Revisiting the Podiatrist


Since our first meeting, I have been seeing my podiatrist Dr Paa every 3 weeks to have him sculpt the two stubborn calluses near my big toe.  My pesky bunion causes the regular medical visit, which is mutually beneficial.  The benefit for me: I save myself from back strain when I don’t have to bring my face down to my right foot; or from cramp when I don’t have to bring my right foot up to my face.  In addition, my good compadre Medicare pays for the procedure.  The benefit for Dr Paa:  He has a commanding view of my foot from his armchair and in less than half a minute, he completes a lucrative billable job.  Plus, if he happens to be one of the 60% of the podiatrists who, according to my unreliable sources, have a kinky thing for big toes,  he also gets some jollies.  So every 3 weeks, Dr Paa and I go through the same routine, which is swift, in and out under 10 minutes.  Done deal.  We part, both happy.

In my latest visit, however, nothing was routine.  A soon as I entered Dr Paa’s office, I announced with a broad grin, Do I have a new job for you!  And what is that? he asked.  I answered, Ingrown big toe nail!  His eyes glistened with excitement:  That’s my specialty!  I muttered to myself, You don’t say! Could there be truth to the 60% rumor?

Prior to that visit, the only clue I had about ingrown toenails was from years ago when an employee of mine told me about an ingrown toenail for which she had to get emergency treatment that past weekend.  I feigned sympathy but in the back of my head, she was just distracting me.  Now after experiencing an ingrown toenail myself, I can safely say it is very painful indeed especially if it’s infected.  Even the the weight of a bed sheet feels like a ton of bricks bearing on the poor toe.  I secretly apologize to my unsuspecting ex-employee for my having been a cold-heart, inconsiderate, but otherwise wonderful and awesome human being.  I feel better now.

Back to Dr Paa.  He studied my right foot on his low working table, his eyes focused on the big toe.  On the table was a small canister of freezing spray, a special longer-than-usual shiny toenail clipper, a bottle of antibiotic, and a couple of individually wrapped band-aids.  When he aimed the the spray on my big toe, I commented, That was infected yesterday but I took care of it.  He seemed annoyed, as if I had encroached on a  possession of his.  How did you do that? He looked at me eyeball to eyeball.  I replied, I followed Dr Google’s advice to soak my foot in warm water with vinegar.  He lightened up.  Yes, he agreed.  That will draw out the infection.  I felt better, remembering the ball of dried pus that had emerged from the affected nail in the morning.

Snip. Went the clipper.  In a few seconds, the whole procedure was over.  My big toe felt relieved of painful pressure.   Dr Paa went short of beating his chest proudly for his accomplishment.  I gave him more reason to be proud.  I asked him why I was having ingrown toenails, something I had never had before.  Blame the aging process, he suggested.  Nail becomes harder, skin gets thinner, yada, yada.  I know, I assured him, who’s no spring chicken himself.  Aging is not for amateurs.  

Two weeks later I was back again in front for the same procedure on the other side of the right big toe.  After the successful operation, he quipped, How about that! You have two problems and they were on the same big toe.   I guess I was supposed to celebrate the circumstance.

I was so pleased with Dr Paa’s work that I went on and phoned my Son the Sculptor and shared my experience.  I told him he should not have to suffer from the pain of ingrown big toe nail.  Go straight to a podiatrist, I advised.  That’s what podiatrists do.  At the end, I asked, Have you ever had ingrown big toe nail?  Yes, he answered, when I was a teenager.  Really? What happened? I asked in quick succession.  He answered, You did surgery on it.  OMG! I couldn’t remember that event but knowing me, it was quite conceivable that I did it.  Noticing my big silence, he pushed some more: Blood all over! Then I knew he was putting me me on, trying to get even with me.  I had told him years ago how lucky he was.  I suffered from postpartum depression  after he was born and could have put him in the microwave oven. 

Happy dance, Happy Toes!




CT Scan Results

The day after CT Scan Day was anti-climactic. I thought it’d be a week before I’d find out the results so I began drafting two masterpiece blog posts in my smart phone:  A, if all’s clear; and B, if something is new an/or something grew.  It was tough.  I did not want to sound too triumphant if A and too hacked off or too cool if B.  I was carefully tiptoeing the lines.   I fancy myself as the prima ballerina of the written word.  Imagining myself an awesome dancer is the best I can do after failing miserably in my youth while prancing between two bamboo poles of the Philippine dance called “tinikling.

