Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the month “February, 2019”

No Mistaking Me For The Hulk

As I continue down the path of celebrating 30 years being cancer free from my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, February marks 30 years that I underwent my option of choosing radiation therapy to be my cure.

I have to admit, I made the decision based solely on stereotypes and what I thought would be common sense.  At this point, my cancer was staged to allow me to make the choice between radiation or chemotherapy.  Well, chemotherapy I knew would be tough, because that is all you ever saw publicly.  I had a wedding coming up in less than 4 months, and the last thing I wanted to look like, was someone so decimated and sick on my wedding day.  Yes, men can feel this way about their appearance too.  And radiation?  Well, really, as I understood it, was only going to last around a minute a day, for 30 days.  In my mind, just like going through an X-ray.  Easily done, and would not be visible when I got married.

I may have been told a lot of information about what would happen, but to be quite honest, I know I did not hear what I now know about radiation.  Sure, it is very successful at treating Hodgkin’s.  But I was never told about the dosage or the late side effects.  The only thing I was told initially, is that there would be eventual skin burning (like a second degree sunburn), and a chance at developing a secondary cancer (like skin cancer), and an increase chance of pericarditis (enlarged heart).

So, all that was to be done, was “mark me up” with tattoos, actually just 4 dots placed in a cross-hair pattern, at the base of my neck, middle of my abdomen, and on both balls of my shoulders.  This was important to line up the linear accelerator over the same location for all 30 treatments.

Unlike today, where radiation is beamed direct and targeted, back in the 1980’s were we treated “scattered field”, which meant that the radiation would scatter beyond the targeted area.  For this reason, all efforts were made to protect my spine and my heart with the use of lead blocks.  But remember, this was going to be scattered field, and only currently do I realize, the lead blocks really only gave direct impact protection, but not protection from the scattered results.

As I lay on the table for my first treatment, there is an issue with the linear accelerator.  I am asked to get off the table, while the correct the problem.  I think, “thank God.”  But seriously, what if something went wrong, would life imitate art?

The treatment eventually began.  I went Monday through Friday, for six weeks.  Receiving all of my treatments.  I started each day this way, early, which enabled me to not miss any work.  While my skin did begin to burn as predicted, and there was some issue with swallowing from the same issue, I did not get sick.  The treatments would be done, a scan would hopefully predict the radiation did its job, and I could get back on track planning my wedding.  Be done with Hodgkin’s forever.

Radiation changed a lot from the days of using cobalt.

And just as there has been progress from the early days to the 80’s, so much progress has been made in learning that “using less” is actually better, and still as successful.  I will admit that I am not current on just how much radiation is used today, but I know it is considerably less, and instead of “scattered”, focused directly at only the cancer, preventing damage to surrounding organs and tissue, meaning less risks.

Let me put it to you this way, according to Stanford University, my treatment (not known back then) produced the possibility of dying by an increase of 50% because I discovered in recent years, my dosage was 4000 rads.  Today’s patients receive a dosage most likely less than 500 rads, or even lower.  How powerful is radiation?  Even workers at nuclear power plants are not to be exposed to more than 100 rads.

Serious stuff.  But you know what?  It works.  And I am here, approaching 30 years of survivorship.


Have You Had A Stroke And Never Knew It

The timing of treating someone who has suffered a stroke is critical.  Treatment must be started immediately.  But what happens if you do not recognize that the person, or yourself, is having a stroke.

F.A.S.T. has become the easiest method to help recognize a stroke.  F = face drooping, A = arm weakness, S = speech difficulty or slurring, T = time to call 911.  Yes, memorizing FAST can make a difference.  And even a newer expression has come out.

B.E.F.A.S.T.  By adding B = balance, and E = eyes, BE FAST in recognizing the stroke.

But can you have a stroke and not show these symptoms?  Absolutely.

My father had been in the hospital to have a lobectomy (remove part of his lung due to lung cancer).  The surgeon had come up to talk to me following the surgery, as my father lay in recovery, and mentioned that my father was having a longer time coming out of the anesthesia.  This did not seem a concern, since my Dad was in his late 60’s.  He also liked to sleep.  And I am sure there was going to be quite a bit of pain to deal with.  What could be the harm?

He did seem a bit confused at first upon coming to, but we attributed that to the anesthesia and pain medications.  But in the next day or so, we could no longer blame the confusion on medications.

