Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tears and Laughter = Life Worth Living

Happy New Year!

As I was reflecting about the past 12 months and sitting here thinking about where we were a year ago, I couldn't help but laugh to myself.

Many people have wished us a better year in 2009. Sure, 2008 has been "eventful", but I realized that over the several months, I have laughed more than I have in a long, long time. This is not to say that I was morose or depressed through the early part of 2008. Life just wasn't that exciting. It was good, mind you, but there is a fine line between living and existing, and I fear we were leaning towards the latter.  

Let's recap, shall we?

First, I accomplished a longtime goal of mine by being accepted to graduate school. I'm one of two people who were accepted at Penn State to pursue an MFA in Scenic Design and Technology.

We found out we were pregnant (well, actually, Angie was pregnant). 

Angie got a good, steady job.

We moved to State College and I began classes, which I love.

Maxwell was born. With much fanfare, I might add. And fear. Fear we might lose him so early in our relationship. Fortunately, he's a chip off the old block and apparently a lot tougher than his papa thought an infant could be. He beat the hardest thing in the world to beat: the odds. And it started with the conception (Angie was on the pill). But he's here now and he makes us laugh so much! He's become quite the chatterbox and he has taught me to laugh more.

I was diagnosed with cancer. It was caught early, and I will make a full recovery. This will give me plenty of time to dedicate to bringing about some awareness about testicular cancer. I'm hatching plans for the future.

Sure, we've had tears this year. But the final total points to far more laughs than tears. And really, we can't ask for anymore than that, can we?  

I'm not going to wish for a better 2009 for us. That would be selfish. I'm going to wish that 2009 brings us more laughs than tears, just like this year.

And this is our wish for all of you; 

May laughter fill your hearts, may joy sustain your days, and may the inevitable salty tears that fall serve only to delicately season your life and bring a deeper appreciation of life itself.

Happy New Year!

A New Year...

May this new year bring health, happiness and peace to one and all!
~Michael, Angie & Max

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Good News

The antibiotics are working! Aunt Jean's white blood count has gone down almost a point (down 6 points from last Saturday) and she's been moved to post-op from ICU! If everything continues this way, she'll hopefully be able to go to rehab sometime next week.

Things are looking up!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Setback

An update:

"Jean took a turn for the worse today and they are moving her back to ICU. Yesterday everything looked great. Today, she has developed a brain infection that they are treating with a killer combination of antibiotics. If that doesn't work, they will need to do more surgery early next week. Chad and Matt are sitting with her and I came home to send out the request for your support."

Please help us in wishing for her recovery and comfort for Allan, Matt and Chad.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Sleep In Heavenly Peace

Back in September when all we could do was watch Max lay on a warmer bed with seventeen tubes coming out of him, Angie and I would comfort ourselves by dreaming of the future. We would talk about fishing trips with Max, camping and how he would learn piano from his mom. We would laugh to ourselves when we thought of "Daddy's Little Helper" in the shop and how I'd probably come home one day to find all my watercolors had been used to create a portrait of the dog which would hang on the refrigerator. But the one goal, the one future that we could see and the one we held onto in the darkest hours was that first Christmas Eve candlelight service at my mother's church.  

We imagined how it would be. I would have him in my arms throughout the service. People would stop for a look and tell us how precious he is. My mother would beam with pride. We would beam with pride. And he would sleep throughout the service.  

This is the dream that kept us going. When the storm was raging, this was our life raft.

When the cancer hit, it gained new life. There we would be, my tough-as-nails son and me, his tough-as-nails father, sitting next to my just-nominated-for-sainthood wife in the family pew, thankful for the opportunity to be seen.  

The chemo tried to derail the dream, but I chose chemo, so it works for me. I let it tell me what to do most of the time (usually, it's a nap, with occasional vomiting), but tonight was different. There was no chemo. There was no fatigue or nausea. There was just a chubby baby boy in a Santa hat at a candlelight service at 7pm.  

The dream happened. Perfectly. Better than we imagined it. Tough-as-nails father needed a tissue to wipe tears from his eyes and more than once he was mouthing the words to the hymns, because he knew if he would try to sing, people would hear his voice crack. Just-nominated-for-sainthood mother had the same problem going on. And Max topped it off. He was good as gold the whole time. He slept through almost all of it, except for one verse of Silent Night when he decided to take a solo to let everyone know that miracles do happen and that his lungs were fine.

Silent Night, Holy Night
All is calm, all is bright...

(Max's Solo) WHAA!

Round yon virgin, mother and child....

That was it. Nothing drawn out, just enough to make a point. Filled the whole church. Supported from the diaphragm. Nice tone.

I couldn't be prouder.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

On the 8th Day of Christmas...

Hi All- it's been a couple days since our last update and we have lots of (great) news to report!

Michael got through his chemo like a champ on Friday. It was a VERY ugly day weather-wise and it took us an extra hour to get to Geisinger. Michael said they were some of the worst roads he's ever driven. We actually watched a car (who was probably driving too fast for the conditions) almost plow into a police car, which was coincidentially pulled over to help another car who'd gone in the ditch. It literally stopped 2 feet from the police car.

It only took about a half hour to infuse the carboplatinum into his blood stream, followed by about 45 minutes of saline. (We joke that the trip there took longer than the actual chemo!) The nurse who administered it was really wonderful (we wouldn't expect anything less at Geisinger!) and explained everything really in depth beforehand. Michael had a comfy chair (complete with massage and 'butt warming' features!), ginger ale to his heart's content, a TV and probably most importantly- a crossword puzzle book. 

They put him on anti-nausea meds before the chemo and also wrote him prescriptions for some to take at home. Interestingly enough, these meds seem to be what makes him sick! He reports that they give him terrible heartburn and then combine that with hiccups and he gets sick. (And then feels much better once it's over!) He is also quite fatigued, but is thankfully on winter break from school now, so he's able to sleep as much as needed.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that he's also ruggedly handsome! (It might have been 'suggested' that I write that as well, but at least it's true!) :) He's so strong and realizes that he needs to go through this sickness to move on. It doesn't make it any easier to watch, but it's a nice reminder of what a strong-willed and wonderful husband I have. He's the bees knees.