Suddenly my cell phone beeped a text notification.  It was from Onc Dr Smiley’s office!  It said your health record has new medical terms.  My interpretation: The CT scan report is available at the Patient Portal and I can read all about it if I follow the link.  Before I could drill on the link, the cell phone rang.  The caller ID indicated Dr Smiley’s office.  I thought, Wow.  There’s a sense of urgency.  I hope he’s not sending over an ambulance.  I need some time to put clothes on. 

I decided to answer the phone.  The caller identified herself as Dr Smiley’s nurse.  She said he had asked her to call me and give me the news:  everything stable, see you in 8 months.  

There we have it.  Tagrisso rocks!


CT Scan! CT Scan!

February 25, 2019 at the Imaging Center in South Orange County, California. Have you had a CT scan before? asked the 20-something Asian woman technician as she covered my legs with a warm blanket. It was probably the 23rd or the 25th time, I don’t remember which, I had to answer the question from the 23rd or the 25th different technician. There seems to be a quick turnover in that line of work. I imagine the technicians get bored.  If they only knew what the patients go through. And boredom is hardly it.  

My answer, of course, to her question was:  Yes, yes, I’ve had tons of CT scans over the last 7 years and I blurted out a thunderous laugh.  I enjoy startling upwardly mobile employees.  They are so vulnerable, especially to a very relaxed me.  Hey, there’s no tension when there’s pension.  That’s the mantra in our retirement resort.

As Techie jabbed the needle into my wrist vein where the dye contrast fluid would enter and give me the warm feeling of wanting to go potty,  I recounted to her my very first CT scan, the one that led to the discovery of the 3cm x 3cm x 2cm malignant tumor on the lower lobe of my left lung.  How can I ever forget the measurements?  If the third dimension had been 3cm instead of 2,  the tumor would have been perfect, like the dice on the crap table.  I told her about the misgivings I had before, during, and after the CT scan and all the way to the fateful reading of findings with my Physician’s Assistant (PA) who had ordered the CT scan.  Days later, my very first oncologist gave me the 8-months-to live prognosis.  It was August 2012.  Yes, I confess.  I did experience scanxiety.  Big time.

I consider it my solemn responsibility to gauge a technician’s suitability for a kind of work that she would do through her adult life.  I noticed Techie was awfully quiet.  She had a faraway look in her eyes.  She probably regretted ever asking me the question. Any question.  The only answer she expected to hear was probably a cursory yes or no.   Or she had thoughts of chicken drumsticks barbecuing, dancing in her head.

Time came for Techie’s final instructions before my horizontal trip through the CT scan machine tunnel.  First, I had to shut up.  Soon the CT scan motion started.  As my body was traveling slowly through the CT scan contraption, my mind took me to the second  CT scan –  the one taken after 100 days of treatment by the drug Tarceva in various dosages.  Yes, various doses but please don’t follow my example of messing with dosages.  Talk to your onc.  I’m a dangerous role model.  

I recalled no anxiety on that second CT scan, only curiosity.  I guess at that point, I was resigned to the proposition that in the approaching April 2013 – the 8th month in the prognosis –  I’d be joining Whitney Houston and Dick Clark in the rowdy section inside the Pearly Gates. 

Whew! Got the unforgettable drama out from my chest.  Thank you for reading up to this point.  Now we move on to the result of the latest CT scan, which produced zero scanxiety like all the others beyond the maiden one. 

I must say that one week before the CT scan at hand, one-man-band-onc Dr Smiley instructed me to take a blood test to check my CEA numbers prior to my physical examinations.  I asked him, Do those numbers really mean anything?  Yes! He assured me.  They sure do.  I did not argue with him because I was clueless about CEA numbers.  In my past life I was a professional civil engineer who designed sewers, making sure they flowed downhill.  So I asked Dr Google what CEA stands for.  My knowledgeable  colleague answered: CEA (CarcinoEmbryonic Antigen) is a protein found in many types of cells but associated with tumors and the developing fetus.  The main use of CEA is as a tumor marker.  Lung cancer is among the common cancers that elevate CEA.  If the CEA is high before treatment, it should fall to normal after successful therapy.  He would have gone on and on but he noticed that I was beginning to nod.  He surmised I got the drift already.

