Introduction

The "Hotel Melanoma" moniker is a metaphor for living with my particular brand of cancer. Except for those lucky few of us deemed "cured", all we cancer survivors are guests of one of the many, many branded hotels in the "Hotel Carcinoma" chain. We can check out any time we like, but we can never leave. Meanwhile, let's be livin' it up; and please support cancer education, prevention, and treatment research.



Tutu Brothers

Monday, February 28, 2011

Our Theme Song


I suspect that only a handful of readers manifesting severe masochistic tendencies have made it all the way back to my initial blog post. So, I’m ‘recycling’ the lyrics to the theme song of this blog, with sincerest apologies to the Eagles………



On a dark mountain highway, cool wind ‘stead of hair
Warm smell of new sunscreen, rising up through the air
Up ahead in the distance, I saw a hospital light
Lymph nodes grew heavy, prognosis grew dimmer
I had to stop for the fight.

There she stood in the doorway;
I heard the clinic bell
And I was thinking to myself
‘This could be heaven or this could be Hell’
Then she picked up a clipboard and she showed me the way
There were nurses down the corridor,
I thought I heard them say…

Welcome to the Hotel Melanoma
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)
What a lovely case.
Plenty of meds at the Hotel Melanoma
Any time of year (any time of year) you can find them here

Her mind is Ativan-twisted, she got the Thorazine bends
She got a lot of pretty, pretty docs, that she calls friends
Should she tan in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat
Some tan to remember, some tan to forget

So I called up my Doctor,
‘Please bring me my wine’
He said, ‘we haven’t done that treatment here since nineteen sixty-nine’
And still those nurses are calling from far away,
Wake you up in the middle of the night
Just to hear them say…

Welcome to the Hotel Melanoma
Such a lovely place (such a lovely place)
Such a lovely case
They livin’ it up at the Hotel Melanoma
What a nice surprise (what a nice surprise), bring your tumor slides

Scanners on the ceiling,
The pink Zofran on ice
And she said, ‘we will always be patients here, of our own device’
And in the surgeon’s chambers,
They gathered for the feast
They stab it with their steely knives
But they just can’t kill the beast

Last thing I remember, I was
Running for the door
I had to find the passage back to the place I was before
‘Relax’ said the night nurse,
‘We are programmed to receive.
You can check out any time you like,
But you can never leave!’

Thursday, February 24, 2011

If One Is Good, Two May Not Be Better

The radiation doc scheduled my next MRI today, which my insurance company actually agreed to preauthorize-- at least until after I've already incurred the cost and they change their mind and start the preexisting condition debates all over again. This reminds me of an embarassing incident first reported in my initial blog post, which I vow to never repeat again.........

I'm a world-class coward when it comes to medical procedures. Among my medical phobias is lying still for 45 minutes or so within the rather close confines of an MRI tube. If you've ever had one, perhaps you can empathize.

So, my first scheduled MRI of my brain was an occasion for me to request some pharmaceutical assistance. My kind and compassionate post-residency fellowship doctor was about to write a prescription for a few 1 mg tablets of Ativan, when my faculty oncologist suggested "give the man some real drugs, he won't stop breathing". So, I scored some 2 mg tablets. This turned out to be a big mistake for which I bear sole responsibility.

I'd never ever before ingested Ativan (the generic name is Lorazepam), which is a potent anti-anxiety medication that is also prescribed for chemotherapy nausea. My instructions were to take one tablet about thirty minutes before the scan. Well, the schedule in radiology was running a little late that morning, plus I was a bit freaked out about the whole cancer thing at that point, having been told by several doctors that finding metastasis in these scans was a likelihood. So, I snuck away from my wife and took a second 2 mg tablet, bringing my total dosage to 4 mg in less than an hour. I later learned from a physician acquaintance that 4 mg would be an appropriate dose for an emergency room physician to give a homeless alcoholic with delirium tremens whom had been brought in off the street by the cops.

In any event, I actually enjoyed the MRI and kind of grooved to the banging sound of those magnets before almost falling asleep during the scan. My wife and I went out to breakfast after the MRI to kill some time before a CT scan, and I nearly did a header into my plate despite downing several cups of coffee. She then drove me to a nearby park, where I slept it off in the car. After a long nap, I was still a bit staggered and dazed when returning to the hospital several hours later for the CT scan.

This is just one more thing for which I've had to apologize to my wife repeatedly, but at least she's progressed to laughing about my accidental Ativan overdose.

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Lent Vent

I’ll grant you that recovering attorneys make lousy theologians, because we’ve been trained to quibble with rigid rules and argue for exceptions and loopholes that work to the convenience of our overbilled clients. Nevertheless, I must say that I think that anyone staying at this Hotel who’s currently having a rough time of it deserves a free pass during the upcoming Lenten season. (I had to look it up, but it starts this year on March 9, Ash Wednesday.)

