My Journey With Cancer

You’ve Got Cancer Dude

By Garland Davis

Sunday morning, July fifth, my wife, and I were walking the dog. Because of my Parkinson’s, I turned back for the car after resting at my usual place on a rock wall. For some reason, I rubbed my hand across my neck below my right ear and felt a pronounced lump there. Further exploration revealed a couple more lumps as well as some swelling of the right tonsil.

I don’t claim to be prescient, but I said aloud, “You’ve got Cancer Dude.” The next morning, I called the Tripler Army Medical Center for an appointment with my doctor. The lady on the appointments desk asked why I needed to see him. I explained about the lumps. She told me that the first available appointment was over a month away and said, “This sounds like something that should be seen quickly,” and made me an appointment with another doctor for Wednesday, July 8th.

After examining me, the doctor sent me to the lab for a blood draw and to Radiology to schedule a CT scan of my neck and told me to return to his office for further instructions. While I was away, he secured an appointment with Ear, Nose, and Throat for the following Thursday, July 9th.

The ENT doctors did an examination of my throat both visually and with a probe through the nose with a negative result. They called a lady in who took ten needle biopsies while viewing the locations with Ultra-Sound. I was made another appointment for the next day.

I was told that the needle biopsies had indicated a form of cancer known as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. They brought in a surgeon, who examined my neck in preparation for an operation to remove a lymph node for a full biopsy on Tuesday the fourteenth. I was also scheduled for an appointment with Oncology on Thursday the 16th.

Two days before my 76th birthday I received confirmation that I did have Hodgkin’s. A helluva Birthday Present! The Oncologist scheduled me for a PET scan on the 23rd of July and the 3rd of August for the insertion of a Blood Portal into the vascular system in my chest. This makes it easier than placing an IV each time blood is taken, and Chemo medicines are injected. I did my first Chemo on August 5th.

What Awaits?

By Garland Davis

There is an old saying that the subjects of politics and religion should always be avoided unless you are a politician or a cleric. I don’t mean to alienate anyone by the following. Just some things that wandered through my mind as I lay trying to sleep last night.

I learned of the loss of a friend from cancer yesterday. It comes a little closer as I am now fighting cancer myself. Unable to sleep last night, I let my mind wander over what happens after we shuffle off this mortal coil.

Some believe that there is only darkness and whatever we were disappears and returns to dust. No, no, that cannot be! I am unique, I am special! There must be more! There is also a con man who will sell you whatever salvation you are looking for.

There are as many beliefs of what befalls our soul, spirit, or whatever is left. But let’s face it we don’t know. Anthropologists and archeologists believe that prehistoric man believed in an afterlife. Burials have been discovered where weapons, clothing, flowers, and red ochre were prominent. It is speculated that they worshiped the sun as Father and the earth as Mother.

The ancient Greeks believed in a two-tiered afterlife. Elysian Fields where the Gods and mortals selected by the gods gamboled and competed in athletic events. Kinda like going to the park forever. Those that didn’t make the cut for the fields must pay a fee to Charon to ferry them across the River Styx to the place where the ancient God of the Dead and King of the Underworld Hades ruled.

The Egyptians took the belief in an afterlife to the extreme. They preserved the bodies of Royalty and the Rich, built extreme, extravagant, and grotesques monuments to them. To ease one’s life in the afterlife they sacrificed his wives, concubines, slaves, horses, and valuable possessions and buried them with the person. The practices gave impetus to the profession of Grave Looter which flourished for a while.

The Romans pretty much picked up where the Greeks faded. They had the same Gods but with different names. The Greek and Roman Gods specialized. They both had a Boss God who delegated everything. Basically, there were hundreds of Gods, Demigods who had lesser powers or were the bastard offspring of a God dallying with a mortal lass. It gave many of the Roman emperors an opportunity to proclaim themselves as Demigods.

There were the Norse Gods who were but another iteration of the Greek and Roman Gods.

