Today my family and I held a bake sale to benefit Prostate Cancer Research and Awareness. My wife, Jodie, and daughters Ashley and Kaylee baked and decorated sugar cookies and cupcakes. They were a hit and brought in over $360 in donations! During the bake sale we even recruited a few new members for our team, “Team Vandervort”, which will be participating in the Prostate ZERO Run/Walk in San Diego on September 18th.
For more information on the Prostate ZERO Walk/Run and how to support “Team Vandervort” click here.
My cousin Paul and his wife April just launched a new BBQ Sauce, “Daddy’s BBQ Sauce”. The BBQ Sauce is based upon a family recipe handed down by April’s grandfather. Paul and April have served it for years at family gatherings in their backyard on smoked and grilled meats. Before I eliminated meat from my diet due a prostate cancer diagnosis I looked forward to it’s unique sweet taste and how it caramelized on the meat. Without sounding like a hypocrite, it’s delicious.
I might seem like the last person that should be promoting a BBQ sauce, but I want to be the first to support my cousins’ endeavor because I believe in it. It’s good. So good that I volunteered to create a logo for them to support them. Over the next few months they’ll be promoting “Daddy’s BBQ Sauce” on a road trip across the United States. If you see them, tell them their cousin Scott said, “Hi!”, and pick up a bottle.
“Daddy’s BBQ Sauce” is also available on their online store.
I used Clip Art Studio, Gimp, and ultimately, Inkscape to render the logo. The logo went through several iterations, each focusing on a caricature of April’s grandfather. Some of the other finalists are below, but most people I talked to favored the “laid back” demeanor pictured above.
Take care. Stay healthy. Live life. Try “Daddy’s BBQ Sauce” ( you’ll love it )!
When my mom got her kitchen remodeled in the 1980’s she was adamant about placing the microwave as close to the refrigerator as possible for convenience. Most of our food was prepared in an assembly line; from freezer, to microwave, to plate, to table. It wasn’t until I was older I figured out what all the other boxy objects ( the “stove”, for example ) in the kitchen were actually for. My mom sure could rock the ‘wave though. It was the Instant Pot of the day, capable of doing almost everything …
Ever have one of those weeks where everything just happens all at once? Like a slow moving train wreck, you can see it all coming, but aren’t really sure when or if it’s going to hit until it does? Last week was one of those weeks, and it all started with a couple of phone calls…
Ring (Bzzzzz) Ring (Bzzzzzz).
I looked up from my laptop to my buzzing iPhone to see my boss’ name staring back at me. I was used to early morning meetings, but this was earlier than usual.
“Let the games begin!”, I thought to myself, smiling.
“Hello?”, I answered.
“Hi, Scott, do you have a few minutes to talk?”, my boss asked.
“Sure, what’s up?”, I replied.
A new voice chimed in. She introduced herself as Tracy, from HR.
“Hi, Scott. We regret to inform you that as part of the restructuring, your job has been eliminated.”, Tracy told me over the phone.
I’ve never been laid off over the phone before. Chalk it up as another COVID first, the pandemic has changed the way we live, work, and apparently, are dismissed.
My company, like all companies, has had an incredibly rough year. A couple weeks ago the CEO had announced a restructuring and 20% headcount reduction. The call wasn’t a surprise, but still left a pit in my stomach given that I was pending radiation therapy for my prostate cancer. In the United States health insurance is typically tied to employment. An interim solution, COBRA, can bridge your insurance till your next job but it’s not only messy to set up, it’s also incredibly expensive.
Tracy walked me through the process of returning my laptop, COBRA, severance, and vacation payout. At the end of the call my boss chimed in.
“Thanks for your service, Scott. Call me if you need anything.”
And that was it.
Or so I thought. Within minutes my phone rang again.
Ring (Bzzzzz) Ring (Bzzzzzz).
This time I considered letting it go to voicemail before ultimately picking it up.
“Uh …. hello?”, I answered, a little more cautiously this time.
“Hi, Scott. This is Karina at UCSD. I’d like to set up your initial body mapping for radiation therapy.”
“Oh! I’ve been expecting your call. I guess you finally got insurance approval?”, I replied.
“Yes, we did. Sorry about the delay.”, she said. It had been almost a month since I had been told I was healed enough from surgery and ready for radiation therapy.
