km, which is about two miles for those that speak miles. I felt a bit weird, and in normal health I would have pushed my run to complete 5 km, but having an ileostomy and being somewhat prone to dehydration, I preferred to be cautious and stop. I didn’t like stopping. I came back in a terrible mood that was worsened by a rain that went from a few drops to a huge shower in the three minutes it took me to park the car. I had my big Colombian umbrella and I didn’t get wet, but still, I didn’t like it that it rained on me as if it was a fun prank or whatever. Silly weather.
The rest of the week has been sunny and I have been very happy. I wouldn’t be able to live in places like Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, for example. Maine is beautiful, but I only know summer there. Even Bogotá is too cold for me. Sunny days have made me happy this week.

Today I went running. It’s a hilly course. Like a half mile track on the side of a hill. Going uphill I felt pain in my abdomen, on the right side, close to my ileostomy. I stopped after two laps, rested it out, and continued. Felt the pain again and decided to stop. The lungs were doing fine and my skinny legs were also good, but that pain didn’t let me continue and I again preferred to stop. Hopefully it was only something meaningless like swallowed air.

I promise I will do better next week. I may go to a level course in the university. I want to run the five km in less than 25 minutes. I want to be able to run 2 km in eight minutes even if my tongue ends up tangling in my feet. Those things used to make me feel good about half my life ago. For now, improving my distance and time are good ways to become healthy and in better shape to recover from whatever may come. Do you have cancer? Run with me! You don’t have cancer? Run with me! It’s good for our bodies.

My failed run today finished with a smile. An old man passed me twice on the track. I was happy to see him doing better than this 37 year old!

Background

When I was twenty five I found a girlfriend that I really liked and a few months later plain luck (and I am not saying if good or bad) sent us to live together. Sometime in November my grandpa died. He was beyond 90 and it was expected, but it was sad. I had thought about it way before, and dedicated time to spend with him, make him feel good about the grandchild he had and at some point he was very happy with me and offered me a gift. I still have the bike tool se the have me and I used it countless times to put apart my bicycles and clean them and oil them. We will go into detail some other day about my trips on a bike and my living off a bike, maybe not related to what I am experiencing now, but very, very cool. So grandpa died, grandma was not allowed to live alone much longer, she was taken to live with my aunt and my grandparents house remained empty. During those days my then girlfriend picked up a fight with her dad. Both are stubborn and have their own ideas, and her dad has a blunt way to say things. She had little patience and said she was leaving. She told me what had just happened in the phone, while she was riding a bus from her house to mine. She was about to arrive. I lived with my dad then, and I told him briefly what was going on, left, and went to the bus stop somewhat nervous and wondering what would happen next. My dad, being the coolest dad in the world took us in, but soon pointed out that we were too tight in my room, that my grandparents house was empty and needed to be taken care of, and that we should move there. We did. We didn’t plan anything about this, but it was funny that we moved there on a February 14th. I never believed in those dates, but I always laugh to myself when I remember this. We lived together about five years. A lot of things happened. I finished the university, found my first job, traveled a lot servicing space age medical equipment, got tired of being poorly paid and moved on to my second job. It originally dealt with robotics, but the stupid company didn’t sell equipment, so I spent my time reading the newspaper online and cleaning minor lab equipment. Nothing gets closer to washing dishes, and this young engineer got tired and depressed. I would come home in the afternoons with less and less energy. I just wanted to lie on my bed with a magazine, and probably a glass of coke with ice. Girlfriend wanted to go out and have fun, but I didn’t feel like it. Resting reading magazines was good enough for me, and I didn’t want to do anything else first. She sometimes wanted to talk when I arrived, and I listened and we talked about whatever for a little while until I excused myself to the bathroom. It became so frequent. She was upset about it, but I needed to go sit on the toilet. Time passed like this until one day we all were summoned to an office at work, and the warehouse keeper, nervous, his voice breaking, asked us if we could go and donate blood for his young child, that was having open heart surgery. Chilling! I had given blood to my cousin, so why not his kid, and donors are hard to find. I went to the hospital, I think it’s the one I hate the most because the area is very dirty and unfriendly, and got ready for the show in this government hospital. They had a ton of people in a well organized workflow, we went from one line to a waiting area, filled the questionnaire, waited to be called and had a sample taken for the first tests, went back to waiting, then approval… And that’s as far as I got. The lady told me I was anemic, gave my a big box of iron pills told me in a rush how to take them, and said that after that I needed to find out why I was anemic.