Before and during the Roman occupation of Israel the Jews of that region worshiped an angry God that demanded sacrifices and total worship by his followers. He placed many dietary and cultural laws on his followers. This God’s purported son, born of a virgin, the prophet Jesus of Nazareth began his teachings, was crucified, and resurrected and rose into the heavens. Overtime his teachings spread into Rome, which attempted to minimize the new beliefs by crucifying, murdering, and feeding to the lions its adherents until Emperor Constantine, who was probably drunk or hungover, saw a cross in the sky and adopted the new religion. This religion promises an eternity of golden streets and seats at the right hand of God or was that the right hand of the kid, to the righteous or an eternity of Barbecue to those unrepentant ones who stray from the word.

The German poet Heinrich Heine said, upon his deathbed, when asked if he was afraid of facing God after his debauched life, “God will forgive me, that is his profession.”

This talk of the fall of the Greek, Roman, and Norse Gods and the rise of Christianity reminds me of something I read many years ago: “All the old Greek, Roman and Norse Gods are dead. They all died laughing the day one old gray beard of a God said, ‘Let there be no other Gods before me.’”

A proponent of Christianity will tell you that the Bible is the ‘Word of God.’ Not true. In 325 CE Emperor Constantine and church authorities purportedly banned problematic books that didn’t conform to their secret agenda at the Council of Nicea. Not to be outdone the Catholic Church at the Council of Rome in 382 CE developed the Latin Vulgate Bible. It is not the word of God but of those who would control your beliefs.

The gist of religions is one must live his life as dictated by the Shaman, Priest, Preacher, Witch Doctor, or whatever the believers call them. Their profession has many advantages. It offers high status with a safe livelihood free of work in the dreary, sweaty sense. In most societies, it offers legal privileges and immunities not granted to other men. But it is hard to see how a man who has been given a mandate from on High to spread tidings of joy to all mankind can be seriously interested in taking up a collection to pay his salary; it causes one to suspect that the shaman is on the moral level of any other con man. But it’s lovely work if you can stomach it.

Most Native American tribes believed there was a Great Spirit, Great Hunter, Great Corn, a Man Above who looked over them and sent the buffalo. Makes as much sense as any other belief or perhaps the animals were just following the grass.

There is a belief among people who have enriched their lives with doggies or kitties, that when our pets leave us they go to a place just this side of a Rainbow Bridge where they wait for their beloved owners and they all cross that bridge to paradise where they are together and play for eternity. This one I could accept, but I would probably get tired of throwing that damned tennis ball. If the truth is known, drop-dead alone in the house with your beloved dog or cat and they will eat your face.

Then there is a place where men of the sea believe in. It is called Fiddlers Green, a place where the tankards are never empty, and the lasses are always willing. I’ll take this one.

There is no definitive proof that any of these places exist, but the cleric will tell you that one must have faith. I’ll place my faith in the belief that the producers of Miller Lite and Jameson’s whiskey have my best interests at heart!

Chemo

By Garland Davis

I just heard a news thing that Michelle Obama claims she is extremely depressed because of unfair, racist, and divisive policies of the Trump administration. Three multi-million dollar homes, over forty million dollars in the bank, lifetime Secret Service protection, and a lifetime pension that most would commit crimes for. And, you were First Lady of the United States for eight years.

Let me tell you about seven people I spent the morning with. We were relaxing on recliners while the chugging and beeping machines pumped toxic chemicals into our bloodstreams. You see, we all are fighting cancer.

There was the upbeat black gentleman who told me he had been in and out of Chemo for six years. He served in Vietnam and was then a Nuclear Engineer in the Submarine Navy. He joked about smuggling beer in and having a party if the Sergeant would look the other way.

There was a gentleman who, because of throat cancer could barely talk above a loud whisper. He was laughing and joking along with us.

There was an attractive young woman, wearing a turban because her hair is gone, fighting cervical cancer, who volunteered to provide the grass for the party because she had recently received her Med Marijuana card from the state.

