"Doctors said that the test most commonly used to screen for colon cancer doesn't go far enough. They're recommending a procedure that involves photographing the entire colon. I say, don't give CBS an idea for another reality show."
Monday went as planned. Kathryn drove me to Boca Raton Community Hospital to have the IV Port installed in my chest. I answered a lot of questions that I had been asked I don’t know how many times before in previous visits to the hospital. The marvel of the computer age, it seems, hasn’t yet advanced to the point where they actually look you up on the laptop sitting on the stand in front of them with all the information on the monitor screen headed: Allan Cole.
I wanted to tell them, “Allan Cole’s the name. Colon cancer is my game.” But Kathryn gave me that little frown she has when she knows I’m about to say something sarcastic. So I desisted. Answered the questions... Had my blood pressure taken… Heart rate…. And so on. Then I asked Kathryn if she’d get me a t-shirt made up that read: “I asked God for a sign. So He gave me Cancer.” With nary a beat, she replied that she didn’t much appreciate my “Sense Of Tumor.”
Finally they rolled me through the radiology department to a small surgical room. I was greeted by the strangest sight. Instead of wearing green hospital scrubs the techs and nurses looked more like a SWAT squad. But, no, that wasn’t quite accurate. They looked more like a bomb disposal team. They were pulling on these heavy, dark blue body-armor-style vests with aprons made of similar material hanging from their waists to their ankles.
I was tempted to ask them what the hell was going on? Had we stumbled into the lair of mad bombers and before my team of heroes did the IV deed they first had to dismantle a big damned bomb? Could we be in episode of 24, I wondered. I glanced around, thinking “Where’s Jack Bauer hiding?”
This drew a few polite chuckles. And it was explained that the outfits were to protect them from radiation. We were, after all, in the radiology department with high tech atomic thingamabos everywhere.
I scooted over to the main table. A largish machine was drawn up. To my right, they moved in a super-sized monitor, suitable for watching a James Cameron block buster. I asked them nicely for buttered popcorn and a large diet coke, but they weren’t on the menu.
Instead it was “Happy Hour” time, with a nice mild sedative to be fed directly into my veins. I confess I was a bit disappointed. In my experience Boca Hospital has dynamite drugs that can put you directly into the above mentioned James Cameron movie. It was like being offered a nice white wine instead of Glenlivet on the rocks. But the sedative would have to suffice and it did more than did the job.
They put this little half-tent over me, with one side partly open for a nurse to peer into and tell little deaf-as-a-post me what was going on. I thought about the times when I was a kid and tried to sneak in some reading when I was supposed to be asleep. You remember, right? You used a flashlight with weak batteries, or sometimes a jar of fireflies and tried to get in as many pages of Huck Finn that you could until your mother busted you.
I’m pleased to announce that the procedure was a piece of cake, despite being denied the Glenlivet. A tiny prick of the Novocain needle, some prodding and pushing and dabbing in the chest area and in about hour they were done, although the sedative made it feel like only a few minutes had passed.
So… Mission Accomplished. The port has been installed and now I’m ready for my Chemo Closeup, Mr. Demille.
At this point, it’s probably time to lay in the all important backstory of this adventure. In other words, how did a nice writer like myself end up in such a fix?
For those of you who share my taste for black humor, it may amuse you to know that this whole deal started out as a remodeling project. Actually, there were two remodeling projects: interior and exterior.
The exterior part was a complete revamping of our condo unit in Boca. My brother, Drew, was going to bring in his best crew and basically gut the place. Bathrooms, kitchens, plumbing, electricity, paint, floors, porch – the whole enchilada. Only problem is that it’s pretty hard to gut a place when people are still living there. So Kathryn and I packed our bags and flew to Los Angeles to visit her family and mine for a little over a month. We had a great time and when we returned we were amazed at the wonders of our newly transformed home.
Now for the interior part. Back in October I was working out at the gym when I suddenly felt woozy and my whole right side went numb. I briefly considered having somebody call 911, but in my confused state I thought, but wait… How will Kathryn be able to come see me at the Emergency Hospital if she doesn’t have the car? So, I dragged myself out to our trusty Honda Civic and drove home. I couldn’t get out of the car on my own, so I called Kathryn on the cell and said I was in difficulty and would she please come down and drive me to the doctor’s office?
Okay, okay, don’t beat me up for terminal stupidity. It’s a Guy Thing, you know? Besides, since that day a whole horde of people have gotten in line behind Kathryn to drub me around the head and shoulders for my dim-wittedness. In the end, she got me to the doctor’s office, he took one look at me and told the nurse to call 911.
Long story short: I ended up with a brilliant vascular surgeon named Dr. Lee. Never mind his bedside manner – he’s a surgeon, okay? All surgeons have the bedside manners of a Guantanamo Bay interrogator. He announced that he’s going to attempt to “save your life.” I had no quarrel with this. Sounded like a grand idea.
