Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the month “June, 2020”

Adopt! Don’t Shop!

It is perhaps the best slogan/advertisement.  Easy enough to remember.  Just three words, “adopt, don’t shop.”

I got triggered this morning, because of all ads to appear on my news feed, is the advertisement for a new pet store that is opening today.  In general, I am not opposed to pet stores, just those that sell dogs and cats.  And this is one that does sell those cute and cuddly kittens and puppies.  It is also a chain of stores.

I am not sharing a snapshot of the advertisement because I do not want to draw attention to their disgusting business.  But I noticed something when I responded to the ad, with an angry emoji, and an explanation of why pet stores that sell pets really should not be in business, a sentiment echoed by others on that same ad.  Later in the day, the comments and ability to “like” or dislike the ad were turned off and the negative comments were removed.  And then, more ads for the same store came across my feed, and before I could respond on those, as any advocate would do, the ability to comment was also turned off.  So far I count at least six attempts for them to try and get some positive exposure.  But as I mentioned, this is a chain store, and that means that people who had negative experiences will share those negative experiences in any perspective new locations.

Instead of just facing on the criticism, the most frequent complaint, selling puppy mill puppies, their first line of defense is “deny, deny, deny.”

Semantics is defined by Websters as the “language used to have a desired effect.”  In other words, pet stores deny that they buy from puppy mills.  And technically they would be correct.  Except they have a middle man called a broker.  This broker goes from puppy mill to puppy mill, then sells those cute and cuddly puppies to the pet stores.  Semantics.

How can I prove this?  Simple, I went through the experience.

This was Pollo, an eight week old Golden Retriever.  OMG he was so cute and cuddly.  I really had no business going into the pet store in the first place.  I was leaving on a week long trip in two weeks.  Really bad timing.  But he was sooooo cute.  I had to have him.

Pet stores know what they are doing.  They know we cannot resist puppies.  Why do you think people avoid walking into animal shelters, because they know there is a good chance they will walk out with a rescue, because we have hearts and empathy.  But to be able to get a puppy and start from the beginning?  They are just so cute!

And then, if you are unfortunate, you find out there is an ugly truth behind where he came from.

Pollo loved the water.  At around the age of six months, he experienced an episode that I ended up carrying his limp body into the vet hospital.  I never did find out what happened to him, but he did recover.  To help the vet, I figured it would be helpful if I got the health history of his parents and I approached the pet store for his vet records.  That is when I ran into an unbelievable roadblock and in the end, discovered that Pollo came from a puppy mill in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania area.

This is not a photo of the exact Amish farm that Pollo came from, but it is very similar to the image of where he came from.  I know this, because of my efforts of involving the USDA, the Pennsylvania Department Of Agriculture and Dog Warden, journalists and more.  As we got close to the truth, circumstances got bizarre in that evidence of any puppy activity had been relocated, we would later discover to another family member, a common tactic to avoid regulation and discovery of these awful conditions.  All because the pet store fought me on some simple and basic information.  The pet store, Pollo, and I all ended up on People’s Court over this very issue.  Needless to say, they lost.

Other than that one fateful day, I enjoyed nearly fifteen years with my best friend, known affectionately as “the Happy Golden,” a nickname because of his non-stop wagging tail and always giving the appearance of him smiling.  My fur family member went to the Rainbow Bridge nearly seven years ago, breaking my heart, but not my resolve.  I am unable to have another dog yet, emotionally.  But I will still advocate for awareness of the need to adopt the many pets that are abandoned, lost, or even rescued.

It has been a long time since I got involved in this effort, the last time happened when that same pet store opened a new location where I was living previously.  But as this new pet store is opening today, with lots of fun and excitement, and get this, $500 off the price of a new puppy.  THIS IS DISGUSTING!!!!

The puppy mill industry is a billion dollar industry for the Amish and other groups.  And the more puppies you buy, the longer they are all just too willing to meet the demand.  Remember the picture above.  I have seen situations way worse, and it is only because of pet stores selling their merchandise.  Stop buying puppies from pet stores, and the demand stops.  It is that simple.

There are all kinds of ways to adopt pets, even puppies if that is a requirement.  There are animal shelters, humane societies, and even breed specific organizations.  There are so many ways to adopt a wonderful fur friend who has been abandoned or lost, unable to be found by its owner.