There was a gray-haired lady who could have posed for Norman Rockwell grandmother busy knitting or crocheting, I have never understood the difference, and laughing along with the rest of us.

Everyone but one was involved in the joking and laughter. He was snoring too loudly to overhear our antics.

They made a guy “riding his first rodeo” feel welcome.

The staff of nurses and technicians are on a first-name basis with all the patients and carried on the foolishness, talk, and banter about parties.

If anyone has a right to be depressed, it is the eight of us who were in that room this morning. I didn’t see any depression, I didn’t see any tears. I saw seven people, who are now eight, living the life that has been handed them.

I am proud of them and the welcome they gave me.

Chemo Part Two

by Garland Davis

I woke at midnight with a craving for coffee. Most sailors develop a taste for coffee in bootcamp or subjecting themselves to black gang coffee or the stale shit from the mess decks while standing mid watches. During my boot camp service week, I came face to face with coffee. There were a pair of two hundred gallon steam jacketed kettles (more commonly called coppers in homage to the cooking vessels used in the sailing Navy.”) which were devoted to making coffee. It was my job to put ten pounds of coffee into a pillow cover, tie it closed with twine, and boil it in two hundred gallons of water while four other mess cooks took the coffee in fifty gallon tubs and refilled the thirty gallon urns on the four mess lines.

You know, the coffee craving that a sailor experiences during working hours that suddenly morphs to a craving for San Miguel, Mojo, Bullfrog, or some other concoction that has an Alcohol By Volume rating, or not, which some sailor dreamed up while in an inebriated state. Our Irish brethren even paired Jameson’s with coffee to create a tasty libation that goes a long way to satisfying the cravings for coffee and alcohol.

Why the fuck am I awake at midnight? Wait, while I get another cup of coffee and I will tell you. I don’t know! I surmise that the Chemo session yesterday may have something to do with it.

I arrived at the Chemo room at 0730. It took a while to get situated. The Sergeant connected to my portal, probe receiver to a sailor, and started a drip of saline solution. This is to ensure that you are properly hydrated. It takes about an hour, after that he replaced it with a drip of medication to prevent nausea, another hour, the next step is the first Chemo drug, again about a half hour, and finally the last Chemo drug, about an hour. This is where I am lucky. My cancer was discovered early, and the oncologist says that in 90% of the cases the two milder drugs are sufficient. A phase of Chemo is considered two treatments. He originally told me that after two phases, he would schedule a PET scan to assess the progress. He told me yesterday, that since I seemed to be doling well and the swelling is gone from my lymph nodes and starboard tonsil, he has ordered the scan for the week of 7 September thinking that it may be unnecessary for six phases or twelve treatments. He did caution that the first scan showed some activity in the stomach. He told me that if it didn’t show a lessening, they would probably scope my stomach to see if it was Hodgkin’s or, worst case, a different cancer.

The black gentleman from my last visit came in to have blood drawn in preparation for his afternoon Chemo session. We were joking about smuggling beer in again and talking about our Navy experiences and the ships we served in.

There were two ladies in the corner who were involved in a conversation about their grandkids. There were two men involved in conversations on their cell phones. One was talking with his bank about his finances. All a hacker had to do was listen to the information he gave over the phone, account number, social security number, and when they told him his balance, he repeated it aloud. Small pickings, $316.00 and some change.

A young couple came in. She was using a walker and being helped by her husband. You could see by his haircut that he was either a Soldier or Marine. The young lady was skinny and frail and was carrying an oxygen generator attached to a nasal cannula. The nurse closed the curtains and began treating the girl. Her husband took the walker and placed it in the hallway beside a couple others.

Shortly afterward, a nurse removed my connection to the IV tree and told gave me a bottle with six pills for nausea. I now have twelve. I didn’t use the six from last time.