I left, took the pills for a few weeks and after a month forgot. Forgot the pills, but I was well aware of my anemia, but I didn’t know if I was too anemic, a little anemic, if anemia was measured in meters, liters, volts or hertz…

This sets up the background. I should add that I had already noticed that my stools were soft and I was always believing it must have been those dirty tacos we had the other day, and I shouldn’t eat in the streets, wash my hands, bacteria, blahblahblah. My relationship broke after some five years, and I was left alone. In those last days my dad had moved in with us along with grandma. My aunt had already had enough and it was dad’s turn. My girlfriend left and I was living again with my dad. After a few weeks I couldn’t stand the house no more, so I moved to the apartment, that had been left empty. I felt better there.

Time passed, two years, and my dad moved back in with me. It was a very nice season we lived together. We knew it was the last time we’d live together. I had changed jobs and the new company had given me a car. I took my dad to his office every morning and we listened to blues, country and bluegrass podcasts on the way. My dad started building a house, a year or two passed and it was finished. I had had a great time living with him, but I had a few issues, I sometimes didn’t feel quite right and my stools kept softening. I was scared and fear isn’t slow, and I reacted like ostriches: upon sight of a lion, they put their head in a hole and they don’t see the lion anymore. So I did nothing. I still worried, hushed my worries, imagined my last, very sick days, started to become cleaner, washing hands like Jack Nicholson, way too often…

My dad finished his house and moved there. I stayed in the apartment. In 2010 I felt I was traveling too much at work, one trip within the country every two weeks and then the trip wouldn’t usually last longer than a day or two. I found a job offer that featured work within the area I lived. I prepared my paperwork for the online application, updated my profile, and when I was ready to submit it, I found out it was no longer available. I was upset and forgot about it. Then, a couple of weeks later I got a call. I was offered a job that featured way more travel, a salary that doubled the one I had, and no office in my country. I took it! Oh, yes, I took it! It was October. In November I went to Israel for training. My health seemed good, but I had diarrhea all the time. I was trained and later next year I started to travel internationally on my own. I went to most Latin American countries, I went to lots of places in the US and I also worked with customers in Mexico. I traveled most weeks. I usually left in Monday and flew back on Friday. I had the idea to step in every country in the continent. I’ve been on this job ever since, and I only stopped traveling just before my arrival to Santa Fe.

The scope

It was more than enough to have diarrhea. I also knew I was anemic and it seemed the hemoglobin was decaying very, very slowly. I still worked, travelled, lifted machinery and everything. I had been concerned for a good while now, but fear is very strong, and I wanted to become healthy out of adjusting my diet, taking probiotics, reducing stress and eating clean. None of these measures helped the least little bit, but I wanted to feel I was doing something.

I was assigned two trips: one to freezing Wisconsin, for two weeks, and after one weekend at home, three weeks in cold Bogotá. I went to Wisconsin. The trip wasn’t easy, but I got there, as always. My stay was very difficult. I was having a hard time going to the bathroom. Pooping was very difficult. Something was obstructing the exit. I wanted to give it time to heal and clear, but I spent my nights running to the bathroom. Two weeks passed. I finished work and flew back home. Spent the weekend in my city, went out with my girlfriend, had a good time, worried and hoped. Monday morning I was on a plane on my way to Colombia. I love the place, but this was my worst visit. I travelled with a new colleague that I hates after the first exchange of words. The idiot behaved like fellows that sell in local markets. The insecure bastard had to show brands in his clothing to make his person valuable. It was bad and I ended avoiding him outside work and avoiding any talk unrelated to work. Outside work, the weather was cold and rainy, and guess what kind of weather I don’t like? The stupid hotel had a shower that delivered cold water and colder water. My problems were still there and I still spent nights in the bathroom. Of course I should’ve healed by now, but fear makes you stubborn. I spent the three weeks working, walking the neighborhood, I saw a friend I have in Colombia and she showed me a cool place to eat nearby, I got my girlfriend a very beautiful gift that screamed “Colombia!”, the most expensive gift I’ve given her. I discovered mulled wine in a coffee shop close to the hotel… It wasn’t that bad of a stay, but it was certainly difficult. I finished work well ahead of time and the last week I was assigned something else on my own. I was happy and relieved. When the time came, I flew back home and I was already assigned to two more weeks of local work. I did it, but I asked my managers from the start to give me a day to go see the doctor. They have me a Friday.

