If you’ve been wondering why I hadn’t updated this blog sooner, here is a clue: I’m dusting myself all over again.
What happened was, on the evening of the day after Christmas 2017, I was involved in a traffic accident in a busy Southern Orange County road. It was a car-versus-pedestrian kind of collision. Yup. I was the pedestrian in that conflict.
I was cautiously crossing the major road, the green light in my favor, when suddenly a formidable object, which turned out to be a Grand Marquis, swiped my back left shoulder and tossed me like a rag doll. Hey, I’m only a svelte 112-pound senior babe. I thought, OMG I have been hit! Next thing I knew I was in a cobra yoga position, raising my bloody face from the hard asphalt pavement, determined to get the culprit’s license plate number in case the accident was a hit-and-run situation. It happens when the blogger has seen too many True Crime TV stories. And then it dawned on me: This is absolutely amazing, quite incredible, and super fortunate. I have my wits! I live to tell the tale! I was shocked.
An ambulance ride ensued. Later the sheriff interviewed the driver, who did not hit and run, a witness, and me. It became abundantly clear that the accident was a liability issue against the driver. According to my research later, the insured driver is a US doctor of Middle East origin. Why can’t I stay away from doctors?
I’d like to tell the story in excruciating detail but it is best to keep my mouth shut while lawyers from both sides are hashing things out.
Thank you for your interest. I’ll keep you posted.
Okay, no photos for this post, just milestone dates:
December 8, 2017 CT Scans day
May 5, 2017 Last previous CT Scan day
January 15, 2017 Swallowed first 80mg Tagrisso pill
Whoa. That’s seven (7) months between scans! Was I apprehensive on December 8, 2017? Nope. I was more concerned that my cabbie might not show up in time or at all. I don’t believe taxi drivers will show up until they show up.
Non-emergency medical cab rides are subsidized by my city in California. I like it. The $45 round-trip costs me $8 plus a small tip dictated by my mood and the driver’s attitude. The subsidy has nothing to do with the resident’s financial status. The city simply loves its adorable seniors. Had I known about the subsidy sooner, I would have not gotten lost looking for doctor’s offices using the public transportation system. It always happens to the new kid in town. But hey! I learned something new in each of those bad-hair sweaty days plus they provided fodder for my blog. Always looking at the bright side!
My one-man-band Onc, Dr Smiley, does things differently from the Oncs in teaching hospitals. First he orders the blood tests then we do a face-to-face talk to discuss the results. This time, he said all the readings were fine except my liver enzymes were high. What could that be, I asked. It could be an infection, it could be cancer, he said. What! I’ve had those high liver enzymes before and they were caused by neither infection nor cancer. I remember returning to my alma mater Google University to find out more about AST’s and ALT’s and I came up with all things that were music to my ears. I wanted to tell him that but I didn’t. I simply smiled to match the built-in smile on his face. Then he scheduled my chest and abdomen CT Scans at a hospital with which his practice connects.
This hospital does things differently too. They had me drink this chalky barium concoction over a two-hour period prior to the CT Scans. Then came the CT Scan motions.
The scans took place on a Friday. The following Monday morning a message from Dr Smiley lit my smart phone, which is always on Mute so that I’ll miss all calls and appear important. The results must be in, I presumed. The phone also indicated there was a text message from my son. I checked that one first. Priorities. In response to my text, he said he had used two kinds of sauces on the fried tofu that he served me in his house the day before Thanksgiving. I fought the feeling of perpetuating the culinary arts conversation. I had to move on to listen to Dr Smiley’s voice message.
The message actually came through the female secretary’s voice. Everything is fine, she said. The chest is good, the abdomen is good. The tiny nodules too many to count still showed up in both lungs but they are stable. If you have any questions, give me a call. I thought, here we go again. The nameless dots in my lungs aren’t going nowhere. In my mind I declared them scar tissues.
Here’s another thing that the good doctor does differently: No face-to-face meeting to discuss good scans results. I find that strange, but holy guacamole, good news is good news which ever way it is shared.
In a span of six months I saw two gastroenterologists (GE). Nothing was wrong with me. I had no symptoms. It was just that my doctors kept referring me to other doctors and I did not argue because I’m retired. I need to supplement my recreational activities with educational ones.
