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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thick and black

I have never seen Vegemite spread so thickly“, said my American work colleague, staring at my lunch of wholemeal sourdough toast with a thick black covering.

Although it was actually Marmite, not the American-owned Vegemite, the point was taken nonetheless. I grew up in a Marmite-loving family, and seem to have passed on that trait to at least one of my offspring.

I did cut down my Marmite consumption a few years ago after an episode of gout. But I discovered that the gout story is rather complex, and despite purine’s role in uric acid production, the medical evidence indicates: “There is very little scientific proof that avoiding the purine-rich foods (such as Marmite) can successfully reduce gout attacks.

So I intend to continue this particular habit until I die. Indeed, the time when I stop looking forward to a dose of Marmite is probably an indicator that death won’t be far away.

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The answer from a banana

I am currently reading a brilliant book – A Line Made By Walking, by Sara Baume.

In the book a young woman, Frankie, retreats to her (dead) grandmother’s bungalow to reflect on life and death, and a lot more besides. One of Frankie’s memories of her childhood is of her mother telling her she could ask a banana to answer a question. You slice the banana and the remaining stump has a pattern that could be a “Y” or some other character or perhaps just an indecipherable smudge.

Yesterday I saw my cancer surgeon and asked him about my future prospects. My observation is that doctors don’t like to bear bad news and they tend to emphasize the most positive perspective, even if it only has a small chance of being the outcome. My doctor was no exception to this rule. He didn’t want to talk about the dark possibilities of widespread metastases.

When I got home I decided to follow Frankie’s example and I asked a banana if my cancer was going to kill me. Here’s what it said:
banana

 

I ate the banana before it had a chance to shed any more light on my future. It was good.

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The revenge of the bin chicken

I walk along this road every morning about 03:30. Can you see those white blobs in the upper branches of this tree?

They’re ibis, known more commonly as bin-chickens for their Darwinian(!) adaptation to urban life.

They’re always grouped together in this tree and a couple of other trees along this road.

Last year in the vote for Bird of the Year they came second, just being edged out by the magpie, and two places ahead of my friends, the tawny frogmouth:

This popular vote was a huge social media battle ground in Australia and no doubt many ibis have their noses out of joint as a result of their rejection. The ibis roost at night in large groups, sitting quite still until around sunrise. They’re usually very quiet, and you might not notice them as you walk past, except every few minutes there’s a loud splat as the digestion of yesterday’s bin-pickings is completed and the remnants hit the road below, exacting sweet revenge non-ibis voters (such as me) who would dare to walk underneath.

I’ve seen cars parked under this tree overnight become almost undrivable from the ibis excrement caking the windscreen. Our local council places signs under Bunya Pine trees to warn of falling pine cones. Maybe it’s time they did the same for falling ibis shit.

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