During the physical examinations, Dr Smiley informed me the blood test results showed my CEA numbers are normal.  Then he went through his routine motions.  In search for swollen lymph nodes, he kneaded my neck, jabbed his fingers into my armpits, and massaged my belly in all directions.  Everything is good, the good doctor said.  Now we’ll see what the CT scan next week will reveal.

The next week that Dr Smiley referred to is now.   I’ve just dressed up after that CT scan and ready for my cabbie to pick me up and drive me home.   I’ll post the result as soon as I have it.

Meanwhile, ask me any questions.  I might have the answer.  Otherwise I’ll get it for you.

Hair Loss

It’s All on the Head

When it seemed like I was already carefree – lung cancer stable, bladder unremarkable, bunion under control – I got this wild-haired notion to grow my hair and recapture my long-lost youth. Time came when the hair was long enough to be pulled away from my face and neck and fashioned into a tiny Asian bun. I got all excited! I made a mad dash to the dollar store and bought the smallest black banana clip that matched my dyed ebony hair. The project was going great guns! Or so I thought.

One day while towel drying my hair after a shower, I noticed a clump of tresses on my fingertips. The same thing happened in the days that followed. I was aghast. I had visions of my head becoming as smooth and as shiny as a billiard ball.

True to character, I immediately blamed my falling hair to cancer. Of course, what else would I blame? Cancer has always been my go-to guy in the blame game.

Tarceva came to mind. When I was on Tarceva 7 years ago, that wonder drug devoured 80% of the malignant tumor in the bottom of my left lung within 100 days. Awesome! But it’s side effect transformed my hair into the equivalent of steel wool. I formed a theory about the situation at hand: Maybe Tarceva’s bad effect on my hair is now in the roots. I agree, the theory is rather farfetched. Tagrisso came next. Could the hair loss be a side effect of Tagrisso and is just now manifesting itself after 2 years? Hey, the hyperglycemia side effect of the clinical trial drug CO-1686 showed up on me after 4 months. Okay, 24 months is a stretch. Unconvinced by the theories of the blame game, I dug deep into my memory bank.

The hairy experience brought back hair loss memories from my late husband Tom, the first in the widowhood series. Baldness ran among the males in Tom’s family. His youngest brother’s head became as smooth and as shiny as a bowling bowl shortly after age 20, according to my late mother-in-law, who had a proclivity for high drama. Tom, proud of his head full of dishwater blond hair at 40, thought he had already beaten the baldness odds so when he noticed substantial strands of hair caught on his comb, he immediately saw his primary care physician, who in turn, referred him to a specialist. The specialist curled his eyebrows and nodded slowly as he indulged Tom’s recitation of his hair loss blues. Then came the specialist’s turn to speak. He gave Tom the name of the hair loss malady, the Greek word “Alopekia.” Bald-headed Jesus! Exclaimed Tom, an irreverent ex-seminarian. What does that word mean? The good specialist doctor deadpanned and said, It means you’re losing your hair.

The memory of Tom’s hair loss diagnosis failed to satisfy my curiosity so I visited my alma mater Google University to find more authoritative pronouncements. Sure enough! All sorts of hair loss information from causes to prevention to state-of-the-art treatment popped up. Now we are talking! I selected a couple of sensible informational items on preventing or treating hair loss. Here they are:

LASER COMBS. I had never heard of laser combs but they are state of the art. In fact the laser comb is the only hair loss treatment to have received Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. A study found a significant increase in hair density in men after 26 weeks of applying a laser comb across the scalp 3 times a week. Something about the antioxidant effect of the laser on hair follicles make the improvement happen.

I rushed to the online stores to check the laser combs out. I found they are shaped like headbands and cost anywhere from $300 to $1000. What hair-raising prices! The ad photographs show men and women modelling the laser combs.

AVOID HAIRSTYLES THAT PULL THE HAIR AWAY FROM THE FACE. Say what? That was exactly what I wanted to do – pull my hair away from my face – to gently erase the fine wrinkles on my face. Which brings back another set of hair memories. When I was around 4 or 5 years old, I disliked combing my hair for no special reason except that I was able to have things my way. One day my grandmother caught me, doused coconut oil on my scalp, untangled my hair, pulled them in a pony tail, and tied it with a strip of rag. It was so tight it took me a while to blink my eyes. Henceforth my grandmother and I switched to the staring mode.

I have begun the long-hair project abandonment. I’ll just keep the fine hair short and loose and let it all hang out.

Happy dance!