“No problem. Honestly, I wasn’t in a mad rush to get my crotch irradiated until just a few minutes ago”, I replied, more than a little concerned about what would happen once my health insurance was migrated to COBRA. Between surgery, appointments, and hormone therapy I had quickly maxed out my out-of-pocket within the first few months of the year, I really didn’t want to start from zero again. Cancer is an expensive beast to tame.
Wisely, Karina avoided the bait about why I was in such a hurry and proceeded to outline the procedure.
“You will need to perform an enema and drink 24oz of water leading up to your appointment.”, she told me over the phone.
“Scott, are you still there?”, she asked.
“Like an enema, enema?”, I asked.
Thirty-five years ago I had my first experience with an enema at, of all places, a waterpark. There was a slide there named “The Nairobi Express”. Three stories up, at the top of the slide, there was a large sign instructing riders to cross their legs. At the bottom was a shallow pool of water designed to slow riders down after their descent.
In my excitement I ignored the sign and forgot to cross my legs. After launching myself off the platform and craning my head back in glee to see that I had beaten my friends to the bottom, I tore into the pool of water at the bottom and came to a very sudden and painful stop. After three lengthy trips to the bathroom I spent the rest of the day on the “Lazy River” nursing my wounds.
“Scott, can you do that?”, Karina repeated.
“The enema!”, she reminded me, a little agitation creeping into her voice.
“Oh, yeah, I’ve uh, kind of done one before.”, I replied
“Between my bladder being full of liquid and my rear being loosey-goosey you’re really putting your CT machine at risk, you know?”, I joked.
“Is that a yes?”, she repeated.
My mapping appointment was in two days. As I was, unsurprisingly, fresh out of home enema kits, I decided to do some shopping. My wife, Jodie, and I had been doing the majority of our shopping online since COVID. Shopping online, we hoped, would limit our exposure, but in this case it would also allow me to discretely buy an enema kit. After viewing the purchase options I started laughing.
I turned around to see Jodie hovering behind me.
“Check this out!”, I showed her my screen.
“… if I buy the Open Box item we can save $1.99!”, I chuckled.
She just kind of stared at me in horror for a minute.
“Please don’t.”, she replied, flatly.
“I’ll buy two, just in case.”, I smiled.
“In case you like it?”, she shot back.
“Ha. Ha.”, I replied dryly while clicking the “Buy Now” button.
After completing the transaction I looked to my corporate laptop next to me on my desk and frowned.
It sat there like an ugly scab; a reminder that I was now unemployed during the worst recession in history, during a pandemic, and undergoing cancer treatment. I had an urgent desire to ship it back to my ex-employer as soon as possible. I strapped on my face mask, pocketed a bottle of hand sanitizer, tucked the laptop under my arm, and headed to the UPS Store.
The UPS Store was crowded. It took about ten minutes before it was my turn to talk to the clerk.
“I’d like to return this laptop to my employer.”, I told her, handing her an index card on which I had carefully printed out the shipping address.
“How would you like it shipped?”, she replied.
“It’s not mine anymore and I’m not paying for it, any suggestions? What’s the most expensive, elaborate way to ship this thing?”, I joked.
“We could overnight it!”, the clerk next to us chimed.
“You can do better than that! Is there a white glove courier service, too?”, I smiled, adding, “I just got laid off a few hours ago. Have you seen a lot of computer hardware being, uh, returned?”
“Lots. That guy that checked out just in front of you had a whole box of electronics!”, she responded.
“Same here!”, a voice behind me announced. I spun to catch the eyes ( we were all wearing face masks after all ) of a man about my age motioning to a laptop slung under his arm.
COVID had not only made telecommuting the new norm, but the corresponding recession and subsequent layoffs had also created a booming business for the UPS Store.
“What do you do?”, he asked.
“Software developer….”, I replied.
“Oh? You’ll have no trouble at all finding work!”, he reassured me, “There’s lots of work for programmers!”
“I, uh, can’t start looking for work yet. I need to take care of some things first…”, I replied, not quite willing to open up to a complete stranger about my cancer, much less the six weeks of radiation therapy I was in store for, “It’s, uh … complicated.”
At this point I stared at a rubber bracelet on my wrist. I had strapped it there almost a year ago. It was bright blue and embossed with the words “Prostate Cancer Awareness”. While looking at it I recalled a discussion I had with my psychologist last week about looking for work while undergoing treatment for cancer. He reassured me that it was against the law to discriminate. However, he also warned me to not bring it up during interviews nor post about it publicly. He told me that hiring managers would likely look at my public profile and, although illegal, might inconspicuously reject my resume upon discovering my cancer. Oddly enough, in stark contrast to his suggestions, here I am writing about it …
“Sir?”, the clerk asked.