I woke up early and went to the hospital to get a fresh blood test. Around noon I drove to the other hospital to see the doctor. The results had been delivered via email and I had a printout. The doctor was a nice, calm man that looked very wise and I felt I could trust him. He asked questions, took notes and eventually the time came for me to be examined. It was the first time I had somebody put a finger in my ass, nothing nice, but the doctor said he believed I had polyps and he had to do a colonoscopy. Right then an email came with a ticket to Maryland. I told the doctor I had work and I could schedule… “No, he interrupted me, I want you to be admitted in the hospital tomorrow morning, if possible”. He made me call my manager to cancel my flight. My manager understood and didn’t require a long talk. A few minutes later I saw the emails canceling the flight. I thought I would spend the weekend with my girlfriend and my family, as always, before taking the plunge on Monday. Monday came and my doctor scheduled me for Wednesday. I prepared and Wednesday morning I rode a taxi with my dad and my girlfriend to the hospital. I signed papers , handed a credit card… It felt unreal. I was taken to a hospital bed and changed into a hospital gown. A nurse put an IV, drew blood, routine for her, new stuff for me. They wheeled my bed into the procedure room. The anesthesiologist put something in my IV and then I woke up with my girlfriend and my dad by my side. The doctor came in and said I had thousands of polyps. The colon had to be surgically removed. I didn’t know how to believe and understand that. The following days I was given packs of blood and also one of iron. They were preparing me for immediate surgery, but at some point my doctor and my surgeon decided to schedule that for later. Saturday came and I was released. I paid the hospital and I paid the doctors. I asked for a taxi and rode to my dad’s house, happy to be free, smiling I had been allowed to spend some time out to digest this information. I could not believe I had to have any surgery at all! I mean, I understood, but how could this ever happened to me? How could I have a genetic error that made my colon a time bomb that would explode with cancer before being 40? Those things happen, but they happen to other people! What if I died during surgery? What was life going to be? Would I be able to work after surgery? Would my girlfriend stay with me? Would I be left useless? Would I have control of my sphincters? Would I poop out my ass? Would I live long? How long would I live? Would I be financially safe? How hard was to deal with all those questions! How hard was to realize I would probably live less than most people! Sometimes my thoughts brought a few tears out. Sometimes I felt I had a watermelon in my throat. How should I have prepared for something like this? I never felt I had moved from childhood to adulthood. Cut my abdomen? Remove a huge intestine? Connect a bag to my belly? Would I break down and cry when I saw a bag on my belly? Would I die during surgery? Would I die? So soon? Me? Die? And I could also be hit by lightning and run over and a thousand possibilities… My mind raced.