The latest on Aunt Jean is that she's been taken off the respirator and is receiving oxygen through a nose tube. She's also been cleared to have solid food, but doesn't really have an appetite yet. She will probably be moved out of the SICU (surgical intensive care unit) to the MICU (medical intensive care unit) soon as she is no longer in need of the intensive care she has been receiving. It appears that she is preparing for the next step in healing by moving to a rehab floor! She is awake and talking, but gets tired very quickly. She probably has months ahead of her with physical and speech therapy, as she has some trouble at times forming cohesive sentences and thoughts. (They say you can see she knows what she wants to say but just can’t think of the words to say it, which is very frustrating to a woman with a masters and 2 bachelors degrees!) As of this morning (Sunday) her right arm is paralyzed, but her right leg is not, so they're hoping it's temporary paralysis.

The search is on for the woman who hit her. The police fortunately have 3 eye witnesses and all of their stories back each other up. They also have the woman's car on surveillance video, as well as video from a neighbor down the road. Apparently the woman hit Jean, got out of the car and saw that she was not responsive, told the three bystanders to call 911 and got back in the car and DROVE AWAY. When she is caught, she will probably get a minimum of 15 years, maybe more/less depending on whether or not she cooperates with the authorities. Her story has been featured in various media in the NYC area and the state senator has promised the family that they will use Jean's story as an example for other hit-and-run cases in the future.

So all in all, the thoughts and prayers are once again working! 'Tis a Christmas miracle! :) We hope that everyone's holidays are merry and bright! Thank you again for all of your support!


Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Update

The Latest: They're going to attempt to put a feeding tube in Aunt Jean today. She is able to recognize some commands, but is having some difficulty responding. There is still swelling on the brain, so your continued thoughts and prayers are appreciated! The same goes for my sweetie, as he undergoes chemo this afternoon. We're going to hit the road to Geisinger extra early so we can take it slow with the snow & ice. (He doesn't have to be there until 1:30pm) Uncle Dave arrived last night to care for the Maxster and brought him this adorable musical & light-up seahorse. That Uncle Dave is a sucker for his nephew! Admit it dude, you're hooked. (P.S. Happy Day, Nana!)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chemo

As most of you know already, tomorrow was the day Michael was going to do his round of chemo. That has since changed- he'll be going in this afternoon. There's apparently a big storm headed this way, so Geisinger actually called him and asked if he wanted to do it today so as to not have to do the one hour drive to & fro tomorrow during the storm. Nice and considerate, eh? He had actually JUST been at Geisinger this morning for an appointment and they called him as he was about half way back here, so now he's on the homestretch to pick up Max and me and then we'll head back.

Here goes...

UPDATE: Scratch that- we're going to keep tomorrow's appointment and brave the weather. We just found out that Max wouldn't be able to go back into the treatment room with us, so he and I would just be sitting in the waiting room, which defeats the purpose of being there with Michael.

Update

Hi Everyone,

First and foremost, thank you for your prayers, thoughts and support. Please keep bringing them on- they are needed!

This morning's update: Jean's eyes are open and she recognizes Allan and the boys. A few of her cousins have travelled to be there as well. They had to put her 'boxing gloves' back on her because she's been pulling out tubes. Her right hand and leg are no longer paralyzed.

They're doing another CAT scan this morning to see if the swelling has gone down and Allan will have another meeting with Jean's doctor afterwards.

More to come...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Let's Make Another Miracle

There's no real easy way to say this. Max's Great Aunt Jean was struck by a hit and run driver a half block from her house last night. She's in intensive care with a concussion, contusions, and a hematoma on the brain.

Aunt Jean and Uncle Allan were there for us during Max's dark days. They drove up several times to sit with us in the hospital and to provide a respite from the grinding days in the NICU. Their love and hope inspired us and were a large part of us being able to keep our sanity during those days.

Please help us send Allan & Jean and their sons Matt and Chad and their families comfort and healing during this crucial 72 hour time period. They mean so much to us. And we've done it before. Let's do it again.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Progress

Mr. Man had another great date with his physical therapist today. She was really impressed with how much weight he's gained and how much stronger his neck has gotten in the past week. He's doing so well that she added 'Bumbo Time' into his daily routine. (Thanks, Niswanders!)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Carboplatin and You

I had my meeting the the chemical oncologist yesterday. It sealed the deal on chemotherapy. Apparently, just this July, a study reported to a large group of doctors at a conference that the use of chemotherapy on patients with Stage I seminoma cancer is just as effective as radiation over the course of 5 years (the length of the study as of the presentation...it's an on-going study). This is significant because chemo has fewer long term effects than radiation. Angie was sold as well, and frankly, she had greater misgivings about chemo than I did. Something about "not wanting poison pumped into her husband's body." I told her that it was for the greater good, and, hey, all the cancer patients are doing it! Max really didn't care either way, he just wanted to be held.

So, on Friday, December 19th, I'll report to Geisinger at 1pm and sit down for about two hours and get pumped full of carboplatin. Angie will be driving me home and Uncle Dave will be spending some quality time with Max for the day. I'll be nauseous for a couple of days afterward, and then be at my weakest 7-10 days after the treatment. This is when I'll need to watch infection and getting sick and all the usual chemo stuff. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, we'll be at Nana's for the holidays. This time, unlike Thanksgiving break, I won't have a paper to write (which, incidentally, I got very high marks on that one) and I can just sit back and be sick. Or lazy. Or both.