According to the official rulebook of my own denomination (which I must confess that I often find to be as opaque as the USGA’s Rules of Golf), the forty days of Lent are supposed to be a time of voluntary self-denial and going the extra mile in performing works of charity. That’s entirely well and good for someone like me, who will be fortunate enough to live Lent in the Great State of Remission. But for the thousands of guests of this Hotel who are currently having a rough go of it, in my book that’s an awfully lot to ask. I don’t think I’ll be excommunicated if I argue that the rules of Lent ought to be reversed for your benefit: you deserve a forty-day furlough from melanoma and all of its trappings.

But since I lack the ecclesiastical authority to grant any Lenten bye weeks, I’ll offer this instead. If there’s something I can do to help you, please let me know.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Positively Sometimes Negative

I don’t think that it’s humanly possible for a guest at this Hotel to always be positive and optimistic about one’s treatments and prognosis. At least I know that I sure haven’t been. Anyone who is is probably either delusional or heavily medicated or both. (Which is not to discourage anyone from seeking appropriate pharmaceutical assistance to smooth out the rougher edges of life at the Hotel. My personal choice of ‘medication’ is a long walk with my dear golden retriever/personal trainer, followed by a slug of a geriatric single malt scotch.) And one of the sometimes irritating aspects about living at the Hotel is dealing with well-meaning nonresidents who seem to expect you to be relentlessly and unfailingly upbeat about your current place of abode.

Nevertheless, I’ve done my best to write a blog that looks for the good stuff and the funny stuff I’ve stumbled into during my stay. (That’s often required the passage of quite some time between the experience and the act of writing about it.) The simple reason is that writing about the ‘doom and gloom’ of being a melanoma patient, which there is certainly plenty of, makes me feel worse and searching for the good and funny stuff makes me feel better. Plus, who among my fellow guests at this Hotel really needs or wants to read about the worst parts of another guest’s trials and tribulations? I’d much rather try to make you (and me) smile.

In any event, I hope that nothing I’ve written even hints that anyone ought to think bad of themselves if they’re currently unable to break out of the fog and gloom and find anything good or funny in their life at the Hotel. I firmly believe we’ve all been there at one time or another, and likely far more than once. My unsolicited advice is to muddle on through as best you can, and to write your own stories when the time is right whether you choose to share them or not. My preferred meaning of “checking out” of the Hotel is taking a mental sabbatical from the reality of whatever this disease might be throwing your way, whenever and for as long as possible; I sure don’t mean dying.

Best wishes to all.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

'Nucular' Nonproliferation

I know from experience that I’ll be the first to know if my schwannoma tumor starts growing again. So, I really don’t need the results of an upcoming MRI to tell me this bad boy is behaving and I’ll be quite surprised if my favorite radiation oncologist (f/k/a “Dr. No”) suggests another round of radiation treatments. While my insurance company should be quite grateful for this, I’m not anticipating receipt of a nice thank you note from my friends in the claims department.

Which reminds me of a funny thing that happened on the way to the operating room when we took a surgical whack at this tumor. At least it’s funny to me because I found out about it by accident. Nobody ‘fessed up that something might have almost gone awry until I started asking questions. Sad to say, but that may be because I was known to be a recovering attorney and these folks mistakenly thought I might be the sort who’d get snippy about it.

Shortly after my release from postoperative hospital incarceration, I paid a visit to my local beauty shop for the usual buzz cut to tame my unruly post-chemo head of hair. My ‘stylist’ asked me why a sizable area on the back of my skull had been recently shaved. This was news to me, and a mystery I just had to try to solve because I suffer the curse of having received extensive legal training.

I couldn’t figure it out. The tumor is next to my cervical spine. And I distinctly remember a surgical resident diligently confirming the target location for the day’s work, using a marker pen to tag the ‘sweet spot’, and even initialing his work. Shortly thereafter, the anesthesiologist knocked me out with a nice dose of some preoperative sedative, thank you very much, before I was carted into the operating room for final prepping. Consequently, I was gratefully clueless about anything that took place in the operating room. (Grateful because, during the prepping for a prior operation at another hospital, I’d had the ‘pleasure’ of listening to the anesthesiologist and surgical techs gossip about an absent member of their team who’d apparently suffered yet another flare-up of a sexually transmitted disease.) Plus, given that- at least according to my wife- I have no brain, there was no apparent medical reason to attach any sort of monitor to the back of my skull during surgery.

So, in the course of my first postoperative visit to see my favorite neurosurgeon I asked his physician assistant why I had a patch of a boot camp marine haircut. She reviewed the records and notes for the procedure and found no explanation. She speculated that some surgical tech, knowing that my doc is usually going after a brain tumor, mistakenly started the normal routine of shaving the patient’s head before being stopped by some other member of the team. But I just can’t help but wonder whether I was initially carted into the wrong operating room and almost got mixed up with a patient scheduled for brain surgery. Eons ago when I was in college, I worked as an operating room orderly and witnessed that this stuff happens despite preventive procedures. Yikes.

Whatever happened here, the clear call is “no blood, no foul”. And just another missed opportunity to prove to my wife that I really do have a brain and that it’s located in the proper place.

Has anything like this happened to you?