My CANCER Adventure Book

Mostly my real time journal and blog posts plus photos and other information that is meant to be inspirational for someone else going through cancer, especially my specific Parotid Tumor Cancer with 68 pages and 87 photos, including a few of my nature posts during that time. 🙂

I also emphasize the value of nature in healing for me. And the title “True Grit” is explained in the book and on back cover, kind of funny! 🙂

You can see a free electronic preview at https://www.blurb.com/b/10778284-true-grit Or click the cover image below:

Me in front of Radiation Machine on book cover.

You can also browse through all my nature photo books while in the bookstore or click on Bookstore on the menu bar above.

¡Pura Vida!

Halfway!

Yep! Today, Wednesday, 19th of May 2021, I am halfway through my cancer radiation therapy and already on the downhill side of the mountain! 🙂 I will get 33 treatments and today was #17, a half treatment over the hill! 🙂

The photo is of the computer screen where I check in each day with my patient electronic card that I swipe over that little black box’s red screen that pulls up my name and appointment time, etc. This info also goes back into the treatment room where the therapists are thus notified that I’m entering the second waiting room for patients only.

Patient check-in station, Twenty-first Century Radiotherapy, San Jose, Costa Rica

For those not knowing Spanish, “Por favor, aguarde a ser llamado. Muchas gracias.” means “Please wait to be called. Much thanks.” They call me in over a PA system when ready. Depending on who calls, they call for “Mister Charles.” or “Señor Charles” or “Don Charles.” These young therapists are very professional, kind, friendly and helpful in every way, making it a much more pleasant experience.

Now before any of that, I walk up to the outside door and wash my hands at an outside sink with a hand soap dispenser. Then I am allowed in where my temperature is taken and of course I am wearing a mask – all part of the national Covid protocols. I will be doing the above electronic check-in just 16 more times now! 🙂

On the walk back to hotel today, two parakeets squawked congratulations to me from a telephone line! 🙂 Too high for good cellphone photos, but here’s a try:

Continue reading “Halfway!”

More Skilled Technicians

Yesterday’s post presented one team of skilled professionals who are administering my radiation treatments – that was Friday and this team was Monday, yesterday. I haven’t learned their shifts or schedules yet, but both of these pairs have worked on me and there may be others before this is finished! 🙂

Note that both yesterday and today the girls are wearing sweaters. It is pretty cold in that room because of the big computerized radiation machine which has to stay at a certain temperature without any humidity. It is cold for me too but I’m not in there as long as them. 🙂

Radiation therapists with my mask which now has a larger nose-hole because it was scrapping my nose.

It is noteworthy that Costa Rica’s higher education (free) leads all Latin American countries in training their young people for many different professions like this.

¡Pura Vida!

Skilled Technicians

And I almost added “young” to the headline, but then everyone seems young to me now! 🙂

Every day they help me get on that table and screw this mask over my face to the table. Then they carefully position my body in perfect alignment with the machine’s image of my head, then the computer does the rest of the work in two 30 second scans of the left side of my face and neck targeting certain programmed areas with cancer-killing radiation.

And by the way,

Costa Rica Beats the USA in Soccer (Again!)

🙂

¡Pura Vida!

Tired and Tasteless

Well, that second adjective is probably not used correctly, but I like alliterations! 🙂

By the end of the third week of radiation I am more tired than ever. And none of my food has a taste or very much of one. Over the weekend a neighbor brought me a spicy soup that had more flavor than most things now. And this is perfectly normal as radiation progresses. But they say in 5 or 6 weeks after completing treatments I will regain my taste. And I’m also sleeping later and later every morning with even nap in the day.

The photo was made by the technicians (their photo coming tomorrow) of me right after I completed the treatment Friday and put my shirt back on but no mask or eye patch! Just the one-sided smile! 🙂

Me in front of the big radiation machine by my treatment mask & table.

And you may have missed the post with me getting the treatment.

¡Pura Vida!