California 420: CBD-Spiked Caramels

The beauty of living in a premier retirement resort is that I meet some very interesting individuals who rock the planet.  There’s the lawyer who was hired by the pope to defend sexually abusive Catholic priests.  He got them off the hook.  Bad dude by some people who go by strict moral standard.  There’s the 86-year-old genius Chinese-speaking White man who designs super-high-end speakers (price tag $75,000 each) and have them built in his factory in China. Then there’s “Stan,” a married Anglo man whose wife does not know a different Asian senior babe dangles from his arm every hour at the golf course and aquatic pools.  Or maybe the wife knows! After all they’ve been married 45 years. Hey, what do I know? All I know is that Stan owns a “420” factory and kind of peddles the goods around to his buddies.

The first time I heard “420,” the term tickled my blogging mind.  What could that possibly mean? I thought 420 mg? of what? Highway 420? where the original peddler plied his trade? But there’s no such highway in CA although there’s one in Ontario, Canada. I thought, Nah.  I better revisit my alma mater Google University.  My colleagues there always come up with a good answer.

Sure enough! In the cannabis culture, starting in the early 1970’s, the term 420, pronounced four-twenty, is slang for the consumption of cannabis, especially smoking marijuana around the time 4:20pm. Whoa! Where have I been all my life? Why am I always the last one to know? It happened to young gorgeous engineer babes whose heads were buried in the sand. There were not too many of us those days.

So back to Stan. His 420 caramels come in the size of a large date, the fruit, not the romantic appointment. I remember the day he gave me a taste treat. BT and I were sitting together in my golf cart. Stan handed me a caramel and looked me in the eye. Read my lips, he said. Eat only one-half. It’s enough to get you to sleep. I don’t know where he got the idea I had a sleep problem. Stan said it usually takes effect an hour to an hour and a half after consumption.

That night at 8:30, my eyes glistened with excitement at the sight of the golden caramel candy. It beckoned me, as in Go for the whole, not a half! So I did what a compliant senior babe whose lost appetite in her early cancer days was recovered by medical marijuana (MMJ): I ate the whole thing. Let me make it clear. I have no sleep or appetite problem. but sometimes a curiosity issue does arise uncontrollably especially to one who’s still filling her cup before her number’s up.

After an hour, OMG! The bed spun out of control. My blood glucose plummeted to zero, I surmised, totally forgetting about the caramel. I had to blame something. I knew food would alleviate the hypoglycemia but I was too wasted to get up. So I did the next best thing. I straightened my body on the bed and crossed my arms across my chest the way Cleopatra did after the venomous asp bit her finger. I closed my eyes and raised my eyebrows. The pose assured me of a glamorous appearance in case I woke up dead in the morning.

But my eyes did not stay shut for long. The rest of the night I kept opening them in horror, hoping the evil images careening towards me were only imaginary.

Amazingly I live to tell this tale, to swear off Stan’s whole caramel, and to consider following instructions next time and just eat a half for a trip to a glorious high.  Weeks later I tried just a half but it did not work either.  It destroyed me  as bad as the whole one did.  Thus  my pursuit of recreational CA 420 ended.

Happy dance!!!




The Kidney/Bladder Thing


So my Primary Care Physician (PCP) instructed his registered nurse (RN) to get the insurance company’s approval for an ultrasound test for “a cancer survivor who complains of frequent urination.”  That would be me.  That same day I received the go-ahead.

So compliant senior babe shuffled to the ultrasound place, a room where a pretty young lady technician looking like an Indian – as in India near Pakistan – greeted me with a drop-dead gorgeous smile.  I felt so welcome my tummy immediately yearned to be caressed by the warmed jelly of the ultrasound machine sensor.

She handed me a blue floral cotton hospital gown. Wear this gown with opening at the back, she said, promised to be back in a few minutes, and closed the door behind her.

I assumed I had to take it all off because the last time I had an ultrasound, no one gave me a gown.  If Miss India had stuck around a couple of seconds longer I would have asked for exact undressing specifications.  So I removed everything from my body and wore the gown with the opening at the back. When Miss India returned, she was horrified that my jeans were not showing under the knee-length gown! Put your pants back on! She ordered excitedly and rushed out again.

Not used to seeing a horrified technician, I quickly put my jeans on and laid down face up on the small examination bed.  Miss India returned and did her ultrasound motions on my belly.

A week later, RN phoned and told me, There’s nothing wrong with your kidney/bladder. Come to the office and PCP will focus on the urinary tract infection (UTI) angle.