This upcoming week is crazy stupid busy. Tomorrow I have to have a set plotted out for class and I have to meet with my Literature and Criticism group in the evening, then I have to set up a presentation of all the work I've done this semester. I have to turn in my final paper in the morning, a group presentation on Thursday afternoon, and the presentation of all my work right after that. I have design class Friday morning and a doctor's appointment Friday afternoon. The weekend looks pretty open, now that I think about it, and Friday will be the last day of classes for the semester. Woo-hoo!

The doctor's appointment on Friday is to see if I have any healthy sperm after the cancer. If I do, I have the option (at a cost) to bank my boys for future use. The chemotherapy may leave me sterile. This is probably the most degrading part of the cancer experience for me. What I view as a very personal matter is going being opened up to a bunch of strangers. Worse yet, if I do need to bank my boys, I have to pay for it. Capitalism at its best. Of course, in another form of society, my personal health and aptitudes may not qualify me to begin with. Gattaga, anyone?

Sometimes, misery doesn't love company. Our close friend, Shawn, and his family are going through a hell of a year. I don't want to speak out of turn, as private matters should remain as such until brought forward by those involved. But what I can say is that I never like to see friends suffer and have to deal with hardship, and this year, I've watched Shawn deal with more than his fair share in 2008. But he's done it with strength and conviction. He's been here for us in more ways that I can count. If you ever need a definition of what a true friend is, I'll talk to you about Shawn. And right now, we wish we could be with him at our favorite bar in Pittsburgh while we put our arms around each other and cry a little and raise our glasses to a bright future and knowledge gained. But circumstance being what they are, we can't be there right now, so instead, we will hope, wish, and pray that he and his family are given some comfort. I would ask that all of you do the same for this dear friend whom we love very much.

Hang in there, buddy.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Three Months?!

Today at 11:07am EST, Miracle Max is officially 3 months old! It has definitely been a whirlwind and we're constantly amazed at how much he's changed in such a short period of time. It is with difficulty (and pride) that we post the above left picture, as it was taken by a nurse shortly after we were wakened and summoned to the NICU to say goodbye to Max. It was truly one of the most terrifying nights we have ever experienced and we hope that other parents out there never have to go through anything like it... but we believe in miracles and the pic on the right is proof that they exist!

I'd take another shot of him right now, but he's finally asleep on his boppy in my lap and isn't a fan of being awakened by Mommy's camera flash. (Yes, perhaps he has a little too much experience with this already...)

Yet there are the rare times I'm able to get a good one without waking him (like last night) and boy, is it worth it!


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

'Tis the Season

We hope everyone had a relaxing and enjoyable Thanksgiving. Max was a busy guy over the holiday! On the family side, his Aunt Dr. Becky, Uncle James & Aunt Katie all flew in from their respective homes and on the friend side, Shawn, Brian & Andrew and Pisor visited as well. Max was passed back and forth all weekend and was never at a loss for attention! (I even had to cut in at one point for dibs on MY personal time with him!) Some highlights were: Nana's deeelicious Thanksgiving meal, playing the hilarious board game 'Don't Be a Dork', taking turns documenting the holiday with the awesome video camera Uncle Dave bought us and (as mentioned in one of Michael's previous blogs) actual SLEEP! Becky and I also went to see the new holiday movie Four Christmases and I fell asleep 3/4 of the way through it and woke up just in time for the credits. Sweet.

Since that blessed Thanksgiving Eve, Max has been giving us about 4-4.5 hours of sleep each night. FOR REAL! It's been an incredible gift. We've met with both his physical therapist and massage therapist in the past two days as well. Both are very nice ladies who will be a great asset to Max's development. The physical therapist will visit us once a week for the next two years and the massage therapist will visit us three more times in the coming months. The physical therapist was very impressed with Max's strength and alertness. She gave us several exercises to use during play time. The massage therapist taught me a couple techniques to help aid the end of his regular constipation as well. He goes back in for his next synagis shot in about a week and they'll probably weigh him again. We estimate that he's definitely over 10 lbs now! He has rolls of baby chub on his legs and neck- "it's okay to have rolls of fat when you're a baby, especially a preemie!" as Michael says. He's also starting to give us what we think are actual smiles. Talk about melting your heart...

A Michael update: he has an appointment this coming Monday with the chemotherapy oncologist at Geisinger. We should hopefully learn more then on when they intend to do it. Due to the potential side effects, we wouldn't be surprised if they wait until right after the new year so he can enjoy the Christmas holiday. He also has another CAT scan on the 22nd. On a side note, he seems to be loving grad school. It's nice to see him so excited and intellectually stimulated by the work and people. Sometimes it seems like we talk on the phone in between classes and work more than in person (thanks, Verizon!), but we knew it would be like this and we know it will be worth it once the three years are up! I'm so proud of him.

Next weekend we'll be introducing Max to the glories of the local Victorian Christmas extravaganza. It's apparently quite the sight and I'm a big fat sucker for all things Christmas. Max has recently started a love affair with lights (you should see him sit and stare at the dining room ceiling at Nana's), so I'm thinking he'll love all the gussied-up trees just as much as I do.

I had my first yearly viewing of "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" while my mom was here a few weeks ago. It's a family tradition dating back many years when we'd watch it at Grandma & Buddy's (Grandpa) house over and over. I dare anyone to a quote fest- I pretty much (to my husband's chagrin?) have the whole thing memorized back and forth. ("Is Rusty still in the Navy, Clark?", "She'll see the tree later Clark, her eyes are frozen", "See Russ? Can't see the line", etc etc etc.)

And with the holidays comes festive music... I won't lie- I pulled out the Mariah Carey Christmas Album a couple weeks ago and just added Andy Williams, John Denver and the Muppets and Mannheim Steamroller to my mp3 player yesterday, too.

Does anyone have any suggestions for other very merry holiday tunes?

Friday, November 28, 2008

O Happy Day!

The Universe has granted us another thing for which we give thanks.

Max slept in his crib last night.  On his back.