It seems that I my whole arterial system was your basic disaster area. He proposed three major surgeries over the next few months. First he would do my left side – not an easy procedure, but not too bad. Then my middle – a biggie - involving all kinds of things up to and including rebuilding arteries in my groin and… well, the aftermath was agonizing, okay? I recovered from the first surgery with little difficulty. The second procedure hurt like hell, and I have a pretty high pain threshold. Even so, with the help of my genius physical trainer – Dr. Scott Braun – I got back in good enough shape to make the above mentioned journey to Los Angeles.
A week after our return I met with Dr. Lee to discuss the dreaded third procedure on my right side. As near as I could figure it would start with my neck and work down to my big toe. But Dr. Lee was all smiles when Kathryn and I entered his office. He informed us that I had improved so much that I no longer met his “professional threshold” to perform the surgery. He said to check back with him in a year – twelve wonderful surgery-free months – and see where things stood then.
Kathryn and I left walking on air. Joy! Joy! Joy! Had a celebratory dinner with my brother and sister-in-law, Vicky, and my dear Aunt Rita. I was reprieved. Pardoned by the Big Governor In The Sky. Life was, well… you know… Damned Effing Good.
That was a Sunday. Monday morning I rose from my bed and promptly fell on the floor. Tried to get up, but the whole room was vibrating and I kept collapsing. With Kathryn’s help I finally crawled back into bed. Stayed there until the room steadied out. Got up in stages, feeling as dizzy as a poor little Alpha particle stuck in a cyclotron. Eventually, we managed to get to my cardiologist’s office.
He examined me and said it had nothing to do with the previous circulatory problems. He said it was vertigo. Probably traceable to an inner ear problem. Since I am deaf as hell – from too many years of murdering targets at shooting ranges – it made sense. (In my youth ear protectors were for sissies. Us macho muscle heads were supposed to have ear drums of steel.)
Anyway, we went to see an ear-nose-and throat specialist. There was another series of tests, followed by an office visit. The doctor frowned as he reviewed the results and then looked up at me. He said, “Allan, this has nothing to do with the inner ear or any other part of the ear.”
He turned to Kathryn. “Mrs. Cole,” he said, “I advise you to put your husband in the car and drive him directly to the hospital.”
So there I was back at Boca Raton Hospital. Sprawled on the gurney, the room spinning around while endless questions were asked and I was poked and prodded and declared unfit to go anywhere except a nice room on the second floor.
It turned out that I was anemic to the Nth degree. I was bleeding internally, which was the reason I was falling down. It wasn’t the inner ear after all, but a wee problem of bleeding to death. They pumped five units of blood into me. Then two more. Meanwhile more tests were being conducted. If I was bleeding, where was the blood going? And where was it coming from?
This was a job for Colonoscopy Man!
Indignities were performed. First in one direction. Then the other.
Enter Dr. Andrew S. Ross, one of the best colon and rectal surgeons in the country. Naturally his bedside manner is no different than the one mentioned above, except he chuckles a lot. Anyway, the good Dr. Ross had pictures. In color, no less. He said they showed that I had two tumors – on opposite ends of my colon. You couldn’t miss them. They were as red as Satan’s schlong.
And they both were both… (drum roll)… Malignant!
In other words, I may have dodged the third arterial surgery, but now I was in for some really serious shit.
Instead of removing them individually, Dr. Ross advised it would be best if he could do it in one go. If he cut the tumors out one by one there was a good chance of infection and spreading the cancer. He proposed that he remove about two thirds of my colon - two cuts instead of four - and stitch the ends together. Dr. Ross didn’t exactly put it that way, but you get the general idea.
The surgery took two-and-a-half hours, which, I’m told, is not bad. The procedure can require as much as five hours of chopping and channeling. The recovery was another matter. A small eternity passed before I was paroled from the tender care of the nurses and doctors at Boca Hospital.
I won’t dwell on the experience, which was neither pleasant or without pain. I’ll just say that most of the next three weeks was spent in a semi-hallucinatory state, broken by painful returns to what passes for reality in a hospital. Besides, like they say, many people have it a lot worse. Which I know for a fact because I have witnessed the aforementioned a lot worse both as a young newsman and as a CIA brat traveling the world.
A bright note: a lot of medical people are science fiction fans. One of them discovered they had the coauthor of the Sten series on their ward and pretty soon everybody was Googling me and oohing and aahing and giving my ego a tremendous boost from the indignities that one suffers when they are sick and helpless.
Early on Dr. Ross strolled smiling into my room and informed me that the pathology report said that I was now completely cancer free. Nice, huh? More than nice. It was fabulous news. But then he returned several days later and instead of smiling, he was all serious and sat in a chair beside my bed and said there had been an error in the report, due to the inexperience of the initial technician or some such. I’m not exactly clear on the details, because, like I said, my mind was living part time in the land of Morpheus.