My oncologist (Onc) referred me to the first GE, whom I never met. His registered nurse interviewed me and concluded that nothing should be done to me but her boss the GE always made the final decision on the matter. Sure enough he said nothing should be done to me. Onc was happy but my Primary Care Physician (PCP) was not. He referred me to the second GE and told me for the nth time me I should get a colonoscopy because of my cancer history. I finally caved in and agreed.
So off to GE#2 I shuffled. My insurance company gladly notified me of their approval of PCP’s request: a 30-minute face-to-face interview between GE#2 and me.
GE#2 is another one of those young, suntanned and handsome Southern Orange County physicians to whom I’ve grown accustomed. He definitely descended from one of the failed Hollywood star wannabes of Bugsy’s era.
He had 30 minutes so he went straight to business and asked me what symptoms I had that brought me to him. I told the truth: no symptoms. He gave me two options. Option number 1 screening, which is usually given to people with no symptoms. It would require checking of the stool by PCP through lab test results. Option number 2 diagnostic colonoscopy entails him sending a camera through the rear-end orifice and analyzing every nook and cranny of my large intestine, also called the colon. A camera? I asked, with feigned terror in my eyes. How big is this camera you’re talking about? He chuckled and clarified: It’s tiny and you’ll be under anesthesia. You will not know what’s happening and it will take only about 45 minutes. I’ll look for polyps or cancer signs. If I see polyps, I’ll remove them there and then. I said, I have no symptoms, I’ll take Option 1. What happens next? His response: Your PCP will just keep telling you to have Colonoscopy.
I decided to cut out the PCP agony and go for the colonoscopy experience or Option 2.
GE#2’s battery of assistants went to work. The tech scheduled a date for my colonoscopy procedure to be performed as an outpatient in a facility where mostly elderly men and women allow the gastroenterologist surgeon to insert this tiny camera in the rear end for a scenic tour of the large intestine. It would be like a small train entering a dark tunnel that has 4 bends, each one almost 90 degrees, forming an open square. The camera takes photographs at points chosen by GE. But first, the patient’s large intestine must go through a thorough cleansing to get rid of any caca that might block the camera and a clear view of whatever adorns the innards.
The nurse gave me a page long of must-do things: buy 32-oz bottle of gatorade and a bottle of a laxative; mix the two fluids; take three laxative tablets two different times; drink the gatorade mixture along with a liquid diet at certain times all day before the day of the procedure and hours just before the actual colonoscopy.
All told, I dedicated 3 days of my leisurely life for the project. Day 1 for shopping, Day 2 for cleansing, Day 3 for the colonoscopy. Retirement is awesome. It allows time for this kind of experience. I was not even thinking of results, bad or good.
Day 2 was the toughest, definitely not a time to visit Disneyland. I had to stay home, prepared to plant myself on the commode at all times. Laxative overload owned me!
Day 3 proved to be anti-climactic. I was told to lie down sideways on the gurney and relax. A nurse installed an Intra-Vein line in front of my elbow and inserted an oxygen thingy in my nose. Next thing I knew I was waking up. Okay! Chop, chop. I joyfully exclaimed. Are we ever going to start the colonoscopy? The head nurse responded, All done. You’ve been asleep for 2-1/2 hours. I was stunned. I had no pain anywhere, no bleeding, no discomfort, nothing. Whoa! I could have dropped dead and entered the pearly gates without any knowledge of colonoscopy. I missed out on the event totally.
Everything went well, the handsome devil Dr GE#2 assured me and handed me a sheet of photographs of certain scenic spots inside my large intestine. I studied each ghastly image with mixed disgust and curiosity. They looked kind of gross, really, but the pictures of the inside of my colon brought good news: no polyps, no cancer signs.
The clinic’s post-colonoscopy written instructions were pretty serious: No walking home, no bus, no taxi. Someone must drive the patient home and the driver must be physically presented during the check in otherwise the procedure will be cancelled. Good for them but I had my own agenda. I convinced a male friend to accompany me and pretend to be my driver. I wanted to go home by myself.
