Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the month “January, 2016”

Understanding Pain And Temperature


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Unless you have spent any time in the deep south, the following statement is probably going to be met with a major “eye roll” and a comment under the breath, “yeah, right,” but waking up to 43 degrees was not only cold, not only painful, but also reminded me of a condition that I have not had to deal with in over two years since I moved to Florida.

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The picture on the left shows the remnants of winter storm Jonas, with an actual amount of 31.9 inches of snow.  I missed this storm living in Florida.  But in the picture on the right, the second most snowfall occurred back in 1983, which I was a senior in high school.  The remaining three storms like this, were following my battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and the last two following heart surgery.

Why do I bring this up?

Treatments from over 25 years ago have left me dealing with some late issues with my body that developed over time.  During cold temperatures, I am reminded of one of those issues.

I cannot recall exactly how my lungs felt prior to my heart surgery in 2008, but I do know that following my surgery, my temperature tolerance dropped about 10 degrees.  Up in the north, I learned to deal with this issue by wearing wool over my mouth and nose, and wearing extra clothes to stay warm.  When did I have to start doing this?  Once the temperature went below 60 degrees.  My cooler weather apparel was often met with mockery, and only those who deal with similar issues can know what I was physically feeling.

The first thing that hits me is breathing in the cold air.  The only way to describe the feeling is that my lungs instantly freeze up solid like a brick.  Your lungs need to expand, and my lungs will not.  My current lung capacity has been measured at 76% from progress damage due to radiation therapy.  In fact, the lower lobe of my left lung is completely “dead”.  The only way for me to get relief, since inhalers do not work, is to get into a warm environment as soon as possible.  The “thawing” out of my lungs if you will, can take up to about a half an hour, possibly more.

But in the meantime, two other issues appear once the cold hits my lungs.  I often begin to have an anxiety attack, at the panic of my restrictive lung disease.  And with that, my breathing becomes even more difficult, the anxiety gets worse, and then the pain hits.  Again, the best way to describe the feeling, is my muscles, especially in my back and hips “constrict” like a boa constrictor is squeezing me.  Again, there is no relief other than thawing out.

My late developing issues from treatments for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma are progressive.  There is only one thing I can do, and that is “manage”.  There is no cure, no reversing what has happened to my body.  My moving to Florida I thought would have helped with this particular issue.  But recently, our weather has turned colder down here.  No, I know I will never volunteer for sub-freezing temps again, or major snowfalls, so I will state that my friends and family in the north will deal with much worse when it comes to cold temperatures.  But for me, 43 is cold enough to remind me what my body has gone through, and still has to deal with.

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Beautiful But Deadly


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Yes, quite a lovely photo.  This picture was taken back in 2010, but I can easily envision the same sight in 2016 from my current home in Florida.  The snow is quite beautiful.  There is a peaceful aroma that comes with a large snowfall, as well as the chilling silence.  Once the snow has finished falling, you will begin to hear the echoes of snowblowers, and neighbor helping neighbor to shovel out from the unsuspecting amount of snow.

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The amounts of the current snowfall, while pictured here, have been stated up to 30″ localized, meaning some pocketed areas could see larger amounts.

As a child, these were amounts that we could only dream of.  Undoubtedly, school would be missed because it would take literally days to dig out, and often times, areas were without electricity.  But that was of no concern to us.  We were more than happy to grab a shovel, and start taking care of sidewalks and driveways because that would mean one thing, SNOW FORTS!

Shoveling snow as a child however is much different than it is for an adult.  And even if we are in our most fit condition, shoveling snow can be dangerous, if not lethal.

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Of course, we hear the warnings all the time.  And we also hear of the tragedies.

In 2008, I underwent emergency heart surgery to perform a double bypass.  But unlike millions of adults, my cardiac issue was not related to weight or diet, but rather long term effects from cancer therapies.  So, it should not come as a surprise that being fairly physically fit and active, when we got hit with snowfalls, especially in the Winter of 2007/2008, I did not plan on taking any precautions when it came to shoveling.  I just simply went out and did it.