“Uh, yes?”, I replied.
“That’ll be $42.95 for shipping.”
“Is that the best you can do? Any chance you can round up?”, I replied.
“Unfortunately, no.”, she said smiling.
It’s always nice to end the day, and this one in particular, with good news, and this news came from my oncologist, Dr. Stewart.
“Your PSA is still undetectable.”, Dr. Stewart told me over the phone.
“Are you still planning on keeping me on Lupron and Zytiga for two years?”, I replied.
“Yes, you’ve almost completed a year, too. Congratulations! So, how are you doing?”, he asked.
“I’m doing good!”, I replied, “I’m still on a plant-based, low-sugar diet. I’m still able exercise every day and keep up with my kids, too. I’m a little tired all of the time, but I assume that’s just due to the hormone therapy that I’m on. Overall, I am still able to do everything I was doing before.”
“Also, I also just got scheduled for radiation, so I can get that underway, too.”, I added.
“Good!”, he replied. Although this was a voice call I could almost see him smiling on the other end. “And the plant-based diet? A while back you were complaining about how restrictive it was …”
“It’s delicious!”, I interrupted, “Tell you what? One night I’ll invite you over for dinner and you can decide for yourself!”
“You’re doing a good job, Doctor. Thank you!”, I told him.
“You’re doing all the work”, he responded.
He was wrong, and we both knew it. Fighting cancer requires a team. He had alluded to such almost a year ago during my first appointment with him when he referred to himself as my team “quarterback” who would help me navigate my upcoming treatments. My team has only gotten bigger since then – my family and friends are all on my team as well, and they are all helping me beat this thing called cancer.
“Dad! A box came from Amazon for you! It’s heavy!”, Kaylee screamed excitedly as she plopped a small box in front of me.
With the girls peering over my shoulder I ripped off the packaging tape, opened the box, and discovered that I was the proud owner of two enema kits. I opened one of the boxes to discover that each box had 4 treatments.
What in the hell was I going to do with 8 enema kits?!?!!
“Dad, what’s an enema?”, Ashley asked me.
I looked over my shoulder to see that my girls had taken a keen interest in my new toys.
“Uh….”, I floundered. Sigh“… It’s, uh, a bottle of fluid that people stick up their, uh, butt to wash everything out.”
“Ewww gross!”, they screamed in unison, “Are you going to DO that?!?!!”
“I have to for my appointment tomorrow….”, I replied grinning at them.
“Does it hurt????!?”, they asked.
“Generally I consider the bunghole an ‘exit only’ hole….”, I said, and then, seeing a little too much amusement in their eyes, added, “… I have enough for everyone if you want to try it, too!”
“NOOOOOO! Gross!”, they shrieked, eyes bulging.
I clamped my ears shut as the girls shrieked and ran away, leaving me alone to read the instructions.
One upside to COVID is the traffic, or lack thereof. With so many companies enforcing a work-from-home policy, I made the 20-mile drive to my appointment at UCSD in record time and, only after parking, had I realized that I had only finished about half of the prerequisite 24 oz in my water bottle. I walked up to the payment kiosk, hastily chugging water, and entered a 10-digit code given to me during my phone call a few days before. Radiation therapy is a daily process that can extend well over a month. UCSD, like many hospitals, charges for parking, and as a consideration for patients undergoing therapy, offers free parking to those undergoing treatment.
“Cancer has no bounds”, I thought to myself. Somewhere in that building was the owner, likely some old rich dude ( with good taste ), getting treated for a similar disease to my own.
After checking in and sitting down in the waiting room I continued to sip my water and watched people come and go. A lady about my age with no hair walked by. An older man, seemingly perfectly healthy, chatted on his phone. A heavyset lady in a wheelchair rolled by. Due to COVID restrictions there were no guests allowed inside, just patients. Everyone here, including me, had cancer.
“Scott Vandervort”, a nurse announced from the doorway.
“That’s me!”, I said, hopping out of my seat.
The nurse told me that my appointment would start in about 20 minutes and wanted to make sure that I had a full bladder.
“I’m still nursing this bottle here.”, I tapped the bottle in my other hand, “It’s almost empty. However, I can top it off again for good measure.”
“Please. If your bladder isn’t full enough we’ll have to run the scan again. You also did the bowel prep as well?”, she asked.