While he didn't sleep through the night (the holy grail of Boo-Ya!), he did allow Angie and I to sleep with each other in a bed most of the night.  He went down at 12am in the bassinet.  We were so shocked, we couldn't bring ourselves to move him into his crib.  So Angie stayed up for a while watching he shows online while sitting next to him.  He got hungry around 2am, took some TJ, and then went back to sleep in the crib next to our bed.  He got a little fussy around 4am, took some more to eat, and then went back on his back in his crib until 7:30 this morning, when he got hungry again.  And now he's sleeping in the bassinet again, while Daddy writes this with mouth agape.

Now, this didn't happen completely by divine intervention.  Mommy and Daddy have been experimenting with our son.  Here's what we've found out.

Use distilled water to mix his formula.
Give him a dose of "Little Tummies" before his last meal of the night (thanks be to Carey for the recommendation!)
Make a little nest for him in his crib.  Roll up a bath towel and shape it like a horseshoe, and set him in the middle.
Use the "magic afghan." 
Remove Bernie's collar so he doesn't jingle his tags.
Cross your fingers.

This is huge.  He's peaceful and therefore, mommy and daddy are peacefulish.  Of course, I know I got up many times during the night to make sure he was breathing, moving, and alive, but hey, can you blame me?

What a great way to cap of the Day of Thanks!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thankful EVERY Day

Although it's been a rough fall, we have so much to be thankful for...

- Our beautiful & thriving little boy!
- Michael's early cancer detection
- Our amazing and loving families
- The outpouring of support, prayers, kind words, good ch'i, etc. from friends (and strangers!)
- New jeans
- All of Michael's extremely supportive and understanding professors
- My BFF Jamie for taking several completely uncomprehensible and distraught phone calls
- The neonatologists, nurses & care staff at Geisinger Medical Center (particularly Dr. C, who offered the 'final resort' experimental treatment of nitric oxide that essentially saved Max's life!)
- Senses of humor
- Our faithful dog-child (Bernie) and his patience through all of life's stresses & changes this fall
- Hilarious homemade onesies from Amy & Calley
- Skype and text messaging
- Each other
- Health Insurance (Hi, understatement of the year!)
- Power Naps
- Random acts of kindness

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone! May this be a day filled with family, friends and tryptophan-filled naps!

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." - J.F.K.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sleep? Who needs sleep?

Call us new parents: we're living on little to no sleep, yet when our child finally gives in to the Sandman, we freak out and run to check to make sure he's breathing. (Above you'll catch us in a few rare moments!)

Michael has been working on a term paper and I on my work typing. We try to take turns with Max, but sometimes it feels like we're not getting anything accomplished. This is normal, right?

We've found that Max strongly dislikes sleeping on his back. He's a perfect angel when he's being held, though. He'll fall asleep in your arms like a champ and stay there for hours! (We often get him to calm down by lying in the recliner with him.) I need to write my letter to Santa and get it sent off to the North Pole soon- I'm asking for an extra set of arms this year. (One for holding the boy, one for working! Oh, how productive I'd be!...)

We've been having what fun we can with the lack of sleep, though. We just celebrated an hour and 45 minutes of Max staying asleep (or quiet enough to not need to be picked up) by doing happy dances in our pajamas. We raised the roof and did the sprinkler and worm! =)

We're exhausted, delirious and overwhelmed with life, but we've still got a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. And there's no one I'd rather be exhausted, delirious and overwhelmed with than Michael.

Guess it's time to go feed that crying baby...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

I'll Have The Chemo, Please.

Well, the meeting with the radiation oncologist was enlightening. He was very informative and presented me with a couple of options. First off, he corrected some of the numbers I was led to believe were true. My urologist has said that 90% of men in my position will not have a reoccurrence at this point with just surgery, and he said that number was closer to 80%. I told him the point was moot, that I was going to have radiation no matter what the numbers were.

He explained what the radiation would entail. First, they would evaluate my sperm count before they did anything. Turns out there may be a chance that the cancer has left me sterile already. If that's the case, then there is really no need to turn any of my guys into "mikesicles" for future use. I asked how could the cancer, which was in one testicle but not in the other, leave the unaffected testicle sterile. He said they didn't know at this point. They just know it happens.

This has been the most frustrating part of this whole experience for me...not a lot is known about testicular cancer. Here is a pretty major symptom (at least in MY mind) and the medical community doesn't have a clue as to why it happens. We members of "Team Uno" need a Susan G. Komen type person to spearhead a lot more research into this thing. Lance Armstrong is great an all, but we have a lot more learn, and I don't think a Sheryl Crow dating, biking obsessed Texan is the answer. Tom Green took a stab at it too, but still...come on. Sterility? For all the talk of the world still being dominated by men, you'd think that this is something they'd want to look into. But heavens, no. Let's not talk about our nuts, and don't you dare talk about the possibility of being sterile. That's not manly, I guess. Maybe because it involves feelings. Well, I'm not wearing Prada, I watch lots of football, I look terrible in taffeta, I wield a pretty mean power tool, I love red meat, and I like to scratch myself. And guess what? I'd like to TALK about sterility. Steven K. Galson, do you hear me?

Okay, back to the visit. After the sperm assessment and it's findings, I'd bank some of my boys (if necessary) and begin radiation. 10-15 visits. The drawbacks to the radiation are sterility (WHAT? DID HE SAY STERILITY AGAIN?), possible malignancy 20 years down the road, and all the usual nasty side effects. He talked about the process, when they'd begin, and stuff like that. But then he told me that a single round of chemo (1-3 days) is as effective as going through the radiation. And there are some benefits to chemo over radiation. First off, it's not as time consuming. Second of all, the chances of a malignancy down the road are less. And, chemo covers the full body, not just the localized area in question. And I believe the chance of sterility (FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, THERE'S THAT WORD AGAIN!) from the chemo is less than radiation. Sounds pretty good to me. So, in the coming days I'll have a sperm assessment and a meeting with a chemo oncologist to get more details. Honestly, though, Angie and I are leaning pretty heavily to chemo. I could have it done during Christmas break and not miss any school.