As I walked through the lobby, I saw the girl’s husband leaning against the wall crying. He already knew the future he and his wife were facing. I confess, by the time I reached my car there were tears mingled with the slobber in my mask.

Chemo 3

By Garland Davis

I was supposed to do Chemo on Wednesday. I went in to do the blood work on Tuesday. The nurse told me that they had a light day and if I wished, we could do the Chemo today. He said that it would add an hour to the process while the lab techs counted the red and white thingies in my blood. I had nothing to do so I agreed.

While he hooked me up to the machine, I told him how the Navy distinguishes between officers in the Medical, Dental Corps, and Nurse Corps.

Doctor – Gold Spread Oak Leaf with a large Silver Acorn imposed on it.

Dentist – Gold Spread Oak Leaf with two small Silver Acorns below it.

Nurse – A Gold Spread Oak Leaf with no nuts.

He hooked a liter of saline solution up and started the drip to hydrate me in preparation for the medicines. It ran out after about an hour and he hooked up another. The next time I do Chemo, I am going to get a seat closer to the head. And I thought beer made you piss!

After he got the okay from the lab, he gave me some pills and started a drip of a drug to prevent nausea, another half hour. A short time afterwards he started the first medicine, another half hour. When that one finished, he started the final drip which used up another hour.

I was there for a little over four hours. I discovered a personal TV on a flexible arm and did what I usually do, I watched Fox Business News. So it wasn’t a wasted morning at all.

The nurse asked about side effects from the medicines. I haven’t had any problems, no nausea, no diarrhea, no headaches, but I do have an unnatural craving for cherry pie.

There were others there, three young men, late twenties, or early thirties. They were talking among themselves. One older fellow who, I think, surpassed me on the number of trips to the head and a lady who wanted to be unhooked from the chemo so she could go to the waiting room toilet to get the phone she left there. One of the nurses went and rescued the phone.

Since I did Chemo yesterday, I don’t have to go today and since I haven’t slept much tonight, I plan a day of constructive napping.

Chemo 4

I had my fourth course of Chemo yesterday. In preparation I went to the Chemo Room on Monday for the blood test. It is not like the blood test they do for an annual physical. You do not have to fast or forego your morning coffee. They are counting red and white thingies in your blood. It can be done on the same day of Chemo, but it adds one to one and a half hours to the session while waiting for the results from the lab. I only receive two medicines but with the preparation of a liter of saline drip and an anti-nausea cocktail drip in addition to the medicines it routinely takes about four hours, depending how prompt the pharmacy is in preparing the medicine drips. Some people receive four meds and you can see that it would be a long day for them if they did not do the blood the day before.

I arrived at the hospital Monday to do the blood a little before seven AM just prior to the reception room opening. The reception room serves not only Oncology and the Chemo Room but also Gastroenterology, the Colonoscopy Clinic, and Hematology. The elevator opens about twenty feet from the door to the room, There was a male with an obvious do it yourself dye job on his hair and an overweight lady with no hair sitting on the floor in the passage way eating McDonalds breakfast sandwiches and a Filipino gentleman maintaining more than the required social distance from them in the hallway. I walked past them to see if the room was open.

The bad dye job said, “Don’t you see there is a line here? Get back there!”

I replied, “Oh, I beg your pardon. I didn’t realize this is a line. It looks more like a homeless camp to me.” I went past the Filipino man who gave me a thumbs up as I walked past him.

A couple of minutes later the room opened and the homeless camp scrambled to their feet and we all filed in social distancing of course. The receptionist quickly checked everyone in and told us to have a seat to be called for vitals. The technician doing vitals called us in the order we had checked. Bad hair was first and bald headed behemoth was second, I expected I would be fourth.

Bad hair approached me and said, in a surly manner, “Hey I don’t appreciate that snarky remark you made out there.”

I answered, “You know, I really don’t give a fuck what you do or don’t appreciate.”

He just had to let me know that he was a retired Air Force Major.