“Yes…. it should be sparkling clean in there as of this morning.”, I said.
“I, uh, don’t have to do that for every visit do I?”, I asked. I already knew the answer, but wanted to hear it again for reassurance.
“No, just for the mapping scan ….”, she started.
“… because I have seven more!”, I interrupted, grinning.
“…. won’t be necessary.”, she confirmed.
After she left I let out a huge sigh of relief and continued to chug my once-again-full water bottle.
Precisely 20 minutes later the same nurse retrieved me from the waiting room and led me, bladder sloshing, to an exam room. A large CT machine filled the room and two other nurses were busily preparing it for my mapping.
“Do I need to change into a robe?”, I asked.
“Nope!”, one of the nurses replied, “We’re just going to have you lie down on the gurney, create some forms for your legs, perform a quick scan, and give you three tattoos to help align the machine for next time.”
“Can I pick the tattoos?”
“They’re the size of freckles and, honestly, none of us are very good artists.”, a nurse replied.
“So no pink dolphins?”, I joked.
The whole process took maybe 10 minutes. The tattoos felt like pin pricks, no worse than a shot. Later that night while examining myself I could barely find them.
“Whatever you did to prepare, do it again next time. It was perfect. A+”, the nurse who had retreived me from the waiting room told me.
“Except the enema…”, I clarified.
“Didn’t you have seven more?”, she said grinning, “… but, no. No enema is required next time.”
She then handed me a card with a date on it, August 27th.
“Here is your first radiation appointment. Prepare exactly like last time. You did good!”
With the appointment over I was led to a small bathroom to drain the 48 oz of water that I had accumulated leading up to the appointment. The fact that I could still cram that much fluid into my bladder without leaking after having a radical prostatectomy was, oddly, reassuring.
During the walk back to my car my stomach started rumbling. As part of my cancer regimen I had been doing intermittent fasting. I looked at my watch and realized that I hadn’t eaten anything for almost 18 hours. I stopped mid-step as it occurred to me that my fasting probably helped with the scan, and would probably help with my radiation treatments as well.
“No food, no gas, right?”, I said to myself.
Nodding, I decided to continue the intermittent fasting through my radiation therapy to see if my theory was correct. In the meantime, it was time for lunch. I pulled my phone from my pocket and called my wife, Jodie.
“The mapping is all done. It was easy. Do you and the girls want vegan nachos from ‘Greens Please’ for lunch?”, I asked.
The cheering in the background was as good an answer as any. “Greens Please” is one of our favorite restaurants. Their Vegan Nachos are Scrumdiddlyumptious. I couldn’t think of a better way to wind down a hectic few days.
“Good! I’ll see you all in an hour! I can’t wait to show you my new tattoos!”, I said jokingly.
Take care. Stay healthy. Live life. Eat [Vegan] Nachos
My oldest daughter loves cheese. She will often hover around when I am grating it and, when I am not looking, scoop some up and run off leaving a trail of shredded bits behind her. She is a true cheese-lover, or “Turophile” ( “Tyros” is Greek for cheese and “Phile” is English for Lover ). As of yet she hasn’t actually asked me to lick the cheese off of the grater, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
“Well, the surgery is done. The only thing to do now is recover.”, I thought to myself while staring at the ceiling in our bedroom.
I had spent the better part of two days at UCSD having a radical prostatectomy to remove a cancerous prostate. Now I was laying in my bed at home, taking in the grandeur of our bedroom ceiling and contemplating life, or at least the next month or so of it.
“Well, I guess I better get up and get the day started.”
Getting out of bed required rolling back and forth until I could gain enough momentum to swing my legs out over the side of the bed while maneuvering around my catheter bag and hose.
“Are …. you okay?”, Jodie mumbled.
Whoops. Woke up the wife.
“Yeah, I just wanted to get up.”, I replied while looking at the catheter bag, “Although technically, with the catheter, I could lay here indefinitely…”
“… but then again, there is the eventual number two which the bag can’t …”, I continued.
“I’m up, too”, Jodie interrupted before I continued.
She rummaged around her nightstand a bit, got out of bed, and then walked around to present me with a small box.
“Ashley really wanted to give this to you yesterday, but with all the excitement she forgot.”, she said.
I opened the box, laughed, winced in pain, and pulled out a small, blue, smiling prostate.
“She thought you’d like it”, Jodie said, smiling.
“Oh, I do!”, I smiled back.