After an hour of my coming to, the staff noticed that no one with car keys had arrived for me. They became suspicious. They wheeled me to a corner of the recovery room and held me hostage. No car, no release. While buying time for the anesthesia to wear off, I stared at the door and the exit sign. They beckoned me. But the nurses could read the glitter of excitement of escape in my eyes. They took turns talking to me, still hoping someone would show up with car keys. Finally, they gave up. The head nurse instructed a young man to drive me home and walk me to the door of my manor.
Don’t we just love happy endings? Happy dance, senior string-bikini babe!
This post brought back memories of my early days in America, soon after falling off the boat as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young legal immigrant.
Tom, a Caucasian man who would become my husband and much later make me a widow the first time, drove himself and me to Visalia, CA and introduced me to my future sister-law, Trish. A beautiful woman inside and out, mid-to-late 20’s like me, she was married and had two adorable toddlers. The two-year-old girl had blond curls and inquisitive exquisite big blue eyes that kept staring at me. Noticing cutie pie’s behavior, mother admonished daughter. Tamara, it’s not polite to stare at people. Then Trish turned to me and apologized, Tammy has never seen an Asian person before. But the toddler disobeyed the order. She followed me around the house, her eyes intensely focused on mine, irritating the heck out of me. Don’t get me wrong. I like kids. In their own room.
Evening came and everybody hit the sack. At crack of dawn, tiny blondie made a mad dash to our bedroom. Again she drilled her blue eyes on my face. Finally she exclaimed with disappointment, Your eyes still look tired! Tom and I laughed. A good night’s sleep couldn’t fix my hooded eyes!
Now to the ophthalmologist to whom my primary care physician referred me. But first, I consulted Dr Google. He confirmed that an opthalmologist is a doctor in the branch of medicine concerned with the study and treatment of disorders and diseases of the eye. Actually the appointment was for my annual check up.
I arrived at the clinic at 2:30pm filled with trepidation because for nearly three years, the ill-fated CO-1686 clinical trial had handed me drug-induced diabetes while fighting my lung cancer. During my research, I read that diabetes can wreak havoc in every cell of the body, which definitely includes the eyes. Of course immediately after bailing from the trial, the diabetes disappeared. Poof! just like that. In the two weeks prior to my opthalmologist appointment, my eyes had been feeling weird, a perfect reason to blame. cancer and diabetes.
A 40ish bubbly woman eye-care tech ushered me to a seat in front of a machine. I heard clicking sounds as if she was taking pictures of my eyes. Then she led me to the reading examination room. Put your chin here, your forehead here. I obeyed. She asked me to read the row of smallest letters that I could read. I read the bottom row flawlessly. Hmm..20/20, she muttered. I responded, The cataract surgery results at work. After squirting pressure drops in my eyeballs, she suggested I walk to the reception room and wait for the ophthalmologist’s call.
After half an hour, a male voice called my name. It was the good doctor. A Caucasian man in his 50’s with a long last name that ended in “ggold” he had this air of being extremely busy. No smile, no friendly banter, guard up, his eyes focused on my charts. This was one eye doctor who avoided eye contact. I kept trying to intercept his line of sight but to no avail. The experience reminded me of an advice given to me on how to prevent a friendly dog from jumping on my lap: no eye contact. Dr Personality (Dr P) must have feared I’d strike a long drawn-out conversation with him, push back the next patient and delay his going home. He certainly did not appear to be the beer-and-nachos kind of dude.
Then Dr P brandished what looked like a magnifying glass/flashlight and directed it to my eyes. He instructed me to rotate my eyeballs 360 degrees: to the left straight, to the left high, to the ceiling, to the right straight, etc. Sometimes my eyes got confused which way was right or left so he repeated the instruction a tad irritated. He asked me when I first noticed the stye-like bump on my lower right eyelid. I answered, Before grade school and my mother convinced me it was a beauty mark. As I grew bigger and older, it also grew bigger and older and every eye doctor suggested removing it. So much for beauty mark. My tale of woe failed to get a rise out of Dr P. He quickly followed up with a question, Do you feel like blinking eyes often because they felt weird? And I thought, Oh no, here’s the disease caused by the drug-induced diabetes! I answered Yes, I’ve been doing that lately. Dry eyes, he declared with authority. Take fish oil. It’s good for the eyes. I argued: I eat a lot of fish. I was hoping he’d give me some static. But no. He quickly agreed that lots of fish in the diet would suffice. He declared there was nothing wrong with my eyes. His subsequent demeanor indicated in no uncertain terms it was time for me to skedaddle.