Third time

My dad wanted me to take him to the supermarket. It didn’t rain in the afternoon and we finally got going. Last time I went to the supermarket with him was in the last days of June, when I still had the evil and treacherous misbehaving colon. My dad was going very slow, looking at things. I wanted to rush and leave. The freaking diarrhea kept me worried all the time. My dad walked looking in every direction. I was impatient: “dad, you don’t need/want that, come on!” I thought. But we walked at his pace. I sat every now and then, when I didn’t feel so good. I wasn’t suffering, but I wasn’t certainly doing great. The freaking iron pills made me a mess. We eventually finished, the city was empty because every idiot was watching a soccer game where their team would loose as always, and we drove fast. I was happy to be in my bathroom soon.
Today I wasn’t worried. The colon was gone. I had already healed enough. My dad walked slow, thinking, looking and getting what we needed. I was a bit desperate. In the supermarket I work fast and spend as little time as possible. Sometimes I forget stuff and I have to go back soon, but it’s still a rush. This time I felt a little bit tired, but other than that I wasn’t worried. My plastic bag was pretty much empty and it would remain like that long enough. I had no leaks or anything, but I was still bothered by the last two bags. The first one developed a leak I found at midnight and I had to change it then. The small intestine was busy spewing stuff out and I had a hard time. It didn’t last more than twelve hours. Around noon the next day I thought I’d go empty the bag. I checked visually only to find a green mess. The thing had made a bad leak and I was getting dirty. I was able to do a nice job changing the bag and it worked well. We finished shopping and I asked dad if we could drive quick to the hospital to leave a disc. He said it was ok, so I drove there, found a nice parking spot, and it was so close to the building that I had my dad stay while I went in quick. I knew exactly where I was going. I found the waiting room full. I was the one with the brightest smile in this oncology area of the hospital. Everybody must’ve thought I was completely healthy, but I was doing my own business, caring for myself, and not running errands for anybody. The receptionist now knows who I am, maybe because I am young and smiling. Smiling naïvely or stupidly in likely ignorance of the storm I may be facing. I know the risk. My 37th birthday will be in a few days. I know that if I live to see my 42nd birthday I will really have to party, because I will then be considered cured and the odds will be almost fully completely on my side. If something is not right the story will be different. I will have to come back to the hospital for treatment, and the result will probably not be a happy ending for this tale. You never know when all the bad cells are dead and when a few remain that may end your dreams in a sudden surprising outcome, long enough for you to know, understand, feel and grieve, and short enough to have a final, unjust and bitter taste. I am realistic, but for some reason I refuse to take a sad attitude of despair. I gave the DVD disc with the colonoscopy video to the receptionist, she told me she’d given another disc I gave her to the doctor, I thanked her and headed out. My dad and I went back to his house, my recovery house. I thought I would be going home somewhere around these days, and I feel good enough to do it, but the upcoming treatments make me think it’s wiser to stay. I don’t know in how much of a bad shape the treatment will bring me, and if it’s bad, I will be better here.
I feel good. I feel proud. I am already a survivor. I am aware that if I hadn’t seen a doctor this year, I wouldn’t be alive beyond December. I am impressed by many things. One is that the colon is gone. A thick and heavy organ that measures one meter and a half, and is attached all over the abdominal cavity, along with the rectum, is gone. I don’t have a colon and I don’t have a rectum. It’s impressive. Not only did I survive such a big surgery, I have recovered well and I don’t miss the organs. I have a hole next to my belly button where the small intestine shows, and I have a bag attached to my belly to catch the waste. I thought I’d be brought to tears when I saw that, waking from the anesthesia. I was never sad. I smile. I am proud. I changed my fate. I feel good and much healthier than month and a half ago. I am always happy to show the bag to anybody close to me or anybody who may become involved in a conversation with me. It may be a brutal sight to people, but it’s what drives my well being, my being alive. How happy I feel to say it and write it: I am alive! I feel good! These days I prepare to go to the hospital for the third time. It will be a long and difficult battle. I feel better now than I will feel while under treatment, but this is what I have to do to increase my chances of survival. I expect to begin within a week, it will last six months and I hope this will allow me to live longer and better. I think about my present, I think about my future and I smile: I am doing the right things.

Arrival to Santa Fe

This morning, arriving home to rest breakfast, I found on my table a ticket. I had seen it yesterday when my girlfriend and I shared our first meal together at home since I left. The ticket was dated may 29th, and was for a Burger King whopper with fries. That was my last meal, what I chose because it was tasty, quick and nothing would remain. The next morning I woke up early. It was cold and rainy. Of course the sky was crying! I wasn’t sad or happy. I did not feel in the mood for either emotion and I was in a bit of a hurry. My girlfriend was on her way. She’d got up early and rode the subways and the buses hurrying to get to my house. I called a taxi. The taxi was late and my girlfriend was waiting at the gate of the building complex where I live. I hate these situations. I was getting quite upset. Then the taxi arrived and we headed to the hospital. It must have taken 30 minutes on the new toll highway. We arrived and did the admission paperwork. A lady took us to a cold room and we were left there to wait. The room had a hospital bed, the outlets for power and oxygen, light furniture and a small bathroom. The window showed a cloudy and sad day outside. Back in April little did I imagine I would be there, and months before I never imagined any hospital stays in my near future. This is a story about life, about lessons of love and about living with a good attitude when life kicks you in the face. This story begins before I was born and reaches the present years in a quest to find happiness. This is a story in which our hero finds happiness, only to see it’s very foundations shaken from the root, and then is held up from a disastrous fall by true giants.