What follows is my account of what it is like to recover from having your manhood yanked out through your belly button, or as urologists like to call it, a radical prostatectomy. The recovery is humbling and far from easy. However, the humility and awkwardness of the recovery process resulted in some humorous moments which, fortunately, smoothed out the bumps.
Try not to laugh
“One incision….two incisions… three incisions….four incisions…..and five. Five incisions!”, I said proudly to Kaylee who was hovering over me, her enormous pink cast dangling from her shoulder. It was now three days post-op and I was feeling brave enough to bare my belly now that the gas had subsided a little.
“Hey! They missed a hair!”, I chuckled.
In preparation for surgery my belly was shaved smooth – except for a single solitary hair. Amusingly, the shearing stopped just below my chest leaving a thick mat of chest hair in stark contrast to the desolate plains below. Staring at it, I could only imagine how much it was all going to itch in a week or two.
“Look!”, I pulled up on it to show Jodie.
“Do you want me to shave it?”, she laughed.
“Ha ha ouch No! ouch Stop! OUCH!”, I laughed in pain.
Laughter might be the best medicine, but when you’re three days post-op the combination of bruising, incisions, and gas make it a painful endeavor.
Ironically, Jodie and I had chosen Kaylee and my discharge to introduce our girls to The Simpsons, starting with Season One. The early episodes are absolutely hilarious – and excruciatingly painful.
Eat your veggies
Almost a year ago I gave up meat, dairy, processed foods & refined sugars and switched over to a plant-based diet to help fight the symptoms of, what I would eventually find out, was prostate cancer. One of the less talked about benefits of being on a plant-based diet is that you’re seldom constipated.
Right. Where am I going with this?
Well, my surgeon warned me that, after surgery, it could take upwards of a week to drop a deuce. While I was recovering at UCSD my nurse, Dan, even joked with me that bowel movements were cause for a celebration, or pizza party. When my kids were smaller I used to read them a child’s book titled, subtly, “Everyone Poops” that, through cute pictures, explained that bowel movements and their precursor, farting, were not-so-subtle signs that the digestive tract was working again. I wonder if my surgeon and nurse had read the same book?
I don’t want to brag but I cleared this particular hurdle in 4 days flat with flying colors. My advice to anyone preparing for surgery? Eat your veggies!
You’ll need to get crafty
A support patch was literally glued to my upper thigh during surgery to guide the hoses of my catheter bag. It didn’t take long for the adhesive to start failing to the point where the support was literally, and painfully, hanging by a few hairs. The support is not something that I wanted to fail, either; if it did I’d risk the full weight of the catheter bag pulling on my … well, yeah, you get it.
As such, five days after surgery was “Arts and Crafts Day”. Jodie helped me cobble together an assortment of medical tape, large band-aids, and alcohol pads. After multiple failed attempts I ended up MacGyver’ing the support back into place with moleskin and medical tape. Unfortunately, I had to reinforce my handiwork daily with more and more layers.
Later, when my catheter was being removed my nurse offered to remove the support, which was now buried under layer upon layer of tape. However, after eyeing the layers of adhesive, matted leg hair, and irritated skin I quickly stopped her.
“I’ll, uh. I’ll just take care of that home … I think…”, I told her.
The support, sans tubing, remained glued to my leg like a barnacle for more than a week after my catheter was removed before I gained the courage to rip it off. Yeah, it hurt. My daughters learned some new words that day, too.
Healing in Quarantine, with Kids
My discharge from the hospital coincided with the beginning of a state-wide Coronavirus quarantine, the closure of my daughters’ elementary school, and a powerful urge to re-admit myself to the sanctity of the hospital. Just a handful of days into recovery it was obvious that my daughter Kaylee, who had broken her elbow and also had surgery on the day of my surgery, was healing much faster than I was.
“Kaylee, please be more careful so that we don’t have to go to the hospital again!”, Jodie said in a stern voice as Kaylee banged her cast against the wall.
“I’m a kid! Let me live my life!”, Kaylee yelled back with the hint of a smile.
Kaylee’s cast had become a battering ram. I could often hear her coming before I saw her as she dragged it along walls and bumped it into things. My sister-in-law, Jayme, sewed her a cool piggie sling, but she preferred to go without it. I felt sorry for her. There’s nothing worse than having a cast and none of your friends can get close enough to you to sign it. Kaylee, being Kaylee took it in stride.