No matter what treatment I choose, it wouldn't begin for another month. I'm still sore from the orchiectomy. I have a nice bit of scar tissue forming, which will probably mean I'll need to get bigger pants (it's right at my belt line.) Guess who's asking for pants for Christmas?

So that's all the news that isn't for right now. I'll have lots more to talk about in the coming weeks, though....

including STERILITY! :)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Zero=Fantastic

After spending a couple of days in NYC for school, I checked my email today to find the following message from my doctor.

"The BHCG went down to zero.  Good news."

This means that there are no noticeable tumor markers in my system.  Boo-ya.

Next step: meet with radiation oncology tomorrow at 1pm and lay out a plan.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

My First Day As A Cancer Survivor

Well, I have some news...

I have cancer. Confirmed.

As such, this marks my first official day as a cancer survivor, because I have cancer, and I'm surviving!

The type of cancer that I have is Stage I seminoma cancer. CAT scan revealed no abnormalities in the lymph nodes. As such, it's cure rate is 99%. It reacts well to radiation. No chemo is necessary. And, I will not have to have the dreaded RPLND surgery.

The doctor told me that 90% of men with my numbers and at this stage of the game will not have a recurrence with just the surgery. Fine. Good for them. I'm not taking any chances, so I'm going to opt for radiation. Why take chances? Sure, there will be side effects (skin irritation, nausea, diarrhea, and possible permanent sterility), but why gamble? This isn't Vegas, it's my life, and the life of my family. And what good is fathering anymore children when you'll be dead in a year, or you can't play with them and show them the wonders of life? What example would I be for my son? "Sorry I'm not going to see you graduate high school, Max, because I was too scared or lazy to take the high, hard road." That's not how I want to teach. But most of the men who have radiation gain their potency, so the point may be moot. Regardless, the choice is an easy one. I'll be meeting with a radiation oncologist in the coming weeks.

The other test that we're waiting for is the blood draw I had today to measure the tumor markers in my blood. If the level has not dropped from the pre-surgery, I'll be at Stage II, though very early in it. The treatment would be the same. I hope to know the results in a day or two.

To say we're relieved is an understatement, to be sure. I'm feeling exhausted from the mental roller coaster I've been on for the last week (plus recovering from the surgery.)

So to show that Angie and I have maintained our sick sense of humor, we came up with variations of the work orchiectomy (or-kee-EK-toh-mee). Here are some of our discoveries:

Dorkiectomy: surgery to remove geekiness.
Bjorkiectomy: surgery performed on a Icelandic indie rocker.
Porkiectomy: surgery to remove a testicle on a fat guy.
Snorkiectomy: surgery to remove a small blow spout on the top of one's head.
Torqueiectomy: surgery to remove the lowest gear in a transmission.
Mickeyrourkeiectomy: surgery that takes 9 1/2 weeks.

I hope this goes to dispell any notions that I've lost my twisted sense of humor.

Rub those rocks, fellas. It could be your life.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Big Day

Well today is the big day. I'm to report to Geisinger at 12:15pm to have a blood draw, that will immediately tested for HcG beta, the tumor marker for testicular cancer. Interestingly, it's only elevated in men with testicular cancer and pregnant women. (I'm pretty sure I'm not pregnant, though it would explain the weight gain.) After that, I'll meet with my urologist to go over the results of the CAT scan that I had on Friday and the biopsy of Lefty, may he rest in pieces.

I've looked around the web for stories of guys in similar situations. I'm hoping that the guys who only have a orchietomy and that's it it aren't posting. Everyone I've run across has had chemo and radiation. It's not that I'm afraid of either, but I'm afraid they will seriously jeopardize my schooling and put Angie in a very strenuous position. Particularly the chemo. My insurance is through the school. Things will get really hard if we lose that. Really difficult.

Besides stressing about the future, I'm pretty sore. I haven't been taking the pain meds they gave me, as I'm not one to indulge in that sort of thing. Perkoset is great, but totally wipes me out. It's not like I haven't been having a difficult time focusing as of late, either. Getting out of bed and out of a sitting position are the worst. Walking is okay, and actually feels pretty good after a brisk walk. And I worry about getting addicted and all that rot. Better in my mind to take some ibuprofen and grin and bear it for a while than run that risk.

So, now I'm going to work on a set for Delicate Balance. It's actually pretty fun and distracting to throw myself into something like that. I guess I picked the right degree program.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Visitors

This has been a great week or so for visitors. Nana was here last weekend, Grandma Kathy is now here for the week and Uncle Dave and our friend Jay arrived last night. I've been taking pictures like a fiend and will be sure to post some soon!

Nana and Dave first met Max the day he was born, which also ended up being the night they didn't think he would survive. Grandma Kathy & Grandpa Stu Fu flew in from Minnesota a couple weeks later while he was still in the NICU. Suffice it to say, the boy they're re-meeting this week is a completely different person! It's so fun to watch them interact with him. Aunt Dr. Becky, Uncle James and Aunt Katie will meet him in a couple weeks at Thanksgiving, too.

Way back when we met at that crazy little theatre in Vermont in '01 and were 'just friends', we had lengthy conversations about our families and how important they were to us. And since our marriage in '06 and eventual plans to have child/ren, we knew they would have an amazing family and support system.

This is (of course) true to the day and it's too bad Max isn't loved and adored. ;) We are so lucky.

P.S. Max was a champ at his doctor's appointment yesterday. He received four shots and Mom cried like a baby. He also weighed in at a whopping 8 lbs, 13 oz! (This is up from 7 lbs, 15 oz. last Wednesday!) We're guessing he'll be at least 10 lbs by Christmas.

~AB

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Early Intervention

We had a meeting with Early Intervention today at our house. It has been determined that due to being a preemie, Max qualifies for the program. Basically what will happen is that a physical therapist will come to our house once a week (or more or less if we choose) to work with him, in addition to four massage therapy sessions over the next year. The therapist will work with him to strengthen not only muscles, but his overall development as well.