Anyway, the upshot was: Everybody who is cancer-free take one step forward. Wait! Not so fast, Cole!
In other words it seems that some bad boys were left in my lymph system and chemotherapy was required to drive them out.
So that’s how it all came to pass. As Laurel told Hardy, “That’s my story and I’m stuck in it.”
Now, all there is left to do is wait until tomorrow morning (Wednesday) when the Chemotherapy Games Begin. I wrote all about the nasty stuff they’re going to feed into the above mentioned IV port in Saturday’s edition of Notes From A Chemo Brain, so I won’t go into it again. Except to say that it’s a two-day, twenty-two-hour Chemo Fest, so I’ll be staying in the hospital overnight, then getting more nasty stuff pumped into me on Thursday.
The next day at home I’ll probably be wondering what the hell they need nasty chemicals for. Hospital food should be enough to kill any cancer known to medical science.
Got bladder cancer? Try the tree stump thingies the menu bills as broccoli. Melanoma? Check out the gooey substance on your plate they claim to be mashed potatoes. Lung cancer? We have a rather nice gray and pink substance better known as meat loaf. Delicious. Really!!! And don’t ask about desert, because I’m sure the stuff they served up was gathered from snail trails. The Italian Ice is good, though, so be sure to order several.
I’m going to spend the rest of today finding some good audiobooks to download into my various MP3 devices and score a couple of books I’ve been lusting after for my Kindle.
See you next weekend when we continue the thrilling adventures of yours truly in “Notes From A Chemo Brain.”
Meanwhile, I've got one hundred and eights days of chemo to go. But, who's counting?
LUCKY IN CYPRUS: IT'S A BOOK!
Here's where to get the paperback & Kindle editions worldwide:
Here's what readers say about Lucky In Cyprus:
- "Bravo, Allan! When I finished Lucky In Cyprus I wept." - Julie Mitchell, Hot Springs, Texas
- "Lucky In Cyprus brought back many memories... A wonderful book. So many shadows blown away!" - Freddy & Maureen Smart, Episkopi,Cyprus.
- "... (Reading) Lucky In Cyprus has been a humbling, haunting, sobering and enlightening experience..." - J.A. Locke, Bookloons.com
NEW: THE AUDIOBOOK VERSION OF
THE HATE PARALLAX
THE HATE PARALLAX: What if the Cold War never ended -- but continued for a thousand years? Best-selling authors Allan Cole (an American) and Nick Perumov (a Russian) spin a mesmerizing "what if?" tale set a thousand years in the future, as an American and a Russian super-soldier -- together with a beautiful American detective working for the United Worlds Police -- must combine forces to defeat a secret cabal ... and prevent a galactic disaster! This is the first - and only - collaboration between American and Russian novelists. Narrated by John Hough. Click the title links below for the trade paperback and kindle editions. (Also available at iTunes.)
THE SPYMASTER'S DAUGHTER:
A new novel by Allan and his daughter, Susan
After laboring as a Doctors Without Borders physician in the teaming refugee camps and minefields of South Asia, Dr. Ann Donovan thought she'd seen Hell as close up as you can get. And as a fifth generation CIA brat, she thought she knew all there was to know about corruption and betrayal. But then her father - a legendary spymaster - shows up, with a ten-year-old boy in tow. A brother she never knew existed. Then in a few violent hours, her whole world is shattered, her father killed and she and her kid brother are one the run with hell hounds on their heels. They finally corner her in a clinic in Hawaii and then all the lies and treachery are revealed on one terrible, bloody storm ravaged night.
BASED ON THE CLASSIC STEN SERIES by Allan Cole & Chris Bunch: Fresh from their mission to pacify the Wolf Worlds, Sten and his Mantis Team encounter a mysterious ship that has been lost among the stars for thousands of years. At first, everyone aboard appears to be long dead. Then a strange Being beckons, pleading for help. More disturbing: the presence of AM2, a strategically vital fuel tightly controlled by their boss - The Eternal Emperor. They are ordered to retrieve the remaining AM2 "at all costs." But once Sten and his heavy worlder sidekick, Alex Kilgour, board the ship they must dare an out of control defense system that attacks without warning as they move through dark warrens filled with unimaginable horrors. When they reach their goal they find that in the midst of all that death are the "seeds" of a lost civilization.
Here's where you can buy it worldwide in both paperback and Kindle editions:
Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969
In the depths of the Sixties and The Days Of Rage, a young newsman, accompanied by his pregnant wife and orphaned teenage brother, creates a Paradise of sorts in a sprawling Venice Beach community of apartments, populated by students, artists, budding scientists and engineers lifeguards, poets, bikers with a few junkies thrown in for good measure. The inhabitants come to call the place “Pepperland,” after the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” Threatening this paradise is "The Blue Meanie," a crazy giant of a man so frightening that he eventually even scares himself.