Category Archives: friends & family

I only have myself to blame

Well, this is no good and it’s all my doing. Apologies for the lack of posts, it was a habit I got into last year when I was off chemo and doing my own thing and everything was on the mend. Now, with my energies down and being back on the chemo, I’m feeling the effects of not sharing. It basically stems from 2 of my personality traits: I probably trend just barely towards being an introvert (especially if i’m not feeling well), and I dislike complaining – either from me or others, I tend to avoid it if i can. Well, it backfires if I just clam up and don’t post, I don’t get the awareness out and I stop receiving the positive energy I need from you if you don’t know what’s going on.

So over the next few days I promise to light this blog up; chemo infusion #3 is on Tuesday, and I need a boost. I might complain a little. Anything to get a post out and get some energy moving, right?

Anyhow, my aunt Kathy called me out of the blue the other week and let me know she was visiting her grand-daughter a couple hours away in Jacksonville NC and wanted to see whether I was available to visit. As this is kin I’ve managed to see only once in the last 30 years, and who was responsible for this and has been constantly sending me cards and letters since this all started, I cleared out the next Saturday, piled the family into the car and spent the afternoon in Wilmington for a wonderful visit. We even made it to the beach. Her knees aren’t what they used to be, so we didn’t do much walking as we just talked and caught up.


2 days after this picture was taken, my face exploded in acne

Mary Kathleen Walker is a few years older than my mother and has been through some tough times recently (lost her husband in 2015, and her oldest son to pancreatic cancer early last year) but you won’t find a more jovial, more positive soul anywhere. Always giggling, her enthusiasm is infectious. The more time I spent with her the more I discovered how much alike we were. I swear I could have spent a week talking with her nonstop. And her hugs – well, they’re the next best thing than my own mother’s, just by definition.

Seeing older relatives as time passes highlights how important sibling relationships are: on my mother’s side of the family, everyone else from their generation is gone – their oldest sister Martha passed in the last year, so the sisters are all that are left. (Grandpa Walker was fifty when he married my grandmother, who was half his age; he died when I was a toddler.) Needless to say my mother and Aunt Kathy are closer than ever. Be kind to your brothers and sisters, over time they’ll be the only other people on this earth who will remember you back when you were just a little squirt, and to have that bridge back to our childhood through blood relatives is a blessing.

Good sturdy Iowan girls – hearts of gold, those Walker sisters.

Post-op Status

Just a quick note to follow up on my last radioembolization treatment on Monday. As I should have expected, each time I go in for these, things gets easier and easier. While the procedure itself went a little longer (2 hrs on the table), the overall process went very smoothly and I almost would say I enjoyed it this time… too bad I’m done with the treatment.

Tuesday and Wednesday I worked from home, expecting to get those flu-like symptoms and fatigue. On Tuesday my co-workers surprised me by sending me 8 bags of groceries from the supermarket.

Because of my naturally unassuming personality, combined with how I feel about my own health and staying positive about it, I usually feel undeserving of such gifts and when it happens, I get broadsided with a feeling of gratitude that overwhelms me. It happened when Deanna, my sister-in-law, produced ERIC STRONG bracelets to show support for me. I have a hard time processing such things and it moves me every time I think about it. Don’t get me wrong: I know my own strength and there’s no lack of self-confidence in my heart. But one of my long-standing credos is to live without expectation of others (it frees me from most disappointments). So to get gifts like these are totally unexpected to me and it hits me hard — I have to be alone, I use a bunch of tissues, I’m a mess, etc.

At any rate, after I received the groceries the same phenomenon happened to my side effects as when my college friends came to visit me around Thanksgiving: they never showed up. No fatigue, no flu-like symptoms, nothing. I had to check my doctor’s notes to make sure they actually recorded inserting the Theraspheres into the left lobe of my liver. My body handled the radioactive sand they injected into me and kept moving without slowing down. It takes a lot more to stop me… like 8 bags of groceries or plastic wristbands.

So now we wait and enjoy the fall weather while the microscopic beads do their work, and the tumors shrink before I get scanned again to gauge progress. I’ll be back when I hear more. Until then, no more treatments for the time being, and no more sweating like a pig during my walks. I love Autumn!

