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This is one of several essays from my private cancer journal. It is not intended as anything than a record of my states of mind as I struggled with the disease and the effects of the treatment.

Starting Year #4, if memory serves me

old photos with portion of one wiped out

Today is the third anniversary of my diagnosis in 1999 and I start Year #4 with this disease.

I wish I felt better about it but the last couple of weeks have been rough. The only real bright part is that tomorrow, I marry my Caren. That makes me happy. The rest of it has been rough.

Over the last few weeks, I've been to the ER twice: once for the leg pain and then for this ear infection that makes me dizzy. I got a new antibiotic a couple of days ago during a regular visit (I got my monthly Zometa infusion on 11/21) that seems to be making a difference.

The trip for the infection was scarier than the one for the debilitating pain. I went because that morning, I sat down to do my email and found I couldn't remember messages that I had sent the day before. The email attached at the bottom of most replies back to me were complete blanks. I stared at the screen with a sense of unreality that morning as nothing like that has happened before. Looking at a message that I had written, I had no recall. I went to another and got the same. No matter how I tried, I had no recall of anything written the day before. I had a short-term amnesia.

To say it had NEVER happened to me in my life isn't exactly accurate. Back in my college days, when I did some hallucinogenics (mainly grass and hash), I had times when I would look at something familiar and knew it should be familiar but I had absolutely no recall of it. But I took that in stride as it was part of the experience of being stoned.

This time was very different. I wasn't stoned but my last PSA had risen from 199 to 830 so the first thing I began to think was that it had moved to my brain.

The actual prospect of cancer cells metastasizing to one's brain -- as I had that morning -- is not pleasant, to say the least. I've dealt and redealt with my mortality issues on several occasions but this was different. Being stripped of one's memory -- as happens with Alzheimer's -- is a frightening experience. I used to think the worse that could happen to me would be the inability to write, such as might happen if there was an injury to my hands. But, I thought, I could dictate (maybe a voice-recognition software) and get around it, should it happen but I never considered this.

So there I sat, staring a my own words, written the day before, with absolutely no recall and I was more scared than with the crippling pain from maybe 10 days before. No matter how bad that was, it was merely pain. I have had bouts of that in my life and no matter how severe, there is always a pain-killer but there was nothing for what I thought I faced now.

Caren took me to the VA and, technically, I skipped the ER and was able to see an oncologist, via a restroom where I had the dry heaves. I described the dizziness, the feeling of water in the right ear and some loss of hearing there and strange, small but fast and sharp pains on the right side of my head (it was the right ear that had the infection), the short-term memory loss and my fear of the mets. She said there was little likelihood but gave me a full exam, including testing various muscular tests (right and left). She also expressed concern that I had lost about 30 pounds, but I was happy with it. I attributed it to stopping the Casodex and losing the weight it put on me plus I hadn't eaten much with this infection. Other than inflammation in the ear and lab signs that I was dehydrated, there was nothing but she was a good doctor. Within the hour, I was getting a CAT scan of my head.

Nothing was found and I wish that was funnier. They didn't have an explanation for the memory loss but there was no sign of mets. Perhaps it was this damned ear infection as I was unusually dizzy and could barely think. I got a sulfa-based antibiotic. Let's deal with that infection first, she said, and see what happens. She suggested a saline IV to deal with the dehydration but I declined, promising to drink more liquids.

I came home exhausted and rested for the remainder of the day, sucking on bottle of water.

The next morning, I was hesitant to start one part of my usual morning routine: picking up my email. Would it happen again? Cautiously, I picked up my mail and to my great relief, I recognized the previous day's. Maybe it was only the infection.

For the next week, the other symptoms continued unchanged, forcing me to stretch out on the couch and learn the ways of daytime TV, which doesn't help dizziness. Resting did. Then two days ago, I went to get my next infusion of Zometa. The lab said my hydration was okay but borderline low so I got a full bag along with the Zometa and spoke with my oncologist about the problem and came up with a new one: a PSA draw when I saw my emergency oncologist last week showed it had risen from 830 to 889. That's good news and bad. The bad is that it rose. The good is that the rate of increase has slowed dramatically so we agreed to give it a couple more weeks. I see him on December 14th, so we will decide then.

Meanwhile, the new antibiotic seems to be taking. Soreness around the ear opening has decreased and so has some dizziness. I see my primary care physician in about 10 days so if it hasn't disappeared, I get another shot.

But the REALLY good news is that I am getting married tomorrow. Rather than my problems casting a pale on that happy event, marrying Caren has bolstered my spirits. I got a tux for the wedding. I haven't worn one in maybe seven years. When I lived in Hollywood, I was in a tux so often that I nearly bought my own. Every man looks great in a tux.

And so I start my fourth year. As with each blow that I have received in the past, I made it and learned from it. Like Nietzsche said, that which does not kill me makes me stronger.

I think that's what he said. (smile)


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This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not replace or amend professional medical advice. Unless otherwise stated and credited, the content of Phoenix5 (P5) is by and the opinion of and copyright © 2000 Robert Vaughn Young. All Rights Reserved. P5 is at <>. P5's policy regarding privacy and right to reprint are at <>.