Not a Mummy – Me in a “Mask”

I promised somebody I would show what my daily process of a few minutes looks like, as pitiful as I look shirtless. One of the young technicians made these three (requested) shots of me screwed to the table for the radiation treatment. I show up each morning by 11:45 and I’m walking back to the hotel by 12 noon usually. Quick and mostly painless (though the mask is really tight on my face). It appears more scientific than human, but believe me, the staff are all so friendly and nice and do their various jobs very proficiently. And they all shift to English when I walk in, though not their native language. Amazing! And I use my elementary Spanish with them as I am able, though not necessary here like at the public clinics and hospitals.

One outside person told me that this clinic is equal to Mayo Clinic in the states for Radiotherapy. I feel like I’m in very good hands. My radio doctor will conference with me every Tuesday until finished and work with me on any side effects, etc. And a nurse is always there plus other doctors always in the building. A very professional place that in fact does remind me a little of being in the Mayo Clinic with my brother Jerry, just not as big! 🙂

Notice the Screws holding me down with the mask.
Feels like being a mummy! 🙂
Everything must be perfectly lined up for radiation in the right places.

Are we having fun yet? Sure!

3 Days Down and 30 More to Go!

🙂

¡Pura Vida!

My Tribal Mask

My Personal Radiotherapy Mask

Well, tribal in one sense, with only certain ones of us in the Radiotherapy Tribe! 🙂

This first day of radiation treatment took longer because I had to meet with the nurse to explain all the side affects and things I can do to make it go smoother. Then they had to readjust the mask made more than a week ago which is a mold of my head and shoulders. They screw it down to the table over my body and I can’t move my head at all. This is necessary to get the radiation in the right places which afterwards Dr. Bonilla showed me computer graphics of my head & neck and where the radiation is scheduled to go. Amazing how targeted they can be when I am in forced stillness! 🙂

Once I’m set up, the machine scans my head and neck from two angles, 33 seconds each time. This will continue for 33 days which now boosts me up to 6.5 weeks. I am now scheduled for 11:45 AM each day, Monday to Friday.

After today’s treatment I walked the 6 blocks back to my hotel which I love and will tell you about later. I looked in the mirror and was surprised that the left side of my face and head was a little pink, even on the first treatment! I have an expensive “Radiocare” lotion I will use on my face to help avoid the “sunburn effect” and sure enough, the pinkness went away with the first usage of the lotion. I also must wear a wide-brimmed hat and avoid all sunshine on my face and neck. I jokingly told the nurse that I would just make a larger “Covid mask” to cover my whole head! 🙂

Another “new normal” being developed here! 🙂 ¡Hasta mañana!

¡Pura Vida!

Earth Day Hope

Wherever there are birds, there is hope.”

~Mehmet Murat ildan

And of course this is just one of the many birds who have brought hope to my terrace here in Atenas, Costa Rica – A Keel-billed Toucan in my Cecropia Tree (link to my Keel-billed Gallery). There is hope that the big rich nations are waking up to global warming and their long-time destruction of our planet. And there’s hope in the battle against my destructive cancer. Below is my update of activities that finally make it possible to begin Radiotherapy Monday.

Second Covid Shot this Morning

Quick and painless. I walk into the temporary vaccination clinic ahead of my 8 AM appointment, paperwork done quickly with shot even quicker and I was out of there before my appointment time. 🙂 I walked home, having taken a taxi to the clinic. With my knee no longer hurting I’m back into walking more and hopefully every day during radiation, though I will have to wear the big wide-brimmed hat they tell me! I must avoid sun during radiation.

Tomorrow Morning Stitches Removed

Tomorrow (Friday) morning at 9 AM I see my Ophthalmologist in San Jose who will remove the two stitches from my left eyelid and supposedly this is going too help me use my left eye for longer periods of time without an eye patch. So far I’ve gone up to 6 to 8 hours at a time without covering it. Reading tires it out more than general activities like kitchen work or even a little TV. I seldom watch more than an hour a day, if that much. For Earth Day I found a special on the internet streaming channel Curiosity Stream for wonderful nature documentaries and signed up for a year at just $10 or $2 more than one month of Netflix here. I will probably drop Netflix again. Seen all their documentaries I care about and the rest is mostly junk.