On Brothers

I have many good male friends who I consider my ‘brothers’ even though most of them aren’t related to me by either marriage or bloodlines. As far as regarding another male as being a sibling – surrogate or not – one can debate whether an only child can have the innate sense to foster brotherhood from birth, or, being a social skill, one needs to learn how to be a brother from someone else.

bros-74In my case, I’m lucky enough to have learned this skill very early in life, and I credit my brother, William Frederick Schuttler, for being the one to teach me what it meant to be – and to deal with – a brother. Billy is about 15 months younger than me, so I’ve been able to create and share my complete childhood memories with another. It’s something I would never change about my life if I could, even though I frequently get blank stares from my brother when I attempt to share previous events from my own memories… evidently we weren’t keeping our fingers on the ‘RECORD’ button at the same time.

bros-76We learned together what it meant to have a brother: you got the same type of gifts (usually they varied in color only), you had to share everything – bedrooms, bathrooms, bathwater, parental attention, the last bit of dessert, seating options, control over the TV, control over the radio – the list was endless and it was a drag most of the time for both of us. But it taught us how to compromise, and to share. And, to a certain extent, how to pitch a deal so that there was no apparent advantage to either choice (but usually there was, unbeknownst to the other).

bros-83We fought and argued, as siblings do, and we learned not only how to improve our debating abilities, but how to resolve our arguments and make up too. While my mother still maintains there was always a sibling rivalry between us, I never sensed it; having a brother so close in age made me regard him as my equal, both intellectually as well as physically. For me, it taught that everyone’s opinion mattered and points can be valid on either side of a conflict… though it took me a while to get to that idea with Billy, as I had to develop some maturity first.

bros-88As we got into high school I remember thinking, we resemble an elderly couple who’d been married for years: finishing each other’s trains of thought, bickering over insignificant things, exhibiting a level of familiarity around each other that can only exist with years of experience living together.

(Being married now for quite a bit longer than the time Billy and I actually spent together as brothers under the same roof, I realize only part of my initial impressions were correct.)

We went our separate ways in the last years of high school: I moved to the east coast to finish my schooling and go to college, Billy served our country in the Air Force before moving back to Illinois for college. We’ve always tried to keep in touch and not let the other ‘fall off the map’ too much. We’re both pretty busy raising our own kids and working and doing the regular things that make us all too busy to talk and catch up frequently, like we’ve been told we should. It’s almost as if we got enough of each other having to live together as kids; we’ve been satisfied with the small doses we get of each other over Facebook. Another lesson learned: it’s easy to get too much of another sibling, and space between brothers is necessary, lest one gets labeled as ‘clingy’ and suffocates the relationship.

bros-marchThat said, there’s nothing like having relatives you really like come visit: Billy and his family did come out to visit right after I finished my 6-month chemo schedule. While our wives and children played together, we indulged in our assorted running jokes and shared passions: discussing menu options, smoked meat products, baked beans, Chicago Bears football, and British humor. The things you savor most with brothers: Male Bonding.

I’m very lucky to have had Billy with me growing up, to teach me the rules of brotherhood. It frames how I treat others as a whole and reminds me that I’m not in this life by myself, for better or for worse. I have good friends I consider brothers, but I wouldn’t have them without Billy.

After I came home from the colonoscopy that opened my eyes to what was going on, scared and uncertain of what the extent of the damage was to my body, Billy would be the first to hear my news. He’s offered his own liver to me many times since, even though I patiently point out that he’s still using it.

I love you, Billy. Thank you for teaching me how to be a brother, whether you liked it or not. Happy Birthday!

I love springtime

I had a post queued up for my 11th chemo treatment yesterday and I just couldn’t post it, it had too much negativity in it. On the contrary, I’m feeling abnormally strong today and it’s because good friends are visiting this weekend; I always get extra energy from that.

Added to this, my visit with my oncologist over my recent CT scan was all positive and he reassured me the stuff i was worried about is from the extra chemo treatment so they shouldn’t be issues.

Also added to this, my chemo load came down to about half what I was expecting, so my side-effects are much reduced, also in part because it appears Springtime is on its way, it’s been in the low 70s for a few days now and among other things, my fingers are less cold-sensitive now which is a relief. Overall I haven’t felt this normal in a while… and I still have my chemo pump on!