I told him, “My condolences that you didn’t do better. Your parents must have been really disappointed.” He angrily stomped away and rejoined Baldy as she returned to her seat.

A few minutes later the receptionist told us we could go back to the Chemo room. Bad Hair and No Hair rushed toward the room while the Filipino gentleman followed, and my cane and I brought up the rear. When I entered the room the two McDiners were in recliners in the corner. Since they were all receiving Chemo, the three nurses hooked them up to IV’s first. The Sergeant came in apologizing, saying, “Sorry I am late, but I had a Military training thing this morning.”

Sarge turned to me and said, “Good Morning Chief, one of the nurses will be right with you, I have to refill the supplies cabinet and the implement carts.”

The male nurse to whom I had told how to distinguish between naval medical officers by their collar devices called the other three nurses over and asked me to tell it to them. There was one mal and two female nurses. They all got a big laugh from it. I heard Bad Hair say, “Clown.”

While the nurse was preparing all the sterile things to access the port that had been inserted into my chest and spliced into a vein, I could hear the Hair Gang talking. They were trying to out cancer each other. One must be mentally ill to take pride in the seriousness of a cancer that can very well kill you. If I had been refereeing, I would have given the nod to no hair, she was slated for surgery to remove her breasts because of cancer. I I doubt if they were going to remove his asshole because of prostate cancer.

The nurse finished taking what looked like a hell of a lot of blood and said, “We’ll see you tomorrow,”

All the staff and the other patients, with the exception of the Hair Guys, said goodbye so I waved to them.

The next morning, I arrived shortly after seven for my Chemo, checked in, had my vitals done and at seven thirty was told to go to the Chemo Room. I went in a selected my usual recliner pulled the TV down and selected Fox Business News and settled in for a long morning. The nurse came over to hook me up. Poking that nail sized needle through the skin over my port is not as painless as they advertised but it beats continuously poking at a vein trying to put in an IV.

She asked me to repeat my joke about Navy nurses. I did and told her they once taught it in boot camp and any old sailor should know it. While she was setting up a liter of saline solution to make me piss a rather large gentleman on a walker came into the seat to my right. He was accompanied by a doctor who told him that they were going to hydrate him with a liter of saline solution in preparation for a CAT scan of his lungs to see if his skin cancer had spread into them. The nurse transferred his oxygen tube from his bottle to the built in system. She asked him what medical conditions he had. He listed them:

Congenital Heart Disease

Diabetes

Liver Disease

Kidney Disease

Skin Cancers over his arms, legs, and face

And probably some I cannot remember

I gathered from the conversation that he has made going to different doctors a profession. There was something about his Southern Ozarks accent that I thought I had heard before.

The nurse told him that he was familiar to her and asked if he had ever done Chemo there. He said no, but his wife had, and he often accompanied her. He told the nurse the wife’s name. I immediately knew him. He was a Boatswain’s Mate with whom I had served with in USS Ponchatoula forty seven years ago.

I told him who I was. He remembered me. We talked for awhile until the doctor came back and told him that because of the liquid they were infusing into his system they were going to admit him over night to ensure the extra liquid didn’t impact his kidneys. They spent about twenty minutes going over the myriad of medications and the frequency he was taking for his varying conditions. He excused himself to make some phone calls to let people know that he was being admitted. He hauled three separate flip phones out of his bag and commenced making calls to hi wife, daughter, grandson, and to reschedule a couple of doctor’s appointments for tomorrow.

He did tell me that he had made Master Chief and his last two assignments were CMC in USS St Louis out of Sasebo and USS Camden out of Seattle. After retiring he worked at Inactive Ships Pearl Harbor. I told him about my experience with the Taxi business, about my Parkinson’s and the cancer. He told me that I was lucky that those were the only conditions I had. I said I know that.

The machine beeped to let them know my last medicine was finished. She unhooked me, removed the connection to my port, told me to come in on the 21st so they can prepare the port for the PFT scan, the 26th to see the doctor, and bloodwork if he decides I need another course of Chemo for the 27th.