Got off subject there! 🙂 I assume the eyelid will stay partly closed now when the stitches are removed since she did something to make the top and bottom grow together at one corner. But, FYI, my left eyelid will never blink again or fully close.

UPDATE: 23 April – She did not remove the stitches today. She first said she would remove just 2 of the 3, leaving one to help protect from radiation. But because she used nothing for pain, I flinched and she said she would not remove them at all for now, saying I have a “low tolerance for pain” and I think she has a low sympathy level! 🙂 She was also very painful to me at beginning of surgery. So now she will wait until after radiotherapy and try again in June. Hmmm. 🙂 Permanent stitches? — But the Good News: both eyes are doing very well and she is pleased with the surgery results. I’m already using my left eye more than 6 to 8 hours a day, so progress even if I have a low pain tolerance! 🙂

Radiation Starts Monday

This coming Monday, 26 April, I get my first radiotherapy in San Jose and daily Monday to Friday for six weeks or through June 4. They were not comfortable with all these other overlapping medical appointments plus needed the time this week to prepare for my targeted treatments. She is studying all the reports on both of my left cheek surgeries, the earlier “skin cancer” one and the big one March 15 including biopsies, etc. to help her target all remaining bits of possible cancer. My future is sort of in her skilled hands. 🙂 Dr. Bonilla is both an oncologist and radiologist and my surgeon says the best here.

I’m still bargaining with hotels near the radiation center but hoping for the Best Western with four nearby restaurants and hope to schedule that today. I plan to spend Monday to Thursday nights there and back in Atenas Friday-Sunday nights. I will be giving regular updates from San Jose starting next week which I hope will be interlaced with some nature reports also! 🙂

¡Pura Vida!

The Healing of Nature

“Nature itself is the best physician.”

~Hippocrates

I missed getting photos of the beautiful Squirrel Cuckoo, Brown Jay, Chachalacas I saw, and the Toucan my neighbor saw in my tree, but here’s 3 snaps from this morning that bring me back to my reason for retiring in Costa Rica – NATURE! 🙂

Rufous-naped Wren
Nance Tree blooms rapidly fading.
Variegated Squirrel

Come to the woods for here is rest.

– John Muir

¡Pura Vida!

And my radiotherapy MRI & CT Scan have been postponed to later in the week. Dr. Bonilla called and said she felt I needed to rest after the eye surgery. 🙂 Amazing sensitivity!

Another Gauntlet of Doctors

This happened the week before my cancer surgery and now it has started again two weeks before the beginning of my radiation treatments – tiring – hard to keep up with – but necessary!

1. Today, First of 3 Dental Appointments

Those who have experienced radiation know that you cannot have any dental work done after radiation for a long time, especially no tooth pulled because the radiation does something to keep the hole from a pulled tooth from healing. Hopefully none will need to be pulled! 🙂

  • Today (Monday) – teeth cleaned and checked out with two tiny cavities found visually that she will fill this Friday. She also ordered a panoramic X-ray of my teeth from the Dental Radiologist one block away where I went next to make my appointment.
  • Thursday – Teeth X-rayed when I will take the resulting X-ray back to Dr. Karina for her to study and see if there are other problems we should take care of before radiation.
  • Friday – I return to Dr. Karina for the two known fillings and anything else she finds on the x-rays.

2. Tomorrow, Tuesday – Appointment with Ophthalmologist

This is Dr. Raquel Benavides whom I saw in the hospital and Dr. Hernandez (my oncology surgeon) recommends to see if anything can be done to help my eyelid that will not close now or blink. He thinks she can “stich” the eyelid mostly closed to a sort of squint so that I will not have to keep it covered and can still see with it. Hmmm, I’m not convinced of that yet but maybe she will convince me or have some other solution other than an eyepatch. I’ll find out tomorrow and expect almost anything to come after radiation is completed.