Couple of things I can report on now that I’ve seen my actual CT scan:

  • the tumor that was sitting on my blood vessel going thru my liver has not only shrunk and calcified, but has moved away from the artery (or vein, not sure which).  Which means I probably can get at least some of my left half of my liver back, instead of lopping the whole thing off.
  • I’ve been told there will be no chemo after surgery, which will happen in mid-May.

Planning on keeping the high energy humming around here as things wake up from winter. Thank you for your prayers and positive energy today. I’m seeing the end game now and am excited about it, hope you are too.

Happy Valentine’s Day

skiingBack from my trip to CO and continue to feel quite strong in the aftermath; in addition to skiing, I got a chance to briefly visit an old childhood neighbor of mine who happens to live close to Denver and is recovering rapidly from Guillain-Barre syndrome. Ginny and the rest of her family have seen their share of difficulties – and then some – but they’re a bunch of fighters, and they inspire me immensely.

We rented a cabin in Silverthorne and skied Keystone on the first and third days, and did Breckenridge on day 2, which was my favorite. I had a bit of an issue acclimating to the mountain air the first day or so but by the time I got to Breck I was full of energy and had a blast. Local friends showed up and we had at least 2 dozen to watch the Super Bowl on Sunday, plus 4 dogs. Lots of festive energy there (good thing I’m not much of a Panthers fan. Go Bears!). Thanks to my brother-in-law Matt for lending me the sweet gear, I was always comfortable and warm because of your generosity. And much love to Scott, Sean, JD and most of all Ken, who was always keeping an eye on this slowpoke and never left my side as I carefully made my way down the slopes.

The timing of my trip was such that I had to go right into my 9th chemo infusion the day after my return, but I was surfing on so much energy provided by my buddies on the trip that I took this round easily… the extra chemo is starting to affect me a couple days after by making me super tired, but a good night’s sleep along with remembering the fun I’ve just had gives me a good rebound.

I’ve determined that when I get to do really fun stuff, the side-effects from the chemo seem to go away temporarily. That tends to encourage a bit of selfishness and a want to say “no thanks” when stuff I feel I need to do comes up. But I claim to still be a grown-up, and as I have responsibilities to my work and family, I gotta do what I gotta do. That’s part of life’s struggle we all have to face, I guess. I can just feel it more now.

Next infusion is a milestone in that I will have my last pre-surgery CT scan immediately after and I can see the progress made since early December; my surgeons will take a look at what they have to cut out and I’ll be taken off of some of the medicines to prepare for surgery. I’m excited (instead of previously being anxious) to see this scan, as I know I’m going in the right direction here, and hopefully have made enough progress to save that left half of my liver.

As (I think) I mentioned before, normal CEA levels are approximately 2.5 µg/L; I’m at 2.8 as of Wednesday (I was at 20 when I was diagnosed). Not sure if I’m gonna hit that 2.5 mark but it appears my cancer ‘mothership’ located in my sigmoid colon is definitely being taken off-line.

Not much else to report, stay tuned for CT scan results in about 2 weeks! Until then, I thank you dearly for the continued supply of healing energy, it is keeping me going here. Love to all on this Valentine’s Day tomorrow, please hug and kiss your own ‘personal support system’ for me.

Rocky Mountain High

Sort of a weird day today: I’ve been invited to embark on a weekend ski vacation by Ken, one of my oldest friends and the best man at my wedding. I’ll be in Denver starting tomorrow with just a handful of my friends with whom I play Omaha Poker, trying to stay upright on skis for at least part of the 3 full days we’re there. I haven’t been on skis in about 9 years, and I’ve never been on any slope west of WVA, so this will be interesting. Helmets will be required for Young Eric.

The excitement of the impending adventure is tempered by the crappy non-stop rain we’ve had here for the last 2 days and the news that my cousin Dave succumbed to his pancreatic cancer this morning. Based on what I know from my aunt, his life was a bit difficult, having to seemingly always travel from Florida to see his daughter in Iowa, separated by divorce I think. I’m of the opinion that he’s in a better place now, and am content knowing his struggles here are done. Rest in peace, Dave… I love you, man.