Prior to my heart surgery, for a period of 4 months, it turned out, I was having symptoms of a major blockage, often referred to as a “widow maker”.  It is called that for only one reason.  You have a fatal heart attack.  By the time the damage is done, it is usually too late for paramedics to do anything.  My symptom, was fairly simple, but ignored.  After all, as I said, I was in decent shape, and in spite of my father having a major heart attack, I was fairly certain I was not having a heart attack.

From the moment I lifted the first heap of snow, a “tightness” from the middle of my chest to my left shoulder occurred.  And the sensation would last approximately a minute and then go away, and I would continue shoveling.  Now it should mention, the amounts of depth would vary, but my driveway was 30′ x 10′ and I had about 100′ of sidewalk to do every time.

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Now while the picture above is the actual scan from prior to my heart surgery, this was done following less than one minute on a treadmill when I complained about the same symptom as shoveling, and confirming from the EKG that was attached to my chest, that something had just occurred.  Now imagine, this photo was basically showing every time I was shoveling snow (or anything else physical that resulted in that symptom) and what was about to happen.

My cardiologist refers to me as the luckiest man on earth, because I prevented my fatal heart attack by seeking help before it happened.  Yes, I played with fire for 4 months.  The problem for me is I am not a complainer, so I just tolerated the discomfort, and it could have been fatal.

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While I did heal, the winter of 2008/2009 was on us in no time, and without a snow blower, I was faced once again with shoveling snow.  Of course I was going to be careful, but this was clearly an activity I should not have been doing.  And it ended up being a very busy winter with snowfalls.  By the 3rd snowfall of the season, I had finally purchased a snow blower, which got used a lot from then on.

But my warning is no joke.  Most reading this are not young, and perhaps should not be shoveling snow.  And this weekend, so many that I know are going to be busy shoveling out from a major snowstorm.  Please, if you must shovel, and it is still snowing as of this posting, so you hopefully have read this post, please read the warnings from the American Heart Association I have pictured above.  And please, please, be safe.  I have a lot more posts that I would like you to read.

Upcoming Publication


I am once again thrilled and honored to have one of my written pieces being published in the annual anthology called “Visible Ink”, published through Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, more importantly, written by the patients and survivors of MSKCC, of which I am one.  This is my 5th year in a row having a chapter submitted to this anthology.  Last year I was honored among 15 other authors/patients in having last year’s piece performed live in Manhattan.  All of my submissions over the prior 4 years can be found on my “pages” of this blog.  To see the actual performance from last year, titled “My Dad Was Just Like Me,” go to this link:

Visible Ink was such a wonderful opportunity for me, as it is for many others patients and survivors.  It is hard for many to understand how hard it is for us as patients and survivors to convey our feelings.  To be honest, we can accept that a lot of people are just uncomfortable talking about cancer.  And many times, it is not enough just to talk to our doctors, nurses, therapists, and anyone else involved in our care.

Visible Ink is a volunteer peer writing program that assigns each writer a professional writing coach, who assists us in writing not just submissions for this anthology, but for any writing assignment that we choose to take on.  We can be as active or inactive as we choose to be.  But each year, most of us will put together a special chapter that will appear in this annual anthology, much like the “Chicken Soup” books.  Not every chapter is written about cancer either.  Some chapters are about experiences that many of us have had following cancer, things we might now have ever had the chance had we not beaten our cancer.  While those who read this book may feel inspired, hopeful, for the writers, this opportunity is therapeutic.

I have enjoyed writing nearly my entire life.  I took a looooooooonnnnng break from recreational writing (I wrote many opinion columns for newspapers), and several years ago, I was introduced to Visible Ink which I write for, along with “Paul’s Heart”.  As a 25 year cancer survivor, I can still be inspired by all of the stories that I read in this book.  And each year, I get to meet so many of the authors either in person, or just over the internet, but the reaction is still the same, I am inspired.

No clue as to what this year’s chapter is written about, as I will wait until the book is released at the beginning of April.  If you would like to find out how you can buy the book, or any of the previous books, feel free to contact me, or go to Visible Ink at the MSKCC web site, or better yet, if you go to the gift shop, I know that they carry each book from the previous years.

Visible Ink2016

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