But the demand needs to end for puppies from puppy mills, and that starts with stop buying dogs and cats from pet stores.

Living With Survivor’s Guilt

Have you ever had one of those moments, either walking or driving by someone or something, and your head snaps back because you thought you saw something but were not quite sure?  That is what happened to me yesterday.  I was flipping through television channels, a skill that I have mastered, knowing I only have to spend less than a second to know if it is going to be something that I might be interested in.

The man pictured above had survived the worst that Covid19 could do to him short of dying.  He experienced the Acute Respiratory Syndrome (ARS, the pnuemonia diagnosis normally fatal) as well as sepsis, which by itself is fatal.  At the age of 37, he spent weeks in the hospital.  In his interview, he says, “the hardest part for me is seeing how many people die from Covid19, why did I live?  And everybody else died.”

This emotional issue is called “Survivor’s Guilt.”

There are two myths about “Survivor’s Guilt.”  The first, often this term was used for those who had served in the military, previously called “shell shock”, “battle fatigue,” among others.  But at some point, during the 1980’s, some events in our history resulted in people having survived natural disasters dealing with emotional survival issues especially when there were mass casualties were associated with it.  And then, upon the completion of my cancer treatments, though not diagnosed officially until 2008, I developed what was definitely called “Survivor’s Guilt.”

Myth number two, just because someone experiences “Survivor’s Guilt,” does not mean they wish that they had not survived, want to die, or are ungrateful.  Quite the contrary.

I first can trace my Survivor Guilt issue, to the first cancer patient that I counseled following my cancer treatments.  She was a fourteen year old girl at the time, and she had the exact same cancer that I did.  I have her story, called “Jennifer’s Story” on the page section of my blog.  But in summary, she would not survive her Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  She would never hear the words remission.  And as I visited with her over the three years, I often sat across from her mother while visiting with Jennifer, wondering what might be going through her mother’s mind as I sat there, cured of the same cancer her child would die from.

Jennifer was the first experience I had with survivor guilt, and I would have many more experiences like this over my thirty years.  And it would not just occur with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma directly, but the first half of my thirty years of survival were issue free, whereas so many I knew were dealing with harsh late developing side effects, but not me.  Some would die as well from those issues.  And then of course, I would join that club of long term survivors with late effects, and deal with at least four issues that were serious enough to cost me my life if not dealt with promptly and correctly.  And yet, here I am, while other survivors did not survive theirs, and of course, still other Hodgkin’s survivors as well not making remission.

“Why do I live, when others die?”

Make no mistake, I am definitely glad to have survived all of these years.  I have been blessed with two wonderful daughters and watch them grow, and I even count on being able to see many of their adult years.  I believe that I have a good team of doctors and specialists, and just as important, a support network of survivors that no one could have imagined back before the 1990’s and the internet.

I just wish that every one  that I crossed paths with, could have had that same opportunity as me.  And I cannot make those feelings stop.

It took a therapist specializing in cancer survivorship to explain “Survivorship Guilt.”  I spent years in therapy for this, to discover that there were other issues associated with my cancer journey that complicated things.  And then there was life as well and the many issues that came up.  Soon, my cancer issues and survivor guilt often found themselves taking a backseat to employer related discrimination issues, other family member medical issues, family deaths, and divorces.  Sure, those not going through cancer, deal with all of those issues on a daily basis, some deal with all, some maybe one or two of the issues.  But when you throw in cancer, survivorship, and it effects, it really complicates things, and that is when peer survivors and professional therapists make a difference.

But wait, “do you mean seeing a shrink?”  Right, that stigma and stereotype, only crazy people need to see a psychiatrist.

I promise you, there is not one survivor I know, or have ever known, who has had the counsel of a therapist that would have matched the stereotype or deserving of the stigma.  Some of my fellow survivors find it sufficient just to relate with another survivor, but some have feelings much stronger, and I encourage anyone who feels that way, needing more than their peers, their friends, even their significant other, to seek out a therapist.  It really makes a difference.

I still have my survivor’s guilt after thirty years.  I have said goodbye to so many.  But I have so many that remind me every day, that there is a reason I am still here.  Because I offer them the same support, and remind them of the same things, that there are so many that depend on our survival.  Until any of us possess the power to make the sun rise and set, form ocean waves, or make snow fall, we just have to accept that things happen the way that they do, just because.