I’m No Superman
Originally I had planned to work during my recovery and not take any time off. It took me two weeks and the urging of my wife and friends before I realized how naive I was. Trying to work while recovering from surgery was ambitious; doing the same during a global pandemic while learning how to homeschool my kids was borderline insanity. It took a music video to finally convince me. If you have cancer or a chronic disease and haven’t watched Jimmy Charles’ music video, Superman, you should. I applied for short term disability the next day.
Recovering from surgery is hard, but good food and help makes it a lot easier.
My wife is a genius in the kitchen, but even genius needs a break now and then. Fortunately, my sister-in-law, Jayme, set up a meal train to help my family and I with our recovery. To complicate the endeavor, Jodie and I eat only plant-based meals ( with the occasional sushi thrown in ). I was impressed by the number of families that took up the challenge and brought us home cooked meals.
When our friends weren’t bringing us meals, they were bringing us groceries. The Coronavirus had managed to turn the simple task of grocery shopping into an arduous and risky endeavor requiring masks, gloves, and space that neither Jodie nor I were willing to take on. Although we worked through the intricacies of Amazon Prime, it’s [lack of] Delivery Windows, and Food Shortages, it was our friends that kept our refrigerator full.
My surgeon told me that to promote healing and reduce the risk of blood clots that I should get up and walk often, so I did. And, as standing proved to be more comfortable than sitting, I did a lot of that too. With my catheter bag in hand I would pace our backyard like a caged tiger, talk to my girls as they bounced ( Ashley ) or laid with her broken arm ( Kaylee ) on the trampoline, listen to Podcasts, and chat with friends and family on the phone. According to my iWatch I was walking over two miles a day and standing for eight after just three days of recovery. Good, right?
“So new development. Are swollen balls normal? I remember you said everything would be black and blue ….”, I texted to my friend, Pat, who had undergone the same surgery as me two years prior.
“TOTALLY swollen is normal”, Pat texted me back.
“This would be pretty hilarious if they weren’t, in fact, my balls.”, I replied.
“THAT is what I was talking about! I am 2 for 2 so far! The gas can’t even be explained and the swelling is grossly strange, but totally normal!” , Pat replied.
“Thank you for being there to share this awkwardly painful yet hilarious moment, Pat.”, I replied.
At this point my wife caught wind of our conversation and, wanting to help, fired off a message of her own.
“Can he ice his balls? Like after his vasectomy? I keep offering him frozen peas but he doesn’t think it will help.”, Jodie asked.
“It’ll help a little – not a lot though. There is a lot of fluid that will dissipate over time. It’ll probably take 1-3 days.”, Pat replied.
“In 1-3 days I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to sit on them like a pair of bean bags, Pat.”, I replied.
“Don’t sit on them.”, Pat replied.
“Lol. Alight, if you don’t hear from me tomorrow I rolled over in the night and they smothered me in my sleep. Thanks, Pat.”
Turns out having huge cajones isn’t manly at all – it’s just painful. Over the process of a week mine swelled into grapefruit-sized monstrosities and ultimately merged into one enormous uniball. It hung low, it swung to and fro, and it put me at the awkward crossroads of laughter, terror, and pain. Fortunately I found a jockstrap stuck to the back of my sock drawer. With a heave and a snap I managed to corral the beast.
I just need support
Around the same time that this was transpiring my sister-in-law, Jayme, sewed Kaylee a new sling to support her cast. The sling was made of fabric with tiny cute little pigs embroidered all over it. Kaylee, of course, loved it. Realizing that I also needed support, I fired off a quick text message to Jayme.
“Can you sew me a sling like the one you made Kaylee to support my ball?”, I asked Jayme.
“I could….”, she replied.
“He needs a soft cushion to elevate it.”, Jodie interrupted.
“Can you use this fabric so that it feels at home?”, I asked, sending her a picture of soft, luxurious, Chewbacca-like fur.
“I can sew a soft pillow, yes. Just give me the required dimensions.”, Jayme replied
“My ball is approximately 13” in diameter.”, I responded while trying to maintain a straight face.
“Holy F**** Moly!”, Jayme replied.
I had just donned my bathrobe when Ashley sidled up next to me.
“Dad, why’s the floor wet?”. Ashley asked me.
“I dunno, maybe I spilled a little water?”, I replied, motioning to the half-full glass in my hand.
“It’s not your bag?”, she asked, eyeing the half-full catheter bag I had just hooked onto the pocket of my robe.
“Nope. I’m incredibly careful with it!”, I smiled, proudly.