On a more personal note, I’m still contending with the effects of the more aggressive chemo dosage, with the first stages of neuropathy settling into my fingers and tongue consistently now. It’s also playing havoc with my digestive system, my tummy feels like I ate shellfish that I probably shouldn’t have, if you get my drift. I don’t get hunger pangs or feelings of fullness, like my stomach is numb. I haven’t been skipping meals however, and continue to eat regularly, though I’ve just tipped the scales at under 200 pounds yesterday, which I’m sort of thrilled about even though I know I’m going to catch hell from my oncologist… I haven’t been at this weight since the Clinton administration. I’ve had to buy new jeans that fit me better and – since I’ve started to take up leather working as (yet) another hobby – I’ve made a better-fitting belt as well. So that’s sort of a positive side effect: weight loss thru aggressive chemotherapy! Eat whatever you want, assuming you’re not nauseous! Take some Imodium and enjoy the slimmer, new you! Buy new clothes and make leather-based accessories, if you’re handy!

OK enough of that, it’s silly. If you need me I’ll be on the slopes, or in the lodge, enjoying the mountains and recharging. Stay strong!

Dave, David, Alan and Dan

I’m getting asked a lot about how I’m feeling so I better update here!

Been a rough week or 2 for People Who Happen to Have Cancer, namely spinal, liver, and pancreatic. The list, unfortunately, doesn’t stop there: my oldest cousin Dave has also been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer while checking for blood clots. His prognosis isn’t good, and my healing energy goes out to him. I wish he was online but I haven’t heard from him since I saw him at my grandmother’s funeral in ’01. Pancreatic cancer is one of the nastiest ones, as there’s usually no symptoms while it’s growing to a point where it’s inoperable; so when people find it by looking at something else that’s wrong, it’s usually too late.

For me, it’s been 8 days since my chemo infusion and i’m just now feeling normal again. I’m really feeling that extra bag of medicine, and the cold weather isn’t helping my sensitivity, which has set in and not abating between chemo visits now. I’ve also noticed lately that my pulse rate has jumped a little, hovering between 90-100 bpm and I could really ‘feel’ it in my chest and arms, so after letting my oncologist know, I went into the clinic and got some fluids, as those are some symptoms of dehydration.  I do feel better and my palpitations have gone away. Sitting here typing, at rest my pulse rate is 74 bpm, still high IMO. Since it didn’t used to be this way, I blame the extra chemo. That 1000 ml bag makes a good scapegoat.

Christine went in yesterday to check on some issues she’s been having with not sleeping well, and based on some lab tests she went in for a CT scan of her own. Needless to say I was extremely apprehensive with hearing the results, and you can imagine my immense relief when the scan resulted in no real issues. Having my first scan back in October confirming my own cancer, I couldn’t help but fear the worst for her first scan. I talk a good game when it comes to overcoming my own stuff, but to have my primary support center be afflicted with anything would have taken my well-being down a peg or 2. I need her healthy, as I need you to be as well. Take care of yourselves, please.

So despite the recently bad news, my spirits are unable to come down. On the contrary, I grit my teeth a little more now and make sure I don’t cut corners on anything – I still walk every day that I can, take the stairs at work (5 flights, 2 times daily), get 8 hours of quality sleep per night, and generally conduct normal duties. There is no time for grief. The disciplined healing continues here; I do it for David, Alan, and Dan, and my cousin Dave.

Down and to the right

Because of the holidays I moved my chemo schedule up one day, in case my white blood cell count was still low and I needed to come in 48 hrs later for a Neulasta injection, which would have left me having to go elsewhere for that shot (the cancer center is closed on holidays). And then I learned while my port was accessed this morning that the shot around which I was moving my schedule, is now held for 3 days before I can have it. Something about Medicare restrictions, i wasn’t listening by that point — I was thinking Great, just great.

But then I got my blood labs back and discovered my WBC count is back to normal, over TWICE the amount it was 2 weeks ago. So that’s a moot point now because I’m a bad-ass after 3 months of chemo. I mean, come on, have you met my extended support network? That’s why.

As a matter of fact, most of my numbers are moving in the right directions: low values are coming back to normal, high ones coming down. Especially my tumor marker (CEA): it was at 5.9, 2 weeks ago, now it’s at 4.6 (normal reference range is below 2.5).  Not too shabby considering I started off at an even 20, 3 months ago.

I’d make a PowerPoint graph but I’m too lazy (and I hate PowerPoint). Just imagine a graph with 20 on the left and the number going down and to the right.

