Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the month “July, 2020”

You Were Always There For Me

Well, this story was not supposed to take this long to come out, but as the organization that was supposed to publish it, got delayed because of Covid19, I have decided not to wait any longer.

So, this is a project that I do every year.  It is a short story piece that I write and submit for publishing.  This year I had decided to write about experiences with my late fur friend, but from his point of view.  I hope you enjoy it.

I want to thank fellow long term cancer survivor and author Lara Vaughan Lazenby for her help with this story.


You Were Always There For Me

Hi there.  My name is Pollo, pronounced like the cologne, but spelled like Spanish chicken.  I do not know why I was given that name.  But hearing it has always made me happy, and I heard my name a lot.

Paul always seemed to know what I liked, and what was best for me.  In fact, I knew I could always count on Paul.  There was this one time he took me swimming, because I really liked the water.  I was a really good swimmer too!  I think I had fun because all I remember of that day is one moment I was splashing away, and the next, I was running from this other person wearing a white coat, towards Paul.  His eyes were leaking.  I did not understand this.

Fortunately, I would remember everything else as I got older.  Like this one time, Paul went out the front door, but did not come back in, for six lights and darks.  This was unusual, because Paul never went anywhere without me.  We were buddies.  When he finally came home, I was so happy.  And I let him know it too.  My tail wagged so hard and fast, it knocked everything over within reach.

But there was something odd about Paul.  He did not seem like himself.  He actually smelled kind of funny.  I have never experienced that smell before – not from the house, the car, outside – very unusual.

Paul was happy to see me too, though he could have been a bit more excited.  Something was different about him.  When he would feel better, we could get back to normal and play.  In the meantime, I just sat beside him, stared up at him, with my head on his knee.  He had always taken care of me.  It was my turn to take care of him.

Another situation would happen again, only this time, strange men came into our house, woke us up, and then took Paul away on a bed with wheels.  It would be days before I would see him again, and he came home with that same odor.  I did not like that smell.

I could not understand why this kept happening to him.  We liked to play and have fun.  I missed that.  From what I could comprehend, Paul was sick a long time ago, and these events that kept happening to him were because of that.  The important thing… he kept coming back home.

And it was a good thing.  Because I found myself needing attention too.  Being a golden retriever, I loved to eat… everything.  This one time, I found this thing in the ground.  It was so yummy, but soon after, my head started feeling funny.  Then my stomach.  Paul had to take me back to those people with the white coats again.  And just like Paul, I came home.  Every time.  You see, I kept on doing it.  They were so yummy.

We both got older, although I feel like I got older more quickly.  Of course, my backyard habit did not help every time I ate those things.  Paul and I hung around the house a lot more than we used to.  I guess we each had our own reason.  I was happy to just sit next to him, or on him, and have him scratch my ears.  I really loved that.

We kept taking turns going away.  Paul seemed to do it a lot more, but he always came home to me.  He needed me.  He could depend on me.  And I could depend on him.

There came a time when things got really quiet in our house.  It was also more dark inside the house and outside.  Paul turned on lights making it brighter for him, but the funny thing was, it did not get brighter for me.  I could not get up the stairs anymore, so Paul made sure I had a comfy place to sleep downstairs not just occasionally, but all the time!  He always took great care of me.

One morning, Paul came downstairs right on time to let me outside.  He caught me by surprise, but I knew it was him.  I could feel it.  I stood up, stretched.  He opened up the door.  But I did not move.  I could not.  Just then, I felt myself being lifted… but in such a way that I felt as if I was being tightly hugged.  I could not see him, hear him, or smell him.  But I knew it was Paul.  We always took care of each other.  He always knew what to do.  I liked when he hugged me so tight.  But all I wanted to do now, was run again.  Now I can.  Paul made sure of that, just like he promised.

Back When Pro Wrestling Was Fun To Watch

I am taking a deep breath today.  No Covid19 talk.  No protesting.  No cancer.  Nothing serious today.  Instead, I want to share some memories from a simpler time.  It was a simpler time, as I often remind my daughters, “stay a kid for as long as you can.”  It was a time period in my mid-teens.  I had just switched schools.  I made several friends right off the bat.

One of those friends invited me to come along to his bowling league.  I had prior experience where I had moved from.  I enjoyed it.  But had no opportunity in my new location.

My friend had told me that he was going to be a “coach” also for the younger bowlers, the real little squirts, back before there were bumpers in the alleys.  The plan would be to bowl the first shift, early in the morning.  Then we would walk a few blocks away to his grandparent’s house, have some lunch (a hoagie from the local grocery store), watch this thing called “pro wrestling” for a little bit, and then walk back to the alley to coach the little kids.