In light of the foregoing, I resolve that next time I’ll only take morning appointment when the doctor is still enjoying his work. I’m not complaining. Good news is good.
Would you agree that morning doctor appointments are better?
What a difference 3.5 years make for Tarceva users! I was cataloguing my blog posts, carefully reading each of them, and searching for timeless information beneficial to new Tarceva users when one particular post stood out. It’s in the Tarceva Divas and Dudes blog. The update post title was Tarceva Divas and Dudes 03/28/2014 (The Update).
The Update stood out because:
(a) It reflected the evolution of Tarceva users. I noticed that in 3.5 years, many users have moved on to other treatments, some have abandoned Tarceva in favor of clinical trials or approved clinical trial drugs, and a few moved on for good. Moving on for good is something all of us – with or without cancer – will do sooner or later, preferably later, because that’s what we finite beings do.
(b) It generated 125 comments, making the thread 7 pages long. A few comments even took on lives of their own.
(c) It was chock full of relevant information, including a first-hand blow-by-blow account of a biopsy and answers to often-asked questions like Why go on a clinical trial, What time do you take your Tarceva?
(d) It reflected the history of the Tarceva Divas and Dudes blog.
(e) It shows how the author evolved into an awesome amazing woman. Ooops, sorry! I just had this crying need to throw that in the mix.
My day’s highlight came early. The secretary of my Primary Care Physician (PCP) phoned me to remind me of my upcoming appointment with him. Immediately I cringed. Uh-oh, it’s time again for the good doctor to look for unpleasant issues with my body. It’s his job, his livelihood.
So at the appointed hour, I showed up at the PCP’s office, braced to hear everything that’s the matter with me. The handsome Southern Orange County doctor scooted into the examination room where I sat after my current weight and vitals had been established. He scoots because a water skiing accident in his youth smashed his tailbone, so I heard.
He started the session by reporting to me the results of the pre-visit blood tests. Most results are good, he declared with a smile. But your kidney function test numbers aren’t so good. We call those numbers Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) Stage 3. Stage 3? I asked with feigned shock. That sounds awfully close to Stage 4. My lung cancer is stage 4. Does this mean my body is in various stages of decay? He replied, I won’t say that. The previous test results were the same, which means the CKD is stable. Aha, I said. That would be me: Ms Stable. Besides, he continued, with CKD your blood pressure should be out of control, but it’s great, and you don’t have other symptoms. We’ll take another blood test in a month and monitor the CKD.
He looked at my weight on the chart. Let us see if you have lost any weight, he said. Not me, I disagreed right away. It’s just perfect right now for a string bikini. He responded: You’re the hippest senior I see. No other senior comes in here for a check up carrying a loaded backpack and wearing Z-Coil shoes.
He kneaded my neck, searching for swollen lymph nodes. Nothing there, he announced. Then he ordered me to sit on the examination table: Get up here, Slim. He raised the back of my aquamarine blouse to do some stethoscope motions on bare skin. A strawberry-ice-cream-colored bra greeted his eyeballs. Sexy bra, he said, and laughed. I’m not big on color coordinated underwear, I confessed, and we laughed. Having found nothing wrong with me yet, he proceeded to drill a small flashlight into my nostrils. You should have allergies, he insisted. But I don’t, I said. He saw nothing and gave up.
Tell me before we say goodbye if there’s anything wrong with you, PCP enjoined with a sense of urgency. Under pressure I felt I had to say something: Bunion. Ten years ago I spent a lot time pondering what to do with the bunion on the outside of the big toe of my right foot. Then came the lung cancer Stage 4 diagnosis and eight months to live prognosis. Suddenly the bunion issue became the least of my concerns. Now it’s front and center again. He was quick: Good! I’ll refer you to Dr Paa (fictitious name; “paa” is Filipino word for feet). He will advise you to either change your shoes or your foot. I exclaimed, I like it! He took advantage of my enthusiasm, I still want you to get a colonoscopy. He was so totally pushing. The last gastroenterologist I saw said nothing needed to be done. Okay, I grudgingly agreed. I’m retired. I’ve nothing else to do.