I received a call from my brother that my father was looking for his glasses.  I mentioned they were in a drawer and asked why he needed them.  My brother said that he could not see without them.  He was looking for his cup of coffee and could not see it to pick it up (which happened to be right in front of him on his tray).  While my father did wear glasses, he did not always use them.  He was not completely without clear vision.  He often did things without wearing his glasses.

As I arrived at the hospital, I had just missed an array of physicians who had been looking at my father, including a neurologist.  I do not know why a neurologist was there, I expected the oncologist, the surgeon, maybe the resident, but not a neurologist.  Everything was going well with my dad’s recovery.  Well, except for his eating.

While I normally follow rules, I was concerned because my dad was not eating right.  I stopped by the cafeteria to get him some more tasty foods instead of what he was being served.  I purchased mozzarella sticks which I knew he liked.  Surely he would eat them.

I asked if he had his dentures in his mouth, so that he could eat, and he had said yes.  But as I could see from the sunkenness of his jawline, he did not have them in.  I asked him where his cup with the false teeth were, and he proceeded to argue with me, quite clearly that he had them in his mouth.  He then proceeded to open his mouth, and with his thumb and pointer finger, attempted to pull out his dentures.  Only one problem, they were not in his mouth.  And he kept trying to pull what was not there out.

Quickly I found the cup, opened it for him, and he shrugged his shoulders, and placed the dentures in his mouth.  Now I was getting confused.  He seriously thought he had his false teeth in his mouth.  And not only surprised to see the cup in my hand, but never giving a second thought to the argument he just had with me.

I gave my dad the mozzarella sticks.  He took one, bit into it…

“How did they make these so soft?  They are really good this way.”

“Dad, they are mozzarella sticks, they are soft.”

And then I heard all I needed…

“No.  They are carrot sticks.”

My father had a sense of humor, but not when it came to messing around like that.  He was not a practical joker.

“No Dad.  They are mozzarella sticks.”

“Really, because they taste like carrots.”

I looked to my brother and told him to get the nurse right away.  Something was wrong.

When the nurse came in, I explained to her what had happened.  I stressed this was not normal behavior for my dad.  She called the neurologist back into the room.  I explained what just happened to him, and his response was that he had just seen my father and felt he was fine.  Talked clearly, showed no signs of anything wrong.  And then he grabbed a piece of paper and a pen.  He placed it in front of my father.

“Mr. Edelman, I would like you to draw a vertical line through every horizontal line.”

My father thought it was foolish, but proceeded anyway.  He put the pen down, and the neurologist then asked my dad if he was finished.  My father answer yes.  The neurologist asked, “are you sure?” and proceeded to shift the paper to the right, about 3 inches.  At this point, my father realized that he had left the 3 columns on the left uncrossed.  Puzzled himself, my father then put vertical lines through the rest of the horizontal lines.

Then, the neurologist had my father get out of the bed, something he had not done yet, and in just the few steps my father took, you could see the lean towards one direction, the only direction he could so, to the right.

A head scan would reveal my father suffered two major strokes, most likely during surgery or recovery.  He did not show the signs of “FAST”, and just by conversation, the neurologist did not notice anything.  But were it not for the fact of the noticeable change in behavior, something so obvious, we would never have discovered my father had had these strokes.  Sure, two days had passed, but with medication, he would eventually recover from the strokes, to be able to deal with his cancer.

BEFAST when it comes to noticing a stroke, but also, pay attention to behavior.  The test given to my father which revealed the possibility of a stroke is far from scientific, but my father’s inability to see from the left side was all that was necessary to hint at the stroke.  And we went from there.

Gong Xi Fa Cai 2019

What a fun time of year if you are of Asian heritage, or have a connection to someone who celebrates this time of year.

Many non-Asians proclaim “Happy Chinese New Year” when in fact, it is not only the Chinese that celebrate the Lunar New Year, such as the Korean and Vietnamese do also.  Along with being referred to as the Lunar New Year, this time period is also known as the Spring Festival.

Having two children adopted from China, I have learned so much about this time of year, either from other Chinese, or research.  But if there is one thing I have learned from the Chinese, and that I definitely admire about the people of China, something we have over the years lacked, appreciation and commitment to tradition.