She shrugged and headed downstairs for breakfast. I glanced at my catheter bag, reassured myself that everything was Kosher, and then for reasons unknown, decided to swing it around like a purse as I walked out of our carpeted bedroom.
“The floor IS wet”, I mumbled to myself.
It was then, after taking a closer look, that I realized that the little metal clip that secured the hose on the bag was unlatched.
Cursing, I grabbed some towels and carpet cleaner and started mopping up the sprinkles.
“Is everything okay up there?”, Jodie yelled from downstairs.
“YES! Great! Everything is great!”, I replied quickly.
After doing my best to clean up the evidence I made my way downstairs and into the kitchen for breakfast,
“Who wants waffles?!?”, I announced, attempting to put the mishap upstairs behind me.
“Yes!”, Ashley and Jodie replied enthusiastically from the adjoining family room.
“I don’t like waffles!”, Kaylee screamed..
“Waffles are just decorative pancakes, Kaylee. They’re made of exactly the same stuff!”, I replied as I started zipping around the kitchen, gathering ingredients.
“Yeeeeoow!”, I yelped in a shriek of terror.
“What! What?”, Jodie’s head whipped around from where she was sitting.
One of the hoses from my catheter bag had caught on a cabinet handle on the center island on which I was making waffles, causing a sharp and uncomfortable tug.
“Wardrobe malfunction!”, I winced, more in shock than in pain. After reassuring myself that everything was still attached I resumed making breakfast.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to make breakfast?”, Jodie, who was now standing next to me, asked.
“Yup, I just need to slow down. This thing is incredibly awkward and has hoses sticking out everywhere. I almost ripped off my …Uh”, I replied looking down at the girls who had joined us to see what the commotion was.
“What, dad? What happened …..”, they asked in unison.
Not ready for an impromptu “Sex Ed” I quickly extracted a waffle from the iron, cut in in half, and plopped the pieces down on a couple of plates.
“Breakfast is ready!”, I interrupted, handing the plates to them.
Catheter Removal Fail
After almost two weeks my catheter was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. I was looking forward to getting it removed – and was profoundly disappointed when it wasn’t.
On the big day Jodie and I literally “plugged” the kids into their tablets and phones before racing to my appointment at UCSD. Our friend, Lora, volunteered to be our virtual babysitter; we set up a Zoom teleconference between her and the kids before leaving.
As soon as I dropped my pants and my massive uniball erupted forth it was obvious this launch was going to be scrubbed.
“You have some pretty severe swelling”, the nurse said.
The nurse was reluctant to remove my catheter. The swelling, he told me, could prevent me from being able to urinate and a new catheter would need to be inserted. I was under General Anesthesia when the first catheter was inserted and had no desire to experience the insertion of a second.
“I thought the swelling might be a problem”, I admitted, discouraged.
“I considered photographing them for posterity, but decided against it. Weighing them was an option, too, but the only scale that would have been accurate enough would be our kitchen scale, and I’m not sure I’d ever be able to use it again for cooking if I did so.”, I attempted to joke.
Later, I would learn that my swelling was atypical due to the lymph node dissection performed by my surgeon. Because my scans had indicated that my cancer had spread outside my prostate into at least one lymph node, he had removed it along with about twenty others. The missing lymph nodes would normally drain the swelling. As the lymph nodes were now incognito, the nurse told me that it would take longer for the swelling to go down. He urged me to stay off my feet for the next few days and scheduled another appointment three days later to try again.
I started pulling up my pants when the nurse stopped me.
“Uh … before you go, you’re scheduled for a Lupron shot, correct?”, he asked.
Rolling my eyes I sighed, “Yes”.
I dropped my pants again and waited for the inevitable shot to the butt.
The walk back to the car was brutal. Although the appointment left me disappointed and frustrated, I had developed severe chills and aches while waiting in the cold exam room. This was followed by chattering teeth, a headache, and by the time I was finally discharged, stiffness in my legs. Jodie lent me her jacket for warmth and her arm for support and we waddled, slowly, to the parking garage.
“I was told to walk as much as I could!”, I told Jodie through chattering teeth as she turned on the heater and seat warmer, “I was told the missing lymph nodes wouldn’t be a problem.”
“Yeah, I know.”, she replied.
When we arrived back home we discovered that the girls hadn’t budged an inch. They were playing Minecraft on their tablets with their friends.
“You’re back already?”, Kaylee shouted from her perch on the couch.
“We’ve been gone for three hours!”, Jodie and I said in unison.