That’s a major source of joy and hope this holiday season for me and is a direct result of the continued broadcast of healing energy I receive from all of you, every waking moment. I started off strong, and I’m finishing this set of infusions even stronger.

So the current schedule is this:

  • 30 December : one more CAT scan to show final progress
  • 7 January : Appointments with oncologist, liver surgeon
  • 11 January : Appointment with colon surgeon

after these appointments they’ll decide whether I’m a candidate for surgery (cross fingers!) or whether I need more chemo (booo!), and hopefully I can get a date set for the future.

As a bonus, I had my wonderful mother-in law visit me during my infusion today. I dare you to find a more loving, thoughtful, good-natured mom – with poise for days – anywhere. Actually if you’re as blessed as Christine and her siblings are, you already found one years ago. Thank you, Cassie, for your company; I got a Christmas present early.

No silly videos this time! get your presents wrapped and then go out for a walk! Happy Holidays y’all!

“We got them on the run now, boys”

Had a bit of a hectic night last night, was in bed by 10 but my oncologist woke us at midnight and recommended I get to the emergency room to get evaluated for 2 blood clots found in my lungs. Because of the cancer it’s likely I’ll be forming clots from now on. Luckily the clots are not life-threatening and since I didn’t present any symptoms (of course) all I got for my troubles is a new prescription of blood thinners for the next 6 months and an attempt to cauterize blood vessels ruptured in both nostrils. I’ve learned that getting swabbed with silver nitrate in both nostrils at 1 am is not my idea of a good time these days. Maybe 25 years ago it might have been different…

Imagine taking a ghost pepper… Then lighting it on fire… Then jamming that flaming hot pepper in each nostril while being mostly asleep  and you get close to my experience this morning. I do not recommend it.

Let’s get right to it. CT scan results as transcribed by my lovely wife Christine:

tumors“Abdomen and pelvis: there is decreased size and increased calcification within multiple hepatic metastases. A dominant left sided lesion measures approximately 5.9 x 2.8 cm, previously 9 x 6 cm. A second lesion in the medial left hepatic lobe adjacent to some capsular retraction measures approximately 3.2 x 3.6 cm, previously 4.6 x 4.4 cm. Additionally lesions also show decreased size, without new lesions identified. Patent portal veins. No biliary ductal dilatation. The gallbladder, spleen, pancreas, adrenal glands and kidneys are normal in appearance.

The distal esophagus, stomach and duodenum are normal in appearance. The remaining small bowel is decompressed. There is decreased wall thickening and irregularity within the sigmoid. Remainder of the colon is normal in appearance. Normal appendix. Urinary bladder is normal in appearance. Unremarkable prostate.

The abdominal aorta is normal in caliber with patent major branch vessels. no aggressive appearing osseous lesions. no pelvic lymphadenopathy.

Impression:
1. Interval decrease in sigmoid wall thickening, suggesting treatment response

2. Decreased size of multiple mucinous hepatic metastases, compatible with treatment response. No new hepatic lesions identified

3. Nonocclusive pulmonary embolus in two right basilar segmental branches.

The patient was seen in the emergency department at 1 AM on 12-9-15 due to the incidental finding of pulmonary embolism. Treated with blood thinners and released.”

So evidently I need to stay off of ladders for the foreseeable future…

This improvement is to your credit. We’ve seen the high tide already and it’s continually receding now, because of the love sent my way, because of your energy and prayers. I am moved to tears when I re-read these scan results, remembering the blessings of many souls giving their unyielding support is why I’m surviving this.

And there’s plenty cancer left to kill – I continue to focus on its demise while graciously accepting the love and healing energy all of you give without hesitation.

thank you for being with me while I clean this stuff up.

“This One Goes to 11”

Been feeling very good this week overall, the best I’ve felt in a long time. Probably maxing out at 10 out of 10. Today I went to 11.

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so we get another music video because of this, sorry. This is just one of Flying Lotus’ works I employ audially to maximize assimilation of well wishes, prayers and thoughts tuned towards my way. I feel all of the energy coming from loved ones this way, and it’s become a daily thing. It’s almost too much to handle, some days.

To clarify: the video is okay but it’s Flying Lotus’ music I’m highlighting here. Just turn it up and sit back and relax, it’ll be over soon enough.