We did this for a few years.  It was the same routine.  And while my bowling skills improved over time, it was the time in between the bowling shifts that I remember most.

I enjoyed my friend’s grandparents.  They were very sweet.  During our lunch break, my friend’s grandfather would always tell us of his experiences in the military during the war.  This was not entertainment I want to emphasize.  I was learning.  I was drawn to his details and that is where I first learned to always say thank you to those who have served and sacrificed.  This “friendship” would carry on into adulthood, and we would all bowl together as adults in league play, even winning a championship.  I often felt of him as a grandfather, because that is how kind he was.

So anyway, after we were done eating and talking, we would go into their living room and turn on the television to channel 9, a New York based channel, for Saturday pro wrestling from what was filmed by Vince MacMahon, the son of the prior owner, of the original World Wrestling Federation.

The first thing I had to learn, was that pro wrestling was fake.  The second thing I had to learn was not to say that pro wrestling was fake.  Pro wrestling is definitely not fake, though it is performed.  But you really have to be in awe of some of the physical conditioning of some of the athletes and superstars, as well as the physical stunts they perform, 99% of which I would never survive (I am fairly confident I can bounce off of the ring ropes).

Unlike today’s WWE, that records their shows in major venues like stadiums and arenas, back in the day, pro wrestling used to be filmed in a “farmer’s market” section of the Allentown Fairgrounds in Pennsylvania, called Agricultural Hall.  Once or twice a month, the WWF would roll into town, and record three episodes worth of matches to be televised on Saturday mornings on syndicated cable television.  Attendance was probably the size of a basketball court, not the arena, smaller than the size of an elementary school gymnasium.

Another cool fact, the ring announce, was an elderly man by the name of Joe McHugh.  A scrawny cigar smoking man, holding the mic lowered from the rafters, wearing Mr. Magoo glasses.  He was THE announcer before Michael Buffer was ever born.  Turns out, his brother was the principal of my high school, located just blocks away from Agricultural Hall.  My connection to watching the WWF was firm.

My stepfather, did accounting work on the side for local hotels.  It just happened that some of the hotels were where many of the pro wrestlers would stay while in town.  This would lead to one of the few subjects that I could talk about with my stepfather.  I needed to know who was in town as if it would give me a clue as to potential changes of championships and such.

My interest would take a strange twist.  One night, while visiting my grandmother, I asked to watch pro wrestling on her television.  And that is the first time I learned that my grandmother was a fan.  I lived with her for nearly fifteen years, and never knew it.  She enjoyed the women wrestling and the “midget” (yes, I know not a nice term, but that was how they were referred to before we all got woke) wrestlers.  What she enjoyed was those wrestlers getting involved with the referees of the match.  Really it was quite silly to watch.

But those Saturday mornings, they were special, fun, a lot of memories.  I honestly do not recognize the majority of pro wrestlers today.  As we deal with the restrictions of Covid19 (yes I know I was not going to say that word), the WWE, which films here in Florida, films in front of an empty audience.  And it is just weird, almost as sad as watching a soap opera.  But either McMahon or the network got smart and made the decision to show older matches, and not just from 2018, but completely retro, back to when I used to watch.

Recognize this guy?  That’s right, it is The Rock, Duane Johnson, also known as Rocky Maivia.  His father was also a great pro wrestler, named Rocky Johnson.  All of a sudden I was seeing all kinds of matches back from when I thought the WWF was enjoyable, involving Shaun Michaels, The Undertaker, Brett Hart, even Hulk Hogan.

But the truth is, I go back way further than that.  After watching a documentary the other night of a career autobiography of a journalist, part of his life was focused on his personal interactions with the WWF.  And then my mind really went off the deep end in memories.  Reflecting back to those Saturday morning with my friend and his grandparents.

Yeah, this is when I thought pro wresting was good.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved watching the Undertaker and Brett Hart and all of that next generation.  But once the story lines began to involve McMahon and the owners, and making it more nepatunistic, I began to lose interest.  Today, I find it difficult to watch at all.

But for today, I am remembering those fun and simple times.  Good memories for me.  A time that I clearly took for granted and would give anything to have back.


Cancer’s Effect On The Smile

Sure, the last thing you expect to associate with the word cancer, is “smile.”  This post is not about the emotional impact on the smile of a cancer patient or survivor.  Like many of the issues medicine never prepared us survivors for way back when, was the impact that our cancer treatments could have on our teeth.  And seeing how we only have one set of our adult teeth, it is obvious we need to take care of what we have.