The whole purpose of the new year, is to literally send off the old bad stuff of the prior year, and welcome only the good.  Family travel back home to be with each other.  It is amazing.  While China does not completely shut down, a major amount of its people make the travels back home to celebrate the new year.  Preparations begin up to a week before the new year celebration begins, in this case, today, February 5th and will continue until February 19th!  TWO WEEKS OF CELEBRATING!!!  I have personally witnessed this.

I landed in Hong Kong with just three days left of the Lunar New Year to adopt my youngest daughter.  Those three days were filled with fireworks, dragons, and lots of joy and hope.

And just for the record, the firecrackers and fireworks go around the clock, day and night.  The purpose, to “scare” away the evil spirits.  The first night of sleep only occurred because of exhaustion from the sixteen hour flight.  In the days after landing, we joined in many of the traditions to welcoming the new year.  And there are many.

2019 is the year of the Pig, the 12th and final animal of the Asian zodiac.  Legend has it that the animals were numbered in the order that they arrived at the Jade emperor’s party.  There are actually several stories.

Every day of this time period has a particular meaning behind it celebrating different things, culminating in the Lantern Festival at the end of the celebration.

Saying Happy New Year is not so easy either, in the Chinese language alone, there are so many dialects, to the translation has just as many differences.  And deep within the Chinese, are more than fifty different ethnic minorities.  Mandarin and Cantonese are the more common dialects.

When family return home, they visit their elders first, bringing gifts.  The elders in turn give red envelopes, usually with money inside, to help the younger to get a better start on the new year, also for blessings and good luck.  These envelopes are also given to friends for good luck and blessings.

Now if you have ever heard of the expression “kowtowing”, here is where at least one origin of the expression comes from.  To show proper respect to your elder, you “kowtow”, which literally means to knock your head to the floor.  So that you do not get hurt, you kneel, bend over placing your hands on the ground, putting your head on your hands.

Clark Griswald would have a field day decorating for the Lunar New Year.  Because it was believed, a horrible monster named Nian would terrorize villages every year, The celebration was believed to chase Nian back to where he came from.  You will see lots and lots of red, because red is the color of luck and prosperity.  Fantastic decorations of hand crafted paper cut-outs referred to as “window flowers”, either symbols or animals, displaying door “gods” or particular words, all meant to chase away Nian.

You will not starve during the festival.  Spring rolls, dumplings, noodles, fish, and rice cakes are in huge supply.  There are plenty of vegetables and fruit.  Enjoy drinking the many wines or one of my favorite international beers when I partake, TsingTao beer.  And do not forget teas.

You want to dress to celebrate the festival?  You do not have to go out and buy any Asian silk clothing, though there is a beauty to the clothing, the main thing is to wear something new.  Wearing something red?  A bonus.

There are plenty of myths to learn about during this time of year to appreciate just how wonderful a time period you are celebrating.  And of course, with the pig being the final animal of the zodiac calendar, that ends the twelve year cycle.

But beware, there are things you should not do during this time.  Negative words are out, not just “no”, but bad words with negative connotations.  Do not break anything, especially dishes.  For many, this one is easy, no cleaning or sweeping.  This is to be done before the festivities start.  Once started, it is all about good things, and if you have cleaned properly, you have swept all the bad away.  Stay away from sharp objects like knives and scissors.  It is believed that these will cut your wealth and success.  That includes getting a hair cut.  Because traditionally, the brides move in with the groom’s family, there is no visiting the bride’s family.  To do so would indicate marriage problems.  There is no worry about debts or repayments during this time.  The time is for celebrating, not for collecting debts.  No fighting or crying.  Do not wish new year blessings while still in bed, lest you risk the person being bed-ridden the rest of the year.

Giving gifts during the celebration?  No clocks (associated with paying last respects as time runs out), apples (because the dialect sounds like someone has died).  But cash, cash is king.  Put it in a red envelope to wish the recipient a prosperous, happy, wealthy new year.

Every year, I celebrate the new year with my daughters.  Not during the entire time period, but at least during certain days.  I have already had our meal with each other, and will do so again before the end of the celebration, and of course, they will get red envelopes.  It is important to me as their father that they continue to celebrate their heritage with them.

Gong Xi Fa Choy everyone!!!  The best to everyone!!!


*traditions and other information researched from the website



Post Navigation