3. Tomorrow, Tuesday – Appointment with Oncology Surgeon

This will be my 3rd “follow-up” or “post-op” visit to the surgeon, Dr. Christian Hernández. He wants to check on the healing of the long incision and the swelling on my left face and neck. Plus he said he wants to hear what the Ophthalmologist says. 🙂 He must not have a mouth specialist friend who can fix one-sided smiles! 🙂 He encouraged me earlier to go ahead and shave on the left side, but because it is tender and sensitive I only lightly run the electric razor over the left cheek and even more lightly on the left side of my neck which is more swollen and more sensitive. So I am not back to normal yet, skin-wise. The pain is less now in the ear and jaw, but still some and I’m now taking an over the counter acetaphetamine locally popular called Panadol.

4. Wednesday – Seeing my Dermatologist as Pre-scheduled

The last time I saw him, Dr. Roberto Gamboa, was when he sent me to Dr. Hernández to take care of the tumor which I will now have to tell him came from that skin cancer he removed in MOHS surgery which is supposed to mean they got it all. Well . . . cancer roots go deep! At that last visit he also treated a little skin cancer on my upper lip which was a black spot on my lip in some of my cancer selfie photos. (I was putting a very expensive anti-cancer medication on it once a day for 20 days.) That scab is gone now and supposedly the little cancer there. Of course he will be checking for any more and he often burns bumps off my skin with nitrogen. He is also my “traveling buddy” who likes nature lodges all over Costa Rica like me. He is the one who recommended Bosque del Cabo Lodge where I’m going the first week of July and earlier got me hooked on El Silencio Lodge I’ve visited twice now! Hopefully he finds no new skin cancers this visit. And maybe the best thing is that he is located in nearby Alajuela rather than far-away San Jose! 🙂 A much quicker and easier drive!

5. Next Monday – MRI at the Lindora Campus of Hospital Metropolitano

This MRI is for the Radiotherapists to help them target the cancer cells in my head, especially in the nerves since the cancer was in the left facial nerve. The best thing about this is that it is in a suburb on this side of San Jose, Lindora, and secondly in the only hospital that takes my Medismart Card for a big discount, as does the Radioterapia Siglo XXI I’m using and thus they are sort of Medismart partners. 🙂 It will take only about an hour with a little less than an hour each way traveling, so not as tiring as going to San Jose.

6. Next Tuesday – CT Scan and Mask-making at Radioterapia Siglo XXI

I assume that the MRI and CT Scan show different things that they need, thus I’m getting both in preparation for the radiotherapy. Both of these will be in San Jose at the Radioterapia Siglo XXI building where I will spend a lot of time the next month and a half.

7. Begin Radiotherapy in San Jose

This is the long-haul treatment of cancer, radiotherapy 5 days a week for 6 weeks and they guarantee that you will be tired at the end – enough so that they encourage you to plan no activities for the following 4 week or in my case, the month of June. It will take place in central or north-central San Jose at Radioterapia Siglo XXI, the only private radiation company in Costa Rica with only one place for the public healthcare patients to get it at Hospital Mexico. I chose to pay for private because it could be quicker, with often very long waits in the public healthcare system and because my oncologist strongly recommended it because of the size of the cancer.

As I shared in an earlier post, I am now planning to travel to San Jose each Monday and return to Atenas on Fridays, staying in a hotel near the therapy location. Even though someone else will be driving, I dislike the long, high-traffic drive that at peaks can be 2 hours between Atenas and San Jose. As long as I feel like it, I will even add a tour or two each week to something of interest in San Jose like some wonderful museums and parks plus history and architecture that interests me and may give photo ops, though many museums restrict photographs. Otherwise I will be pampered with all meals, room cleaning, Wifi, and hotel gardens to relax in between treatments. I will try to turn radiation into a relaxed and colorful, tropical vacation in the center of Costa Rica! 🙂

¡Pura Vida!