RN gave me a small see-through plastic container with my name and birth date on a paper label.  Put some urine in it and give it to the lab downstairs, she instructed me.  I was pretty sure she wanted my urine.  Excellent idea, I gushed.  I’m probably just having a UTI.  I haven’t had one of those puppies in a long time.

The following day RN phoned me.  There are some white blood cells in your urine, she said.  Pick up the cipro antibiotics that I phoned in to your pharmacist.

Little obedient senior babe moseyed on to CVS and picked up the antibiotics.  I was to take 2 pills a day for 7 days. But wait there’s more.  After 2 days on the pills go back to the lab for a urine test, said RN over the phone. You might not be taking the right antibiotic. What is this, trial and error? I asked in feigned horror.  She answered, No! It’s just good to get you started right away on an antibiotic while your urine sample is being cultured to determine the right one.

After 2 days, I did as told.  Sure enough I was on the wrong antibiotics.  It didn’t fix the urgent and frequent urination of small volume.  I was put on a new one for 7 days.  It seemed to work but the nasty UTI sensations returned after 3 days.  I took another urine test and I was put on a third antibiotic – a sulpha this time – for another 7 days.  Hope it works, said RN.  Me too, I agreed. I don’t intend to make a career out of taking urine tests.

So far, the sulfa seems to be working. RN told me to take another urine test after I swallow the last pill.

So my conscientious PCP keeps me hopping in retirement.  There’s no room for boredom but plenty of time for visualizing successes.  Successful treatment, for example.

Always look at the bright side!


What October Brings

Whoa! October is already halfway! It’s Exclamation Point Day!

October always brings excitement to me. In addition to the October Fest images of frosted mugs, ice-cold beer, and yards of bratwursts, it is a day in this month of the year that I look forward to:  my annual meeting with my Primary Care Physician (PCP).  It’s the time we come face to face; when he takes an inventory of everything medically wrong with me; and when he gets this uncontrollable urge to refer me to specialists.  He firmly believes that between him, the specialists, and me, I can break Methuselah’s record of 969 years of life.  I like the way his mind works.

Sure enough, on October 8th we met.   Hello Bikini Lady, he opened up.  I laughed to acknowledge his great memory.  In last year’s October meeting,  he had told me I reached the perfect weight.  Do not lose any more.   With cancer, he added, you must have some extra fat in your body.  I disagreed.  I said I don’t let cancer control my weight.  What controls it then? he asked.  I responded, My bikini does.  It can only let out so much  strings.  And I boomed a blast of a laughter.

He reviewed my blood test results.  Everything is good, he smiled.  But your kidney functions are still a tad low.  But that’s not unusual for cancer survivors, he tried to console me.  I let out a heavy sigh of relief.  What was that about? he asked.  I replied, I’m relieved beer is not the culprit.  He reviewed the bottles of medication that he had required me to bring.  He saw calcium pills, not gummies.  My compliance brought a new smile to his face.

He directed his nurse to give me a flu shot.  Afterwards, PCP asked, Is there anything at all that bothers you? Like last year, I felt under pressure to complain about a health issue but I was prepared.  It’s my bladder.  I think it’s overactive.  I’m not incontinent but the urination frequency sure gets in the way of life.  His face lit up.  Good, he said.  I’ll refer you to a urologist.  So a urologist will soon join the specialists to whom PCP has referred me.

Another excitement this October brings is the prospect of closure of my personal injury lawsuit.  It’s been 10 months since a car hit my left shoulder from the back.  A cortisone shot followed by ten months of physical therapy has brought back some range of motion for my left arm.  I can now tie bathing suit strings on my back.  My lawyer and I have agreed to submit our bill to the opposing insurance attorney.   Waiting is the word these days.

Early this October I also met with my Onc Smiley.  He reviewed the blood test results, did his stethoscope  motions, then jabbed his fingers in my armpits and neck looking for swollen lymph nodes. Having found none, he said, Everything is fine and you look good.  We’ll do scans in February, which makes it once every 9 months. Wait a minute, I said and raised a question about the last CT scan where I read something about a 5 millimeter nodule.  Oh you have a ton of those 5, 6, 7, 8 millimeter nodules.   We don’t get excited about them because  they are neither getting bigger nor smaller, therefore stable.

Oh yes, the little fellas, the Milky Way in my designer lungs.  Still keeping me company after nearly 7 years.

Happy dance!