“Have you guys even moved?”, I asked angrily while slowly making my way up the stairs.
Man I felt like crap. The chills had now progressed into a pounding migraine.
“I’m going to …. to take a nap, guys. I’ll be down in a little while.”, I said.
Shivering, I flopped into bed, pulled as many blankets on top of me as I could, turned the electric blanket up to 11, and quickly fell asleep. Over the next few hours my chills turned to fever, then back to chills, and finally, mercifully disappeared altogether.
There will be good days, and there will be bad days.
“Yesterday”, I told myself, “was a bad day,”
I was sitting on a small metal bench situated in the corner of my backyard that faced my house. Inside I could see my daughters playing at the kitchen table.
The last couple of weeks had been rough, but at least I was recovering …
“Or at least I thought I was….”, I grumbled while staring at my catheter bag.
At least the weird chills and fever had diminished. Initially, I was a little concerned that I might have contracted the Coronavirus, but the symptoms had disappeared as fast as they had come on.
“And I haven’t been around anyone other than my family”, I reassured myself.
And then it dawned on me. It was probably the two tablets of Bactrim, an antibiotic, that were prescribed to me on the day that my catheter was to be removed. The timing was perfect. I’d have to take the same antibiotic again for the next catheter removal attempt. If I got the same symptoms again I’d know for sure.
“If the catheter comes out…”, I said to myself.
And then it was everything all at once.
“Are you okay?”, Jodie asked me.
I looked up and turned to see that Jodie was sitting beside me. I wiped the tears from my eyes and took a deep breath before replying.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be okay”, I said, “It’s just been too much. I think I’ve been trying to do too much. I’ve been trying to keep everything from falling apart when, in fact, the only thing falling apart was me.”
“I think it’s the … hormone therapy. It screws with my emotions”, I lied.
Jodie smiled and nodded. She wasn’t buying it, but was pretending to nonetheless. The kids, at this point, had joined us on the small bench.
“Dad, are you crying? Are you okay?”, Ashley asked me.
“Is Daddy going to be okay?”, Kaylee asked Jodie.
I took a deep breath, wiped off the rest of my tears on the sleeve of my bathrobe, looked up at my kids, and did my best to smile.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m going to be okay. Everything is going to be fine. It’s just been a rough few days. I think I’ve been trying to do too much.”, I confided.
They looked at me with concern. I grabbed each of their hands and gave them a tight squeeze.
“Everything is going to be okay, I promise!”, I emphasized.
And it would be, too. I’d make sure of it. Over the next few days leading up to my follow up appointment I was going to do the impossible – I was going to do as little as possible.
Pop the Cork
My chills returned shortly after downing one of two Bactrim tablets that were prescribed to me for my followup appointment. The chills, as expected, progressed throughout the day into the same symptoms I had at my last appointment. Next time I met with my oncologist I’d let him know, in the meantime it was time to get my catheter removed – for real this time.
Just like last time we set the kids up on the couch, surrounded them with electronic devices, and set them up on a Zoom Conference. The drive to UCSD was a quick endeavor as well; with everyone confined to their houses there was, just like on our last trip, absolutely no traffic.
For round two I had a different nurse, an older jovial lady that I couldn’t help but like.
“Okay, ready? I’ll need you to lie down and pull down your pants.”, the nurse told me.
“But, we just met!”, I joked.
She laughed and got down to business.
The process of removing a catheter was a bit of a surprise. They literally pump you full of 250mL of saline, pull the catheter, and have you pee it all out. 250ml is uncomfortable after having an empty bladder for almost two weeks. It was delivered through five syringes – I know because I counted each and every one.
The catheter itself popped out with a flash of pain, followed by ( you guessed it ) 250mL of saline. It was a messy affair. I immediately tugged on a diaper, which caused me to dribble a little bit, followed by my shoes which caused me to dribble a little more.
I looked up at the nurse with a slightly disgusted look.
She told me that having a catheter had weakened my pelvic muscles. The dribbling would subside over time as my pelvic muscles strengthened and that I would need to do exercises, called Kegels, to help strengthen them.
I managed a smile, and then slowly, the smile got bigger. A huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I had healed enough to begin the next steps in my recovery and, hopefully, dealt my cancer a blow from which it would never recover.
Jodie and I left the exam room, found our car in the parking lot, merged onto the 56 East, and headed home to rejoin the girls at home.
I didn’t dribble the entire way.
Take care. Stay healthy. Live life. And thank you for your support.