The evaluator checked many different areas (i.e. reflexes, vision, overall demeanor, etc). She was quite impressed with how he follows our faces/eyes/voices and his neck strength. She seemed to think he's on track for his adjusted age, but will only benefit from extra help. The service plan will be set up within the next two weeks and then we'll start scheduling appointments.

Tomorrow is Max's first synagis shot. This is the shot that will help his body fight off RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) and other viruses, should he run into them. Although he's doing great, his little lungs are still growing and he needs all the protection he can get. The shot is given to many preemies and other high risk babies during flu season, which is November to April in this area according to our pediatrician. One he has the shot tomorrow, he'll have to have one once a month on the same day for the duration of the season. It's an extremely expensive (and necessary!) shot and is thankfully covered by our insurance! In addition to the synagis, Max will also have three two-month shots tomorrow. Mommy is not looking forward to watching her baby poked so many times, but knows it needs to be done. You'd think after the whole NICU experience this would be nothing!

In other news, we're holding up. Michael is still really sore, but such a trooper. The stubborn mule convinced me to let him take Bernie for a short walk after dinner tonight, citing that the doctor said walking would help him heal. I couldn't fight or protect him on that one. He and the Maxster are currently having some father/son time right now- the Penguins game is on! =) And as for me, I'm doing fine- just tired. I'll get plenty of sleep once my boys are healthy, but until then, taking care of them is my #1 priority!

Drudgery and Rain

So halfway class this morning, I realized that I forgot my note cards.  No biggie, I can steal some from someone, but for some reason that really got me down.  That and I realized that class isn't starting for another hour and a half after its usual time today.  So I have some time to kill.

It's raining here in State College.  A cold rain too.  I'm supposed to do a lot of walking to speed recovery, and Penn State is great for that (my classes are in two buildings on the opposite sides of campus) but the rain isn't helping.  I'm walking like a very old and decrepit man.  It's difficult to stand up straight, as it tugs on my incision.  I have to pull my books behind me in a rolling bookbag, because I can't lift anything.  I take short and shuffling steps.  It's like I'm ready to play Willie Loman.  It's not forever, I know, but still, it's not how I like to carry myself.  Especially when I'm surrounded by many spry and bouncy undergraduates.  And the really funny part is that I have to wear athletic pants, because they're stretchy and easy on my wounds.  Ironic that I the clothes I have to wear were made for exactly the type of activity I shouldn't be doing.  

Angie and Max were up most of the night.  She was exhausted when I got up this morning.  Fortunately, Grandma Kathy is here and loves nothing more than to dote on little Max, so Angie went to sleep for a while and Max was curled up in Grandma's arms when I left.  I worry that Ange is burning the candle at both ends.  I'm so thankful that Grandma is here, and Nana before that.  Uncle Dave will be up this weekend, and before you know it, it will be Thanksgiving and many relatives will be able to help.  Hopefully, my treatments won't be too taxing on me, and I can participate in the day to day activities like I did before.  At the very least, I just hope that I'm not putting too much on my wife.  And I know what she'll say.  "I said in sickness and in health, and I meant it."  She' so predictable.  

I have an appointment this Monday to go over what the lab has discovered about my condition,  and what my treatments will be.  Hopefully, surgery will be all that is needed, possibly radiation.  As I mentioned before, I'm not a fan of not knowing what is coming down the pike.  I feel like I'm about to enter tech week without a production meeting.  Being totally unprepared is not how I like to go about anything, as those of you who have worked with me well know.  Nor do I enjoy feeling like I'm dropping the ball, and I'm starting to feel that way about school.  But I'll catch up, like I did before.  I truly enjoy the work.  I feel myself growing as an artist and as a professional, even though I've been here a relatively short time.  I get frustrated when I feel I'm not moving in that direction all the time, but it's hard to concentrate while the anesthesia is working itself out of your system.

Don't let this seemingly depressed post full you, though.  I am going to beat this.  There is no other option in my mind.  I am still willing to speak about it to anyone who has questions.  We shall persevere.  We will be stronger for it.  We have already found blessings that go with the situation, and we will find many more, I'm sure.  

But, sometimes one just needs to bitch a little.  

Consider yourselves bitched at.

Thanks for listening.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Oy, that Smarts!

Well, it's been 24 hours, and I gotta admit, it's not as bad as I thought it would be. Now, granted, I'm not ready to run, jump, or even get out of bed too quickly, but all in all, it's really no big deal.

The incision hurts the most. Laughing and coughing are a real drag. It feels like I've done 3000 situps on my left side. I keep looking for the six pack abs, but alas, no luck.

I don't "feel" any different, at least not yet. That may change after the swelling goes down, but at this point, I'm glad I didn't opt for the prosthetic. There's very little soreness in my groin. They gave me perkoset, and I took two on the ride home, but other than that, I've been doing fine with 4 ibuprofen every so often.

I've never had surgery before when I've been under a general anesthesia, so the whole experience was a little weird. Literally, I'm breathing deep, and the next thing I know, the nurse is waking me up in recovery. Crazy. I slept like a drugged up baby last night, and I'm sure my wife checked up on me more than she's telling me. Today, I kinda drifted in and out of sleep, and played with Max a bit.

On Monday, I have my follow up appointment. They'll take another blood draw to look for a decrease in the tumor markers, and they'll go over the results of the CAT scan I'll have on Friday. Hopefully, the surgery is all I'm going to need at this point, in addition to a lot of follow up appointments.

I'm really glad I checked myself. I wish men would feel as comfortable talking about this as women were about breast cancer. So much machismo is based on our genitals. But how butch is a corpse? As Angie will tell you, I'm not really shy about talking about anything. I'll go into great descriptive detail if anyone has any questions. If one person can learn something, then it makes this even more meaningful for me.

I'll keep everyone updates as events warrant.

Michael

Morning Update

Me: "How are you feeling?"