I have my fingers crossed that the PET scan will show no cancer and I won’t have to do more Chemo.

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14 thoughts on “My Journey With Cancer

  1. Jon Elso says:

    Davis, my prayers an thoughts for your rebound are in the works. Think positive !!! I learned a lot from you that got me thru my career 8 yrs active 32 reserve. I just found out I have got c o p d got all I can do to get to the shitter! Could it be agent orange from our nam expeditions. Don t know yet. Carry on !! Later elso

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Craig Wilcox says:

    Garland, I would tell you to keep your spirits up, but you are already doing that very well.
    Thanks to Vietnam and CVA-11 Intrepid, I am having fun with Agent Orange. Difficult getting around some days, but I have the same attitude that you have – screw the Agent Orange and try to have some fun. VA takes very good care of me.
    As a Navy Brat at Sangley Point NAS (Cavite, Philippines), i had heard the nurse joke as a 12 year old in the base hospital. And the head nurse there was the head nurse at Bethesda NH when i had open heart stuff done in ’63 – and she made sure I told it to all the nice little Ensign nurses.
    And personally, I do believe as a practicing Christian. Don’t really know for sure, and won’t till it happens, and not real anxious to find out.
    Live for today – tomorrow might never come.
    Best of luck to you and yours – Craig

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dan Mannerino (CWO3 Retired) says:

    I’ve been through what you are going through now about 16 years ago and survived. And so will you. I am one of those who has the faith, and will include you in my prayers. Hang in there shipmate.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Zack lindsey says:

    Zack lindsey hang tough ship mate they are testing me now for pankraints ( spelling) right now it is just growing all ready went through prostrate it is gone also stomach so all we can do is just keep treading water lol

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ned Barrett says:

    Hi Chief. I really enjoy your stories. Thank you ! You said you served on AO148. Did you know a junior officer Walrafen ? He was probably the DCA as he and I went thru DC school prior to reporting to our commands. You sound upbeat and positive and you will beat it ! Best regards,Ned Barrett.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Steven Nelson says:

    I hope you get well soon, shipmate. I don’t think Davy Jones locker is ready for Garland Davis, just yet anyway! All the WESTPAC’ers wish you well.

    Your shipmate, Nelly

    Like

  7. gmgafprhovet says:

    1. Sorry to hear about the diagnosis. . . But it DOES seem to have improved your writing!! A great post (some people will do ANYTHING to get new material!).
    2. Never knew Fiddlers’ Green was nautical in origin. I only knew of it from the Cavalry tradition. Thanks for enriching my military knowlege.
    3. When the Vikings died, they went to Valhalla. When Cavalry troopers died they go to Fiddlers’ Green. When 7th Flt Saliors die, they cross the bridge over Shit River one last time! Thats the only heaven we ever knew, and as close as a 7th Fleet Salior will ever get . . . I know if I wind-up anyplace else, I will feel cheated!

    Like

  8. Robert Jones says:

    Chief,
    Sorry that you have become a member of the club. I have been receiving chemo in various forms for three years now. My Nave experience taught me a number of valuable skills; acceptance, endurance, patience and persistence. They have served me well on this cancer rollercoaster.
    The Infusion Clinic became a comforting place where I felt surrounded by people who understood me and what I was going through. This feeling continued even after I learned that my cancer had metastasized into my lungs and had become inoperable and incurable. The goal of my treatments now is to extend my life and improve its quality. I was a spiritual seeker most of my life and I too investigated the afterlife beliefs of various religions. I no longer give it much thought. I do not fear death any more than I fear the oblivion that overtakes me each night when I fall asleep. I have always enjoyed new experiences. If I encounter more than the oblivion of sleep I will just make the best of it. The people I leave behind are the ones who must deal with my death. I will already have left the building.
    I wish you well, Chief. You still have miles to go before you sleep.

    Liked by 2 people

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