But we can only do so much preventative, such as flossing, brushing, and using mouthwashes with preventative care.  We can also take supplemental vitamins and make sure we eat or drink enough Vitamin D and calcium loaded drinks and food.

Radiation and high dose prednisone treatments though have a huge impact on our teeth, and our jaw bones, in strength and healing.  And it is important to know as much as possible about your individual exposure, so that your dentist or oral surgeon can make the choice that is best for you.

For me, because I have no spleen on top of everything else, there is an extra level of precaution I must take, whether for a standard cleaning, filling a cavity, or an extraction.  I typically take an antibiotic a few days before any procedure, just to make sure I do not have any stray bacteria that could cause any problems for me with an infection afterwards.

Once I get passed my initial hesitation of going to the dentist, something my dentist can attest to, is a major task.  For a while, I would have been more calm going to my cardiologist than my dentist.  No pun intended, but my dentist went above and beyond to get to the “root” of the fear.  It took her several months to alleviate my concerns, but she soon earned my trust when it came to pain management during procedures.  Most patients, if not every one, may not be aware that when you are given novacaine prior, if you still have sensation, you are able to ask for more.  I was always under the assumption, that was it.  All those years, I was given just the first dose, of a possible twelve.  She could see in my eyes, I was still having sensation, and stopped what she was doing, and asked, “can you still feel that?”  To which I answered, “yes”.  A motherly lecture followed about telling her if I needed more, and that was followed by another dose, and the procedure went on.

For the most part, that is how my simple appointments go, cleaning, exams, and cavity repairs.  It is when things get more complicated, when I hear the word “crown”, root canal, abscess… that is when things get really complicated, besides expensive.  With or without dental insurance, any of these three options are expensive, and out of my scope, not just because of money, but risk.

Because of the high dose radiation to my upper body for my Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, and the high dose prednisone I took as part of my chemotherapy, healing and stability are compromised when it comes to dental work.

I am lucky.  For the most part, I have done well taking care of my teeth, especially those in the front.  As for the ones in the back of my mouth, closer to the radiated neck area, it is a different story.  Since my heart surgery in 2008, also courtesy of radiation damage, I have had to lose four teeth, three to abscesses, and one to a broken tooth.  The broken tooth was going to require a crown, which I could not afford, and the abscessed teeth, were going to require root canals and crowns.  I definitely could not afford.

I needed to have them pulled.  Now of course no one wants to lose teeth, so then conversations began about other options, such as bridges and implants.  Still, both expensive options, and potentially quite harmful.  One of the potential risks I faced, was something called “osteonecrosis”, which literally means “death of bone”, and to my jaw, that is not good.  That left me no other choice, than to surrender those four chompers.  The good thing is, all are in the rear of my mouth, so only I am aware of that, and my dentist and hygienist.

Some antibiotics before and after, some gas, some novocaine, and I was good to go.  Sort of.

Again, as I have spoken before of healing issues when it comes to the bones in my body, the jaw is one of those bones.  There is going to be a huge hole in my jaw, that needs to heal, at the least have some help doing so.  My first two teeth, I went into blind not knowing about what I am writing about now.  But for my next two, and potentially any more that may come up, I needed to be aware of the risks of healing.

One option, and really the only one that gets offered, is hyperbaric treatments.  This involves breathing oxygen in a pressurized chamber.  For the average person, not a big deal, and often used to regenerate a person’s energy and health.  And in my case, it was recommended, rather, required before I could have any teeth pulled and after.  Besides the obvious expense I could not afford, because of another chemotherapy drug, Bleomycin, I am not able to go through any treatment involving oxygen.  A complicated issue that I cannot cover in this post.  But with this option off the table, I had no one able or willing to pull those two teeth.  Which means my situation risked getting way worse, if something developed with the abscesses.

Then I met an oral surgeon who offered a new type of treatment for the hole left in my jaw.  It is called “platelet rich plasma” or PRP for short.  Basically, they use your own blood, spin the hell out of it, leaving only the plasma, and inject that into the hole of the bone to enhance healing, and then stitch up the gum.  It is a bit more complicated, but this is now the new technology available, not just when it comes to any tooth work, but any kind of injury that would require another treatment impacted by my cancer and treatment past.  And because it will not involve any further cosmetic option, it is also less costly.

More importantly, it works.  So far, 2 for 2.  The oral surgeon not only understands my past, but respects my knowledge of what I have gone through, and that helps him to do what is right for me.  Of course I hope I am done, but the realist in me knows I am likely to have more that will come out.  But at least I know I have a good option.  And I am still able to keep that smile.


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