Him: "Kind of like I've been run through the ringer"

Me: "Hit by a semi, huh?"

Him: "Nah, more like a fat kid on a bicycle"

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Surgery Day

Here's an overview of our day at Geisinger...

12:00pm
We checked Michael in at In/Out Surgery (a half hour early), which was coincidentially mere footsteps from the NICU Family Room where we posted many a blog during our stay there with Max. The rather large waiting room was packed, but we were fortunate to find three open seats over in a corner with enough room for Max's stroller. And so began the waiting...

2pm(ish)
Michael was called up to the main desk. A few minutes later he returned to the seats and said they'd call him twice more before the surgery- once to sign a release form and then when it was actually time. Max ate, slept and had his diaper changed. He was also quite the attraction for the couple sitting across from us. ("Look at that hair! How old? How cute!")

4pm
They finally called Michael's name to sign the form and within minutes he came back to say goodbye to us. It was time. After they took him in, we had a quick bite at the coffee shop. (Again, an all-too-familiar Geisinger locale.) Afterwards, we moved to a little room off the main waiting room with comfier couches and more space. I think I leafed through every possible Ladies Home Journal, People, Star and Redbook possible and eventually dozed off for a bit.

5:45pm
I'd just woken up when a nurse walked over and informed us that the surgery hadn't even begun until 15 minutes prior, so we settled back in knowing we had at least another hour left. (Again, more eating, sleeping and being adorable on Max's part. Not that I'm biased.)

6:10pm
I was called up to the front desk and told to answer the red phone on the desk when it rang- the doctor wanted to talk to me. My heart sunk. Fortunately, she was just reporting that the surgery was finished, that it'd gone well and that Michael did great! WHEW. The only restrictions he was given was that he can't drive a car for 24 hours or lift anything over 20 lbs for 6 weeks. I know this will be particularly difficult for him (being the go-getter that he is), but I'm going to give him 'tough love' and make sure he abides by the rule! (PSU peeps, please keep a watchful eye and help me out with this one!) =) He's also just supposed to plain old REST, which I'll also be enforcing. The nurse then suggested I go fill Michael's prescriptions and when I returned I could go in and see him. (Lots of Max & Nana cuddle time in the meantime!)

6:50pm
Returned from pharmacy and headed back to recovery to see Michael. He was groggy and pale, but more alert than I expected. He reported that he'd been told that the results of his Monday blood work looked good (knock on wood). He'll be able to explain more in-depth once he's feeling stronger, but basically they look for all kinds of 'tumor markers' and want the numbers to be under two. Only one of his markers was above and it was only 2.2. This more or less indicates that they caught the cancer early and that it hopefully hasn't spread!!! =) It will still take a week and a half or so until the results come back regarding if it reached the lymph nodes, though. On a side note, it turns out that his anesthesiologist today was one that was in the room when they attempted to give me epidurals before Max was born!

7:30pm
The nurse sent me back out to gather the two cuddle bugs and load up the car. Another nurse pushed Michael downstairs in a wheelchair to meet us at an outside entrance. He took his first dose of pain killer.

8pm
We hit the road and headed back home. Michael had been fasting (both food & water) since midnight last night (poor guy!), so we ordered a delicious late dinner from one of our favorite take out places up the road and then tucked him into bed. His temperature was low and he was dizzy. Max and I are going to sleep out in the living room tonight so a) he can get a solid night's rest and b) so I don't thrash around and accidentally hit him. (I *might* have the habit of being a little restless when I'm stressed out... sorry, honey!) I turned on the baby monitor (Michael Monitor?) out in the living room so I can hear him if he needs something in the middle of the night. He had the TV on, but I heard him snoring his way into a much-needed deep sleep within 10 minutes.

He did awesome today and I'm so proud to call this man my husband. He has been very brave and open about the cancer and subsequent testicle removal, which I find highly commendable. Gents (and ladies, too!), please be sure to do your self exams! I know it sounds cliche, but it only takes 30 seconds and Michael is proof that those 30 seconds can make a difference.

And as he said tonight before bed- cancer picked the wrong family to mess with!!!

Thank you all (again) for your love and support. My heart is warmed by your notes, concern and generosity. Thanksgiving will have extra special significance this year, that's for darn sure!

~Ange

Monday, November 10, 2008

Bidding Adeiu To Lefty


Well, tomorrow is the big day. Tomorrow I will answer the question "What are you willing to give your left nut for?" The answer? My family. My wife. My son. After my appointment today, I have a better idea of what the next few weeks have in store.

Tomorrow at 12:30pm, I'll report to Geisinger for an out-patient orchiectomy
surgery (testicle removal) that will begin around 2pm and last for one hour. They equated it to a hernia surgery. I'll be under general anesthesia, so they recommend that I not drive for 24 hours after waking up and be under the care of someone at home (Angie has volunteered.) For six weeks afterward, I will not be permitted to lift more than 20 lbs (10 lbs will be the max for a few days). However, I will be able to drive starting 24 hours after being discharged.

Once the offending body part is removed, they will dissect it to ascertain the specific type of cancer that is present, and the results should be available after about a week and a half. All indications point to the fact that we have caught this very early. Pinpointing the type of cancer and how far it's spread will dictate the treatment that I receive. I have a CAT scan scheduled for Friday evening to see if the cancer has spread to my lymph nodes in the abdomen. The treatment can range from just the surgery tomorrow to radiation, to radiation and chemo. If the cancer turns out to be a specific rare variety, then I will need to go back into surgery so they can inspect all of the lymph nodes in my abdomen. This surgery will take about 4-6 hours and would be scheduled immediately after identifying the cancer as that one specific variety.

So, in short, I know what I'm doing for the next week and a half. After that is hazy, but I have high hopes.


So after tomorrow it's hurry up and wait again. And that's the part that really sucks. Not knowing what we're up against. Just give it a first, middle, and last name, and turn me loose. Patience is a virtue, and I want some NOW.