But there is going to be a new large population of people who are going to survive this horrific virus, Covid19, and because of how contagious it is, many are likely to lose loved ones and friends.  And like the gentleman above, left to wonder why them, and not the others.

As a country, we need to do better to offer better emotional help not just to those with the obvious issues, but also those who survive traumas whether it be war, a car accident, a natural disaster, cancer, or a pandemic.  There are too many of us that struggle with this to just be forgotten to deal with on our own.

Seeing Is Believing

Medical records.  The most important thing about you, that you should always have at your disposal.  I am not talking about your annual check-ups or flu shots necessarily, but then again, always a good thing to keep up to date on your health.  I am talking about when you face an important challenge to your health.

Up until recently, it was difficult and at times very expensive, in spite of it being your right, to obtain a copy of a hospital visit without jumping through all kinds of hoops, and signing a form to finance the expense of obtaining the pages of your file (yes, I know, that is an exaggeration but at $.25 a page for something that is rightfully mine?).  Today, many hospitals across the country are now using a computer program to do what we had to do physically when seeing another doctor, sharing our records.

This new technology has helped to share our information between medical providers, but it also has given us, the patients easier, and less expensive access to our records.  Sure, you will not get the actual play by play, but you will at least get the summaries of your status and most results.

But how important is this?

When I had my open heart surgery in 2008, and it was discovered that it was attributed to the late developing side effects from my cancer treatments eighteen years earlier, I enrolled in a “survivorship clinic” at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.  There were only a few of these clinics in the country at that time, where as now much more available at most major cancer centers.

One of the first things that I was asked to submit, was my cancer files for my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  Not thinking anything of it, I reached out to the hospital that treated me with radiation therapy, and my oncologist office that treated me with chemotherapy.  I ran into a problem.  I was able to locate my radiation therapy records, most likely due to the fact there are regulations pertaining to radiation exposure and keeping records.  But it turns out, my records with my oncologist, who I was no longer seeing, were destroyed.  Or as the office receptionist put it, “were burned in a fire.”  My initial thoughts were empathy thinking that their office had experienced a tragic loss from fire, then I realized she probably meant that they purged records of older patients by incinerating them, believing that there would never be a need for them.  And the fact that I was now asking for those records, she did not want to risk legal action by admitting they had intentionally destroyed my records.

So with only half of the information, my doctor took that data, and combined with his own research, using a very resourceful system of the Childrens Oncology Group, who had established a standardized guideline of follow up care, as well as exposures and risks, and was able to estimate, what dosages I received and of what.

From there, it was just a matter of running all of the tests necessary to figure out what I was likely dealing with.  The picture above just mentioned preliminary estimations of what was already known.  There are now an additional two pages that go with that page.

I learned back in 2008, I needed to maintain my own records.  Sure, all the doctors had their own records, and normally, access to them was not an issue, but at times, time consuming.  Of course today, computer systems now provide multiple levels of access to health records.  But it will still not eliminate the need for any patient, cancer or not, to keep track of their own records.

You do not know if you will have to deal with a provider who is lazy or have an issue with their ego, and pay any attention to your history, that they want to do everything themselves.  I have run into those situations in the past.

I have a simple system currently, though could be condensed, and I am working on it.  I have a back pack, very cumbersome, that has all of my records since 2008.  I wear a med alert bracelet that has simple directions on it, to look in my wallet for small laminated cards, that has each and every diagnosis I deal with, as well as the doctors to contact for assistance with my care.

And because one of my most serious issue, is not having a spleen, it is important that if I happen to have a first responder or nurse that does not understand what it means when they deal with me, these cards explain what to do.  Of course, I still rely on them following these directions.

As I have gotten older, and also divorced, my children, who will be of adult age, will likely be the ones responsible for my care if the needs ever arise.  I have reduced my back pack down to three of the binders you see pictured, in the event of an emergency and no computer access, as well as a thumb drive.  But these records keep track and assist as all of the late side effect issues that I have as they progress.

Like I said, you do not need to keep track of all your records such as visits for colds and flus.  But anything that was important, not just cancer, but vaccine records, biopsies, broken bones, any studies that you have done, it is in your best interest to make sure, if you have not done so already, make sure that you have your hands on your own records as well.  And if you do not have access to them anymore because they may have been destroyed, research and do your best to recreate them.  Some records are better than none.

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