In conclusion, PCP’s nurse gave me a pneumonia shot and a flu shot. Then PCP gave her instructions: (a) Get approvals for a new gastroenterologist for the colonoscopy, a podiatrist for the bunion, and the opthalmologist for the annual eye exam. (b) Prepare a requisition for kidney and liver function blood tests to be performed in mid-November. Finally, he turned to me and said, Next time bring all the medicines you’re taking. I just feel better when I see them. My turn to think. I suspect he remembered that instead of the calcium pills prescribed by him, I had bought calcium gummies. I had complained that the calcium pills were too big and like horse pills. Get the petites, he had ordered. He probably wanted to be sure next time that I am in compliance.
PCP was determined to keep the retired senior babe shuffling.
Ok, let’s cut to the chase. This post is about kimchi, the famous Korean hot and spicy fermented napa cabbage delicacy.
What does kimchi have to do with cancer? Well, while surfing the internet, I read kimchi contains probiotics and probiotics are all the rage these days and have been for a while now. I decided I’d get in on the action. Gotta be where the action is, especially when it comes to strengthening the immune system, which is usually compromised in cancer sufferers.
Health enthusiasts mention kefir, yogurt, and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut as excellent sources of natural – meaning not store-bought in pill form – probiotics. One cancer-free best friend of mine once told me that urinary tract infections (UTI) used to harass her several times a year but not any more after she started taking probiotic pills. Of course she has this tendency to try to topple me from my perch as the drama queen.
To satisfy my curiosity and get answers to my questions about probiotics, I revisited my alma mater Google University (GU). Sure enough, entry after entry discusses probiotic properties found in fermented cabbage such as sauerkraut and kimchi.
I’ll focus on kimchi.
GU defines a probiotic substance as a microorganism introduced into the body for its beneficial qualities. It translates to my simple English as good bacteria. We know the bad kind, the ones that bring bad news such as pain, nausea, shortness of breath, the runs, etc. Here we’re talking about the good guys, the kind that by sheer number can overpower the bad dudes and allow for a healthy body to flourish.
Some scientists actually investigated the types of good bacteria that populate kimchi. They found several types that have the capability to annihilate the bad bacteria in the intestines. That fact drove me to rekindle my interest in making kimchi regularly like I used to.
Many years ago, I had a dear Korean friend named Jeannie. Being both Asian immigrants married to Caucasians, we bonded easily. She owned a Mexican restaurant located in a roadside motel in Cuba, a small town in New Mexico some 70 miles northwest from Albuquerque. My engineering company had a construction staking project in Cuba and my surveyors stayed there for the duration of the project. Jeannie and I found a common real estate to do a show-and-tell on making kimchi from scratch. She demonstrated how she and her mother had done it all their lives. Then in a small bowl, she gave me a good serving of her recently fermented homemade kimchi. I remember how awesome it tasted.
Upon my return to Albuquerque, I embarked on kimchi construction based on my newly acquired knowledge. I assembled the requirements: (a) a large jar. My late first husband got it from a bar after the last maraschino cherry was removed from the glass jar to adorn a pina colada drink; (b) locally available fresh ingredients – a couple of heads of fresh napa cabbage, garlic, and ginger; “bagoong” (fermented shrimp Filipino style), sugar, and New Mexico powdered hot chilis.
It was amazing how the concoction developed a life of its own from assembly through fermentation, which took seven days. I made kimchi regularly for years. I liked to claim it was a talent and often told anyone who cared to listen that I had very few talents but the few I had were outstanding. Then I stopped. Hanging out at the bar drinking beer was far more exciting than filling a large jar with vegetables for the purpose of making them saucy and sour. Those were the days when the word cancer was just a word.
Fast forward to modern times when cancer is a disease that hit home, blogging is a pastime and probiotics are the in thing. I made kimchi again based on my memory of the days of Jeannie, Cuba, and the survey project, wondering if my new kimchi would turn out as good as my old ones. By golly, it did! Thus began again the predictable presence of kimchi in the refrigerator.
I’ve been back to eating kimchi regularly because it’s there and I’m an environmental eater. I notice the UTI has not returned in a while. My bff might just have a point.