Nana is here now and Grandma Kathy is coming on Wednesday. Uncle Dave and our buddy Jay are coming up on Friday, so we have the help to make this easier. And Max will meet more of his family while Daddy sits around with an ice pack on his giblet.

If you like the t shirt that I'm going to be wearing tomorrow to my surgery (I don't think lipstick will convey the right message), check out some of
these. And if you like those, check out this website. Totally searchable.

Talk to everyone soon.

Oh, and everyone better believe that I'm hitting them up hard for donations for Relay for Life this year! Big time.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Hiccups!

video

Here is a fun little video of Max hanging out with Dad and getting the hiccups. Ah, the small wonders of life.

Life = Roller Coaster

It's 5am and I can't sleep. I got up to feed Max about an hour ago and he actually went right back down after he was finished eating... but I'm fully awake now.

It's been quite an adventure here in the ol' household. We're a bit overwhelmed by the recent news of Michael's potential diagnosis to say the very least. This is definitely something we didn't see coming! Max is finally home and thriving, and now this. We're taking it in stride, though. Yes, we'll allow ourselves to be scared/angry/etc., but we're also going to laugh our way through it. As we learned during our time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU from now on), we NEED to laugh. More importantly, we need to ALLOW ourselves to laugh- even if it's at things that may not be the most 'politically correct' in some cases! As I was just discussing with my friend Amy yesterday, Michael and I have a very twisted and wonderful understanding of each other. We can crack ourselves up until the cows come home, but also have the deepest and most serious love for one another. So scary as this is and will be, our 'mantra' has always (and will continue to be) that we wouldn't be given anything we can't handle. We'll get through it together... which is really all we've ever wanted- to be together as a family.

As Michael reported yesterday, we were at Geisinger on Friday for Max's first follow-up physical therapy session. It went well and Max was a champ the whole trip to & from- the commute is about an hour each way. Michael had class that morning, so I'd been a little nervous about making the trip alone, but he was so good for me! (This is further proof that he's perfectly content as long as he has clean drawers, milk and regular cuddle time.)

The therapist did an evaluation and reported that he's on schedule developmentally for his 'age', which was a whopping 6 days on the day of the evaluation. (Though he was born two months early, they go by his 'corrected' age- i.e. his due date, Nov. 1. We saw the therapist on the 7th.) She gave us a couple of exercises to do with him at home to help him gain strength in his neck and legs. His vision is amazingly ahead of schedule, which is a true miracle considering our poor vision! (I believe that Michael and I cancelled each other out and gave him good eyesight! Wouldn't it be awesome if that was really true... haha!) I was actually not surprised that his vision is coming along though, as we've noticed that he can already recognize us and always searches for our faces when he's not right up next to them. He literally squirms up our chests to be closer to our faces when we're holding him! (Having our son stare at us so intently with his big peepers is a truly wonderful feeling, by the by.)

He still has the typical 'preemie tremors' in his arms, legs and face from time to time, but she said it's normal and will be for a couple more months. It was a very enlightening visit and comforting to know he's doing well. In addition to potential physical therapy here at home, he'll return to Geisinger in two months for another check-up. (We think they're keeping extra special tabs on him, as he was a NICU baby saved by an experimental 'procedure'- that procedure being that he was given nitric oxide as a last resort. It worked!)

The support everyone showed through the Carepages was appreciated more than you will ever know and the same goes here. Thanks for reading- there's a surprising comfort in reflecting and typing. We'll do our best to keep this updated with the latest (and hopefully greatest) news.

Cheers,
Ange

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Initial Blog

From Carepages to Blogger. Let us begin again.

Now that Maxwell is doing much better (eating like a horse, gaining weight) we've decided to move the chronicling of our lives to a blog. We're very grateful for carepages, but I would like to think that we've earned the opportunity to run a more mundane spot on the web. We'll keep the carepages up for a little bit longer (at least until we download all the posts, messages, and pics for Max's scrapbook!) So, I'm not sure how this works, if you can sign up for email messages if you would like to know when we post something new, or how that happens. Anyhoo, we'll figure it out.

Max had an appointment with the physical therapist at Geisinger yesterday. Angie can tell you more about it, but I guess it went well. He's right about where he should be for a preemie. I'm sure she'll tell you more about it. All I know is that he's 8lbs and 21 inches...about normal for any baby!

So, in the midst of all this excitement of Maxwell coming home, and doing well, and settling into life as parents, I found a lump on my left nut during a routine examination. I scheduled an appointment with the student health clinic here at PSU. The doctor (who is great) examined it, and said "yep, that's something we want to pay attention to." He immediately sent me over for an ultrasound, which indeed revealed a solid mass on my left testicle. So, we had a chat, he explained that while the mass could be caused by something else, the most likely cause is testicular cancer. He referred me to a urologist at Geisinger (because, in his words "if it were MY left nut, that's where I'd want to get it treated"...like I said, he's great) and told my that my prognosis was excellent. Most likely it would be a simple matter of "cut and cure", remove the testical and all will be well. If it's spread to the lymph nodes, I'd most likely get radiation, possibly chemo. But regardless, this is a very curable cancer in his words.

So, I meet with the urologist on Monday at 2 to lay out my treatment for the next couple of days. Needless to say, this is not the way I would like to spend a Monday. Angie is hanging tough, but allowed herself to break down a little bit last night, which was good. She needs to let it out.

I wasn't going to mention anything to anyone until after I had a confirmed diagnosis, but, the support that everyone gave to us during Max's trials and tribulations was so wonderful and comforting. While I would be fine sitting on this information for a while, I feel it would be selfish of me to deny my wonderful wife the support that I know she will recieve. And, yes, I'm a little scared myself. The information I have been finding on testicular cancer is somewhat contradictory, so I don't feel like I'm getting a good gauge of what to expect. And I'm the type of guy that doesn't like surprises.

Ironic, isn't it?

Love to all.

Michael