Gone

Annette 2013

On 05 September 2018 my mother died. She was 92 years old and she would have preferred to die about 5 years earlier, around the time this picture was taken. She hated being dependent on others but a combination of physical disability and dementia meant that the last years of her life were spent in a miserable existence confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home.

Her last years of living at home and her one year of living in a retirement village before she had to go to a nursing home were really good times in many ways. I had some great conversations with her in which nothing was off the table.

What I will always remember and appreciate about my mother is her complete acceptance of others – and this was a common theme of those who spoke at the funeral. We always felt her unconditional love. That experience of being loved will live on in us, even though her physical presence in our lives has gone.

 

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That euphoria didn’t last long

After a long period of recovery from a January 2016 vertebral fracture, followed by an August 2016 re-injury,  I started running again on 29 April 2018. I gradually ramped up the duration and intensity until I reached a point that last week I ran to work on four days, all in good time. I felt great!

On Friday I did feel a little soreness in my back as I ran across the Harbour Bridge, but it didn’t last long. Later in the day it got worse, however. On Saturday (already one of the low days of the year, the date of J.S. Bach’s death) I realised the thoracic spine pain was here to stay. It’s present whenever I do anything significantly active – and running is out of the question. I presume I have crushed a vertebra, or exacerbated an existing, unhealed fracture. My vertebral bone density has improved over the last 12 months, but I am still in the osteoporotic range.

So this morning I walked (fairly slowly) about 5 km of the journey to work, and caught the NightRide bus the remainder of the distance.

West St Bus Stop

I think I’ll be often standing at bus stops like this one, waiting for the NightRide bus, for quite some time into the foreseeable future. Since the beginning of 2016, every time I’ve started running again after a vertebral fracture I have had to stop again due to re-injury. I’ve recently started taking alendronate to try to improve my bone density, but the government says I should wait two years before my next DEXA scan to check on whether the medication is having the desired effect. I’d probably be foolish to try running again until there is good evidence (e.g. DEXA) that my bone mineral density is out of the the osteoporotic range, so it looks like running is off my agenda for two years, at least.

I’m not humming the Hallelujah chorus any more…I’m more likely to be singing the Bach chorale Es ist genug

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back on my feet again

It’s 04:30 and I’ve just run along The Goods Line to complete my 10.5 km journey and arrive at work 62 minutes after I left home.

The Goods Line at night, Ultimo, Sydney

I’ve done that trip, at a pace of just under 6 mins / km, four times this week. I’m taking it easy, and trying to avoid injuries.

For a while I thought I would never run again, let alone return to running the daily morning commute, so right now I am rejoicing in my return to activity. Who knows how long this resurrection will last, but yesterday my radio (on FineMusicFM) played Handel‘s Hallelujah chorus as I ran across the Harbour Bridge, and I was humming it again today. I climbed the stairs to my desk on level 10 with a spring in my step!

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D-day #2

After I had my cancerous prostate removed in late 2016, the level of Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) was meant to drop to undetectable levels and stay there, for ever. A subsequent rise in PSA would most likely indicate a return of the cancer, with the rate and extent of PSA increase being well correlated with cancer growth – either in the original site or in distant metastases.

So in February 2018, when my PSA crept back up out of the undetectable range, there was every reason to believe that this was a harbinger of my demise. The cancer was coming back to get me. My urologist, Dr K, decided to do a repeat PSA measurement in 3 month’s time to see how quickly it was rising and whether it was then high enough to send me off to an oncologist.

This week I had that test, and yesterday I saw my GP, Dr M, to find out the bad news.

But it turned out that the PSA had dropped back down into the undetectable zone.

What does this mean? It could be that the non-zero PSA measured in February was a false positive, with the test detecting something other than a substance secreted by cells of a prostate. Even some women show non-zero PSA levels. Or it could be that my prostate cancer is re-growing but is only just at the threshold of detectability.

Only time will tell. The next PSA test is scheduled for September 2018, and for now I’m taking the optimistic approach and celebrating my (at least temporary) reprieve.

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D-day #1

I’m celebrating. I’m sitting in Campos with all the Newtown hipsters having an excellent Ethiopian Yirgacheffe origin long black.

Today is D-day (Diagnosis-day) #1. The pathology report on the pigmented lesion on my forehead has been revealed (and the two stitches have now been removed).

If it had been malignant melanoma I’d have been very disappointed. After all, a GP with skin cancer training (at The Elizabeth Laser and Cosmetic Medicine Centre) and a skin cancer specialist (The Skin & Cancer Foundation) have both looked at it in the past and declared that I shouldn’t worry. If, in fact, it had the potential to turn malignant, shouldn’t they have suggested removal? Or at least biopsy? Anyway, my current dermatologist biopsied it and the pathologist reckons it’s a seborrheic keratosis.

D-day #2 will be tomorrow morning, when I see my GP, Dr M (unless the cancer specialist gets in first – he likes to break the bad news himself). Whoever delivers it, the news is very likely to be bad, but it’s a question of whether it’s somewhat worrying, or really serious, or something in between.

But at least for the moment, I’m not going to let the possibility of future bad news stop me from celebrating this brief moment of good fortune.

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Prophesy fulfilled?

Back in 2011 we planted a Gymea Lily outside our bedroom window. The plant nursery told us that because it was only a young plant it might take up to 7 years to flower. At the time I remarked that waiting for the flowering would give me a reason to live, although I doubted that I would survive long enough to see it bloom. I didn’t have any known illness, but it seemed likely that cancer would kill me.  I wrote:

I’m expecting to follow my relatives’ pattern & succumb to cancer. Maybe melanoma – from spending too much time running in the sun when I was younger

Bearing that prediction in mind, I recently went to a skin cancer specialist to see if one or more of my pigmented spots is melanoma. She was sufficiently suspicious of one spot that she took two biopsies. I find out the result next week.

Also next week later I submit to a blood test to track the progress of the my known cancer. So there’s plenty of possible bad news on the horizon. Meanwhile, the Gymea Lily has been growing well, but there has been no sign of any flowers, so it would appear that my 2011 prediction of death-before-flowering might come true.

Last Friday, however, as I arrived home in the evening darkness, I noticed an unusual growth from our now seven year old Gymea Lily. The cold grey light of Saturday morning revealed what I hoped to see – A flower stem!! The plant nursey’s prediction of a 7-year wait had come true.

It does have a little way to go before it actually flowers. The shoot will grow to perhaps 3 or 4 metres before the flower blooms, and that process might takes several months. So although my death might be ‘on the horizon’, I need to hang in for a while yet. Next week we’ll see what my cancer specialists say about my chances of achieving that goal.

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Thanks Belinda

Some time ago, at daiskmeliadorn‘s suggestion,  I listened to a podcast of Professor Belinda Beck talking about bone health in athletes (and ordinary people). She suggested jumping down stairs as an ideal exercise to enhance bone density and strength.

I had been diagnosed as having osteoporosis of the lumbar spine in 2016, and I didn’t want to take alendronate (aka Fosamax) to  fix the problem. I wasn’t too keen on the possible side effect of osteonecrosis of the jaw, no matter how remote the likelihood. So I decided to try:

  • weight gain of ~10%
  • 1200 mg / day calcium supplement (plus 1000 units Vitamin D)
  • Stair-jumping, as suggested by Belinda

Here is the result. My 2016 and 2018 BMD scores are shown by the black square:

My age-weight-sex related BMD score was 2.3 Standard Deviations below the mean in 2016, but I’m now only 1.7 SDs below the mean.

Thanks for the tip Belinda!

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